Fair Go: Are dumber TVs a smarter option?

Garth Bray
Source: 1News

Smart TV, smartphone, smart fridge, smart home. Smart this, smart that. But the smartest advice may be to get a dumb device. If that device is a smart TV, then possibly the dumber, the better.

“The whole Internet of Things, smart gear needs a bit of a rev up in terms of how they deal with consumers,” says Hadyn Green.

Hadyn reviews tech for Consumer NZ and as he says with a laugh, “People asking me, ‘Why won’t it do what it’s supposed to do?’ - that’s my life.”

He says the trouble with all of these is that app developers concentrate on updating smartphones, not last year’s smart TVs and other appliances.

“It's not like a phone operating system, where you get these updates over the air all the time. These updates happen slow and not as regular as you would like them to happen,” he told Fair Go.

The result is that smart TVs don’t stay smart for long.

“They look flash now but down the track they're not going to be updated,” says Hadyn.

Don’t even get him started on the potential security issues consumers face as their aging smart gadgets become vulnerable to hackers.

His solution for your viewing pleasure right now is to let the TV just be a TV.

Buy the biggest, best quality picture panel you can afford and want.

Then make it smart by plugging a third-party streaming device into the HDMI port.

Chromecast is one big name that costs less than $70 at most big stores.

Apple TV can also do it but costs more. Smart VU X is a local product that also promises to stream live free-to-air channels. Handy if you are in an apartment and can’t install an aerial or dish.

There are many others. All cost a fraction of updating to a new smart TV.

“Just get something else that's going to connect to the internet and will work and will get updated,” says Hadyn Green.

Case Study - Sally switches to something smarter

Fair Go had called in Hadyn from Consumer NZ to help fathom a tricky trouble for a smart TV customer.

Sally Galvin bought a new Samsung panel from Smiths City, solely so she could stream from TVNZ’s OnDemand app after pushing a single button a couple of times.

“I do like the OnDemand because you can watch all the good programmes when you want to,” Sally told Fair Go.

“It's like a book; you can sit down and read as much as you like.”

Except, unlike a book, Sally’s Samsung smart TV would freeze and the TVNZ OnDemand app would show error messages, possibly requiring her to turn off the TV and her modem. Then wait 30 seconds and then power up everything, relaunch. Then locate where she had been watching the programme as the app’s electronic bookmark had since lost its place.

Sally is in no two minds about it. “That’s more annoying than the ads, yes. Definitely.”

Clearly this is not a feature, but a bug as they say. But who is to blame?

Is it dodgy internet, a dud TV or a bad app, or some ugly crash between all three? And does it matter when the remedy ought to be with whoever took Sally’s money and made her a product promise?

In this case that would be Smiths City. The Consumer Guarantees Act covers Sally here. She paid the retailer and says it explicitly promised her that the TVNZ OnDemand app would run trouble-free. If it won’t, that’s a fail of the CGA ‘fit for purpose’ test.

Please note there is a bit of a lifespan to that.

The CGA is vague regarding software and security upgrade. This means companies can and do stop supporting the operating systems after a few years and you may have no remedy.

But Sally had bought her TV in November 2018. The problems began soon after. This is clearly covered by law. Working out how to fix it in practice meant a lot of back and forth with those four companies - Smith City, Samsung, TVNZ and Spark NZ.

All claim to have an alibi and probable cause on the others. Spark NZ points out that its own Lightbox app and YouTube both worked fine at Sally’s on the TV, when they helped her test those.

Smiths City says it tested the set at its store and it ran TVNZ OnDemand beautifully for 30 hours, non-stop.

Samsung first said there was a known issue affecting that model and the TVNZ app, then did a U-turn. Its spokesperson says, "No, there is no known issue".

“Like with any smart device, from time to time there are technology updates. Usually this happens seamlessly with no impact to the viewer. However, if an error does occur we work directly with the app host i.e. TVNZ to determine where the problem lies in order to rectify quickly.”

TVNZ is chuffed about that and about the Smiths City test, and suggests:

"We think Sally's internet connection is the issue here and that's something she'll need to talk about with her internet service provider."

Spark NZ is adamant that its top techs have crawled all over Sally’s set up and that her wireless broadband has the capacity and coverage and she has the data in hand to allow streaming.

“Our technical conclusion is that there is likely an issue with either the TVNZ app, or possibly the TV,” a Spark NZ spokesperson (or should that be Sparksperson) told Fair Go.

Spark NZ also helpfully pointed to several online posts from the past six months where people have also complained about the TVNZ app or Samsung TVs.

But the fix for Sally is exactly what the Consumer doctor ordered: a Chromecast, plugged into the smart TV.

Smiths City gave Sally one for free. It and Spark NZ helped install it. Sally’s now watching through the TVNZ OnDemand app streaming over a Spark NZ connection to a Samsung TV she bought from Smiths City, and she couldn’t be happier about it, at last.

So, there you have it. Smart TV. Not so smart maybe. Smarter if you just let it be a TV and get something else to do the smart bit.