Do You Need a Smart TV?

Privacy remains a concern for this technology, but it's getting harder to buy a TV that isn't Smart.
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Smart TV Apps

Shopping for a TV means reading through a laundry list of specs and features for each set. Can you afford a 4K resolution? Do you need a TV with HDR? Is the set Smart? And what is a Smart TV, anyway? Our guide explains the options from different brands, and sheds light on how much you'll pay for a Smart TV.

Ready to shop? Take a look at the best Smart TV prices available right now.

What Is a Smart TV?

A Smart TV is any TV set that connects to the internet, either by WiFi or an Ethernet cable. It offers access to Web-based services like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, and Prime Video, as well as Web-surfing capabilities in some cases.

A Smart TV is any TV set that connects to the internet, either by WiFi or an Ethernet cable.

While the technology is neat in theory, the execution can often leave something to be desired. For instance, Smart TVs can crash or freeze like PCs. You obviously don't want to deal with those interruptions when bingeing your favorite shows. However, as the technology in Smart TVs improves, these issues are less frequent.

Are Smart TVs More Expensive?

You probably think a Smart TV will cost more than a "dumb" one, but that's not necessarily the case. At face value, many non-Smart sets are cheaper than their Smart counterparts. However, these TVs aren't as easy to find as they once were. Most TVs on the market have some kind of Smart technology built in.

Additionally, many of the Smart TV deals we see are bundled with gift cards — especially those from Dell or Walmart. If you use those, a Smart TV's cost essentially drops to that of a regular set.

There's another reason you might avoid buying a non-Smart TV: the brands making these TVs tend to be lower-tier, like Sceptre. Big brands still offer deals on non-Smart TVs, but they tend to be refurbished, very small, or both.

Meanwhile, if you have a Smart TV you're getting more for your money than just easy access to your favorite apps. Smart sets are also known to boast features like better video processing, and more HDMI ports.

Why Aren't All TVs Smart?

There is still a market for non-Smart sets. In the last six months, about 22% of the TV deals we've seen have been for non-Smart models. And their continuing popularity could partially stem from shoppers' privacy concerns.

SEE ALSO: The 11 Biggest Myths About Buying a TV

Manufacturers have been known to collect data on users' viewing habits, as well as listening in on conversations. Vizio, for one, was came under fire last year for tracking users' TV viewing without consent. And plenty of articles will tell you how to stop your TV from spying on you. Though many people aren't concerned with privacy violations, clearly companies still find it worthwhile to keep making non-Smart sets.

The 6 Major Smart TV Platforms

Not all Smart TVs are smart in the same way. Different manufacturers offer different platforms and operating systems. Each one has a different look and varying capabilities, although all should provide access to apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video.

What's more, certain platforms are more suitable for some users than others. For example, if you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, you'll likely be better off buying an Apple TV streaming media player instead of trying to use a Smart TV with Android capabilities. Here's a rundown of some of the major Smart TV platforms:

Fire TV: This system is from Amazon, and can be found on select Element and Toshiba TV models. Recently, Amazon partnered with Best Buy to sell Toshiba Fire TVs in-store. Fire TV is also available on streaming media players in the form of Fire TV Sticks and the new Fire TV Cube.

Roku TV: This platform can be found on a variety of mid-tier brands, including TCL, Insignia, Sharp, Hisense, Hitachi, RCA, Philips, and Element.

webOS: This system is used exclusively by LG for its Smart TVs. It has also been featured in the brand's Smart refrigerators and projectors.

Tizen: Although Tizen's website indicates it's used for a variety of devices, the platform seems to be most commonly found in Samsung's Smart TVs.

Android TV: Primarily used in Sony BRAVIA and Sharp AQUOS sets, Android TV offers the standard Smart TV assets, as well as built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast.

SmartCast and/or Internet Apps Plus: These two systems are found on different Vizio sets and have only minor differences. SmartCast TVs roll everything into one place to make searching for your favorite content easy. Sets with Internet Apps Plus are structured more like other Smart TVs, with everything laid out as individual apps.


couple watching TV

Smart TVs vs. Streaming Players

Smart sets and streaming media players have a lot of overlap in terms of functionality. Deciding which one is right for you comes down to budget as well as the kind of content you're interested in.

If you're already searching for a new TV, you might want to jump into the Smart TV ecosystem. If your budget is smaller, consider a streaming media player instead. They're significantly cheaper than the price of a Smart TV.

If your budget is smaller, consider a streaming media player instead. They're significantly cheaper than the price of a Smart TV.

For instance, the 64GB Apple TV 4K — which has a list price of $199 and is one of the most expensive streamers around — is still more affordable than a 55" Smart TV. While we've seen refurbished 24" Smart TVs under $100 in the last six months, most consumers are going to be looking for a much bigger TV.

The cheapest 55" Smart TV we've seen since last December was a refurbished TCL model that ran for $242. For most smaller sets (up to about 40"), prices run from $120 for lesser-known brands to well over $200 for the likes of Samsung.

Available content is the other big deciding factor for those cutting the cord. If you already have memberships with Netflix, Hulu, and/or Amazon Prime, then choosing between a Smart TV and a streaming media player won't make much difference. They're both likely to provide the same amount of access to your subscriptions.

