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In Defence of Smart TVs

Next on my 'other view' hit list is the argument that smart TV is really just a cynical way for the TV brands to get more money out of you via subscriptions, download rentals and so on. I’d argue that the amount of free video content around on some smart TV services - especially Sony’s Bravia Internet Video platform - is both surprisingly extensive and, in the shape of its catch-up services at least, genuinely useful.

As for the subscription stuff, many people already pay happily for clunky, inconvenient 'disc-posting' LoveFilm subscriptions, or fork out wads of cash on Sky or Virgin monthly subscriptions - none of which are as convenient as having video streaming platforms completely 'enclosed' within your display device environment.

Having mentioned Sky and Virgin, it’s interesting that both of these players have gone into innovation overdrive to offer all sorts of high-tech features on their latest receiver boxes, which I believe is at least partly in response to a belief that smart TV represents a genuine challenge to their current subscription base.

Sony didn't show off any massive revamps of its interface on new TVs like the KDL-55HX920 at CES,

but it still looks set to lead the way where all-important video content is concerned.

Probably the single most persuasive argument of Gordon’s piece was the point about the reliance on loads of software in smart TVs potentially making them feel dated. This is, of course, undeniable on one level; it’s already obvious that last year’s smart TVs have been superseded by this year’s, and while all the manufacturers are promising to keep updating older systems with new content, they also have to admit that some of the new services they’re bringing in just won’t work on older-generation smart TVs.

However, I personally think that using this as a reason not to buy a smart TV is rather unfair. After all, you could use the same logic about any new technology to stop you buying any TV; for instance, every generation - usually - of any TV technology tends to yield better picture quality than the one before, partly due to panel improvements and partly due to software improvements. But that doesn’t mean that nobody should ever buy a TV because something better’s going to come along later.

In fact, smart TVs are arguably better than standard TVs when it comes to not feeling dated. After all, they can at least have their firmware updated on a regular basis. It’s already reached the point where even the current generation of smart TVs can have completely new - often useful - features added to them overnight, at no extra charge, and without the user having to lift a finger. Provided these updates never 'brick' a TV, surely this is a good thing rather than a bad thing?

To try and sum all this up, what reviewing NEC’s P461 crystallised in my mind was that while I can’t be doing with the hassle of full PC operation on my main TV, I personally - and I stress this is a personal view - already appreciate smart TV features, to the point where I miss them when they’re not there. Even as a self-confessed tech geek with a networked PC and full Sky HD subscription (with multiroom!!), I and, crucially, my family still routinely use such smart TV services as the catch-up TV 'channels'; YouTube; Picasa; and whatever music platforms are on offer (so long as they’re free). And so when I get a TV now that doesn’t have any sort of smart TV functionality, frankly it feels limited and old-fashioned.

Over the past 12 months I have grown to firmly believe there’s a place in the world for a 'middle' interactive TV path between clunky old stuff like digital teletext on the one hand and the over-complicated, socially incompatible full PC route on the other. And that middle way is the smart TV.

Jason Mullins

June 28, 2013, 10:33 am

To answer your questions first - yes, I bought a new Samsung Smart TV (series 6) last year and gave it all a go. And 'Tech Savvy' would be a good description of our house.
One year later the TV acts purely as a nice screen and we -never- touch the smart TV stuff (or even the remote). There are a number of reasons for this:
1/ the built-in Freeview is good, but you can't pause, record, etc, so...
2/ content is all delivered by Vigin Tivo, or Freeview+, or Apple TV
3/ the apps and interfaces on all of the alternatives are much easier to use - browsing YouTube on a tablet and then streaming to AppleTV is soooo much easier than a smart TV (as is iPlayer, Netflix)
4/ the apps are shoddy and mostly pointless, with the exception of the catch-up services but I can get these elsewhere. I mean, web browsing, facebook and twitter on a TV?
In the end the SmartTV became another remote, another device to learn that isn't as useful, or as easy to use.

For me, I'd be happy with a completely 'dumb' screen at a cheaper price rather than packing everything into the TV - that way I can choose my input devices, sound system, and upgrade them all at will.

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