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The 10 Best Reasons to Avoid a Smart TV Today

In recent years, smart TVs have taken the home entertainment world by storm. These all-in-one devices promise the convenience of streaming your favorite shows, movies, and music directly on your TV, without the need for extra devices or wires. However, despite their attractive features and sleek design, there are several compelling reasons why you might want to think twice before jumping on the smart TV bandwagon.

As a technology expert passionate about digital devices, I‘ve closely followed the evolution of smart TVs. While they undoubtedly offer some benefits, I believe the drawbacks often outweigh the advantages for many consumers. In this in-depth article, I‘ll lay out the top 10 reasons to avoid buying a smart TV today, explore some worthwhile alternatives, and provide tips for securing your smart TV if you already own one.

Reason 1: Your Privacy Is at Risk
One of the most significant concerns with smart TVs is their potential to infringe on your privacy. Many models come equipped with built-in cameras, microphones, and tracking software that monitor your viewing habits, the commands you give, and even the conversations you have near your TV.

A 2017 joint study by Princeton and Chicago‘s University found that a whopping 89% of Amazon Fire TV channels and 69% of Roku channels contained easily available trackers. These trackers can collect a treasure trove of data about you — your viewing habits, location, and other identifying information — which can then be sold to advertisers and data brokers without your explicit consent.

Reason 2: Hackers Can Target Your TV
Because smart TVs are connected to the internet, they are just as vulnerable to hackers as your computer or smartphone. However, TV manufacturers typically don‘t prioritize security the way tech companies do. Many smart TVs lack basic security features like anti-malware protection, firewalls, and automatic security updates.

In a chilling demonstration of smart TV vulnerabilities, researchers from Samsung‘s security team were able to hijack a TV‘s camera and microphones, remotely install apps, and access locally stored data– all without the user ever knowing. While Samsung has since patched that particular flaw, the incident underscores the ongoing security risks posed by smart TVs.

Reason 3: Prepare for Frustration and Lag
Smart TVs are essentially mini-computers baked into your television. But here‘s the thing– the processors and memory inside most smart TVs are considerably less powerful than what you‘d find in an average low-end smartphone or laptop. This underpowered hardware can lead to a frustratingly sluggish user experience.

Opening apps, navigating menus, and typing on on-screen keyboards with your remote can feel excruciatingly slow compared to using your phone or a dedicated streaming device. Some smart TV owners report waiting 20 seconds or more just for an app like Netflix to load. Lag and freezing are especially common with entry-level smart TV models.

Reason 4: You‘re Stuck with Quickly Outdated Software
Tech giants like Google and Apple push out highly anticipated software updates for their phones and tablets every year, complete with fresh features, security patches, and under-the-hood improvements. TV manufacturers, on the other hand, aren‘t nearly as diligent or quick about updating their smart TV software.

It‘s not uncommon for smart TVs to stop receiving meaningful software updates altogether after 2-3 years, leaving you with sluggish and buggy performance. Some apps may cease working properly, and you likely won‘t have access to the latest streaming services. With a dumb TV, you can simply upgrade your external streaming device every few years as needed.

Reason 5: You‘re Paying a Premium for Subpar Smarts
All those extra chips, software, and features in smart TVs come at a hefty cost– one that‘s passed directly onto the consumer. You can expect to pay anywhere from a 15% to 50%+ premium for a smart TV versus a comparably sized regular television, according to a 2022 report by market research firm Omdia.

The problem is, those "smart" features that jack up the price are often vastly inferior to what you‘d get in a $30 streaming stick or $200 gaming console. You‘re essentially paying extra for outdated, frustrating, and potentially insecure technology that may actually detract from your viewing experience instead of enhancing it.

Reason 6: A Maze of Menus Awaits You
If you‘ve ever used a smart TV, you‘re likely familiar with the seemingly endless labyrinth of menus, submenus, and settings buried within the interface. Shockingly, intuitive design and user-friendliness are not hallmarks of most smart TV software.

Adjusting simple settings like your TV‘s picture mode or searching for a specific app can require significant effort and remote button mashing. Laggy processors can make scrolling feel like a chore. And god forbid you need to enter login details or search terms using the on-screen keyboard. Using a smart TV can make you long for the elegant simplicity of a regular TV with a straightforward menu.

Reason 7: Expect Limited App Selection & Support
While smart TVs offer some of the most popular streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, their overall selection tends to pale in comparison to external streaming devices. Roku‘s channel store, for example, boasts over 4000 options, ranging from niche streaming services to games and screensavers. Amazon Fire TV also offers a robust selection.

Smart TV app stores, on the other hand, are usually much more limited. You might get 100-300 big name apps at most, with far fewer niche options. So, if you‘re a fan of more obscure streaming services, smart TVs may leave you in the lurch.

App quality and reliability can also vary widely between smart TV brands. An app that works flawlessly on Apple TV or Chromecast may be buggy or crash-prone on a smart TV, if it‘s available at all. Even big players like YouTube and Amazon have feuded with certain TV brands in the past, temporarily pulling their apps from those platforms.

Reason 8: Extra Components, Extra Failure Points
The added technical complexity of smart TVs means there are simply more parts and software that can malfunction over time, potentially leading to a shorter overall lifespan compared to regular TVs. Just like computers, it‘s not uncommon for smart TVs to get progressively slower and glitchier as they age.

While the screen panels in modern TVs can easily last a decade or more, smart TV components like Wi-Fi radios, ethernet ports, and processing chips may give up the ghost much sooner. Once the "smarts" in your smart TV bite the dust, you‘re left with an oversized computer monitor at best.

