It's a little weird, but we tend to think of smartphones as disposable products — that is, we swap 'em out every two or three years or so. (OK, some of us far more frequently, but you get the idea.) Televisions, on the other hand, are expected to last a lot longer. Never mind that you can get good small phones and good large TVs for roughly the same price.
How long should your TV last? Five years? Ten years? It depends, of course, on how much you're watching. And it also can depend on the type of TV you get. But the average TV should be expected to last you at least five years, right?
But that's also not taking into consideration smart TVs. The hardware is one thing. That's pretty straightforward. But what about the software? TVs today have built in operating system — a full-fledged smart OS that runs everything . Amazon has Fire TV baked into some sets. Roku runs others. LG has webOS. And Android TV runs big names like Sony. Samsung does its own thing.
But what do you do if your smart TV goes dumb? This definitely hasn't become a widespread problem just yet, but it has happened.
Caveat emptor applies ...
Technology has grown at a ridiculous pace over the past decade or two. We've gotten used to the idea of replacing a phone every few years. (If not sooner.) We know that new streaming boxes from Amazon and Roku and Apple TV and the like will be released every year or so.
Something better is always on the horizon.
But TVs have been different. They're big. They're a pain to swap out. And they can still be very expensive — much more so than a phone. So you want to be able to trust the company that you're buying from.
Take, for instance, LeEco — a Chinese upstart that more than one publication said was trying to be Amazon, Apple, Tesla and more, all at the same time . Phones, bikes and TVs were the first wave of products, with cars on the horizon, too. The company spent a lot of money trying to very quickly break into some very big markets in the U.S.
On the TV front, the LeEco Super3 and Super 4 series sets brought large screens and up to 4K resolution at relatively low prices (at least at the time they were being sold). And the sets ran Android TV , which was as much of a selling point as anything. A company has to meet some minimum standards if it wants to use Android TV. It's not that part of Android that's free to be downloaded and sold by just anybody.
Fast forward to today. LeEco has unceremoniously closed up shop in the United States. Its forums are shut down. There's no more U.S. version of its website. And a week or so ago, the long-term review TV the company had sent me way back when started throwing software errors. That is, Google-controlled aspects of the operating system that can be updated in the background, started to fail — to the point that I couldn't even switch away to another input. (And the one or two times I was quick enough you'd end up with the error toasts on top of that input anyway.)
So how to fix this?
Full-blown firmware updates already were few and far between. And I certainly don't expect any now. And, in fact, I never did get to the point where I could get close to recommending the TV (even before the writing was on the wall for the company itself) because it was so damn buggy.) But now I (and others, though certainly not in any real numbers) have sets that are very much dying.
Who's to blame? LeEco, for sure. That's indisputable. What about Google? Should it have some responsibility to somehow keep a TV working even after a company abandons the hardware?
When I asked Google about all this, they pointed to the fact that Android TV partners are required to update devices for at least three years, and that Google Play Services is designed to work on devices long past their actual lifespan. Though as we've seen in the case of LeEco, "requiring" updates only works so long as the company wants to stick around and keep selling things.
Google couldn't comment on a specific device, which pretty much is the writing on the wall for our particular example here. (They did point out that there are many other great Android TV products from other companies, though — and they're absolutely correct about that.)
Breathing new life into a bad TV
LeEco TVs — and remember it's not like they sold here in any real numbers — appear to be slowly dying. And at this point, placing blame doesn't matter at all. So is it time to suck it up and buy a new set? Or can we still breathe some life into this DOA display?
Definitely. Because a TV — even a smart TV — is still a display first, and fancy connected Android TV thing second, right?
What can you do when your smart TV goes dumb? Make it dumber, I say. In my case, it got to the point that OS errors kept popping up every few seconds — on top of whatever other input you might have been using. That pretty much made the screen a brick. It was trying to be a smart TV with Android TV built in, but it just couldn't anymore.
So I made it dumber. I hard-reset the damn thing — after searching around for a while to find the correct remote-control button combination — and made it as dumb as its last update. (Needless to say, it's not running Android Oreo, like the latest update on the NVIDIA Shield TV .) Now I have a smart TV that I've not connected to the internet. I've not given it my Google credentials. I don't need it to do any more than switch to one of the other inputs, so that I can use the Shield TV (yes, I'm running Android TV on top of Android TV) or Roku Ultra with it.
That's not quite a nuclear option — that would be to toss the set out onto the street and hope nobody picks it up before it gets hauled away for good.
But the point is that just because your smart TV has gone dumb doesn't mean it's worthless. So long as you're able to use it as a basic display — with some other smarter box connected to it — you'll still be able to squeeze a little more life from it.
The one real downside here? You're almost certainly going to need to use more than one remote control. You'll still be able to power on the newly dumbed-down set, and probably control volume. But any of those services shortcut buttons — Netflix and the like — won't be of any use to you at all.
And better, really, would be to go ahead and bite the bullet and get yourself a good universal remote control. Don't balk at the money — it's definitely less expensive than buying a whole new television.
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