Published On: February 18, 2019

I Just Want a Dumb TV

Published On: February 18, 2019

I Just Want a Dumb TV

Smart TVs are stupid, says Dennis Burger. But as he shops for a new high-performance display, it seems he has no choice but to buy another one.

It’s time once again for me to get a new UHD TV, a thing I have to do a bit more frequently than many of you, because keeping up with all of the latest video formats isn’t just a compulsion for me; it’s downright compulsory. And my old TV, while perfectly fine from a performance standpoint, is of the 2015 vintage and doesn’t support Dolby Vision.

My list of must-haves is pretty standard stuff. In addition to the aforementioned format support, I need good calibration tools (which are becoming more common), good light output (although not as much as you might think), great contrast, and of course an extra HDMI input or three. IP control capabilities would also be a plus.

You know what I don’t need, though? Another goddamned source of Netflix. Or Amazon Instant. Or whatever half-assed collection of barely controllable games seem to come crammed into most TVs these days. What I really want, more than anything in the world, is a 75-inch UHD display with Dolby Vision, HDR10 (HDR10+ if beggars are being choosey), HLG (just for future-proofing at this point), good video scaling, and all the intelligence of a damp rock.

Yeah, I want a dumb TV.

I literally have no idea why, but this fact seems to alternately piss off enthusiasts or leave them completely baffled. “Just don’t connect it to your network” I often hear. That misses the point. I want my UHD TV on my network because, as I said above, I want my Control4 system to communicate with it via IP for the enhanced reliability and simplicity that network communications bring to the control front. And performance-oriented firmware updates are always welcomed. But that’s where I want the network connectivity to begin and end.

“Just get a projector,” I also often hear.

Uh, no. I live in the armpit of Alabama, where ceiling fans are an absolute necessity from the standpoint of surviving the hottest nine months of the year. So, I can’t ceiling-mount a projector. And I have a playful 75-pound AmStaff who makes cabinet placement on the floor a non-starter. Plus, 75 inches is almost too much screen for my main media room. And I’ve yet to see a projector/screen combo that can compete with the contrasts and black levels, much less the value proposition, of a halfway decent TV.

“Buy an [insert name of bargain basement off-brand here].”

While it’s true that there are still some dumb TVs on the market, we’re talking bottom-of-the-barrel stuff for the most part. Make no mistake about it: I still want–nay need–a high-performance display; I simply want it to be as vapid as it is gorgeous.

“Just don’t use the apps!”


That’s the recommendation I get the most… and it seems kind of obvious. Why would I use the apps built into any TV? I have a Roku Ultra that includes pretty much every video app I could ever hope to watch (except for perhaps an official Twitch app, but there are third-party alternatives). The Roku Ultra is quicker and more responsive than any smart TV app I’ve ever used. Its latency is lower. Its user interface is better. And when it eventually becomes outdated (as older Rokus of mine have), I’ll replace it for $99 (or less) and have a fresh, new streaming experience with all the bells and whistles. Try doing that with your stupid smart TV app platform once it reaches the end of its natural lifecycle (i.e., next year).

What’s more, if I were to use the apps built into my TV and wanted to get the most out of them (in other words, if I wanted to output their sound to my surround sound system), that would mean turning on HDMI-CEC in order to enable Audio Return Channel. And CEC is legitimately the devil for those of us with advanced control systems.

Actually, strike that last conditional. CEC is legitimately the devil. Full stop.

Roku also has one another advantage over smart TVs (and you can substitute your choice of Apple TV, Nvidia Shield, Amazon Fire, or whatever other standalone streamer floats your boat): the company hasn’t betrayed my trust. At least not yet. How many TV manufacturers have been busted thus far for doing shady shit with their smart TV platforms? I’ve lost count at this point, but “one” would be too many. I don’t mean to sound like a paranoid nutcase here, but it’s not exactly paranoia if they’re really out to spy on you, is it?

The biggest point that this advice misses? Even if I don’t use those apps, I’m still paying for them. I’m paying for the R&D that went into them. I’m paying to have them updated, at least for the next year. I’m paying for something I didn’t want to begin with, even though there are plenty of options out there for folks who don’t want to pay for performance enhancements like quantum dot and OLED.

So, any TV manufacturer that takes their flagship offering, knocks out all of the clutter, marks $100 off the MSRP, and perhaps affixes an extra “D” to the end of the model number will almost certainly the manufacturer I turn to for the TV I buy after this next one.

But I’ve resigned myself to the fact that, at least this time around, I’ll be paying however much extra for an app platoform I’ll never use, that I don’t trust, and that will likely, in some way, complicate the operation of my AV system. But I can’t be alone in my hope that this is the last time. There simply has to be a market for upper-tier TVs with all of the video processing bells and whistles, all of the format support, and all of the connectivity, but none of the stupid “smart” features that I’ll never in a million years use.

And look, I’m not saying you’re wrong if you dig your smart TV. Of course I’m not. I’m simply saying that those of us who hate cluttered UIs, fettered navigation, and lackluster streaming performance shouldn’t be forced to pay extra for features we’ll never use, just to get a high-performance flat-panel display.

Additional Resources

Wishful Thinking: Products That AV Companies Should Make (But Don’t) at HomeTheaterReview.com.
HomeTheaterReview’s 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer’s Guide at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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Hockmed

I have a Dell Precision 3630 desktop and a several-year-old Visio model VW32L dumb TV that works fine, but I can’t seem to get the computer to send video signals properly to the Visio. It sends a signal that’s too large and most of the video is off screen, so you only see a small part of it. Any ideas? Thanks

Double Cherry

Since you left me alone ill help you: you only need to update the video drivers on your pc for the Visio. I found this: https://support.vizio.com/s/firmware-search?language=en_US
You will need the serial number off back of your screen.

