37 votes

How do you turn a smart TV into a dumb TV?

I've been lamenting the death of the dumb TV for years now, but I'm finally in the market for a new set and trying to plan my next purchase carefully.

I've come to grips with the fact that any late-model TV I buy is going to feature some or all of the following:

  • Internet connectivity
  • Slow, janky menu screens with awful UIs
  • Pre-installed apps (all of which I consider bloatware)
  • Ads incorporated into the built-in menus or overlaid on my content
  • Alexa / Google Home integration
  • Automatic content recognition and/or other data collection techniques
  • Microphones or cameras, purportedly for voice/gesture control

My goal is to take a stock smart TV and completely neuter all of the above, resulting in an otherwise fully functional dumb TV. All of my content will be delivered over HDMI from external devices.

As I understand it, basically all modern TVs are running one of five operating systems: Android TV, webOS, Tizen, Roku TV, or SmartCast. Not knowing anything about these platforms, where should I begin? Which are most susceptible to rooting? Are there any good custom ROMs I could install that would achieve what I'm looking for? Surely others have asked these same questions before me, but I can't find the answers online.

Yes, this is a companion post to my other home theater question earlier today.

49 comments

  1. [11]
    teaearlgraycold
    Link
    I just bought a 40" computer monitor + HDMI input switcher/audio stripper instead. I don't think you can go much larger without buying corporate-targeted products.

    I just bought a 40" computer monitor + HDMI input switcher/audio stripper instead. I don't think you can go much larger without buying corporate-targeted products.

    17 votes
    1. [9]
      balooga
      Link Parent
      Unfortunately I'm really targeting high-end OLED picture quality, and a size larger than 40". That's why I'm asking about jailbreaking a consumer TV, because there aren't really any suitable...

      Unfortunately I'm really targeting high-end OLED picture quality, and a size larger than 40". That's why I'm asking about jailbreaking a consumer TV, because there aren't really any suitable products in other categories at reasonable price points.

      12 votes
      1. Gyrfalcon
        Link Parent
        Something that might work better on the monitor end is a Big Format Gaming Display, but of course the whole reasonable price point thing goes somewhat out the window.

        Something that might work better on the monitor end is a Big Format Gaming Display, but of course the whole reasonable price point thing goes somewhat out the window.

        3 votes
      2. samueleyeam
        Link Parent
        Alienware has a 55in 4k oled (I think) monitor that has no smart features. Pricey, but I think worth it.

        Alienware has a 55in 4k oled (I think) monitor that has no smart features. Pricey, but I think worth it.

        2 votes
      3. [6]
        patience_limited
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Also, if you're thinking about serious home theater, have you given any consideration to a 4k LCD or DLP projector, instead?

        Also, if you're thinking about serious home theater, have you given any consideration to a 4k LCD or DLP projector, instead?

        1 vote
        1. [5]
          Akir
          Link Parent
          Is the projector market better than it used to be? I kind of gave up on projectors after every single HD projector on the market was either crazy expensive or were VGA projectors that simply lied...

          Is the projector market better than it used to be? I kind of gave up on projectors after every single HD projector on the market was either crazy expensive or were VGA projectors that simply lied about being HD.

          4 votes
          1. [4]
            patience_limited
            Link Parent
            It depends on how you define "crazy expensive". With the latest 4k projectors, you can screen 4096 x 2160 at up to 200" screen size, starting at as little as $1,000. The usual projection caveats...

            It depends on how you define "crazy expensive". With the latest 4k projectors, you can screen 4096 x 2160 at up to 200" screen size, starting at as little as $1,000. The usual projection caveats apply - a well-darkened room and good projection surface, for starters.

            The technology has really only been available for the last year or so, and I don't have any personal experience of them to report on.

            However, I've used 1080p portable LCD projectors for corporate presentations for years, and if you're in a fully darkened room, the results are almost as satisfactory as with a dedicated monitor.

            1. [3]
              Akir
              Link Parent
              I would consider $1000 to be reasonable for 4K; I would actually consider it a good value as long as it has a lamp bright enough to get the larger screen sizes. In the past, I remember seeing most...

              I would consider $1000 to be reasonable for 4K; I would actually consider it a good value as long as it has a lamp bright enough to get the larger screen sizes.

              In the past, I remember seeing most projectors that were actually capable of full HD resolution typically started at around $2000, and that was with fairly dim lamps, IIRC ~1000 lumens.

