Helping homeowners elevate their experience at home with improved technological systems since 2010

Are Smart TVs Dumb?

Did you know that Netflix is the top streaming app in terms of the number of subscribers? The service is over 25 years old. Initially, DVD rentals were made by mail. Netflix began streaming services in 2007 and has become a trendy way to chill.

A brief history

The first Smart TV arrived in stores in 2007. The HP MediaSmart TV came in 2 sizes: 43” and 47”. Conceptually, the idea was game-changing. Consumers no longer had to access their digital photos, MP3s, and videos from their desktop computers. They could do so from the living room couch, not with a clumsy mouse, but with a handheld remote. The whole family could relive memorable moments on the big screen TV.

Samsung, you’ve heard of them, was quick to join the party and came out with their own Smart TV in 2008. Today, buying a TV that isn’t “smart” is nearly impossible. 

The 70s through the 90s – Limited Choices

I don’t think that my kids can appreciate that when I was young, that TV went off at night. The National Anthem was followed by an announcer telling us, “This concludes our broadcast day.” We had 3 major TV networks and PBS. That was it. This era predates the VCR. If you weren’t home when something was on, you missed it. Forever. Was it a better time? Were our brains less mushy? I’m sure the argument goes both ways.

As more specialized networks began broadcasting, the number of channels we had to choose from grew. You may have heard someone say they spent more time channel surfing for something interesting than actually watching something. More on this later.

During the summer, or if I was home sick from school after the morning cartoons were over, I became familiar with the right price of consumer goods. I learned a great deal about a man named Jed and the Skipper, too.

Watch it later

The next great tech to evolve was the VCR. You could record live TV to watch later or hit the local BlockBuster and rent an available movie to entertain yourself and/or the family that night. Eventually, the VHS tapes were replaced by hard drives, and we had DVR capability for recording TV.

On-Demand Anything

Eventually, we got On-Demand.  

Today, we can watch or listen to just about any content that was ever created with the push of a few buttons. We can literally access ANYTHING on demand. I still have people tell me they want to keep their VCR as a source on their 77” 4K TV because they have a bunch of old Disney movies on VHS for the grandkids to watch. No need. There’s a thing. It’s called Disney Plus. Your 3-year-old grandchild watched 20 minutes of Moana on an iPad on the car ride over.

Dumb TVs

If a TV isn’t smart, then certainly it must be dumb. Occasionally, we have new clients reach out to us and tell us that they want to see what the fuss is about and watch streaming. Their perceived problem is that they only have dumb TVs. The good news is that you don’t need to buy a new TV to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, or YouTube TV.

Rokus, Apple TVs, and Streaming Sticks. Oh my!!

There are devices whose sole existence is to connect to a display and act as an interface for streaming media. Streaming media devices like Roku and Apple TV have been around for a long time, and they are very good at their job. You can connect one of these devices to any TV and turn it into a brilliant TV.

Streaming devices are very good at streaming content. They have done it all day, every day from the beginning. A big part of that is managing software updates. Typically, they take place unnoticed.

Something to consider:

Not all consumers are brand loyal when it comes to TVs. If you have a Samsung TV in the Living Room, a Sony TV in the basement, a SunBrite TV on the deck, and last year’s Black Friday LG in the bedroom, getting to Netflix is a different process in each location if you use the Smart TV feature.  

How would this experience differ if you put a streaming media player at each TV location? Streaming devices are relatively inexpensive, and placing an Apple TV or Roku in each location ensures uniformity in getting to content from room to room. A small investment can simplify your entertainment experience.

If you can make a dumb TV smart with a dedicated media-steaming device, then…

Why do Smart TVs Exist?

Smart TVs only exist because they exist. Because everyone else is doing it. Suppose one TV manufacturer came to market with TVs that weren’t smart (every professional integrator’s dream). In that case, that manufacturer fears they would be unable to compete. 

Why don’t my speakers work anymore?

Perhaps you recently “cut the cord,” eliminated your cable box, and are now watching streaming services from your Smart TV. Your surround sound speakers may be no longer working.  

