Why a Smart TV is Often a Dumb Decision
Samsung Smart TVs have been making headlines recently for displaying advertisements while users are watching their own video files, and for an odd clause in the privacy policies basically stating that the microphone in the television is always listening.
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”
So what is a Smart TV and why is it listening to everything said in its proximity? A Smart TV only slightly differs from a “dumb” TV; a “smart” model compared with a “dumb” model will both largely have the same tech specs. However, the “smart” model will come packaged with software, such as Samsung’s Smart Hub, that will bring additional functionality to the television whereas the “dumb” model will not. Commonly, Smart TVs offer popular capabilities such as Pandora, YouTube, and Netflix. In the case of the Samsung Smart TV making headlines, the television also comes with an embedded microphone so that a user can control the television with voice commands. The issue of privacy arises because the TV must determine when it is being given a command by always listening to what is being said in the surrounding area. This issue is not Samsung specific as other platforms, such as Xbox One, have voice capabilities, but may not store the recordings. Samsung seems to be issuing a warning because the service utilizes a third party for analyzing audio, and does not know specifically what operations are being performed by the third party service. In simpler terms Samsung is paying another company to figure out what a user said and Samsung can not guarantee what else is being done once the audio is given to the contracted company.
While Smart TVs are popular and may seem to be a worthy investment, paying a premium for “smart” functionality is often not a wise choice. Smart TVs often cost more than their “dumb” counterparts, but the “dumb” counterpart may seem less appealing as it lacks “smart” functionality. This is a naive viewpoint as there are currently a plethora of products on the market that bring “smart” functionality with less associated cost. Any modern TV can become a Smart TV by simply attaching one of several devices available on the market. Buying an external adapter to provide “smart” functionality can also add versatility as if advancements are made to “smart” technology the adapter can simply be replaced, as opposed to purchasing an entirely new television. Below are some options as to peripheral devices that can provide “smart” functionality at a fraction of the cost. While there are several larger devices on the market offering “smart” functionality, such as Apple TV, numerous Blu-ray players, and gaming consoles, we will focus on the compact “stick” models being offered. Such models are approximately the size of a classic thumb drive and attach to a TV via a standard HDMI port.
Released in July of 2013 and with a current price tag of $35 Chromecast is definitely an appealing choice. Chromecast has a single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM, 2 GB of data storage, and can display video in 1080p. In addition to the typical apps, Chromecast is developer friendly and has a significant amount of supported apps. Chromecast also allows for screen sharing from a phone, tablet, or Chrome browser window directly to an attached television. The only con of the device is that the Wi-Fi antenna is single band meaning slower network speeds.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
First offered in January of 2014 a compact version of Fire TV, the Fire TV Stick boasts some impressive tech specs with a current price tag of $39. The Amazon Fire TV Stick has a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, a dual-band antenna, and can produce video up to 1080p. Additionally, the device showcases the Amazon Prime Member benefits such as Prime Video, Music, and Photo. Amazon has definitely emphasized the availability of games for the device and currently hundreds are available.
Roku Streaming Stick
Roku was a pioneer in introducing “smart” functionality to “dumb” devices, but has seemingly fallen behind with its compact model. The Roku Streaming Stick is currently priced at $49.99, offering a single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM, 256 MB of storage, a dual-band antenna, and can produce video up to 1080p. Despite lackluster specs and a high price tag, Roku still has a brand name to stand behind and a reputation of quality and positive user experience.
The Matchstick first appeared in late 2014 as a Kickstarter campaign run by Mozilla, the company responsible for the popular Firefox browser. Recently, several devices have been popping up that utilize Firefox OS and Matchstick is the most recent addition to the party. Both Firefox OS and the Mozilla Matchstick are open source allowing for enhanced community support and customization. While other devices may need to be jail broken to allow some features, Matchstick is completely open for modification. Matchstick is not yet commercially available, but the rumored retail price, as announced on Kickstarter, will be $25. The device will boast a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of storage, and a single-band antenna.