However, if you're looking to cut the cord but still want free over-the-air channels, you'll have to ensure your TV is equipped with a tuner and an antenna. You might have to purchase one or both separately from your set. On a related note, pay attention to the description of the models you're considering. If a set is called a "display" instead of a TV, it likely won't have a tuner built in.

SEE ALSO: 10 Ways to Stream TV and Save Money

Media players often provide free "channels," but these are more like free apps. For instance, while you may be able to watch NBC for free through your Roku, the available shows and episodes will be severely limited. You might have recent titles on demand, but only the last three to five episodes. The content in the app is likely to be only a fraction of what you'd have if you watched the over-the-air channel.

Physical space is another consideration when trying to figure out your TV setup. Obviously, if you want a non-Smart set with a streaming media player, you'll have to have room to include it. Some will dangle, like Chromecasts or Fire TVs, while sticks will need to be plugged into the back of the TV. Other players are set-top boxes, and you'll need to ensure you have room on your TV stand (or wherever your TV's set up).

What's the Best Smart TV for the Price?

Smart TVs have several features you'll want to consider when trying to pick your best value. The research can feel overwhelming, but Rtings.com is a good place to start. It even has budget selections to help you find a cheap Smart TV without breaking the bank.

The site notes that the best overall model for spring 2018 is the LG B7A — but with a price starting at $1,500, that's going to be at the higher end of some shoppers' budgets. Rtings also suggests a $798 Sony 49" set (with larger sizes also available) as its best mid-range Smart TV. Looking to spend even less? Rtings recommends a TCL 55" TV at $650 as its best budget Smart set.

SEE ALSO: What Is HDR?

If $650 is still too much, Rtings goes over another group of TCL sets with cheaper price tags. The Smart TV with the lowest price on that list is a 43" model costing only $280 at the time of this writing.

If You Don't Want a Smart TV

If you just can't stomach bringing a Smart TV into your home, there are alternatives. Streaming media players make for a cheaper compromise that alleviates some privacy concerns. Rokus, Chromecasts, and Amazon Fire TV sticks all provide affordable ways to upgrade your entertainment without diving into the Smart TV pool.

Readers, do you have a Smart TV? Or do you prefer using a streaming media device? Do you have both? Let us know in the comments below.


Senior Staff Writer

Julie joined DealNews in 2015. Her work has been featured on MSN, Business Insider, Lifehacker, The Motley Fool, GoBankingRates, and Moneyish. In her spare time, she enjoys baking sweets, reading thrillers, and listening to an ever-growing list of podcasts.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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6 comments
SeecretSqur1s
Can you but a non-smart TV now? Personally, I just use a separate device. A Shield TV on one TV and a Chrome cast on another. One of my TVs is a 9 yr old plasma it still looks good The smart tv portion on it was never good I see current TV to be the same They are serviceable now, but in a few years as new features come along, they will be terrible
rez157
why not? $100 more...stupid ?
HowardaC
As someone that got burned with one of the earlier smart tvs I would say avoid them like the plague. Vizio decided to go with a different OS on newer models and suddenly the yahoo apps on my tv started dropping like flies. Now universal apps that should always work like youtube and Netflix are MIA.


Get yourself a fire stick or a roku or anything else really and when (not "if" but "when") it becomes obsolete you are only out a few bucks and can plug in something more modern.
JacktheDude
A computer connected to a TV will outshine any smart TV out there. I have a gaming laptop connected to my TV in another room via HDMI and controlled by a Bluetooth keyboard/ mouse combo. It outperforms the PS4 Pro and Xbox One, runs Oculus Rift, so no need for a gaming device. It has a Blu-Ray driver, so no need for a standalone DVD/ Blu-Ray player. It runs WMC/ Kodi with a 4 TB hard drive for recording storage, so I'm not paying for TiVo or a DVR service. I can watch my TV from anywhere via remote desktop. I plugged in an old MagicJack and paid a one-time fee to GVJack for a lifetime phone service. I even connected my IP cameras, so no need for a separate security system.

No gaming device, no DVD/Blu-Ray player, no media player, no DVR device = less clutter.

Yes, the laptop was $2000 and uses more electricity because it is always on, but considering I didn't buy any of the devices it replaced, and I'm not paying for DVR and phone services, it'll pay for itself eventually :-)
richmosher
I would just like to say that I would be interested if the manufacturers would offer huge-screen (65"+) non-smart TVs at a reasonable discount. Not only are streaming media devices available, you can buy a smart Blu-ray player. We still have our 50" Panasonic Plasma and a direct Ethernet connection to the router, with a SONY smart blu-ray player (we went high-end for the player, since I Ethernet gives good bandwidth, and bandwidth is what you want for streaming). That gives us enough "Smart-ness" and we don't have to be concerned about our TV watching being monitored all the time. Therefore I would rather not spend money on additional "Smart" capabilities, preferring to spend on image quality and other useful features. They'll probably introduce non-smart TVs as a premium feature and charge even more!
rbmd2015
I have both. The features on my several old Vizio are very slow. My Roku, on the other hand, is very fast.

I cannot remember the last time I used this TV's smart features.