Smart TVs aren’t a Smart Buy

For the past few months I’ve been shopping around for a new TV. It’s time for an upgrade to the 32″ LCD that’s in the living room. A 46″ would be perfect for the size of the room. One of the things I’m noticing is that a good portion of TVs are now “smart TVs“. The price disparity between ‘Dumb TVs’ (aka standard TV sets) and Smart TVs isn’t very much. In fact, on sale a lot of times the smart TVs are even slightly cheaper than a regular old TV.

What is a smart TV? A smart TV is basically a TV with a WiFi connection that connects to online services like NetFlix, Amazon on Demand, Pandora, and a myriad of other services depending on the manufacturer. It’s basically a TV with apps like a phone or a tablet.

It sounds all well and good until you realize most of the interfaces are cumbersome. Everyone of the floor models I was able to test didn’t put much thought into the user interface. Compared to the Roku most were like using something out of the 90’s. Very little to no thought put into menu flow, search, etc. A lot of reviews I’ve read also mention problems along these lines.

The biggest reason a smart TV isn’t a smart buy is because now your TV is pretty much disposable. With hundreds, possibly thousands of different models in the wild a manufacturer isn’t likely to push many firmware updates, which means that when Amazon or Netflix makes changes to their API (and they will) you could loose access to these services making your whole reason for buying a smart TV pretty much moot.

Think about it: Just like cell phones the manufacturers don’t make money pushing out updates. They make money when you buy new hardware. If you want to buy a new TV every couple of years just to keep access to streaming services a Smart TV is a definite buy.

However, you can buy a regular old TV and buy a Roku box for as little as $50 and make your dumb TV a Smart TV. The difference here is Roku is a leader in the streaming player space that regularly pushes out updates even to older boxes. My original model Roku XDS still streams Netflix and Amazon Video without a problem and I can still add many (thought not all) newer channels to it. I’ve since bought the second and third generation Roku boxes all have had nice updates and improvements. The Netflix interface on my Roku 3 just blows me away but that’s a story for another time.

The bottom line is if you don’t want to be stuck with a Smart TV where many of its smart features no longer work in a few years buy a regular old TV and add a third-party streaming device.

Applications Opinion

Open Source Software

Here at AG you will often see me recommend open source and/or free software. There are four main reasons for this:

  • Most are cross platform. That means you can use the same programs and files on Windows, Linux, and OS X without running into problems. Additionally, you can transfer the programs preferences and stuff between platforms with a little prodding around. Often times configuration files are in easy to read XML files.
  • Data lock in isn’t an issue because the file formats are open and can easily be opened with another application or a converter can be built.
  • Price is a big factor for me at least. I operate on a shoe string budget and if I can save money on software I will. I don’t believe in pirating software so if I cannot find a free alternative I’ll gladly go without.
  • Do one thing and do it well. With few exceptions the common thread in open source software is that each application does ONE thing and does it well. Often times on the commercial side you see applications that do many things like a Swiss army knife but rarely do they do all the things they claim to do well.

There are a few other reasons why but that covers most of it. Reading around the internet the common arguments against open source software seems to be it’s insecure because you can view the source. Quite the opposite since it’s source visible anyone can audit the code and secure it. It’s free so it must be worthless, I cannot rebut that because I don’t understand the logic there.

My biggest issue with open source programs is many projects fall by the wayside some of the less popular programs I’ve used have not seen updates in a couple of years. I suppose developers loose interest or move on to bigger and better things which quite frankly sucks however commercial software also goes by the wayside too. Developers either discontinue support for older versions or stop making the application all together. I don’t have an statistics but I’ve venture to say the number of abandoned applications on both sides of the fence are similar.

In conclusion unless I win the lottery, you will see a lot of free software  recommendations here. Even if I win the lottery I’ll probably still be using many free programs because that’s what I’m used to using. 🙂  What software do you use and why?