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posted by martyb on Tuesday January 22 2019, @05:57PM   Printer-friendly
from the you-can-still-be-the-product-even-if-you-pay-for-it dept.

Submitted via IRC for chromas

Taking the smarts out of smart TVs would make them more expensive

CES is always a show about the future of TVs, and this year is particularly interesting. Not only are 4K HDR TVs better and cheaper than ever, but the software side of things is opening up in unprecedented ways. Not only are Google Assistant and Alexa control everywhere, but Apple’s embracing the TV industry for the first time: Vizio and LG TVs will support AirPlay 2 and HomeKit, while Samsung TVs will get an iTunes Movies & TV app, as well as AirPlay 2 support.

I just hung out with Vizio CTO Bill Baxter on the Vergecast, and the conversation was wide-ranging and illuminating. Vizio just announced its 2019 lineup of 4K HDR TVs, and they’re as impressive as ever: there’s brighter, bolder colors from quantum-dot technology for the M- and P-series TVs, and the new flagship P-Series Quantum X line has 480 local dimming zones and a wild peak brightness of 2,900 nits. In terms of pure hardware, these are some of the best 4K HDR TVs I’ve seen yet.

[...] And we definitely talked about the pervasive ad tracking that all smart TVs do — especially after I noticed the new Vizio P-Series in my parents’ house seems to ping the network an awful lot. Baxter told me that he thinks Vizio is the industry leader in disclosing what tracking is happening and letting users opt in or out during setup, and that he’s fine if people choose to turn it off. But he was also clear that TV companies are in a cutthroat business, and that companies like Vizio would have to charge higher prices for hardware if they didn’t run content, advertising, and data businesses.

[...] I guess I have a philosophical question. You guys are committed to low price points and you often beat the industry at those price points. Can you hit those price points without the additional data collection that TV does if you don’t have an ad business or a data business on top of the TV?

So that’s a great question. Actually, we should have a beer and have a long, long chat about that.

So look, it’s not just about data collection. It’s about post-purchase monetization of the TV.

This is a cutthroat industry. It’s a 6-percent margin industry, right? I mean, you know it’s pretty ruthless. You could say it’s self-inflicted, or you could say there’s a greater strategy going on here, and there is. The greater strategy is I really don’t need to make money off of the TV. I need to cover my cost.

And then I need to make money off those TVs. They live in households for 6.9 years — the average lifetime of a Vizio TV is 6.9 years. You would probably be amazed at the number of people come up to me saying, “I love Vizio TVs, I have one” and it’s 11 years old. I’m like, “Dude, that’s not even full HD, that’s 720p.”

But they do last a long time and our strategy — you’ve seen this with all of our software upgrades including AirPlay 2 and HomeKit — is that we want to make things backward compatible to those TVs. So we’re continuing to invest in those older TVs to bring them up to feature level comparison with the new TVs when there’s no hardware limitation that would otherwise prevent that.

And the reason why we do that is there are ways to monetize that TV and data is one, but not only the only one. It’s sort of like a business of singles and doubles, it’s not home runs, right? You make a little money here, a little money there. You sell some movies, you sell some TV shows, you sell some ads, you know. It’s not really that different than The Verge website.


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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Pino P on Tuesday January 22 2019, @06:39PM (25 children)

    by Pino P (4721) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @06:39PM (#790195) Journal

    "Don't connect it" doesn't work with a product that doesn't operate as a TV until activated. After you've opened the box, you discover that this model won't allow use of even the ATSC tuner and the composite and HDMI inputs without an Internet connection to download "system software updates", and then you have to ship it back. Even if the seller offers free return shipping, you still pay with your time while riding the bus to the UPS Store and back.

    Next time, you resolve to do more research before buying, after which you discover that several other competing brands of home TV are also locking out basic functionality until activated.

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  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday January 22 2019, @06:49PM (2 children)

    by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @06:49PM (#790201)

    We keep buying cheap 4K TVs at work as monitors/displays, and have never encountered this problem.
    I am angry to learn that it exists, though not surprised, and happy to know to check for it before it bites me.
    Any specific brand I should avoid ?

