Dumb TV’s Revisited


For the last few months, the TV in our den has been having some trouble. At first, the power button wouldn’t turn on the TV, but if you cut the power to the TV and tried again, it’d work fine.

Then it started needing the power cut twice. Then three times. Then finally it was a whole song and dance of toggling the power and saying prayers and waiting to get it to turn on. I could almost always get it to work, but it could take a very long time. 

Because I’m an expert at etiquette, I realized that it might seem a bit odd to guests if we had a lengthy and elaborate ritual just to turn our TV on. If my sons had friends over and wanted to play videogames, I knew it would cost them some social capital if everyone was waiting on the TV whisperer to work his magic.

For now we’ve just relocated our other TV (I know, we’re like super rich) from the game room to the den. The smart money says the TV’s power supply board is cooked, especially as that’s a common problem for this model; while that’s a reasonably easy fix, the only available replacement boards are used ones from this same model (I’m not inclined to diagnose and fix individual components on the board). I’ll probably give the repair a go, but it’s likely we’re in the market for a TV. 

My worst fears were realized when I took a quick look at the market. The guy who said dumb TV’s were a dying breed certainly called it. If you want a TV with current technology, it’s gotta be “smart”. It comes with software and apps installed and is just itching to connect with your wifi. (I know I’m just catching up with everyone else, so bear with me.) I’m sad.

And it appears that I’m not alone! Apparently lots of people still want a dumb TV. The folks at reddit are hopping mad (though that’s true regardless of subject…), and I’ve read many product reviews that complain about smart TV’s waiting for updates, serving nonstop ads, and constantly pinging and slowing the wifi.

So consumers want dumb TV’s, but manufacturers refuse to make them. This feels like a market failure. But it’s not! You just need to redefine who the consumer is 🙂

It turns out that all sorts of consumer data and “post-purchase monetization” is made possible by making the TV smart. Vizio’s CTO was interviewed by THE VERGE earlier this year and said that they could still make dumb TV’s, but they’d need to charge more for them. Let that sink in.

So the deal on offer is you get a huge, state-of-the-art TV for a great price, and you only need to give up your personal data and suffer through a worse user experience. Sold!!!

I was really pleased with my new car purchase when I discovered the manufacturer wasn’t trying to load the car with soon-to-be-obsolete hardware and software. It just has a big dumb screen that it allows Android Auto to control. Car manufacturers have taken a long time to get to this point, but it gives hope that someday TV manufacturers will recognize the same thing. Bundling technologies with vastly different lifespans in a single product is really stupid. 

My current plan, if I’m forced to buy a smart TV, is simply to never connect the TV to the internet. We’ll just continue with our current solution (over-the-air antenna, Amazon Fire TV Stick, videogames). But it does bother me that they went to all that trouble to make it smart, just to have us lobotomize it. It feels inelegant and wasteful, even though it supposedly lowers my price. 

There is another option, though. I noted that if you want a TV with current technology, it has to be smart. There are, however, a few dumb 1080p’s left, and they’re going fast… 🙂

Do you have a smart TV? Are you happy with it? How is the post-purchase monetization process going?

4 thoughts on “Dumb TV’s Revisited”

  1. I’m very grateful to have a ‘dumb’ tv, and see no reason to upgrade to anything ‘smart’. (What a silly buzzword!) But the day may come that my existing TV fails… and then I’ll be stuck in smart land.

    If you wanted to use one application on a smart TV (like netflix) but none of the rest, one option would be to do some fancy ip/port blocking at your wifi-router. Not everyone has the skills to do that of course, but that how it goes!

    1. I’m jealous of your dumb tv 🙂 It feels like the market will eventually come back to offering them, especially as the TV manufacturers have to pick a partner (roku, fire, chromecast) which may not sit well with some customers. I think if I were the very best TV manufacturer, I’d just load up with HDMI inputs and let the tech cos. do their thing. But we may have to wait a while for that…

      IP/port blocking sounds like an elegant solution – I’m going to go with a simpler, more caveman-like one by just leaving the TV wifi off but letting the plugged in Fire Stick (which seems to just do its job, and sits dormant when not in use) do its thing. But in either case, going to all that trouble to reverse the design of the manufacturer should be a cue that they’ve done something wrong! Thanks for the note, and I hope your dumb TV lives forever 🙂

  2. Hi Paul,

    “Because I’m an expert at etiquette, I realized that it might seem a bit odd to guests if we had a lengthy and elaborate ritual just to turn our TV on. If my sons had friends over and wanted to play videogames, I knew it would cost them some social capital if everyone was waiting on the TV whisperer to work his magic.”

    I have to say that I laughed quite a lot reading this 🙂

    We have 2 TV’s at home. One in our bedroom (dumb TV) that we have not used for at least 1 year and another one in the living room (Smart TV). Both have +5 years and we have no complaints.

    We are happy with the SmartTV, using it mainly for Netflix and Youtube. We also use it as an extension of the laptop, to see some movies and other content.

    All the best.


    1. I’m glad you are able to compare the two and have found no troubles with the smart TV. We will be in your situation shortly, I think.

      As I’ve researched TV’s, I’ve also found that 4K is unnecessary unless you’re above a 55 inch screen (and that is the largest we would purchase). So in addition to buying a big brain I don’t want / need, I’ll also be gaining more pixels than are necessary. Sigh.

      Thanks for the note

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