Smart TVs Are Stupid
Published April 15, 2015
There’s always this drive in the consumer electronics industry to keep us buying. If you just bought an HD TV that was 720p, then you now need one that’s 1080p. If you just bought a 1080p TV, now there’s 120Hz. Or 240Hz. Or 3D. Or 4K. In that endless quest to keep us updating, consumer electronics companies are now pursuing smart TVs.
I think this is a scam. I also think it’s an incredibly stupid use of technology. Now, before I dig into this, let me preface this. I love technology. Seriously. I love technology. But I’ve never wanted to be mindless about that love. In order to be what I would consider a good technology, it has to actually offer some measurable improvement in our lives.
When VHS was replaced with DVD, the new format (DVD) clearly represented a huge leap forward in image quality. I remember the first time I saw DVD, it was like someone had scraped an inch of crud off my eyes. The detail in the picture was amazing. The sound too was spectacular. My first glimpse of HD TV, which was probably 1080i, was a pretty big jump, but honestly didn’t look that much better than DVD. I’ve seen a lot of 720p and 1080p video over the years. I would say that each of those incremental improvements has brought with it diminishing returns. Although I do like Blu-Ray discs, I mainly notice the differences between DVD and Blu-Ray in the textures of fabrics and the text of signs and notices. For example… I always thought the shirts on the inmates in Shawshank Redemption were grey. On Blu-Ray, they’re blue & white striped. On my Blu-Ray of 2001, you can read the directions for the zero-gravity toilet; on DVD, it’s just a blurry mess.
So there’s definitely some value in these technology enhancements. But, Smart TVs do not make any practical sense. Here’s why...
First off… the consumer electronics manufacturers are terrible at making software. The interfaces to their hardware are poster examples of terrible design and implementation. They’re buggy and confusing. And they’re usually abandoned in favor of next year’s model when it comes time to update. When it comes to anything connected to the Internet, do you really want to pin the safety and integrity of your devices to companies that can’t be bothered to update? Do you want to use an interface that looks like a drunken nine-year old built it out of popsicle sticks? Yes, I’m harsh… but this is just to show how badly these companies are at interface design.
Second point here is right in line with the first… security. The consumer electronics companies are terrible at implementing and they’re doubly terrible at securing. Any Smart device is effectively a computer. Any computer can become a jumping off point for malware, botnets, any number of bad things on the Internet. Would you really trust these companies to properly secure these systems? Especially once they’re on to that new model? And by not securing these devices, they become a point of entry for hackers and attackers to any other system you have. If we’re all going to be living in Smart homes, that’s a real negative.
Third, most people just bought new 1080p TVs. They’re already being pushed to upgrade to 4K (despite a real lack of content) and 8K is already being prepped in the lab. For what most people have spent on their TVs, those should be a 10 year investment. Not a 2-3 year. But again, the manufacturers are on to the new models.
Fourth, for $100 or less, you can easily get a box like the AppleTV, Amazon FireTV, Google ChromeStick or any one of the other devices out there that will provide you with Smart functionality. It’ll be better maintained. You can easily swap out vendors, or even have multiple devices co-existing. Why on earth would you suffer through the manufacturers’ garbage interface?
In practical terms, the TV should just be a high quality yet dumb monitor. Just like on your computer. You’d invest in improvements on a 10-15 year schedule (that’s about the actual lifecycle to get REAL improvement). And that’s even ignoring the basic fact that there’s every chance video-based entertainment will have an MP3 moment.
In case you don’t remember, towards the end of the 1990s, after making boatloads of money on CDs, and then remastered versions of the same basic album, the music industry was seeking the next new thing. They worked with the consumer electronics industry and launched both SACD (Super Audio CD) and DVD-Audio. Both were complete and utter failures in the market. Instead people gravitated towards the MP3 format. MP3 when compared to CD was actually demonstrably worse audio quality. But it made up for that with one simple fact. Convenience. You could now carry around your entire CD collection. Or at least, that’s what the futurists then were looking ahead towards.
Video entertainment shows every sign of being on the cusp of a similar change. VR (virtual reality) is on a lot of tech and futurist-minded folks’ thoughts. With VR, everyone can have an enormous TV. Yet the VR systems are far more portable. They can also allow more personalized entertainment options, from passive viewing like TV shows and movies to active content like games. In short, VR is poised to explode in the same basic way that MP3 did with music.
The idea that people will continue buying TVs the old way is ludicrous to me. It makes utterly no sense to use the SMART functionality in your TV. In fact, just by connecting a Smart TV to your network, you’re practically inviting in hackers and other issues.
Take my advice… skip out on Smart TVs. For sure don’t pay extra for it, and for sure don’t connect it.