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Can You Still Buy a “Dumb” TV?

A TV mounted to the wall of a living room.

Buying a new TV is a trap. You’re forced to pick between thousands of different smart TVs, and they all have the same problems—they spy on you, shove ads down your throat, and run slower than a snail in a pile of boogers. But there’s one way to escape this trap; buy a “dumb” TV.

Yes, you can still buy a brand-new “dumb” TV. And we’re about to highlight a few options with modern features like a 4K resolution and HDR support.

What’s Wrong With Smart TVs?

Most people are excited to own a smart TV, and that’s fine. Smart TVs give you instant access to streaming services and cost less than their older, dumber siblings. But in our opinion, these perks are completely outweighed by both TV usability and privacy.

Because smart TVs run on crappy little underpowered computers, they tend to stop working properly after just a few months. Everything gets really slow, apps randomly crash, and in some cases, the TV’s basic settings won’t even open. You can call it planned obsolescence or pure incompetence—the result is always the same. People feel forced to replace their TV earlier than they should.

Maybe that’s not a big deal; smart TVs are super affordable, after all. But they’re cheap because they steal your data and shove ads down your throat. And this spying goes beyond the smart TV’s built-in operating system. Fingerprinting software allows your TV to identify videos from external devices, such as streaming sticks, game consoles, DVD players, or even VCRs.

Corporations don’t care about any of these problems. In fact, they’re doubling down because intrusive spying and advertising are so profitable. Smart TV are only going to get worse, hence the demand for “dumb” TVs.

Despite this demand, there aren’t any “dumb” TV categories on the Amazon or Best Buy websites. You can’t walk into a Walmart and ask for a TV without Wi-Fi connectivity, and an internet connection is often required to even set up a TV.

You Can Still Buy a “Dumb” TV

The Samsung BET-H, a "dumb" TV for businesses.

It takes a bit of digging, but you can still find and purchase “dumb” TVs. And I’m not talking about the ancient flatscreens at your local Goodwill—I’m talking about new 4K TVs that are reasonably priced and don’t totally suck.

The best and easiest option is Sceptre’s 50-inch 4K TV, which is totally devoid of any smart functionality. Sceptre is a Walmart brand, of course, so this isn’t a high-end TV. But it only costs $308, it won’t spy on you, and it has a decent 15,000:1 contrast ratio. (The speakers kinda suck, but you can solve that problem with a cheap soundbar.)

Sceptre sells a couple of other “dumb” TVs, including a 40-inch 1080p model and a 55-inch 4K unit with HDR support. But again, none of these models are high-end.

If you want something more robust, you could always buy a commercial TV—the kind of thing they use at sports bars and department stores. Several commercial TVs, even some 4K models from Samsung, lack any internet connectivity. My only suggestion is to look at the specs before you buy a commercial TV. Some models are really nice, while others have obscenely low refresh rates or a ton of input lag. (Ideally, you want a refresh rate of 60Hz or 120Hz and a response time lower than 30ms).

And if you don’t need a huge TV, you could always buy a computer monitor. But you’ll probably want to buy a soundbar with a remote control if you go down that route.

Sceptre 50-inch 4K Dumb TV

This 50-inch “dumb” TV features a 4K resolution, a decent 15,000:1 contrast ratio, an 8.5-second response time, and three HDMI ports.

Samsung 55-inch 4K HDR Dumb Commercial TV

Want a high-end “dumb” TV? This Samsung commercial TV features a 4K resolution, HDR support, an impressive 4700:1 contrast ratio, an 8 ms response time, and two HDMI ports. (It supports Wi-Fi for wireless control over an app, though this feature isn’t forced and there’s no smart TV software.)

Some Smart TVs Let You Skip the Smarts

A Hisense TV asking if the user wants to set up "basic TV" mode.

If you already own a smart TV and are concerned about privacy, you can simply disconnect it from the internet or block it from your router. But this only solves the spying problem—your TV will still load its operating system, which may get clunky and slow over time.

But some smart TVs, particularly the models running Google TV software, let you skip the smart features entirely. You just need to select the “basic” mode during setup. Unfortunately, this may not work for every Google TV, and if you’ve already set up a Google TV, you’ll need to format it back to factory settings.

And while it isn’t the easiest option, you can prevent a smart TV from phoning home using your router’s firewall or a PiHole. This method will let you use the smart TV interface without any spying or advertisements. But you need to figure out which URLs your TV uses to perform these undesirable tasks, and of course, you’re still stuck with the crappy smart software.

Finding a “Dumb” TV Will Only Get Harder

A woman getting mad at her smart TV.

You can still buy a “dumb” TV, so long as you aren’t too picky. But that will probably change over the next few years. Manufacturers can’t help themselves, and frankly, I’m surprised that Walmart’s Sceptre brand still sells TVs without any internet-connected features.

The commercial sector will be the last bastion of “dumb” TVs. Still, buying the same TV as your local Subway isn’t a long-term solution to our current problem. We’re dealing with greedy corporations, and it’s only a matter of time before those corporations realize that the TVs used by businesses are a potential goldmine for data collection.

Things will continue to get worse until consumers are protected by legislation. A stupid privacy policy shouldn’t give manufacturers the right to spy on people, and let’s be real, there’s no excuse for selling TVs that crap out after a year. Millions of people upgraded to smart TVs for the smart features; the fact that those features break (and can’t be fixed) is completely unacceptable.

If any “dumb” TV manufacturers want to look super cool and trendy, feel free to contact Review Geek. We will gladly review your non-internet-connected TV. And I promise that people will buy it, even if it’s a little more expensive than a smart TV.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is the News Editor for Review Geek, where he covers breaking stories and manages the news team. He joined Life Savvy Media as a freelance writer in 2018 and has experience in a number of topics, including mobile hardware, audio, and IoT. Read Full Bio »