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. We just bought a Samsung Smart 3D TV. We’ve only had it a day, but I’ve already noticed that netflix doesn’t run as well through the TV as it does through our Wii. I had to reset it this morning, but I have to admit, the 3D feature is amazing so I don’t think I’ll bring it back.

  2. Fanfoot

    I’ve got a Samsung. Apps I have tried work. Things work, not quickly but they work. I only use it for video services like Vudu, Hulu, etc. Haven’t had a single crash. Can’t speak for everyone who bought Samsungs of course, but my experience has been positive. That said I’d abandon the apps for an external box in a minute (I use Tivo and Apple TV currently) if the apps had issues.

    Roku seems like the obvious choice. Boxee hasn’t really met their goals in my mind (too expensive, taking to long to get services, still no Hulu, etc) so I probably still wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re living in the Apple ecosystem, then an Apple TV is a good idea, but has limited services. Ditto Tivo, which has limited but functional (and ugly) internet. Not a general purpose internet device.

    Personally I’d avoid any ‘widgets’ like Weather and Traffic and social stuff. Just asking for it. Use your smartphone. If you really want that stuff Google TV seems like you’re only choice, and I wouldn’t go near one yet. Wait for it to shake out.

  3. HappySamsungOwner

    You should have gone with Samsung. I have Comcast 8mbps with a Samsung series 7000 LED TV connected to a WiFi enabled Samsung Blu-Ray player and I’ve never had any issues with my apps crashing.

  4. Chris Albrecht

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

    As of now, I’m leaning towards a Panasonic plasma. It’ll have apps, but I think I’ll be using the Roku for that stuff.

    • 42″ Panasonic Plasma with a Samsung Blu-Ray (BDC6500). The plasma is about 4 years old while the BR is only a few months old. The tele is nice and the picture is absolutely beautiful. The blu-ray on the other hand… the “apps” installed on it are slow, awkward and sloppy, not unlike my first high school grope-fest. Sticking with my Wii for Netflix, and blu-ray player for dvd movies and br movies.

  5. As others have stated, no device, TV or other, should crash when you use it as it was designed. The fact that the TV crashed makes it an unacceptable experience. That said, I think the bigger question is the one brought on by several here — does a TV need to be a device for apps, or does it better serve a user as an elegant content player.

    I made my case on Rovi’s corporate blog here:

    Your input is welcome.

    Richard Bullwinkle
    Chief Evangelist, Rovi

  6. Techie in NashVegas

    This might sound like a Luddite talking, but the TV should be what it is and nothing more… a display device. Go for the best screen quality/size combo you can afford with the most inputs. Besides, it makes more sense to put these apps/widgets/etc into the dvd/bluray/srs/receiver boxes anyways. With that said, my vote is for Toshiba, I love my 65″ DLP in all it’s brilliant glory!

  7. Of course it’s easy to bash Vizio due to it’s reputation as a Wal-Mart model. But I thoroughly researched my TV purchase and settled on the same model you got from Costco (due to the free 2 year extended warranty–which you can extend through Vizio starting AFTER the Costco one expires–and 90 day return policy) because of the TV’s features, apps included, as well as the plethora of inputs, 240 Hz and matte LED screen without the glossy glare-heavy (see iPad) screen. CNET rated it as the best LED TV of 2010 and 3rd overall of all HD sets of the year, behind two higher-end plasmas. I converted from an older TV with a Roku box, and now have it hooked up over wireless to a hearty fiber-optic connection.

    I’ve read in the some of the comments about having updates to firmware or having to re-install apps. Having only bought it a few weeks ago, maybe timing-wise I got them all built in, but I haven’t had a single problem. My Roku box was not an HD one and I don’t have Bluray player, but the Netflix movies I’ve watched through the TV app have not only looked and performed well and quickly, but even strikingly so, quality-wise.

    Maybe it was a bum set? Something more likely with their price point, but also something that would be covered under warranty depending on where you got it. My only complaint at this point is not being able to quickly dial down the sharpness and/or refresh rate as some HD-heavy movies seem to suffer from the “soap opera” effect that was one of the warnings about 240 LED’s.

