SmartTVs

I just bought a new TV. They are now plagued with a huge number of “smart” features you have to turn off to make the set useful. You pretty much can’t buy a TV without these.

First off is all the video processing. The motion interpolation / dejudder / etc that takes a lovely mastered Blu-Ray source and then makes it look like shit and 100ms out of sync with the audio. Fortunately TVs generally have a “game mode”, so-called because gamers want low latency displays. As a side effect it disables all the video processing.

Then there’s the Smart TV stuff. I’ve been buying Samsung TVs and watching their apps evolve. It’s not bad; you can legitimately watch Netflix or (probably) Youtube entirely on your TV now. Only problem is that there’s no simple way to get sound back out of the TV and in to your nice wall-mounted surround sound speakers. So all this smart TV stuff is useless unless you want to listen to 5W of shitty stereo. (Not strictly true; there’s a new HDMI 1.4 standard called ARC that does feed audio back up the cable.)

The Smart TV stuff is a little useful if you really just want a simple TV to watch movies in the kitchen. But for anyone who is at least a little serious about home theater, it’s useless. Worse than useless. Because now your TV has an operating system. So it takes a long time to boot, is vulnerable to security holes, and is popping up features and notifications when you don’t want them. I was particularly charmed to see this year’s Samsung TV includes a virus scanner. In the display. Awesome.

There used to be a class of flat panel displays called “monitors” that were really just a screen; no speakers, no “smart TV”, no bullshit. Unfortunately that market segment is gone. My suspicion is that the TV manufacturers are hoping to one day capture customers and turn them in to Internet service subscribers, so that they make more money than just selling the fancy glass panel. Ugh.

Bonus link: simple TV feature comparison matrix. Samsung’s marketing literature makes it impossible to understand what you are actually buying. What’s the difference between a JU6500 vs a JS8500? About $1000, but their web site does a terrible job informing you what that $1000 buys. This third party site has a simple feature matrix. May they make many dollars in Amazon referral fees.

Addendum

XKCD #463

4 thoughts on “SmartTVs

  1. yup. this. “everything is a computer” is a sad trend.

    having said that, we use smart TV apps to watch pretty much all of our streaming content, and we’re satisfied with the UX. it’s not ideal, but it’s good enough. we use ARC to get decent sound. i’m notoriously indifferent to video resolution, artifacts, etc. though, so take it with a grain of salt.

  2. Oh so ARC really works? That’s good to know. Ther’es not much difference in H.264 decoder chips, you know? I like the idea of it all being bundled into one box, just still not sure that box should be the display.

  3. The Sonos Playbar is surprisingly great. It does involve buying into the Sonos thing, which is not cheap, but it satisfies the “just freaking play music” thing I’ve personally long struggled with. Takes input via optical audio, which most TVs output, I think?

  4. If the signal run is further than you’d want for an unbalanced signal (usually these Samsungs have 1/8″ stereo out) analog as well as Toslink SPDIF can be “BALUN’d” to CAT5/6 wire.

    So if you have CAT5/6 hidden in the wall behind your TV going to your receiver that’s an option. Honestly they make BALUNs for almost all signal types, the caveat with HDMI is that the BALUN can effect the video handshake requiring devices to be power cycled.

    So unless you cannot help it, try and keep video devices on HDMI cables that go direct to the TV (50ft or so).

    And I’ll second that the Sonos Play Bar is a good option that just plays music. It will require a Toslink optical in. And an Ethernet cable if you want to keep wireless minimized. Though the Sonos bridges (ethernet > Sonos wifi) are $30 and they can put the “SonosNet” on a separate 2.4GHz frequency from your main wifi network.

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