JoeStellar

I bought one of the early samsung smart tvs. Several issues. It got really slow. The whole interface, app load times, it all became incredibly slow. Updating apps was no problem but eventually I had to do firmware updates in order to update apps. Eventually “my model no longer supported” issues started occurring. I can’t update my firmware anymore therefor I can’t update the apps and the apps won’t work because I get messages saying I need to update. Still works with HDMI inputs but it didn’t change the fact that I hated it. The smart tv remote was a constant reminder of how bad the tv was. I gave the TV away. It was a bit like having a cracked phone screen, it’s just embracing to have a smart TV that “I won’t use any foul language so I’ll just say didn’t work as it should. If it were a plain old dumb tv it wouldn’t be an embracement. Now I want a 70 or 75 inch 4k or 8k tv but can’t get one that isn’t smart. I’m not buying a replacement for the one I gave away. I rather look at the TV mount on the wall then buy another smart tv that will be outdated in 7 or 8 years.

tomcat

I love my 2004 46″ Sharp. It sat by jalousie windows in Hawaii for 5 years and I thought it wouldn’t last 6. Moved it to the mainland and it’s still alive. Heavy monster that just won’t die.

Hoosier 67

I want a dumb TV, too, for my video prodcution classroom. Our wireless restrictions are stringent (rightly so), and trying to connect a non corporate device to wifi is a fool’s errand. I need a dumb TV to act as a big studio monitor. “Buy a big monitor, then — duh!” Classroom = few dollars to work with. Projector? Nope; need portability.

Tony Nesta

A book to read, a 228 page User Manual??
Samsung and others please bring back the Non-Smart TV “dumb TV” with a remote control with the numbers on it and I’ll buy it.

akovia Voka

I almost couldn’t have said it better, but @woofy98102:disqus nailed it on the head. The smart features in a TV are the exact reason they are cheaper than they should be. If they weren’t subsidizing the cost with the money they make off of selling our data, TVs would be a good deal more expensive across the board.

I’m certain that they realize there is a not insignificant market share that would be willing to pay a premium price to NOT have those “Smart” features, but then they would have to actually admit why it’s actually more expensive to not have all these wonderful features that are going to make your life sooo much better. I’m also sure they have done the market research to bear out these facts which is why I don’t think you’ll ever see one of the big manufacturers go back to dumb TVs. There’s just too much money to be had.

I think our only real hope is a company to source panels and boards to build and integrate them into their own product, aimed directly at this market. The cost to do this would be prohibitive, which is my guess why it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe there will be an organized effort by a hacker group to load different firmware/software for some TVs brands to cut out all the cruft, and maybe even improve the GUIs. I’m certain if there was a brand that was easy to hack and replace their “Smart” software, they would sell lots more TVs inadvertently once the word got out. I’d by one in a heartbeat!

Sell a Dumb TV, and the only profit they see is is a one time sale. Sell a Smart TV, and they can profit for as long as you are connected into the matrix. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

James

I agree with you 100%. If I could agree with you more than 100% I would. I have the same energy when it comes to this and reading your article made my blood boil.

Bruce Lee

I too am looking for a “dumb” tv. I use a tv the way it was designed- with an antenna on the roof, and not connected to anything else. Try and find a high quality unit with all the latest gizmos that isn’t loaded with half-assed apps. It doesn’t exist, at least for now.

Galtha58

Agree Completely. I would pay the same or even a little more for a TV without all the extra “Smart” features that I don’t want or need. My Roku does everything I need for internet services. Why would I want a TV with a lot of extra bloatware that has the potential to make my TV viewing experience more difficult, complicated and open up another potential digital entrance into my home?

gregge

Circa 2013~2014 Samsung introduced “future proof” TV models with replaceable hardware modules and said they were going to produce new modules for at least 5 years. That lasted 2 years before being abandoned, right around when HEVC video hit the scene. Samsung changed their “future proof” focus to software updates. I have a 40 inch Samsung from 2015 and a 50 inch from 2017. Both haven’t had a software update in quite a while. New releases quit around 2 to 3 years. Samsung never added anything with updates but they took apps away. Out of the box on the 40, the first update deleted Skype. Not that I’d ever use Skype. These TVs have DVR capability but it’s disabled for North America. I’ve heard of people flashing EU firmware but then they can’t watch ATSC broadcast TV, unless someone has hacked a hybrid firmware to implant the EU DVR part into the NA firmware.

gregge

Get a monitor instead of a TV. But then you’ll most likely have to get an external digital TV tuner box.

Kenneth Cook

In all my rage I found fellow consumers who want a t.v. Not a computer, not a streaming device, and certainly not a device that every damn time the power flickers prompts me to answer a multitude of questions after not acquiring internet signals. And the damned instructions are not a little booklet u read but on the internet too!

corbett coburn

My parents have a “smart TV” from Samsung. Every time the power blinks, ALL of their settings are out the window. And it takes hours for them to get it reset — especially with that lousy “sleek” remote that Samsung supplies with their TVs. Some functions of the TV are unusable because they simply cannot figure out how to make the damned TV work. They just want a good quality TV that allows them to turn it own and have it show the channels they like to watch. Apparently, that’s too much to ask these days.

boone

Here is a DUMB television manufacturer. I want a “dumb” television too. I am looking at one of these. Check them out and let me know what you think……… http://www.sceptre.com/TV/4K-UHD-TV-category1category73.html?filter=4&page=1

Claude

very promising, and nearly every single review a 5 star one, mainly for the price and for the lack of smart tv feature, 300$ for 55″ 4k uhd tv???? u mad bro??? deffo a steal this. who said dumb tv’s can’t be cheap? if only they would build oled ones, or the soon to be announced micro oled tech in a dumb tv. then that would be something to consider this company buying tech from

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