    • (Score: 3, Touché) by captain normal on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:20PM

      by captain normal (2205) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:20PM (#790225)

      Looks like Vizio is one. :-)

      --
      “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by RS3 on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:39PM

      by RS3 (6367) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:39PM (#790244)

      Likely any/all new larger / higher resolution TVs are spy boxes. Avoid new!

      If you already have new, get into the settings menus and look for any IP settings. If it has them, it wants to spy. As others have suggested, hard-code gateway IP addresses that go nowhere.

      That said, I'm sure the TV manufacturers will smarten up too and make the network software disregard your settings if it can find an actual Internet connectivity.

      Comcast's Xfinity hotspots are more and more common and I wouldn't be surprised if Comcast makes deals with TV makers to include Xfinity WiFi accounts. The TV could do that on its own and your only option (if you care) is open the thing, find the WiFi antenna, and disable / remove it.

  • (Score: 2) by insanumingenium on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:01PM (9 children)

    by insanumingenium (4824) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:01PM (#790209) Journal

    Is this a dystopian theory or experience? Cause I haven't' heard of this yet.

    I would gladly rack up the return trying though given how terribly sensitive even large vendors (and therefor the manufacturers) are to return rates, especially in brick and mortar. While we are at it start writing some one star reviews literally everywhere I could (I wonder if you are still a verified purchaser if you return a product on Amazon, never had the occasion to find out), as that is another very sensitive point for vendors and manufacturers.

    I would also add that just about anyone here can probably firewall or otherwise disconnect the device once "activated", though that just leads us down the road to a device that shuts down if it hasn't checked in in "x" days. At that point I would suggest you find a lawyer who wants to waste a year on a slam dunk class action.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Pino P on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:26PM (8 children)

      by Pino P (4721) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:26PM (#790230) Journal

      Is this a dystopian theory or experience?

      In the case of TVs, it's "a dystopian theory" as far as I'm aware. In the case of computers, it's experience. In 2002 or thereabouts, a Dell desktop computer displayed a full-screen message requiring assent to EULAs of bundled proprietary software before I could even get to BIOS Setup to wipe and Linux the thing. Though that isn't quite Internet activation, consider that until the release of Windows XP in fourth quarter 2001, Internet activation of home computer software was "a dystopian theory".

      I would gladly rack up the return trying though given how terribly sensitive even large vendors (and therefor the manufacturers) are to return rates, especially in brick and mortar.

      Until you hit the return limit of multiple sellers, or sellers start sharing data about the ID you present when you return something. At one time, Amazon allowed only five A-to-z Guarantee claims in a lifetime; that was later raised to fifty before being removed from the written policy. Brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy have been known to ban "demon customers" [arstechnica.com] as well.

      • (Score: 2) by insanumingenium on Tuesday January 22 2019, @08:16PM (7 children)

        by insanumingenium (4824) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 22 2019, @08:16PM (#790267) Journal

        Funny, I didn't see the same thing with computers, and I don't know of it being the case today. At least not in the "hardware is totally unusable until connected to the internet" sense. Yeah, they (usually) come preinstalled with windows, but I have never seen a Dell machine put up any resistance to me blowing it away.

        Not that I am sold on this being apples to apples, but that speaks against the viability of total takeover fears.

        As far as banning me over honest returns, they are more than welcome to turn down my business, I will learn where I didn't want to shop in the first place.

        • (Score: 3, Informative) by jmorris on Tuesday January 22 2019, @09:39PM (5 children)

          by jmorris (4844) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @09:39PM (#790307)

          iPad. From the box or factory reset you boot to a screen asking you to connect to Wifi (no captcha portals allowed) and then for your AppleID. If it doesn't connect and validate you stay right there on that screen until it does. No Internet, you got a pet rock.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:29PM (3 children)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:29PM (#790363)

            iPads no longer require connections to WiFi fresh out of the box, instead they just nag you all the time until you do. Factory reset ones that have previously been set up with Find my iPhone through an AppleID do though. The reason is to deter thieves, as you can no longer steal an iPad, factory reset it, and then sell it without having the proper AppleID information.

            • (Score: 2) by jmorris on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:39PM (2 children)

              by jmorris (4844) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:39PM (#790371)

              Interesting. So factory reset isn't a full reset. So I guess somebody needs to figure out how to do a full erase?

