Smart TVs are great. They connect you instantly to your favourite content, applications such as Amazon Prime Video make programs more interactive, and some TVs even turn your television into a makeshift gaming console.
But are they all they’re cracked up to be? Smart TVs took a hit earlier this year when it was discovered they could be used as a spying tool for governments, and last year Microsoft took away a key communication feature by scrapping Skype for TV, impacting small businesses and families that relied on their TV as a conferencing tool.
While the former is only an issue for the extremely paranoid — later reports demonstrated that the spying ability of Smart TVs was extremely limited — the latter is actually something that impacts me.
When travelling, Skype for TV actually had its uses. I used it to keep in touch with family and friends, as it was easily accessible to family members who have limited technical skill. FaceTime is usually the easiest way to talk with family, but it’s a challenge when one doesn’t have access to Apple products — Skype is a lot more universal.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg regarding the recent shortcomings of Smart TVs. My biggest qualm with Smart TVs comes from my most recent headache with the devices — one that would be more common to somebody trying to use Smart TVs to improve their entertainment experience.
Our household relies on Plex to push content to our various screens. Plex, for those who might not be aware, is a media server based on Kodi. It manages one’s content efficiently and some iterations of Plex can legally PVR content to make it easier to catch up on missed shows without needing a cable box in every room.
When we set up our home theatre, we picked up a Samsung television because it was the most compatible with Plex at the time. But as TVs get updated, their usability changes.
Now every time we want to watch Plex, our television requires us to sign into our Samsung account in order to access our offline content. While this seems like a pretty simple issue to overcome, it’s actually quite frustrating. This is an unintended consequence by Plex’s developers, as it’s a result of a recently Samsung update.
I shouldn’t have to sign up for an account to access my pictures from a family vacation, for example, and if Samsung can’t verify my account because of server issues, I shouldn’t be barred from viewing content hosted in my own home.
I get that Netflix might not be around forever, but in a digital age I should be able to access my information with little concern.
What this tells me about Smart TVs isn’t necessarily that we’re smarter for using them. Instead, what it tells me is that the companies are smarter for making the TVs that can learn more about us as consumers. The Samsung account requirement is example of how companies can do this.
Samsung — along with other technology companies — leave a lot of opportunity for their tools to learn about our habits through their privacy policies, and if their account is linked to every application on my television, who’s to say what they’re using that information for?