              Realistically, I don't think a projector actually fits my lifestyle. My house is too full of junk to take advantage; we don't have an open wall, let alone enough empty floor space to walk in the dark without stubbing a toe. :P

              3 votes
              1. [2]
                patience_limited
                Link Parent
                The evolution of consumer technology is always kind of cool. The lower-end "4k" devices are actually 1080p with some trickery, but per the article, it's nearly as good as the real thing. You can...

                The evolution of consumer technology is always kind of cool. The lower-end "4k" devices are actually 1080p with some trickery, but per the article, it's nearly as good as the real thing. You can still spend $5,000+, but the quality differential between the low end and the high end is much smaller.

                You can get into pretty sophisticated 1080p above 1000 lumens for under $500 now, including short-throw devices if you don't have a theater-sized room.

                I'm not really interested in a projector myself - we wouldn't have the space to devote to a cinematic viewing environment either, and I don't feel like setting up a theatrical sound system in addition to a projector. The OP was interested in home theater, so I tossed this out.

                1 vote
                1. Akir
                  Link Parent
                  Yeah, I read about the pixel shifting thing in the article, and I'm highly skeptical about it. I've seen pixel shifting in cameras and it is not nearly as dramatic a change in sharpness as this...

                  Yeah, I read about the pixel shifting thing in the article, and I'm highly skeptical about it. I've seen pixel shifting in cameras and it is not nearly as dramatic a change in sharpness as this article is claiming. It's something I would have to see to believe.

                  1 vote
    2. patience_limited
      Link Parent
      I have a dumb 4k IPS 43" LCD monitor that I picked up refurb for around $450. I'm quite satisfied with it as a desk display/TV, though the refresh rate isn't adequate for intensive gaming. After...

      I have a dumb 4k IPS 43" LCD monitor that I picked up refurb for around $450. I'm quite satisfied with it as a desk display/TV, though the refresh rate isn't adequate for intensive gaming.

      After some minor search, it seems you can currently get comparable monitors with panels 55" or much larger, of the sort used in corporate conference rooms, starting around $1,000.

      2 votes
  2. [8]
    emdash
    Link
    This is probably the ultimate anti-suggestion; but disable as much as you can in software, attach it to an Apple TV and live out of that interface? Apple's privacy standing will be much, much...

    This is probably the ultimate anti-suggestion; but disable as much as you can in software, attach it to an Apple TV and live out of that interface? Apple's privacy standing will be much, much better than whatever brand + collaboration of television unit you decide to go with.

    8 votes
    1. [7]
      balooga
      Link Parent
      Oh, definitely. That’s basically my plan already. I have 7 devices that I use for my content, and I just want the TV to be a dumb display. I’m looking at using a hardware HDMI switch so there will...

      Oh, definitely. That’s basically my plan already. I have 7 devices that I use for my content, and I just want the TV to be a dumb display. I’m looking at using a hardware HDMI switch so there will just be a single cord running to the TV, and I won’t even need to use the TV’s aux input switcher. I think the only control on the TV I’ll need to use is the power button.

      Honestly that’s probably enough. I’ll never connect it to WiFi and never use its “smart features.”

      Still I’m curious if it’s possible to go even further, and actively render those features unusable.

      7 votes
      1. Sunward
        Link Parent
        Certainly it's possible, but considering that a smart TV's firmware updates are probably (hopefully) digitally signed, you're probably looking at, if not iPhone-jailbreak-exploit-finding levels of...

        Still I’m curious if it’s possible to go even further, and actively render those features unusable.

        Certainly it's possible, but considering that a smart TV's firmware updates are probably (hopefully) digitally signed, you're probably looking at, if not iPhone-jailbreak-exploit-finding levels of difficulty, then at least Wii-jailbreak-exploit-finding levels of difficulty. I'd just not connect it to the internet and be content with that.

        Also:

        I think the only control on the TV I’ll need to use is the power button.

        If your HDMI switch passes through CEC, you might not even need to use that.

        3 votes
      2. [5]
        hhh
        Link Parent
        what's stopping it from connecting to any open access points that might be near you?

        I'll never connect it to Wi-Fi

        what's stopping it from connecting to any open access points that might be near you?

        1 vote
        1. [3]
          balooga
          Link Parent
          That’s absolutely a concern of mine. I’ve heard stories of some TVs doing that on the sly. Certainly seems like a good argument for flashing the ROM in one of these things before trying to use it.

