Enough Smart TVs, I Want a Dumb TV

Enough Smart TVs, I Want a Dumb TV
Apple emoji. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Smarts don’t need to be a package deal, not if you buy a dumb TV.

Last year, after years of putting it off, I finally upgraded from a cheap non-smart TV to a 4K TCL android TV. I was pretty keen on putting the dumb TV  behind me: Android is a versatile enough operating system to work on most things (TVs especially), it has Chromecast built in, and it was a fairly cheap TV at the time (if I remember correctly, the 42-inch TCL TV that I bought only cost about $499).

Except, well, for as smart as the TV is, it was cheap. Decent screen, a decent amount of ports (only two HDMI ports, but that’s manageable), even decent audio, but its fatal flaw was the smart factor. It is slow. Often it will choke and quit out of apps through what I can only identify as a processing issue, and sometimes it will simply not work optimally. Like, it takes several button clicks to do something or the on-screen animations just don’t work seamlessly.

Perhaps the most noticeable issue with this TV is that it needs to warm up for a bit before it starts to work right. For example, before I start to watch something on the Android TV Disney+ app, I need to swipe through some of the smart menus to get the TV up-to-speed, otherwise it will crash some five minutes into whatever I’m watching. Additionally, updates seem to confuse the TV, making it unusable for several minutes after the first boot following an update.

It’s almost as if it’s not powerful enough to run the Android TV OS.

It slowly dawned on me, some months after making the purchase, that I had purchased this generation’s dumb-like TV.

I’m not the first writer to sing the praises of the humble ‘dumb TV’. Heck, I’m not even the first Gizmodo writer to acknowledge the benefits of a less-than-smart TV.

But now I’ve experienced the products first-hand and I’m willing to put my thoughts into words.

What am I calling a dumb TV?

A TV that doesn’t have sophisticated software, but has all of the hardware of a modern TV. Think about your TV right now, or perhaps the lovely LG OLED Evo TV that Asha recently reviewed. Now, think about it:

  • Minus the inbuilt Netflix
  • Without web browsing
  • No integrated web access
  • Unable to download new apps
  • Especially without any smart menus

Without any of these things, you’re left with a TV capable of digital TV connectivity (through the wall cable or aerial) or, still, capable of HDMI connectivity. Additionally, it still has ports compatible with sound systems. It still has the picture quality of your modern TV, along with the speakers and basic functionality, but no smarts.

That also means no software updates and no need to “patch” OS issues (also, admittedly, no means to patch the minimalist software the thing would ship with). It also removes concerns for OS redundancy.

Provided this would ship with a slightly reduced price to compensate for the lack of sophisticated OS, along with the hardware we’d expect from said TV, this is a hardware-focused TV.

Hallelujah.

Why would I want a dumb TV?

Glad you asked. I’m sick of having to update my TV and having it not work (from what I can tell online, I’m not the only person thinking this). From some manufacturers that develop their TV OS in-house, like Samsung and Hisense, I don’t want to rely on their hard locked operating systems, especially when Google TV works so well with wide support. I have a similar problem with proprietary car operating systems when Android Auto works so well.

That actually brings us to the most important point. What do you do with all of the smarts? The streaming services?

Handle it externally, via a HDMI port. If you pick up a Chromecast with Google TV, you get all the functionality that you would with an Android TV, made possible through an easy-to-use HDMI dongle and remote. I rate the Chromecast with Google TV quite highly, as it completely does away with needing to deal with your TV OS.

Google’s Chromecast with Google TV is pretty well optimised for its own software, and being Android-based, app developers are fairly well versed in the inner workings of it.

Don’t like Chromecast with Google TV? That’s fine, cause you can get an Apple TV, equally smart with optimisation for Apple devices. Hate Apple? Get a Fire Stick.

The point I’m making is that owning a dumb TV is not a disadvantage. These streaming dongles exists to compensate for your lacking TV OS anyway, and there’s a wide variety of dongles to choose from, so why bother with OS on the TV to begin with?

Get off the soapbox

Alright, I’m ending the tangent. When discussing this topic with our editor Asha, she said that she wasn’t particularly bothered, and that what really irks her is needing to sign in to individual streaming profiles when streaming on a TV.

If you enjoy your TV OS, I’m really happy for you. It sounds like you made a sound and satisfying purchase.

But I don’t want to deal with more shovelware-like TV software, even if it is Android-based. I shouldn’t have to, and I shouldn’t have to put up with it and then need to purchase a separate dongle that I’ll use instead.

The good news is that, if you look hard enough, you can find some dumb TVs out there, be it from Kogan, ALDI, or even if it’s a monitor (do be aware that monitors can cost a lot for their own reasons). They’re hard to find, much harder than they were to find last year, but they’re out there.

There should be more of them.