Why It’s So Hard to Buy a ‘Dumb’ TV

TV companies really don’t want you to have one.

  • Yes, smart TVs really do spy on you.
  • TV companies make millions by selling your data.
  • “Dumb” TVs are often worse, spec-wise, than ad-supported smart models.

Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

If you’re worried about your smart TV spying on you, why not buy a “dumb” TV that does nothing but display a picture, no internet, no streaming, nothing at all? Sounds great, but have you tried this lately?

It used to be that you bought a TV once a decade and hooked it up to whatever cable box you had in your house. Now the TV wants to support as much of that connectivity as possible, with questionable user interfaces and even more questionable privacy practices. It’s not that you can’t get your hands on dumb old TVs, it’s that they’re an afterthought, a relic of an earlier age, like cameras or cassette players. And it’s unlikely to get better.

“When I’m ‘forced’ to buy a smart TV, I’ll do my best to outsmart it by buying it only once the seller agrees to ship it with privacy-preserving presets, or I’ll have ‘instructions for suckers’.” ‘/a manual that tells me how to do the same thing,” multimedia journalist Stacy Harris told Lifewire via email.

play the silence

Why would you want a dumb TV? After all, a Smart TV lets you access everything from YouTube to Netflix to Apple TV+, all from the same remote. Simply connect it to your Wi-Fi network and you’re good to go.

While that’s great, these TVs are also a huge security and privacy hole. For example, Samsung TVs were discovered spying on viewers in 2015. Smart TVs record button presses and other interactions and also record living room audio.

“When I’m ‘forced’ to buy a smart TV, I’ll do my best to outsmart…”

TV manufacturers like to collect this data for the same reason Facebook uses your personal information: to make a profit. Facebook uses this information to sell targeted ads, but smart TV makers simply sell them directly.

Smart TV maker Vizio made $38.4 million in a single quarter from the sale of viewing data and ads alone. For comparison, his devices (real TVs, etc.) brought him $48.2 million. Worse yet, data sales are growing faster and will soon make up the bulk of their revenue.

This is the number one reason why you can’t buy a dumb TV.

not so smart

To avoid this level of mindless eavesdropping, the savvy shopper can opt for an older TV that only displays images from whatever source it’s tuned to. It could be a cable box or an Apple TV unit. You will not only protect your privacy, but also enjoy a better experience. Simply trying to change channels on a TV can be a nightmare if you haven’t studied the remote yet.

The problem with getting a non-smart TV is that manufacturers don’t want to make them, so there are relatively few models available. TechDirt’s Karl Bode gave it a try and found that while you might get a great screen, good connections, or a great picture, it’s hard to find a dumb TV with generally top-tier specs.

old gray and black sony portable tv

Possessed Photography / Unsplash

And then there is the price. Smart TVs are cheap because TV manufacturers want you to buy them.

“I think if people really go out of their way to protect their privacy, they might buy [a] Non-smart TV if it is available in the market. However, most of us would rather take the risk just to reap the benefits of having smart TVs in our homes,” James Fyfe, founder of automation company Portant, told Lifewire via email. “A large computer screen could be a great alternative if you just look at the screen. But if you consider that it has fewer ports available or it is difficult to find one with a built-in speaker, then it is not a good option.

Can you protect yourself?

It is always possible to buy a stupid TV or an alternative device. Samsung, Scepter, and Westinghouse all make them, but finding one to buy can be tricky. You can buy a computer monitor, but these tend to be around 32 inches, lack inputs, and have weak speakers.

“I think if people really go out of their way to protect their privacy, they might buy [a] Non-smart TV if it is available in the market. »

Another option is a commercial display, the kind used in stores and restaurants to display advertisements, information and menus, but these may not be optimized for picture quality and you’ll almost certainly pay more than you won’t for a screen. subsidized by advertising. Smart TV.

The last option is to simply buy a smart TV and never connect it to your Wi-Fi network. But you will still have to deal with the terrible user interface.

Ultimately, it might be better to watch shows on your iPad.

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