          That’s absolutely a concern of mine. I’ve heard stories of some TVs doing that on the sly. Certainly seems like a good argument for flashing the ROM in one of these things before trying to use it.

          6 votes
          1. cutchyacokov
            Link Parent
            You could open it up and disconnect the antennas and/or remove the wifi card if it's standard m.2 or mini PCIe and, of course, avoid plugging in wired Ethernet. I know that doesn't get rid of the...

            You could open it up and disconnect the antennas and/or remove the wifi card if it's standard m.2 or mini PCIe and, of course, avoid plugging in wired Ethernet. I know that doesn't get rid of the slow, bloated, buggy, stupid software but at least it won't be a privacy concern.

            4 votes
          2. babypuncher
            Link Parent
            You could connect the TV to your WiFi and point the DNS to a pihole. That would neuter any privacy infringing traffic while still making it easy to install firmware updates.

            You could connect the TV to your WiFi and point the DNS to a pihole. That would neuter any privacy infringing traffic while still making it easy to install firmware updates.

            2 votes
        2. babypuncher
          Link Parent
          Have there ever been any reports of TVs that actually do that?

          Have there ever been any reports of TVs that actually do that?

          1 vote
  3. [8]
    Adam_Black_Arts
    Link
    I recently picked up a 1080p 50" dumb TV from Best Buy for less than $250. Using it as a computer monitor/entertainment center and it's been great. Dumb TVs are still out there, and not popular at...

    I recently picked up a 1080p 50" dumb TV from Best Buy for less than $250. Using it as a computer monitor/entertainment center and it's been great.

    Dumb TVs are still out there, and not popular at all. If you can find them, they're pretty cheap!

    7 votes
    1. [7]
      balooga
      Link Parent
      Have you seen any with 4K OLED displays? Pretty sure those don’t exist anywhere.

      Have you seen any with 4K OLED displays? Pretty sure those don’t exist anywhere.

      2 votes
      1. [6]
        AugustusFerdinand
        Link Parent
        Sony PVM-X550

        Sony PVM-X550

        1 vote
        1. [5]
          hhh
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          the cheapest I found in about a minute of searching was $13000. that's 10x a normal 4k oled tv

          Sony PVM-X550

          the cheapest I found in about a minute of searching was $13000. that's 10x a normal 4k oled tv

          5 votes
          1. [4]
            AugustusFerdinand
            Link Parent
            Specialist hardware tends to command specialist pricing.

            Specialist hardware tends to command specialist pricing.

            1. [3]
              balooga
              Link Parent
              What’s “specialist” about an identical display with fewer features? I mean, you’re not wrong. That’s how the manufacturer is positioning products like these. Just seems to be arbitrary, and not...

              What’s “specialist” about an identical display with fewer features? I mean, you’re not wrong. That’s how the manufacturer is positioning products like these. Just seems to be arbitrary, and not reflective of the manufacturing costs.

              7 votes
              1. [2]
                Weldawadyathink
                Link Parent
                I'm sure it has to do with the target use case. Those displays are meant to be signage and on 24/7/365. They likely also have a better warranty and service agreement than consumer displays. The...

                I'm sure it has to do with the target use case. Those displays are meant to be signage and on 24/7/365. They likely also have a better warranty and service agreement than consumer displays. The software has to never crash, at all, even with long uptime. If a consumer display screws up once or twice, it's not really an issue.

                6 votes
                1. AugustusFerdinand
                  Link Parent
                  Bingo. For some of my work projects I have to source and vet these displays. Add to it that these displays are not subsidized by all the features that OP does not want. Netflix, Amazon, etc pay to...

                  I'm sure it has to do with the target use case. Those displays are meant to be signage and on 24/7/365. They likely also have a better warranty and service agreement than consumer displays. The software has to never crash, at all, even with long uptime. If a consumer display screws up once or twice, it's not really an issue.

                  Bingo. For some of my work projects I have to source and vet these displays. Add to it that these displays are not subsidized by all the features that OP does not want. Netflix, Amazon, etc pay to be pre-installed on them, same as with the new computer you bought with Candy Crush on it and the new phone you bought that came with the same.

                  4 votes
  4. [7]
    papasquat
    Link
    Wait... am I missing something? Just don't connect it to the internet. Virtually all of the things you mentioned require internet connectivity to function.

    Wait... am I missing something? Just don't connect it to the internet. Virtually all of the things you mentioned require internet connectivity to function.

    4 votes
    1. [6]
      sandaltree
      Link Parent
      The problem is the moment it finds an open wifi, it’s going to upload all the collected data.

