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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: 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.

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  • (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


      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