Why can’t I buy a dumb TV?


Our old TV is showing it’s age a bit. It’s an old Samsung. About 30” and 1080p. It works fine, but certainly isn’t what you’d call modern. I think it dates from around 2010.

I thought I’d look and see how much it would cost to replace it – allowing me to use it as a monitor. I spend the majority of my time in a terminal, I don’t game and as such 4k, high refresh rate, wide screen monitors are of little interest to me. What is of interest to me is how many terminal windows I can tile and still use.

Anyway, I went to various sites and navigated to TVs. What I found surprised me a little: no dumb TVs. None at all. There were smart, 4k 55” TVs for under £400, but nothing without “smart features”.

Most people assume that if I don’t like something, it’s because of privacy concerns or similar. While this is partly true for TVs, it’s not my main dislike.

Smart TVs need to be maintained by the manufacturer when it is in their interest not to do so. Think about software updates. Is Samsung / LG / Sony / Philips going to be putting updates out for your TV in 10 or 15 years? If you think they might, take a look at how phones have gone. I’ll use Samsung as an example: they offer 3 years worth of feature updates and 4 years worth of security updates – that is for their flagships. Lower end phones won’t even get that. This means that after 4 years, your Samsung flagship phone will not be patched for security issues.

Why would they do any different for TVs? Many smart TVs even run Android – a variation on the system used on most smartphones.

That just relates to the manufacturer maintaining the device. Let alone the apps who can also decide to stop supporting the TV.

It is bad enough spending hundreds (or thousands) of pounds on a phone every few years, I don’t want to do the same for a TV.

“What about apps?”, you might ask. This is a non issue. I can buy a 4k fire stick for less than £50. That is without offers. I’ve seen them sub-£30 on prime day. If that only lasts 3 years, I can swap that for a new one at the time, rather than swapping out my whole TV. I don’t love the idea of replacing a set top box every few years, but I like that idea far more than replacing a whole TV.

Modern versions of HDMI will happily support your HDR, single remote and surround sound needs.

So, planned obsolescence is one reason, but I don’t think it is the whole story.

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this blog that data collection is a huge business these days. Targeting advertising allows companies to charge exuberant prices for well placed ads. The amount they can charge correlates nicely with the amount of data they can collect. It is no coincidence that the largest advertising companies (Google and Facebook Meta) are also two of the worst offenders for hoarding information.

TV manufacturers realised that they can make more money selling adverts than they can selling TVs. The more TVs they sell, the more they can charge for advertising. This is not just me and my tin foil hat. Vizio went public a year or so ago and, as a result, had to publish their financials. They made over twice as much money selling ads as they made from TV sales.

This isn’t the post to go into why I think it is important to protect your data. If you’re reading my blog, you probably already have some idea. However, it seems that just as most of our phones, smart speakers and watches spy on us, our TVs are trying to do the same. Maybe you don’t care if big companies know what you’re watching. That is your decision, but it is a decision you should make – not one that you should be compelled into.

It seems clear to me that planned obsolescence isn’t the only factor at play here. Sure, they want to sell you a TV every few years, but they also want to harvest as much data as possible in order to sell ads. I don’t want this.

The question then becomes, what can we do about it? Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good answer to this but here are some thoughts.

The first, and perhaps most obvious answer, is to buy a smart TV and just not connect it to the network. With this you get the advantage of (comparably) cheap units, and don’t have the risk of data harvesting. A slight variation on this might be isolating the TV or blocking access via a firewall rule. This doesn’t, however, mitigate the issue of security updates. Additionally, I’m told that many TVs will either not work at all, or continuously prompt you to connect them to the internet. I recently tried to use a Fire TV stick on a network without internet connectivity, in order to watch content stored on a local server with Jellyfin. The process was a long way from ideal. The home screen (where you would normally select the app such as Jellyfin) was replaced entirely with a network error and a prompt to go to network settings. Even apps that don’t require an internet connection were unavailable.

It was possible to launch Jellyfin by going Settings -> Applications -> Manage Installed Applications -> Jellyfin -> Launch Application, but that is not a process I want to make every time I turn on the TV, and certainly not a solution that would get wife-approval. I have no idea if I would have similar issues with other devices, and buying a smart TV to test that is not particularly palatable.

Another option might be using a non-tv monitor as a TV. You can buy large computer monitors or displays meant for digital signage. Computer monitors of this size are expensive. Digital signage signs are also expensive, but do tend to come with the advantage that they are designed to be on all the time. Although I couldn’t find much in the way of data, I suspect this would mean they would last longer. However, again, they are a lot more expensive than a consumer-grade smart TV.

My plan is to do some more research and try and find a smart tv that can be used without constant nags when not connected to the internet. If any of you know of such a device, or have any other ideas, let me know in the comments below.