      The problem is the moment it finds an open wifi, it’s going to upload all the collected data.

      5 votes
      1. vakieh
        Link Parent
        The sign on the back that says "don't open this" won't actually stop you you know - just disable the wifi antenna.

        The sign on the back that says "don't open this" won't actually stop you you know - just disable the wifi antenna.

        11 votes
      2. [3]
        papasquat
        Link Parent
        Will it? That behavior would be extremely odd. I've never heard of a device just going out automatically and connecting to a random open wifi network without the user asking it to. That would be a...

        Will it? That behavior would be extremely odd. I've never heard of a device just going out automatically and connecting to a random open wifi network without the user asking it to. That would be a massive security flaw.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          sandaltree
          Link Parent
          See this comment by OP.

          See this comment by OP.

          1. papasquat
            Link Parent
            Is there actual evidence of this happening with model #s? Could be an interesting pentesting exercise.

            Is there actual evidence of this happening with model #s? Could be an interesting pentesting exercise.

            3 votes
      3. Parliament
        Link Parent
        Could use something like pi-hole to block it.

        Could use something like pi-hole to block it.

  5. knocklessmonster
    Link
    Don't connect it to the internet, get a basic universal remote so you don't accidentally smash any buttons. Keep the stock remote around for when you need to fiddle with settings, and maybe for...

    Don't connect it to the internet, get a basic universal remote so you don't accidentally smash any buttons. Keep the stock remote around for when you need to fiddle with settings, and maybe for playback controls for chromecast or something if you can control via HDMI.

    My mom's Time Warner controller can control all the necessary stuff on my TV.

    4 votes
  6. stromm
    Link
    There are non-smart commercial displays. But they are expensive. Roughly $4,000 for a 60" 1080p. They will still have an OS, but just for the basic stuff like port control, display and audio...

    There are non-smart commercial displays. But they are expensive. Roughly $4,000 for a 60" 1080p. They will still have an OS, but just for the basic stuff like port control, display and audio settings, etc. No Apps though. And even those will have at least Ethernet network connectivity for remote configuration and controlling. Most will have Wifi though.

    Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sharp and Sony all make commercial displays.

    4 votes
  7. bloup
    Link
    You can always by digital signage and just use it as a TV. The only problem is commercial products can be quite expensive. Maybe an entrepreneurial type should try buying digital signage wholesale...

    You can always by digital signage and just use it as a TV. The only problem is commercial products can be quite expensive. Maybe an entrepreneurial type should try buying digital signage wholesale and explicitly marketing them as dumb TVs. Then we can take advantage of economies of scale.

    3 votes
  8. [5]
    JXM
    Link
    It’s easy...just don’t ever give it your WiFi credentials or hook an Ethernet jack up to it.

    It’s easy...just don’t ever give it your WiFi credentials or hook an Ethernet jack up to it.

    1 vote
    1. [3]
      balooga
      Link Parent
      I came across this Reddit post earlier this year, where somebody reported their smart TV was surreptitiously connecting to open WiFi networks in range, even if never explicitly configured to...

      I came across this Reddit post earlier this year, where somebody reported their smart TV was surreptitiously connecting to open WiFi networks in range, even if never explicitly configured to connect. Reading that caused me to seriously doubt whether smart TVs can be trusted in this matter.

      Bottom line is, I don’t trust these TVs because I know that the economics behind them are fundamentally anti-consumer. Respecting my privacy is not in the manufacturer’s best financial interest. They have every incentive in the world to aggregate and monetize every bit of data they can about me. I’m aware that I’m being conspiratorial, and I might sound a little crazy, but we’re living in a surveillance dystopia thanks to tech like this. I do what I can to reduce my digital fingerprint where possible, and remove the possibility of my technology working against me.

      Bonus xkcd I always think about when this subject comes up.

      15 votes
      1. [2]
        Amarok
        Link Parent
        Rather than not configuring wifi, which invites the programs that are expecting to have one to go looking for it, perhaps configure a bullshit wifi manually that it can never connect to because it...

        Rather than not configuring wifi, which invites the programs that are expecting to have one to go looking for it, perhaps configure a bullshit wifi manually that it can never connect to because it doesn't exist. It may be less likely to go looking.

        Barring that, a soldering iron to the transmitter chip will do the trick right quick, if you can find it.