What happened? The audio path has changed and, in fact, may not exist anymore. I mean that your cable box (video and audio source) was connected directly to your surround sound receiver with an HDMI cable. The audio was extracted and sent to your speakers, and the video was passed to your television. Now that you are streaming using your Smart TV, the TV has become the audio and video source. Your TV is the actual source of the content. Likely, there isn’t a connection to take the audio from your TV back to the surround sound receiver.  

So, how do we solve this problem? You could run an optical audio cable from your TV to the AV receiver if you have access. Depending on your setup, you may have to run this cable through the wall, which may be difficult. Another option is to connect a Roku or Apple TV to your AV receiver, where your cable box used to be. The streaming media player becomes the source of your content. The audio is extracted like before, and the video is sent to your TV.

Smart TVs in your Professionally-Installed System

The TV manufacturers don’t disclose that they aren’t so great at supporting all of the ever-developing and changing applications available through the app store for the life of your TV. I don’t mean to imply that they are purposefully deceptive. I believe their intentions are good. They may have just bitten off more than they could chew. These streaming content apps require the TV manufacturers to update their software over time. If the TV was just a display, they wouldn’t have to communicate with all the different services and support and update your Smart TV.

Here is a real-world example:

It was March Madness. One of my clients had a son playing for Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament and decided they needed to upgrade their basement TV for such an exciting moment.  

I am thankful they called us instead for recommendations and to purchase the TV from us instead of going to a big store. Most people don’t know that TV prices are set by the manufacturers weekly and that small businesses, like mine, can be a great resource when purchasing a TV (for the same price you would get anywhere else).

Back to the story….so this client didn’t have a complicated system. No speakers. Just a TV on the wall. We delivered and mounted the TV without a hitch. We connected the new TV to WiFi, did all of the firmware updates, and helped our client get logged into the TV’s operating system and download the ESPN+ app. “Thank you and enjoy,” and we were on our way.

That’s when the problems began for this client because, against my better judgment, I didn’t recommend a Roku or Apple TV. I thought it would be fine since her system was just a wall TV.

It turned out that she couldn’t log in to the ESPN+ app on her brand-new Sony TV. This wasn’t a password thing. It just didn’t work. 

Unbeknownst to us, our client called Sony support and was still looking for a solution. She called ESPN+ support to no avail. She was caught in an experience we try to avoid altogether. Neither party knew what the problem was or how to resolve the issue. There may have been some blaming of Sony from ESPN and some blaming of ESPN from Sony. In the end, arms were thrown up with no solution.  

*Chances are that the issue between Sony and ESPN has been resolved by now as part of a software update. This wouldn’t happen, however, until multitudes of people called in with the same issue, and ESPN+ worked with Sony to determine and resolve the issue.

Thankfully, our client called us. The game would be on the next day. We made the same calls to Sony and ESPN+ with the same results, and our solution was to put in a Roku. Problem solved.

Suppose you have a professionally installed system with a TV and a sound system. In that case, your integrator has programmed everything for you, from device power to the correct input on your TV and AV receiver, to ensure a great experience every time you press the button. TV updates from the manufacturer can sometimes disrupt this. The manufacturers have great ideas and have yet to ask me my thoughts. They send these updates and might change the time necessary for the TV to power on before the HDMI input can be switched, for example. This could disrupt the timing programmed into your system and result in you seeing a blank screen. As a professional, this is something to avoid, and it is a best practice to disable firmware updates when we install a system because they can be disruptive.

In Conclusion

The evolution of television technology has brought us to an era where Smart TVs are found in multiple rooms of our homes, offering many streaming options and convenience. However, the question arises: Are smart TV streaming apps really your smartest choice?

It would be hard to shop for a new TV that wasn’t a Smart TV. The evolution of the content we watch and how we get to it invites reflection on the smartness of Smart TVs. Netflix just stopped sending actual discs to their clients in 2023. A better way has evolved. Netflix’s evolution teaches that adaptability often leads to a richer viewing experience in the realm of home entertainment.