My Smart TV Odyssey

After not owning a television for nearly a decade and a half, my wife and I recently purchased one. My conclusion is that the “smart” technology in so-called smart TVs is totally worthless, although modern TVs are otherwise amazing machines. Perhaps my notes will help other consumers pick out a television system that works for them.

My New TV

I first bought a Vizio 40-inch “smart” TV at Costco. But where was the web browser? The whole point of having a “smart” TV is to access the internet, right? Apparently not. Apparently the purpose of a “smart” TV is to screw its owner with special rip-off “deals.” Not only did the Vizio not offer a web browser, it did not offer the ability to download one (at least so far as I could figure out).

So I returned the Vizio and got a Samsung, because it specifically said it offered a web browser. The problem is, its web browser sucks. The first thing I looked up is Hulu, as my wife and I watch Hulu shows, and of course that web page was blocked. Apparently I was supposed to pay an extra fee every month to watch “Hulu Plus,” which I had no intention of doing.

Moreover, the web browser was almost impossible to use, even for those pages that weren’t blocked. I bought an HP keyboard with a Bluetooth plug that worked great—except the web browser is so clunky that using it with a keyboard was still a major hassle.

Despite my dissatisfaction with Samsung’s idiotic “smart” technology, we decided to keep the TV, because we doubted we could do better with a replacement. At least it works great as a TV—its picture is amazing (as was the picture of the Vizio).

So now we have a “smart” TV that I’m using as a dumb TV, because the “smart” technology is too stupidly designed to function well.

Rather than use the TV’s “smart” technology, I just hooked my laptop up to it. Through the laptop, I can play DVDs, watch Hulu and Netflix, and watch personal videos.

I thought the TV would readily feed the laptop’s sound through to our soundbar, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen. So I just plugged the laptop’s audio directly into the soundbar, and that works great.

The Amazing Flatwave Antenna

One of the reasons I wanted a TV was to watch locally broadcast sports games. You don’t need cable for that. Instead, I bought a Flatwave antenna from Costco for around forty bucks, and it works spectacularly well. It easily hooked up to the Samsung (through the cable jack), and the Samsung readily searched for available channels—of which we have over fifty.

I remember my step-dad trying to adjust our “rabbit ears” to bring in a show, and that rarely worked well. But this new little antenna is amazing (at least in my metro area). I highly recommend it.

The Awesome Vizio Soundbar

I also bought a lower-end Vizio soundbar (with a woofer), and it works great. Not only does it pick up fantastic audio from the Samsung via the Flatwave antenna, it offers additional in-jacks for the laptop, and it also has Bluetooth connectivity. (So I’m actually using a mobile device for music.)

This is another great product. It took me a while to figure out how to change the input source, but once I did that I loved the product.

The upshot is that, for a few hundred dollars, we got a TV, a soundbar, and an antenna that works well (with the addition of our laptop) as a television and music system.

A Note about Comcast

Comcast offers cable in my area. I love Comcast’s mostly-reliable and fast internet service. I hate Comcast’s absurd pricing policies and lousy customer service.

For the last year or so, I’ve purchased a cable-internet package from Comcast—not because I wanted cable, but because the price for both was cheaper than the price for just internet.

But then, despite my explicit directions to the contrary, Comcast sent me two different shipments of gear to work with a television set—even though I didn’t even own an television set at the time—to run cable service that I didn’t want. I refused the packages and wasted additional time on the phone trying to set Comcast straight. Finally somebody at Comcast decided to give me an internet-only deal for the same price as the package deal—which is what the company should have done in the first place—because otherwise Comcast couldn’t figure out how not to send me television equipment I don’t want. Ridiculous.

Incidentally, also within the last few weeks, Comcast tried charging me for a modem rental, even though I don’t rent a modem from Comcast.

In general, I am continually amazed that Comcast offers such horrible customer service. It can do so only because its service does work well, and its competitors aren’t fantastic by comparison.

Some people I know do watch television shows that are only available through cable (or on disk long after the original release date), but I have little or no interest in such shows, and for me broadcast offers more than enough channels.

A Final Note

Yes, I’m a demanding customer; I like to get value for my dollar. But I should end by noting how amazing it is that Vizio, Samsung, Comcast, and others offer me such great products and services that tremendously improve my life.

For a small fraction of my income, I can watch exciting sporting events, films that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, and well-made television shows; and I can listen to a practically endless catalog of music.

We’ve come a long way since the days of telling tales around a fire or even sitting around the family radio. Intelligent consumers of technology can get some great deals on amazing high-tech machines and services.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “My Smart TV Odyssey

  1. c_andrew

    Ari,
    I live a bit further out so every commercial antenna (I can’t use rooftop mounts due to housing issues) I’ve ever bought performed lamentably badly. So I spent 3 weeks and built my own 4 cell bowtie antenna. It works great. I love it.
    However I was shown just how important knowledge is to productivity. My mother was having a similar problem so I offered to build her a bow-tie. My brother, who was a TAC-P (responsible for communications and terminal ordnance guidance for SF groups) built a dipole antenna using only a two wire speaker cable and the cardboard core from some wrapping paper. In 5 minutes. And it works as well as my 4 cell bow-tie.

  2. Walter

    We cut the cable (actually the satellite) about two years ago and have never looked back. We use our Roku to access Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. We have OTA and a Channel Master DVR that records that (surprising how hard it was to find such a thing). We even have a $40 DVD player, and with all this, we manage to watch about 4 hours of TV a week! But it’s 4 hours of what we want to see, when we want it.

    You’re right, internet-enabled “smart TV” has little to do with the internet and nothing to do with smart.

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