Blog Post

I Returned My ‘Smart TV’ Because the Apps Were Dumb

Here’s something I didn’t imagine when I hooked up my brand-new Vizio XVT553SV TV last week: It crashed. Again. And again. And again. The culprit? Turns out the “smart” Internet apps made my television really dumb.

While there was no blue screen of death, this particular kind of televised crash was equally frustrating. Here’s what happened, why I returned it and the potential problem with these Internet-enabled TVs.

Setting the Scene

The Vizio TV uses the Yahoo (s YHOO) Widget platform to provide web access to video services like Amazon VOD (s AMZN), Vudu, (s WMT) Netflix (s NFLX) and more general apps like Twitter, Facebook and more. The TV was hardwired to a beefy 50 Mbps connection, so bandwidth wasn’t an issue.

The beauty of the smart television set is the ability to use one remote to control the TV and cable, as well as renting movies over-the-top. No more switching inputs; no more using three different remotes.

That beauty turned ugly real quick.

First, navigating through the apps was slow. Then scrolling through the individual apps — like searching through Amazon’s catalog or my Netflix queue — was even slower. It was much slower sifting through those catalogs on the Roku.

Crash Into Me

The first crash(es) happened on the very first night. The aforementioned lag when searching through Amazon’s catalog froze the TV and then made the screen go dark. I had to power-cycle the TV to get the picture back. This happened again the very same night.

To its credit, Vizio’s customer support is top-notch. I tweeted about the issues and the company sent me a note, hooking me up with its online chat. The suggestion at the time was to uninstall and re-install the app. Okay, perhaps that was just a bum install of Amazon at the factory or whatever. I did as they said. This didn’t get rid of the lag, but Amazon didn’t crash again.

The third crash happened a few days later when my wife was trying to rent a movie through Vudu.

The TV was one week old at this point.

Once again, I contacted Vizio customer support, this time by phone. Once again they were very nice, and this time they instructed me to basically wipe the TV and restore all the factory settings. While it was a hassle to go through and re-register the TV, and to re-set up all of the settings, perhaps this was the silver bullet. I was also told at the time that this was the only fix to keep apps from crashing.

So let’s hit pause for a moment. If the apps, which had crashed on me three times across two different services already, continued to break, I had to do a factory reset each time?

Patience was wearing thin.

Camel’s Back Broken

Cautious, I gave the TV one last chance. I’d fired up Netflix and started watching The Larry Sanders Show when the TV froze the video but kept the audio going and proceeded to crash. For those keeping score, that’s four crashes across three apps in one week.

So, back in the box to be returned it goes.

Perhaps I just got a bum set and no one else has these issues (if you have, leave a comment below), but this is a problem with turning a TV into something more like a computer. If my Roku crashes, I can still watch TV. But when the TV crashes, I have to resort to something like (shudder) reading.

I’m on the hunt for another TV now (again, any suggestions, leave below), and while I still like the idea of the smart TV, buying another one before the technology is more mature might just be dumb.

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69 Responses to “I Returned My ‘Smart TV’ Because the Apps Were Dumb”

  1. Hey Chris,
    Bummer about the TV. I’m in the market for a new TV myself and it seems anything of quality is now “connected with apps”. Unless you buy an older model it seems unavoidable. Truth is though, I never cared about my TV having apps. Seems gimmicky to me. The past 5 years or so I have developed a strong bond with my Logitech harmony remotes, currently on my second HarmonyOne. I also have and xbox360 ,new AppleTV and your standard receiver, DVD player etc. Switching devices and configurations with this remote is beyond simple. Sure, its not instantaneous but its acceptable. The best thing is that the devices I use, ATV and Xbox, do their jobs extremely well. Fast page changes, flawless playback etc. Between just those 2 units I can stream just about anything and NetFlix is done very well on AppleTV. I see the appeal in the “All in One” device but I think if you get a TV based on picture quality and buy your accessories based on what they are meant to do and do well you should be fine.

  2. I’m shocked no one else has pointed this out… Vizio, Samsung, Lg, Sony… They don’t make software. Well, they shouldn’t. A few of them put skins on Android (and ruin it) but they do not make operating systems. When Apple released the iPod it was successful because it just worked. Apple is a sw company. Job’s has even said it himself, all these Asian companies are putting out nice small MP3 players, but they don’t know how to do sw. Once Apple TV, Google TV and Media Center become more popular/intergrated I think we will see GREAT internet tv’s. Buying a “smart tv” is like buying a Samsung Behold, or any other feature phone pretending to be a smartphone.

  3. Well I have the same TV and I have not had a single crash. With that said I have only used Pandor, Vudu and Yahoo weather. In fact I listened to Pandora for about 7 hours on Fri and watched two HD movie from Vudu last night without a single problem. The HD quality from Vudu is better then what I get from AT uverse so it is nice to have that option.

