- Smart TVs often have poor app support due to running unique platforms that limit their app selection and support.
- Smart TVs usually have slow processors, leading to sluggish app performance, so getting a third-party box may be a better option.
- Sharing personal data with smart TV makers is necessary, but users may prefer to consider external players with more agreeable privacy policies.
Your “smart” TV is basically a huge smartphone with all the apps you need built in. That means you don’t need to plug in any extra boxes, right? Perhaps not. Most of these TVs aren’t as smart as they first seem.
App Support Is Often Poor
There are quite a number of bespoke smart TV operating systems including Samsung’s Tizen, LG’s webOS, and, of course, Android TV. Except for Android TV, which shares development resources with the Android phone versions of apps, every unique platform represents a significant amount of time and money for app developers to support.
This means that resources are often diverted to the iOS or Android versions of an app first. In some cases, a streaming provider might choose to skip certain platforms completely. Even when apps are available for your smart TV’s OS, it may take longer for bugs to be fixed or for the app to reach feature parity with more popular versions of those apps.
Smart TVs (Usually) Have Slow Processors
If you’ve used almost any smart TV in the past few years, you may have noticed that working through apps and menus can be a slog. This is because most smart TVs, except for some high-end models, aren’t exactly equipped with the most powerful processors.
The truth is that manufacturers don’t have much incentive to improve this aspect of their product. It makes more sense to funnel available resources (and processing power) into core TV functions like picture quality or connectivity. This leads to the “good enough” performance of most smart TVs, which often falls well short of a good user experience. Thanks to hardware acceleration for video, actual streaming video playback works fine, and that’s what matters.
However, if you want to have a snappy and responsive app experience, you’re almost certainly better off getting a third-party streaming box instead.
We Don’t Upgrade TVs Frequently
While some TV enthusiasts may shell out for the best OLED TV that comes out every year, the vast majority of people don’t change their TVs that often. It makes sense when you think about it: if the TV still works, why would you get rid of it? The picture may not look as good as the latest models, but unless you put them side-by-side, it’s unlikely to bother the average person.
For smart TVs, this is an issue. Even when a given smart TV is new, it’s likely to have a sub-par user experience thanks to its weak processor. This is a problem that only gets worse as time goes on, and as apps are updated (eventually) with more features.
It’s especially a problem since there are a myriad of TV models running the same operating system, and app developers can’t take them all into account when developing their apps. Even if your smart TV performs adequately when new, you might feel the pressure to simply buy a more modern plug-in box to give it a new lease on life.
You Have to Share Data With the Smart TV Maker
Many of us have made peace with the fact that we have to share personal data as part of the Faustian pact we made with hardware makers and software providers to use their products. But there’s some nuance to that discussion, and the devil is in the details. For example, Apple’s approach to user data privacy is very different from most TV manufacturers. Likewise, that little-known smart TV brand you’ve bought might be partially subsidized by reselling of user data.
Network Performance or Image Quality May Be Worse
Finally, the network hardware and app image quality of your smart TV may not be up to snuff. Did you know that LG’s flagship G3 OLED only has a 100Mbit Ethernet port? This is slower than most modern Wi-Fi connections. You can upgrade many of these models with a USB Ethernet adapter (though in LG’s case, you’ll be limited to the 480Mbit USB 2.0 ports).
Unfortunately, many more smart TVs run older or lower-end Wi-Fi hardware too. It’s not just about the speed of the connection, but also signal strength, reliability, and how well it deals with errors. Also, if there’s not enough processing power on tap, there may just be too much data throughput for the TV to handle, irrespective of your connection speed.
Likewise, some TV-based apps may not offer picture quality that lets you get the most out of your TV, whereas an Apple TV, Android TV box, or Amazon Fire TV may offer better video processing capabilities.
If you’re happy with how your smart TV’s apps currently perform, then there’s no reason to change anything, but it’s always good to remember that there are ways to get a better experience without buying an entirely new TV.