Talk to me about "smart" TVs. More specifically, how to make them dumb?
March 11, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a new TV, something 55 inches with all the 4Ks and HDTVs and Dolbys and the true blacks and the local dimming and HDRs and all that. But all TVs now are "smart" and I do not want that. I have some questions.

Specifically, if I buy a "smart" TV can I shut off everything that makes it smart?

I've been looking at this Vizio but am open to other brands.

I have Apple TV and TiVo. Between the two of them they supply every streaming service and app I will ever need. I do not want to use apps directly on my TV. I do not want to "boot" my TV to an "operating system" so that I can have the Samsung "experience" or leverage my lateral cross-platform infrastructures to experience all that Vizio has to offer.

I want to turn on my TV and have it immediately display my Apple TV or TiVo. That's all.

I'll be using a Harmony remote, so I can probably set it up to turn on the TV and select a specific input to display. But I haven't been able to find out if I can actually do that with the TVs on the market. Am I going to have to turn the TV on and then scroll through a menu to display what I want?

Am I going to have to wait for the TV to update? Is the TV going to crash occasionally?

Can I just never hook a TV up to my network and still set it up and use it? Or is it going to require that I network it?

I haven't really been able to find answers to this question. The most I seem to be able to find is how to turn off the spying features.

I would like answers that are along the lines of "I have Newish Brand/model TV and I am able to do what you want to do." and "yes, here is a guide to do what you need to do with Brand ABC" rather than "I'm pretty sure you can do that with XYZ TV."

In conclusion, technology is stupid and I hate it.
posted by bondcliff to Technology (18 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: my LG has never ever been allowed on my network. works fine.
posted by zippy at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Our Vizio went months without a network connection and never complained. It is also perfectly happy to turn on showing whatever input we used last (90% of the time, that's the Roku)
posted by advicepig at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't connect it to your network. Smart TV neutered. The end.
posted by Karaage at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2019 [11 favorites]

Best answer: We have a slightly older vizio from 2015 or so. When we turn it on, it immediately displays the input it's set to (we use a receiver for switching). We do not see any smart tv stuff unless we accidentally hit a 'menu' button on a remote.

It works just fine being unconnected. I think we connected it once to update the firmware?
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2019

Best answer: Our Samsung smart TV is a couple of years old and I never realized just how chatty it was until I started using a pi-hole for network-wide adblocking. It turns out there's a blocklist specifically for smart tvs, which I promptly applied and never looked back.

If you'll never use the built-in apps, it should never be allowed on your local network and work just fine as a monitor.
posted by jquinby at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We have a "smart" TV hooked up to a Mac Mini and have it set to display the computer when it's turned on. The only time we see anything else is if we accidentally sit on the remote and trigger one of the other built-in services. (On preview, the same situation as GCU Sweet and Full of Grace.)
posted by Lexica at 11:29 AM on March 11, 2019

Best answer: My LG OLEDs work fine when not connected to the network. I also use them with Harmony remotes, and the TVs will switch directly to the correct input for an activity without a logo, wait period or the need to go through a menu.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:29 AM on March 11, 2019

Best answer: My Smart TV hums along dumbly with a over-the-air digital antenna.

I get the channels I want, and the TV never complains at me for not being hooked up to a network.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My smart TV is connected to the network and we use its smart-TV-ness with a degree of regularity and it is still utterly trivial and seamless to turn it on regularly and it just boots up to being connected to other things and there's no menu or things to press and no way to tell that it has these smart things exist. As far as I know, they all work like that - just with the smart stuff functionally as another optional input. This will not be an issue for you.
posted by brainmouse at 11:51 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Whether or not you want a smart TV, even the dumb ones these days are basically LCD panels attached to little integrated computers. Your TV will ALWAYS boot to an operating system of some sort and the question becomes whether or not you can configure that into reliably acting like a dumb TV. Because it is a reprogrammable computer, the technically correct answer is that there is no reliably comprehensive solution to guarantee this. How you come to an acceptable solution is really dependent on the manufacturer and firmware versions.