    My take on it is you might have a bum set. Although I do have to say Internet apps on your TV is still just a neat thing, and having a PC/MAC or some other special purpose set top box get you there also. Nice to have but no killer app…

  4. Get a Samsung Internet-enabled Blu-ray player or TV with cable integration or if you want to keep it true OTT, get a Boxee! Had a similar problem with Vizio and the Yahoo TV platform has been unstable and inconsistent. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. I am big fan of internet connected TV. I got mine almost a year back. Its a Panasonic and I absolultely love it. Over the past year or so, I must have seen more streaming content than DVB.
    I create playlists on youtube on my phone and play it on the TV. Easy way to keep a 4 year kid busy.
    I dont have 2 devices running to view content on my TV. Its greener and I love it this way.

  6. First, did you mean to say “It was much slower sifting through those catalogs THAN on the Roku?”

    Second, I wonder if these web apps aren’t buggy everywhere. I’m using an Acer AspireRevo 3610 as an HTPC with Boxee installed to view Internet video. Boxee’s great, but its apps all don’t work consistently. For instance, for video podcasts, its CNET app will stall unless I pause it a few seconds to receive enough buffer. The Revision 3 or TWIT apps don’t have that problem, however. On Boxee’s TV shows, some won’t load, while others have display problems. For instance, when I use Boxee to watch _Conan_, it uses either Fancast or the TBS website. However, the bottom of the picture is clipped off when I select Fancast, and no picture appears at all when I switch to the TBS feed.

    Nonetheless, we’ve so come far from the grainy, postage stamp web videos of the mid-90s, and it hopefully won’t be much longer before web video matches traditional television’s ease of use and quality.

  7. I am a miminalist consumer, I just want a TV with inputs so I can decide what to watch on it. I use separate STB’s to watch interent video. TV’s with built-in DVD players failed and so will internet enabled TV’s.

  8. I am very nervous I just unpacked the the Vizio XVT553SV TV last night I almost mounted it today… I will wait for the FiOs box to show up before I mount it JIK i need to return it too. I will keep you all in the loop in the next few days

  9. Donald Burdette

    I don’t have the same model as you do, but I have had Vizio Tv for about two weeks with the same features and I have not had a problem with it. I am not sure I am sold on the idea of running internet apps using a TV remote control, but at least mine has not crashed. You might try another set, maybe you just got a lemon.

  10. Spanwite

    Early beta/tester/adopter have to expect this kind of issues. Reminds me on: If I have to hit too many times Ctrl+alt+Del then it’s time for a complete re-installation ;-). Or buy from Best Buy and get the Geek squad in.

    • Buying a Vizio w/Yahoo Widgets is hardly a beta-buying experience. Vizio has been shipping Yahoo-widget enabled TVs since 2009, clearly long enough to de-bug these. If this is a systemic and not isolated issue, that’s pretty unforgivable at this point since its hardly new technology. What I’d be most interested in knowing is what the failure/problem rate is on these.

  11. Jeremy Bryan

    You said below that Boxee doesn’t have Netflix. I don’t use Boxee but I just went on their site and they said they have streaming from NFLX. Is it something different?

    • Chris Albrecht

      @Jon thanks for the info on the Costco site. Wish I had looked at that before buying.

      @Sean – picture quality is absolutely top of my list (CNET gave the picture of the Vizio high marks)

      @Chris K Avoiding built-in solutions was long my philosophy, and will most likely be once again.

  12. Chris,

    There are two remedies for you. First, buy whatever brand TVs that has best picture quality and easy UI. Then hook up your Roku or Home Theater PC(Media Center PC). Second option is to wait until new 2011 Smart TV from Samsung or LG comes to the retail shelf. 2011 Smart TV’s hardware/software has been improved very much so you might have no problem with Vizio TV. Yahoo Widget platform itself is too heavy so technically non-optimized Vizio TVs could not prevent such a problem that comes from lack of memory issues.


  13. One look at Costco’s website shows a plethora of almost identical consumer complaints about the Vizio internet capable TV’s. It certainly steered us clear of Vizio when we made our recent purchase.

  14. fourteenlines

    I have a Vizio Internet Apps TV and have never had a problem like the one you describe. I adore it. It’s true that I mainly use the Netflix app, but I use it a LOT, and have never had it freeze or crash. I use Clear’s wireless internet – not even the fastest tier they sell – and get it to the TV using Wi-Fi, and I’ve had maybe one or two instances where the internet connection was not fast enough, which I solved by resetting my connection. But that’s an internet problem; I’ve had the TV for two months and so far have absolutely no complaints.

  15. Which begs the question: Now that some firms are wanting to count the iPad and iPod as “computers” for market share figures, at what point do we then also count smart TVs? They are of the same ilk: designed primarily for the consumption of media, using selectable Apps. Does that mean Vizio, and then Panasonic, Samsung and Sony, all become major players in the “PC” marketshare game, and we have to rethink the whole market share calculations?

    Just asking the obvious question …..