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:41AM (1 child)

                by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:41AM (#790387)

                You can at an Apple store. The "Genius" desk there has access to insider tools that the common folk don't. My Grandfather was locked out of various things when his spouse died. After we couldn't make headway in getting into the iPad due to the restrictions, we went to them, explained the situation, proved his identity and ownership to the person there, the store manager, and the HQ guy that was called on the phone. The one on the phone was eventually satisfied and gave an all-clear to the person helping us. He plugged in a lightning cable, clicked a few buttons on his computer, it reset and restarted, and no more nagging for the Apple ID. We finished setting it up there so Gramps was sure it would work and waited to do the new Apple ID at home when we had access to a computer.

                Of course, that started the long process of trying to get access to the Apple iCloud of her account, considering we didn't have her email password. That was another "fun" process.

                • (Score: 2) by jmorris on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:08AM

                  by jmorris (4844) on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:08AM (#790434)

                  That is a problem we are all going to face at some point. Google is at least thinking ahead of the pack on that one, you can dead man trigger their account. Set an email address to trip after you don't access Google for X days and it will receive some sort of code to allow them to take over everything tied to your Google account. Which is a start. But I set mine to the Mrs, what if we both get taken out in a traffic accident? Who knows. The industry was created by 20 somethings who are of course "immortal" so we are all still figuring that stuff out, hopefully some generally accepted practices get hammered out and they are eventually even sane ones. Yeah, right.

          • (Score: 2) by insanumingenium on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:47AM

            by insanumingenium (4824) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:47AM (#790389) Journal

            True, all iOS, tvOS, and watchOS devices don't work until activated which has to be done against Apple's servers (and perhaps yours as well if you are an MDM user). That is how the much vaunted activation lock works (and why there is no activation lock on MacOS devices). And I had mentally excluded Apple from all previous conversation because people are trying so hard to be in their ecosystem.

            Though I would argue that it is in the nature of those device to be online, and activation lock has been a very successful program on the whole. Kind of a world of difference from a TV which you don't want smart apps on.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23 2019, @11:29AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 23 2019, @11:29AM (#790569)

          I tried to install lineageOS on a Samsung phone, it was necessary to unlock the bootloader with a special code obtained from Samsung website upon sending them the serial number of the phone.

  • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:02PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:02PM (#790211)

    What the fuck is a bus?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @09:05PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @09:05PM (#790292)

      It is a box with wheels and a motor, and multiple rows of seats used by humans to transport their physical bodies where their mind wants to be. It is slow and primitive, but still faster than jogging.

  • (Score: 2) by fyngyrz on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:05PM (4 children)

    by fyngyrz (6567) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:05PM (#790214) Journal

    "Don't connect it" doesn't work with a product that doesn't operate as a TV until activated.

    Since you're not using the smart features — which of course you would not if it wasn't connected to a network — then you can activate it, let it download its updates, then lock it out at the router (or pull the cable if you're using ethernet.) It'll probably keep running.

    But also since you're not using the smart features, even if you do leave it connected, all it'll ever have to say about your habits and person is "connected to HDMI port x" or "watching channel 2" so, really... meh.

    Camera? Tape.

    Microphone? Savage it with a screwdriver {md} or just squirt a buttload of epoxy on it.

    --
    The spawn and grandspawn say I never listen to them.
    Or something like that.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:30PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:30PM (#790233)

      Which will work great until a year or so later when the software mysteriously "breaks" and insists that it needs to update again.

      Or better yet, it was working fine, you accidentally connect it to a network, it downloads the latests updates, and then features you were used to using disappear. And/or you get more UI embedded advertising. Most likely scenario really. That already seems to happen quite a lot these days.

      I'm just waiting until one set of models gains enough marketshare for someone to unleash a distributed AI virus that pretends it is Max Headroom or something equally annoying.

      And eventually you won't be able to buy a Telescreen, I mean "Smart TV" that won't spy on you or fuck you over.

      Just kill me already.

      • (Score: 2) by fyngyrz on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:46PM

        by fyngyrz (6567) on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:46PM (#790636) Journal

        Which will work great until a year or so later when the software mysteriously "breaks" and insists that it needs to update again I make something up to counter your position

        FTFY

        Or IOW: You can imagine all kind of things. Until/unless they happen, they're still just your imagination.

