Hey, so remember when building VCRs into TVs seemed like a good idea? And then how it turned out that is wasn’t? Yeah, connected TVs are basically just like that.
A TV is a huge purchase. People spend thousands of dollars on an item that they’ll keep for years, watch for hours a day, and display prominently in their homes, almost like a piece of furniture. It’s less like buying a piece of electronics, and more like buying a car.
It’s hard to find a TV on the CES show floor that doesn’t have apps, or widgets, or some kind of software layer between the viewer and the content. And to be fair, there are plenty of good ideas on display here: Netflix, Hulu and YouTube streaming is something people will actually use, as is local network playback. And sure, weather widgets! Why the hell not.
But here’s the problem: All that stuff is ephemeral, and mostly disposable. The little computers inhabiting new TVs live in a part of the tech world that moves at a different speed, where hardware and software are born and die in the span of a couple of years. Think of it this way: The HDTV you bought four years ago probably still looks great. The smartphone you bought four years ago lives in a landfill, next to the netbook you bought in 2008.
I don’t mean to imply that connected TVs don’t have value, or won’t be a fulfilling purchase in the near term—they do, and they probably will be! But paying extra for a TV with a shitty App Store that probably won’t exist in two years just feels silly. You’ll still be using that TV in a few years, but a significant chunk of it—a chunk that you paid a premium for—will likely have died, or fallen into utter disuse.
So, here’s the idea: Just buy dumb TVs. Buy TVs with perfect pictures, nice speakers and and attractive finish. Let set top boxes or Blu-ray players or Apple TVs take care of all the amazing connectivity and content afforded to us by today’s best internet TVs. Spend money on what you know you’ll still want in a few years—a good screen—and let your A/V cabinet host the changing cast of disposable accessories. Besides, interface like Apple TV’s or Boxee’s are miles better than the clumsy, underdesigned connected TV interfaces turned out by companies like LG and Samsung.
And TV manufacturers: Don’t just make more dumb TVs. Make them dumber.