        I went for a rather extravagant solution and segmented both my wifi and my local network into VLANs. Computers which are configured with the proper VLAN ID can get the real internet. The rest end up stuck in a functional network that doesn't let them through the firewall and feeds them generic DNS results.

        This way all the devices can chatter all they like, but they'll never get anywhere. Most consumer hardware remains woefully oblivious to VLAN settings in both hardware chips and in interface - you couldn't put them on one if you wanted to. Any proper computer with a real network card doesn't have this drawback, and smartphones support it too.

        9 votes
        1. patience_limited
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Also, for starters, if network settings are accessible in the device user interface, set DNS to 0.0.0.0 or 127.0.0.1. Then check traffic on your tarpit VLAN for attempts to connect out, note any...

          Also, for starters, if network settings are accessible in the device user interface, set DNS to 0.0.0.0 or 127.0.0.1.

          Then check traffic on your tarpit VLAN for attempts to connect out, note any IP endpoints. Assume those are hard-coded by the manufacturer, or malware implants. Research, and blow the whistle as appropriate.

          There are functional limits on how paranoid we can all be, however. If you suspect that every "smart" device is being used for indiscriminate data collection without consent, there's no reason to believe that "dumb" devices won't be surreptitiously designed to do the same thing.

          The solutions have to be at the level of institutions and laws, not merely endless attempts to hack around surveillance that are only available to the technologically empowered.

          Oh, and by the way, your Roku, Fire stick, Google Chromecast, etc. will happily surveil you even if your TV doesn't. You can't participate in any viewing ecosystem without giving up privacy.

          7 votes
    2. edenist
      Link Parent
      If only it was.... There are cases where these devices connect to any open access point they can detect, and transmit all of the telemetry its collected over that. Unless you put the thing inside...

      If only it was.... There are cases where these devices connect to any open access point they can detect, and transmit all of the telemetry its collected over that.

      Unless you put the thing inside a faraday cage, you can't actually know that your data isn't being transmitted. Heck, the price of these things are subsidized by the companies collecting and selling said data, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if they had a cell modem inside to transmit that way. These things creep the actual fuck out of me.

      10 votes
  9. ali
    Link
    I have read this once on reddit, but I am not sure if it works as I have not owned a Smart TV myself. Try declining their terms of service, at least the ones for the smart features. Allegedly that...

    I have read this once on reddit, but I am not sure if it works as I have not owned a Smart TV myself.
    Try declining their terms of service, at least the ones for the smart features. Allegedly that will just keep you from using these features.
    Maybe you can try that in store or maybe someone here has tried it?

    1 vote
  10. [2]
    Autoxidation
    Link
    What about giving it access to your network but blocking it on a network level? I could imagine using something like Pi-hole could capture all of the data a TV could try to collect and refuse to...

    What about giving it access to your network but blocking it on a network level? I could imagine using something like Pi-hole could capture all of the data a TV could try to collect and refuse to send it anywhere.

    In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a grassroots privacy effort already similar to Pi-hole that specifically isolates and removes these features for devices connected to a local network.

    1 vote
    1. balooga
      Link Parent
      That's a great idea. I'm in the process now of evaluating if it's worth trying to install Pi-hole directly on a DD-WRT or Tomato router, vs using a dedicated RPi. Never worked with it before but I...

      That's a great idea. I'm in the process now of evaluating if it's worth trying to install Pi-hole directly on a DD-WRT or Tomato router, vs using a dedicated RPi. Never worked with it before but I think it will definitely be part of my future home network, with or without a smart TV connected to it.

  11. dblohm7
    Link
    Have you considered commercial displays? None of those come with smart features...

    Have you considered commercial displays? None of those come with smart features...

  12. babypuncher
    Link
    Maybe I'm missing the point of your question, but it seems like the obvious answer is to...just not use the smart TV functionality? My LG OLED isn't hooked up to my wifi. I have no problems with...

    Maybe I'm missing the point of your question, but it seems like the obvious answer is to...just not use the smart TV functionality?

    My LG OLED isn't hooked up to my wifi. I have no problems with it. My PS4, Switch, and Apple TV are connected to it through my receiver. My devices and receiver support HDMI-CEC, so I don't ever have to touch the TV remote except to adjust picture settings.

    There's nothing special about any of this. Unless you bought a monumentally shitty TV, there should be no reason to have to install custom firmware to make it work without an internet connection.

  13. mrbig
    Link
    You could make it play PewDiePie 24/7 on repeat. sorry

    You could make it play PewDiePie 24/7 on repeat.

    sorry