With a dumb TV, the processing is offloaded onto your external streaming device, gaming console, or Blu-ray player. If one of those devices fails, it‘s much less expensive to replace versus junking an entire smart TV. Regular TVs also tend to receive more frequent firmware updates than smart TVs to address hardware bugs.

Reason 9: You‘re Locked Into the Manufacturer‘s Ecosystem
When you purchase a smart TV, you‘re not just buying a display, but investing in that manufacturer‘s entire ecosystem– for better or worse. The quality and selection of available apps, the user interface, and the frequency of software updates are all at the sole discretion of the TV brand.

If you buy a Samsung smart TV, for instance, you‘ll be using their proprietary Tizen operating system and associated app store. If a new streaming service comes out that Samsung doesn‘t make a deal with, you may not have access to that service on your TV. Similarly, if a major app has a falling out with Samsung and pulls its app– as YouTube temporarily did in 2017– you‘re out of luck.

With an external streaming box or gaming console, you have the freedom to switch between device brands and ecosystems as you please. If you‘re not happy with your Roku, you can easily switch to Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or Google Chromecast and still use your TV.

Reason 10: Higher Energy Bills Thanks to Vampire Power
All those extra smart TV components are continually sipping power, even when the TV appears to be completely off. This standby power consumption, also known as "vampire power," can add an extra $100 or more to your energy bill over the lifespan of a smart TV. Many smart TVs in standby mode still listen for "wake word" voice commands and maintain a network connection.

Consumer Reports found that the standby power consumption of smart TVs they tested was 2-3 times higher on average compared to regular TVs of similar sizes. While the vampire draw of an individual smart TV may seem trivial, the added waste really adds up when you consider the millions of smart TVs plugged in across the country.

With a standard TV, you can simply connect it to an advanced surge protector that automatically cuts off the power supply when the TV is turned off. The same solution doesn‘t work with smart TVs, as you need constant power for certain functions like voice commands to still work.

Superior Smart TV Alternatives to Consider
Now that we‘ve covered the pitfalls of smart TVs, let‘s take a look at some of the best alternatives that can turn any regular TV with an HDMI port into an all-purpose entertainment center.

  1. Streaming Devices
    Simple plug-and-play devices like the Roku Ultra, Amazon Fire Stick 4K, Chromecast with Google TV, and Apple TV 4K offer an unparalleled streaming experience compared to most smart TVs. They have access to nearly every streaming service imaginable and offer slick user interfaces designed solely for media consumption.

These devices are also extremely affordable, with options ranging from $30 to $120. Even the most expensive model is a small fraction of the cost of a smart TV. They‘re also easy to replace every few years to take advantage of faster processors, 4K support, and voice control without having to junk your entire TV.

  1. Gaming Consoles
    If you‘re a gamer, you likely already have a streaming powerhouse sitting in your entertainment center. Consoles like the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and even Nintendo Switch offer access to most major streaming services and a wealth of entertainment apps. The PS5 and Series X even support 4K HDR streaming.

Using your gaming console as your main entertainment hub allows you to have one cohesive, powerful ecosystem for both gaming and streaming. Console interfaces are also typically far more intuitive than smart TV software. And you can always easily upgrade your console every 5-7 years as technology evolves, independent of your TV.

  1. 4K Blu-ray Players
    If you‘re a movie buff, a 4K Blu-ray player can be a great two-in-one solution for playing physical media and streaming. Most models released in the past few years have built-in Wi-Fi and ethernet for connecting to popular streaming services. They‘re also affordable, with options starting under $100.

With their processing focused on a/v playback, 4K Blu-ray players can often provide a smoother streaming experience than smart TVs. And they‘ll make your 4K Blu-ray disc collection shine with crisp, vibrant HDR picture and Dolby Atmos surround sound. A standard TV plus 4K player is also usually cheaper than a high-end smart TV.

  1. Home Theater PCs
    If you really want the ultimate customization and flexibility, consider setting up a dedicated PC or Mac connected to your TV. With a home theater PC (HTPC) setup, you can install any app or streaming service you want, plus use your TV for gaming, web surfing, and video chats.

A wireless keyboard and mouse make navigating your HTPC a breeze compared to fiddling with a smart TV remote. And you can always upgrade the computer‘s components down the line to get more storage or processing power– something that‘s impossible with a smart TV.

Tips for Securing Your Smart TV
Already own a smart TV? There are some steps you can take to mitigate the privacy and security risks:

  • Disable ACR (Automatic Content Recognition) in your TV‘s settings to prevent targeted ads.
  • Change your TV‘s name to something random in its network menu to avoid giving away personal details to bad actors.
  • Disconnect your TV from your network if you‘re not actively streaming to prevent 24/7 snooping
  • Manually install smart TV software updates periodically for the latest bug fixes and security patches.
  • Cover the camera with tape when not in use for video chats and disable active listening if voice commands make you uneasy.

The Bottom Line
While smart TVs offer some convenience, their long-term costs, complex interfaces, security risks, and quickly outdated hardware often negate the benefits for many users. A setup with a regular TV and an external streaming device, gaming console, Blu-ray player, or HTPC will generally provide a smoother, more secure, and easily upgradeable experience.

Of course, the decision ultimately depends on your specific needs, budget, and privacy concerns. Some users are content with smart TVs despite their flaws. But if you want the best streaming quality, app selection, and user experience, it‘s hard to beat a good "dumb" TV paired with a robust streaming or gaming device. Hopefully, this article has given you some valuable food for thought to guide your next TV purchasing decision!