The best answer for you: You need to try it out first. And there's a possibility that the way it behaves today could change, though unlikely if it's kept off the net.

There is a lot of concern about trends to find ways to create backchannels from TV's and monetize that information. One thing that many people forget is that TV's do include a high bandwidth receiver, and if TV manufacturers and broadcasters conspire, it is entirely possible for literal "over the air" firmware updates to happen without your knowledge, and without any easy way to stop that. The potential for backchannels is a little less obvious but is still there.

We had an older Samsung UN55F8000(?) that used to come up in this very flashy "flippy" UI that would rotate between five menu screens with animation. It powered up to this, and it seems to be the sort of annoying thing you are concerned about. Because we used the smart TV as a smart TV, this could be cool or it could be endlessly annoying (spoiler: the latter) but over time Samsung deprecated lots of the functionality and now it just comes up as a little selection box in the lower corner of the screen. Many of the "smart" TV functions are simply dead now.

For some TV's, I've found that they're inconsistent unless I put them in "Hotel" or "Hospitality" mode, which is typically accessible with some modest hacking. These modes typically give you a lot of control.
posted by jgreco at 11:57 AM on March 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My Sony "smart" TV has updated itself and tried to force me to use a new app, a Hacker News post with horror stories about displays from various manufacturers.
posted by Bangaioh at 12:22 PM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As everyone says, there's no reason to ever get a TV network access if you don't want the "smart features". Not even once.

The other half of newer TVs is they tend to do all sorts of complicated video processing. Most notably frame interpolation to make sources look like they are 60 fps when they are not. (AKA the Soap Opera effect). You can turn pretty much all that crap off by putting the TV into "game mode". The purpose of that mode is lower latency, but as a side effect it tends to bypass all the video processing steps you probably don't want.
posted by Nelson at 12:24 PM on March 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

My Vizio is smart and Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc work MUCH faster than thru TiVo.
posted by agregoli at 1:08 PM on March 11, 2019

Best answer: I have a somewhat older Visio smart TV. It is not on my home network, and—apart from initial setup just to check it out—never has been. I have a Tivo and Apple TV hooked up to it and use a Harmony remote, and it just goes straight into whatever "activity" the remote tells it to.

As others have said upthread, it does have a computer in it, and it does take a few seconds to boot up. I do see the Visio splash screen before I see what I want.
posted by adamrice at 4:13 PM on March 11, 2019

Best answer: If you want an lcd / flat screen, but don't want any bells and whistles, why not go on craigslist and buy an older, say circa 2012 for example, model. You'll save money and it won't be too smart. I have done this very succesfully twice. I actually prefer it bc they are more backwards compatible w/ older peripherals than new tvs. I recommend googling the model number once you find a candidate, and checking to make sure it have a built in antena and/or native capacity to receive digital over-the-air channels. This is another bonus of going older - many new tvs lack this functionality.
posted by elgee at 5:59 PM on March 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

We bought a Samsung because it was last year's model and STILL had a better screen / lower price than this year's cheaper brands. It boots to an app screen for the few seconds it takes for the signal from the Roku or TiVo to hit it. Otherwise, the apps may as well not exist. While ours is on network, I connected it solely to register the TV. I don't know how cranky it would be if we disconnected it. I use ethernet, not WiFi, whenever possible for "smart" appliances, so disconnecting it is as easy as unplugging a cord.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:26 AM on March 13, 2019

Every smart TV also works as a dumb tv if its not connected to the internet.

The other benefit of not connecting to the internet is that they wont be able to look at your viewing habits and report back to respective companies .

All will keep their last inputs so if it was connected to Apple TV or Tivo. The next time you turn it on , it will just open that last input.
posted by radsqd at 1:33 PM on March 15, 2019

Response by poster: So i went with a Samsumg, didn't set it up with WiFi or plug it into the network, and it's behaved nicely. Easily switches between my Apple TV and my TiVo without ever getting into all that smart TV nonsense. And when I do have to get into the TV menu it's nice and easy and well-thought-out.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by bondcliff at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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