  16. TVs crash. It’s not nice, but a TV is not a car ! Not that we should accept TVs that crash. On the contrary, I’ve seen Vizio’s smart TVs crash *all* the time, but few people actually complain. The first Vizio connected TV models (powered by a B****com IC) were so unstable that they would crash if you merely thought of going to a yahoo widget. Of course Vizio will internally deflect the complaint to yahoo who will blame the chip (and TV platform) vendor who will deflect it back to yahoo..and so on. Your TV will not get fixed. Sad, but true.

    Fact is, this is immature technology, being put on the shelves by a company with no big market credibility, offering the wares for cheap and ****let’s face it**** being bought by bargain hunters.

    If you pay peanuts, you get Vizios. If you were willing to pay more, you could buy a Sony (the non-google Tv versions) or Panasonic or a Sammy – these are less likely to crash and when they do, the companies will take your complaint seriously and work on avoiding such issues in the future. Vizio might do that too ..but IMO, they have a lot of learning to do, and a lot of credo to build up.

    Buying a cheap box and a descent display is one solution, but don’t expect your cheap box to be robust. You can probably afford to throw away the cheap box and buy a new one …but this is not an “integrated smart Tv” experience. If you are after such an experience, you are better off waiting for a couple of years.

    • Chris Albrecht

      Maybe they wouldn’t crash so often if more people complained.

      I’ll admit, the price was attractive, but I also did my research and this TV got high marks, so I wasn’t just going bargain bin shopping.

      Plus, Vizio had spoken at our NewTeeVee Live conference in the past and I appreciate some of the things the company does. I just can’t buy another TV from them.

      I’m leaning towards either Panasonic or Samsung, probably going with a plasma. I’d like to go with a Boxee box, but they don’t have Netflix yet.

  17. I got my Vizio widget capable TV a few weeks before Christmas. INet TV is a new technology. It’s in it’s infancy. It’s merging computers with TV. As any early adopter of high tech and computers, you should EXPECT a new device to crash and burn on occasion. Name one that didn’t have problems?? That’s the price you pay for jumping in as one of the first. Every time. (I’ve been a professional in tech industry since 1986, you dig?)

    Yea it’s a real bummer when a reliable device, isn’t. I’ve had my share of crashes and did the “wipe and repave” procedure. Things are not so bad these days. I don’t recall when I’ve crashed the set. I think this last firmware upgrade must have been very helpful. Still, some apps are not well written and have, for example, no FFwd or rewind.

    Nav apps slow??? Compared to what?
    What I find slow is waiting for icons or “movie-box posters” to load. Nearly everything is acceptable, speed wise.

    re>four crashes across three apps in one week

    TL:DR – 3 outta 4 ain’t so bad for new tech, UR a crybaby whimp for taking back your Vizio, it’s a pretty good TV.

    • Chris Albrecht

      Sure. On occasion. I recognize that the technology is new and there is a price for being an early adopter.

      But I don’t think that two times on the first night and four catastrophic crashes in the first week is something I should EXPECT or have to live with. Why would you?

      Also, I jumped on Roku early, that didn’t have any problems. (And scrolling on the TV set was slow compared to Roku, to answer your question.

      • Your sentence “It was much slower sifting through those catalogs on the Roku.” appears to be missing a “than”, making it seem like the opposite of what I think you were trying to say.

  18. Here is an idea that has worked good for me. Just buy a blue-ray player with a wi-fi connection like I did and stream your movie content through it. If that crashes you’ll still have a TV. Furthermore, let’s face it, not to bash Vizio but it isn’t exactly at the top of the food chain when it comes to that type of technology. I got a Sony blue-ray unit with built-in wi-fi and it works perfect across my wireless internet. Try it out. Just an idea.

  19. I have to say that I haven’t seen a real compelling reason for an internet connected television yet. Widgets are the best anyone has been able to come up with yet they seem to fall short on a giant communal device. I don’t want my wife checking her Facebook on “our” screen. Watching tv and having a tablet seem like the best use case for me right now. Maybe when we can play doubles against others on Jeopardy or enjoy other television shows… somehow… then it’ll make more sense. As if there were apps that television shows could launch. I got it! Imagine this: American Idol comes on and a voting app comes up on the screen. News comes on and a “more info” widget comes up on the screen… now we’re getting somewhere.

  20. Good piece Chris. The very thought of a TV crashing is irritating, but the idea that we will have to find, install, put our information in, and update apps on our TV is just not what I think of when I sit down to watch TV…ugh. I’ve got at least 3 devices that are better for interaction than my television — my laptop, my iPad, and my smart-phone. My TV is, frankly, for mind-numbing or engrossing entertainment.

    I’ve submitted a blog post for our corporate site on this very subject. Look for it soon on Rovi’s website.

    Richard Bullwinkle
    Chief Evangelist, Rovi

  21. TimeKeeper

    Sad story but if the TV goes down, with all the services you mentioned, there is still a PC app available. Reach for the Notebook and put that other book away!


    • It’s just that attitude that allows product manufacturers to get away with this kind of garbage time and time again. You have to be willing to stand up for your rights as a consumer and make sure you get what they advertise, not just roll over and let them rape your wallet.