Smart TVs have had a no good, rotten, very bad couple of weeks recently.
First, Samsung and Vizio announced that the Netflix app won’t work on older smart TV models because they won’t support a newer standard of digital rights management (DRM) software that Netflix is using, according to Gizmodo.
Then, Vizio TV owners discovered the hard way that Disney’s new Disney Plus streaming service doesn’t work on their TVs, and that it likely won’t work until sometime in 2020, according to a previous version of Vizio’s support page (although the company has since removed the “2020” part from the page).
The latest on Disney Plus availability from Vizio is: “We are working closely with Disney and will announce the availability of the Disney+ app on VIZIO SmartCast TVs closer to launch. Thank you for your patience and support.”
These two events have surfaced one key weakness in smart TVs — while the picture might still be good, the built-in computers that make these TVs “smart” will become old and outdated, just like a regular computer or smartphone.
That was never an issue on “dumb” TVs that are purely screens without built-in computers to run apps and stream content over the internet.
To be clear, I’m not saying that smart TVs are bad. This is just becoming one more reality we have to face as tech and services evolve: Smart gadgets that run apps all inevitably become outdated. It’s a harder hit than usual with TVs because they might still display your TV shows and movies perfectly well.
So what does this all mean? It means that you should buy a streaming device like a Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV instead of relying on your smart TV’s smarts.
At the very least, you can buy a streaming device when your smart TV starts dropping support for popular apps like Netflix, or when your TV doesn’t support a new streaming app from one of the biggest entertainment media companies in the world.
Even if your smart TV still supports all the apps you use, a good streaming stick could run faster and smoother.
Compared to the cost of buying a new TV, streaming devices are cheap:
A Roku streaming stick for 1080p TVs goes for $25, and a stick that supports 4K resolution and HDR for $40. Premium and fast models cost $50 and $100.
Amazon’s Fire TV devices range from the Fire TV Stick for 1080p for $35, the Fire TV Stick Plus with 4K HDR for $50, and the premium Fire TV Cube for $120.
Unsurprisingly, Apple’s TV HD streaming box is among the most expensive, starting at $150 for 1080p resolution, and $180 for the Apple TV 4K.
Whichever one you pick, it’s cheaper than the hundreds — or thousands — you’d spend on a new TV.
Conversely, you don’t need a streaming media device if you already have a games console like a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. These consoles support several popular streaming apps, and they bring the power and speed to make any TV “smart.”
Note that even streaming sticks are vulnerable to obsolescence. The Netflix app won’t work on some of the very first Roku streaming devices for the same DRM reasons as older Samsung TVs. Still, the fix for an outdated Roku stick only costs between $25 and $100.