Planned obsolescence is annoying regardless of which smart gadget you’re talking about, but it particularly grinds my gears when it comes to TVs. Sure, you don’t have to destroy your wallet for a decent 4K smart TV anymore – but I know plenty of friends and gadget nerds who do shell out for something a ‘lil nicer for their home cinema setups. The thing is when you do spend hundreds, or even thousands, on a smart TV the idea is you’ve made an investment. You probably expect it to work for several years – not two or three.
And yeah, the display might! Provided you don’t have a monster cat who gets the midnight zoomies or careless movers who wreck your screen, there’s a good chance the smart TV you shelled out for ought to last you. The TV’s software, powered by cheap and wimpy processors, is another story. The whole pitch of a smart TV is that they come with built-in apps that let you stream content natively – except as your TV ages, the processors struggle to handle newer content, manufacturers get stingier with updates and sometimes, kill the very apps that made your smart TV convenient in the first place.
Case in point, Samsung is axing support for its Smart View app in iOS and Android for older TV models. The Samsung app acts as a remote control, but can also stream music, videos, or photos from your phone or tablet. Android Police, which initially reported the news, notes that Smart View has been crappy for a while now, with a deluge of one-star reviews citing disconnects and poor performance. Owners with newer Samsung TVs can turn to the company’s SmartThings app, but if you don’t have a model over K5500 in 2016 or M5500 in 2017, you’ve got zero native support for this sort of functionality.
A 3- or 4-year-old TV that otherwise works fine shouldn’t be something you feel compelled to replace because the native apps have shit the bed. And there’s a simple, cost-effective solution: set-top boxes like Rokus, Apple TVs, Amazon Fire TVs, Chromecast, and Nvidia Shields, among others. Yet plenty of folks I know balk whenever buying one as an alternative is brought up.
Some of it is that not every set-top box has all the apps you’d want – then again, neither does a smart TV, per se. A big reason why I chucked my second-generation Apple TV was when the Amazon Prime TV app was summarily axed. My roommate at the time also hated set-top boxes as they were, in her words, “full of proprietary shit and bullshit ads” and so long as our TV could cast, set-top boxes seemed like an unnecessary expense when a new TV could be found for dirt cheap on Black Friday.
I admit to falling into this trap last Black Friday when I sold my old Samsung TV. It was dying a slow death by malfunctioning apps and selling it helped offset the price of a slightly nicer Vizio. But then my secondary LG started dying and the idea of replacing another TV in less than a year was too much – especially since everything else about the TV was in perfectly good condition despite multiple moves. Weighing the costs, even an expensive £180 Apple TV was preferable to trying to scrounge up another few hundred dollars and deal-hunting. So when the Hulu app on my LG TV crashed for the sixth time in an hour last week, I finally gave in and went back to a set-top box. And wouldn’t you know it, everything is fine now and I didn’t have to spend a fortune.
Set-top boxes aren’t perfect. They too are subject to the same obsolescence problem that all connected gadgets face. At the end of last year, Netflix pulled its app from some Roku devices, on top of older Samsung and Vizio TVs. But even so, they’re a lot easier on the wallet to replace and probably generate less e-waste than your television. Plus, the affected Roku boxes were eight- to ten-years-old. When you consider the cheapest Roku, even with all of its ads, is a mere £30 and could theoretically last twice as long as your smart TV’s native software, why wouldn’t you want the option to prolong the life of your gadget until it finally breaks down?
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