    • Carrie Boo

      AH! Soap Opera effect (or as I called it Looks like a commercial!) can be easily fixed.. here’s someone else’s experience – I was at my wits end and nearly ready to take it back… then I came across a few other reports of this game mode issue. Since I am not a “gamer” I would have never stumbled upon the fix.
      Using the menu button–>Plug&Play–>general–>game mode you must turn this mode ON, then OFF and wallllaaa you can finally use the TV . This process must be repeated for each and every source (at least the HDMI anyway).

      And that was if the “auto motion” was turned off and it still looked weird..

  8. Carrie Boo

    We just bought a Samsung 46″ 3D TV a week ago and it has those aforementioned apps.. and no problem whatsoever so far! I am in love with this TV! I’d say you got a bad one.. I agree with the others – steer clear of Vizio! Big names are big names for a reason. I don’t buy anything without reading a ton of customer reviews.

  9. ParkAveKev

    I just helped a friend hook up a Sony Smart TV last month. We had a little trouble making it wi-fi with a USB adapter though. SO he hardwired his as well. Everything else looked great and he has no complaints. He wasn’t a subscriber of netflix, but the free HD movie off HULU looked excellent. Browsed movies without any trouble. No skips or blips during the movie. Definitely on my wish-list.

  10. Hey Chris,

    First our Vizio internet enabled TV came from Costco and after reading several negative reviews on their website I had serious reservations with the purchase. However Costco quickly calmed our reservations by pricing the set less then the comparable model that was not internet enabled.

    So two weeks after the holiday home it came within the first week the firmware was updated three times. It was annoying and painful especially for my wife who did not like the idea that she couldn’t just turn off the TV during these episodes.

    However after the most recent update I can say, we’ve never had crash and yes there is lag on occasion but its no different then our internet enabled blue ray player or our Roku player. In fact overall we are pretty darn pleased with the TV and its internet features. Maybe it took Vizio awhile too work out a few kinks but we think this set is a winner.

  11. Certainly, internet connected televisions are in their infancy, but some positives about internet-connected televisions long-term are:
    – open feature sets associated with installable apps/widgets
    – open feature sets associated with upgradeable firmware
    – auto-updating firmware
    – direct streaming capability
    – from network media streaming providers
    – from media streaming consumer products

    Internet connected apps and streaming media crash peripheral devices like blue-ray players too. Whether it forces a power-cycle of your tv or your peripheral device, it is still a hassle to have your viewing experience interrupted.

    As an increasing number of devices become app-capable internet enabled, I think consumers will grow weary of flipping between device inputs to access specific categories of apps and features, and these services will ultimately be more and more integrated with televisions. As stability and speed increase, you’ll be telling your grandkids there was such a day when the tv was not connected to the internet.

    I have the Vizio XVT3SV as well, and after an auto-update of the firmware the problems cleared, and additional features were available.

  12. Is it possible to buy newly produced/manufactured dumb TVs? I just want a TV that has fantastic picture, lots of inputs, and a tuner. I don’t want it to have an ethernet port at all. Does anybody build those anymore?

  13. Get a dumb TV and hook up a Google TV box. As for the simplicity of one remote, just get a Logitech Harmony remote.

    It’s the Desktop vs Laptop argument, do you want something that is easy to upgrade but consists of separate components or a well integrated system that give you no choice?

  14. I also had problems, until Vizio was able to replace the TV and perform the latest firmware update. I believe now that the firmware update is out, it resolves the crashing issues.

  15. I have both a VISIO Wi-Fi Blu-Ray player with their early internet apps feature and the Netflix app works perfectly via our 802.11n home network. Since then we have also purchased one of the VISIO 22″ Internet App Wi-Fi TV’s and it too has performed without any issues. I admit the only app we frequently use is Netflix but it has been fine.

  16. Nbrezonik

    I have a Vizio TV that uses the Yahoo Widget platform. I’ve had it for about six months now and it generally works great. I’ve probably had two crashes in that time. I use Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster and Vudu to watch movies and I am happy with my Vizio.

  17. Get a Samsung. They seem to be pretty stable but they are a bit pricey. As the saying goes “you get what you pay for”. Also you could just get what ever tv you want and just get a Samsung Blu-Ray which also has all the widgets and video services.