Do You Need a Smart TV?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Is buying a Smart TV smart?

Or maybe just dumb?

Know this: a debate is raging and, right now, industry observers say that Smart TV sales are stagnant, even tepid.

Cost is a factor. Buy even a smaller 40" Smart TV, add in sales tax and professional installation (highly recommended if it will be hung on a wall), and you are cruising near $1,000.

Do you get enough to warrant the price?

Confession: a month ago, after ten years with a traditional TV, I tossed the bulky beast and replaced it with a high tech Samsung Smart TV, just 40" but to me the screen size was not the selling point. What had me at go is that the device is WiFi enabled and it comes pre-loaded with apps for Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu, and a bunch of things I will never click on (Fitness VOD, Fox News, DishWorld, the sorts of players that pay for real estate on a smartphone whether you want them or not). This therefore is a truly connected appliance and, yes, it also has Skype, Twitter and a Web browser built in.

Tired of watching the Tom Cruise "Jack Reacher" film, which I watched a few minutes of the other day, free of charge? No prob: call up the browser, surf over to MainStreet, and get reading. It all happens on that Samsung screen.

Am I satisfied? Hold on for the answer.

Recognize that the $35 ChromeCast, via Google, lets just about any HDTV receive streamed content from Google Play. You can also stream NetFlix, YouTube, anything you can download to your phone, tablet, or computer. That is useful, because many - possibly most - flat screen TVs rolling off the assembly lines come without built-in WiFi. Chromecast is a cheap work-around.

Apple TV - at $99 - does similar, letting Apple users beam content on their iPad or MAC to a TV.

But neither Apple TV nor ChromeCast creates a truly connected context where the TV itself is an Internet appliance. That is what you get with a genuinely Smart TV, which has as its defining feature that built in WiFi.

Note: the TV may be Smart, but it is not all conquering. Personally I have not figured out how to get content on an iPad onto it without Apple TV, and if there is a way, even the Internet is not revealing it. There also does not appear to be an easy way to load any but a handful of apps - curated by Samsung - onto the device. In other words: this is not a genuinely open Internet experience. Not even close.

The grumbling continues. Kyle James, who blogs at Rather-Be-Shopping.com, wrote in an email: "Six months ago I bought a Samsung 55" Smart TV and while it does add some convenience in terms of loading Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Video, the added cost just isn't worth it. With products like tablets, smartphones, and devices like Apple TV, the smart TV has not reached a critical mass in terms of demand and probably won't anytime soon. Personally it hasn't saved my family any money, and I don't think it will."

Robert Cole, president of World Wide Stereo in Pennsylvania, offered a retailer's perspective: "Smart TV sales continue to remain stagnant in our two retail stores and ecommerce site for two reasons: the Smart TV technology is too difficult and confusing for the consumer. Plus, items like Google's Chromecast and Apple TV are making your old TV smart - at a reasonable price."

Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help, which installs smart TVs, discussed intelligent boob tubes about it from a help desk point of view: "A big misnomer with the Smart TV is that it includes all the online media for free. After a typical Smart TV setup, our customers are upset to realize that all of the popular services" - such as Hulu and NetFlix - "carry with them a paid subscription fee. Our customers are frustrated after paying a few thousand dollars for a Smart TV that they have to be nickeled and dimed by these apps."

And then there is my opinion: you can count me a strong Yes vote for Smart TV. The deal sweetener for me, and maybe for you, comes if you are one of the many millions of Amazon Prime customers, which costs $79 per year. For that on most purchases you get free two-day shipping, but you also get access to a library of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows that are all free.

From "Downtown Abbey" to Denzel Wasington's brilliant "Flight," there's a tsunami of stuff to watch. At no cost.

And then there is the best deal of all: cutting the cable cord. That is the connected device's sweetest spot. Yes, fees will be paid to Hulu if you want a TV feed -- $7.99 per month for Plus - and possibly also NetFlix (also $7.99 month). You'll also have to figure in Amazon Prime but then you will have all the content you could consume for under $20 per month...paying zero to the cable company.

Now that is truly smart.

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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