        --
        Knowledge is strength. Unless the opposition has more money.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Pino P on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:37PM

      by Pino P (4721) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @07:37PM (#790242) Journal

      then you can activate it

      Provided you subscribe to home Internet in the first place. A growing number of people have Internet access only through a smartphone after having cut off cable or never subscribed in the first place, and not all plans (at least in the United States) include mobile hotspot usage. This echoes a problem when Half-Life 2 came out: it required Internet activation, even if you had activated Windows using the toll-free telephone call because of lack of Internet access on the gaming PC (or at all).

      It'll probably keep running.

      Albeit in reduced functionality mode, with the following displayed over the picture:

      /!\ Action Required: Check for Updates

      Important software updates may be available.
      This $BRAND Smart TV has not checked for
      updates in 30 days.
      To troubleshoot the Internet connection,
      press MENU on the remote control.

      Likewise with Half-Life 2. Early versions of the Steam software were notorious for losing the "receipt" information that allows a purchased game to play in offline mode. Some reported having to explicitly choose "Go Offline" while connected to the Internet in order to get the receipt to stick.

    • (Score: 2) by NotSanguine on Tuesday January 22 2019, @10:43PM

      then lock it out at the router (or pull the cable if you're using ethernet.)

      If you pull the ethernet cable, it will generally attempt connections through WiFi. Better to leave it plugged in and block it at your firewall/give it an IP address with no gateway/etc.

      --
      No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
  • (Score: 2) by physicsmajor on Tuesday January 22 2019, @08:19PM (1 child)

    by physicsmajor (1471) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @08:19PM (#790268)

    Honest question, because I don't own a TV and consume media when I choose via computer: is this parody or reality?

    Because if I bought a TV and it didn't perform basic functions out of the box as advertised, I would be suing.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Arik on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:30PM

      by Arik (4543) on Tuesday January 22 2019, @11:30PM (#790364) Journal
      Unfortunately it's not worth your time to sue. Unless you have an excess of money in which case give it to me not your lawyer :P

      I'd definitely return it for a full refund, at least, but once you've done that it's pretty much over. They'll keep doing what they're doing because you and I are statistical noise to them and the majority of the population has been successfully conditioned to accept that this is just how things work.

      Consumer electronics has become an absolute cesspool. Products that anyone with any sense would still want to purchase after doing due diligence are like hens teeth. Everyone expects you to pay them $$$ for whatever trash they made and like it, and enough people do just that they have no reason to change.
      --
      If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
  • (Score: 2) by everdred on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:52AM (1 child)

    by everdred (110) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 23 2019, @12:52AM (#790391) Homepage Journal

    I actually have a new Vizio that's working happily without a wifi connection. (Unless I needed the clock set correctly for some reason, or accidentally pressed one of the "smart" buttons.) Tuner, component/composite and HDMI inputs all work.

    I did let it connect once to download system updates, but since it wouldn't let me remove the wifi connection I just ended up doing a factory reset. I will definitely think twice before doing this again, given that an update could change the behavior around offline activation.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fyngyrz on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:53PM

      by fyngyrz (6567) on Wednesday January 23 2019, @03:53PM (#790640) Journal

      I actually have a new Vizio that's working happily without a wifi connection.

      Same here, only it's a new LG.

      I also have an HD projector that's working fine, and probably will keep working fine as long as I keep feeding it a new bulb every few years (and I have five bulbs, so not too worried about that.)

      If people are really convinced that the "TV-must-have-net-connection" apocalypse is upon them, then I guess they'd either better get after buying one now, decide to quit watching the tube (now there's a productive idea), or bite the bullet and put up with it.

      Because I'm pretty sure that should said apocalypse actually manifest, no one will be talking the TV manufacturers out of it. Too many people just don't care, or are all for the network connectivity in the first place.

      --
      On the Canary Islands, there isn't even one canary.
      On the Virgin Islands... still no canaries.

  • (Score: 2) by Hyper on Wednesday January 23 2019, @02:27AM

    by Hyper (1525) on Wednesday January 23 2019, @02:27AM (#790420)

    Sounds like the Playstation / Xbox debacle.
    Imagine opening up a new console on Christmas Day in the country side where dialup is the norm. Kids tend to be unhappy when toys don't work. Not fun to watch.