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Smart TVs vs streaming set-top boxes

Smart TVs

Taking a look at Smart TVs and STBs

We are often asked if those new to cord cutting should purchase smart TVs or streaming set-top boxes. It can be confusing when looking at all the options; not only are there a wealth of set-top boxes to choose from but there are also an abundance of smart TV brands to consider.

If you are happy with the TV you currently own, there is no reason to buy a new TV simply to have access to streaming apps because set-top boxes (STBs) can do that. With a price that seems to average around $100, STBs are a vastly cheaper option than smart TVs. If you already have a great HD TV, why pay for a new TV when the one you have works for you?

If you’re in the market for a new TV anyway, there are several arguments for, and against, buying a smart TV. One thing to remember is that most good TVs sold today will have at least some built-in smart TV features. There are a few things to consider that might help you decide whether to purchase a smart TV or a, for want of a better word, “dumb” TV with a separate STB.

Apps

Smart TVs offer a host of apps like Pandora, AccuWeather and Netflix, but often, they still fall short of what other major set-top boxes offer in terms of the quantity and variety of apps. Fortunately, many smart TV manufacturers are now teaming up with Roku and Android TV to release TVs with built-in Roku or Android TV software — no box required.

So, if you really want a new smart TV make sure it’s one with a built-in Roku or Android TV software. Generally speaking, you want to steer clear of TVs with proprietary smart TV interfaces.

Cost

To buy a quality smart TV, you’re looking at an entry-level price of about $600 in today’s market. You can purchase a very nice STB for less than $100. If you catch a good sale, you might even find an STB for under $50. If cost is a major deciding factor, a “dumb” TV + budget STB or streaming player is likely the way to go.

Future-proofing

How long do you expect your TV to last? With technology advancing the way it does, you might find that your TV falls behind the curve long before it starts to break down. Comparison shopping is always a good idea before you make a major purchase.

To avoid being left behind by technology’s forward march before its time, we advise steering clear of proprietary smart TVs. By proprietary, we mean TVs whose operating system is made by the TV manufacturer rather than an established OS. Proprietary TVs often fail to get the latest and greatest apps and updates for many reasons. They also tend to get outdated more quickly, at least anecdotally speaking. If you choose to purchase a smart TV, your best buy would be one with an operating system from one of the smart TV front-runners (basically, Roku or Android TV) built-in.

A dedicated STB set-top box is far more likely to be updated because its manufacturer is also the company that makes its operating system. If you always want to have the latest-and-greatest, a set a top box is considerably easier (and cheaper) to replace than a TV.

With that said, if your smart TV software stops working or does not have the newest versions of apps, you can always plug a different set-top box into it. You can even have a Fire TV or Apple TV running on your Roku TV, which you have to admit, is pretty neat.

If you need a new TV, go ahead and buy a smart TV if you want one. In fact, it may be hard to avoid buying a smart TV today. Even if you do not like the smart TV features of your new TV, you can always add a set-top box to the mix later.

If you have a TV you’re happy with, then save your money and just buy a set-top box. Unless the display technology itself has fallen way behind (i.e. if you’re getting 720p instead of full HD or 4K) there’s no reason you must buy a new smart TV as they don’t do anything a regular TV plus a set-top box can’t do.

In the end, the only benefits we see that smart TVs have over set-top boxes is that some of them, like the Roku TV, offer a sleep timer. What’s so great about a sleep timer you may ask? A sleep timer will stop any apps from continuing to run after a set period of time, thereby preventing you from blowing through a ton of data while you sleep. If you’re stuck with a draconian data cap and you have a tendency to fall asleep in front of the TV, this sleep timer might be just what you need.

So. Getting back to the core of the matter: Smart TVs or streaming STBs? There is no one single answer… so we’ll just say “yes.”

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