Published On: February 18, 2019

I Just Want a Dumb TV

Published On: February 18, 2019
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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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.

I Just Want a Dumb TV

By Author: Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is a native Alabamian whose passion for AV began sometime before the age of seven, when he dismantled his parents' brand new 25-inch solid-state Zenith console TV and exclaimed--to the amusement of no one except the delivery guy--that it was missing all of its vacuum tubes. He has since contributed to Home Theater Magazine, Wirecutter, Cineluxe, Electronic House, and more. His specialties include high-end audio, home theater receivers, advanced home automation, and video codecs.

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's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide at

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