My first Smart TV was a 55” Samsung. I bought it in 2012, because my old Vizio Plasma was getting too old and flaky. The Samsung was new and shiny, and I thought I might use it for Skype video calls if I add a USB camera, and I planned to watch 3D movies, because Avatar was still fresh in my mind. The TV came with a keyboard that looked like a good idea to simplify browsing, and typing.
Let’s see how it all worked out.
First, the 3D hype has faded out quickly. I watched several movies, and I actually enjoyed them in 3D unlike many other people who complained about it. It was good, but somehow, it got boring, and I haven’t watched anything in 3D at home for a long time.
I tried connecting a USB camera to use Skype when I bought my TV. It did not want to work with a generic webcam, and I never bothered to buy one from Samsung. Just recently, Microsoft decided to pull the plug, and killed Skype on TVs. It did not get traction. I guess I was not alone.
The TV keyboard was only slightly better than using a TV remote control, because it would only work in some apps, and not others, and it was hard to know if it would help or not. It’s a hard choice between using a remote control to type my email and password, or a keyboard that may or may not work in a specific app.
Speaking of apps, Netflix is the king. I watch it a lot, unless I watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones on HBO. There is an issue with audio feed when a TV is connected to a Samsung soundbar over HDMI ARC, but I think that one is specific to the TV model and soundbar combination, which is surprising since I’d expect them to fit and work well together. I also use Pandora – it’s a nice and quick way to get some music played over the soundbar in the house. It would be nice to have an HBO NOW app, but it’s not available on that model, probably since it was released after Samsung stopped allowing new apps on that model year. Though, there is an HBO GO app in case if you already have cable, and you are not a cable-cutter like me. Youtube is a blast to use when it’s paired to your mobile phone. I put it on and play video clips when I host a party, and it starts getting a bit boring.
I can’t think of useful apps that do anything else than streaming video or audio. What is going on with the smart TV ecosystem in general?
The apps are still clunky, and the user experience is not great with anything that tries to go beyond streaming audio/video. Newer, higher-end TV models have “magic” remote controls that are much easier to use than traditional remote controls, but it’s still very painful to type an email address and password just to login to an app, or go through an online checkout process. There is no HBO NOW on my new LG TV with WebOS 2.0, and I believe LG has the second largest market share after Samsung in US. Thankfully, there is an app for Amazon Prime Video, yet they did not bother to develop an app for music, or their E-commerce marketplace. It doesn’t seem to be a priority for other online retailers either.
Is it going to change, and take off? I don’t think it will change or get significant traction without some type of a catalyst. Apple, Google, Amazon are good at making things happen. They all developed devices to complement TVs, and it seems like casting media content from a mobile phone on a TV is widely adopted by users now. Observing my kids, I don’t really see them abandoning their tablets or smart phones in favor of a TV, no matter how smart that TV is. Perhaps, the future is in embracing that trend, and getting the best out of making a TV to be a companion device for a mobile phone, but not the other way around.