Ok. This is one of those stories based on comments I’ve seen dozens of times. Here is the scenario. A person who is buying a new TV wants to know if they should get a “Smart TV” or a “Roku TV”. This question is based on a misconception that a “smart TV” is like a brand or type of app-driven TV. But it is not. To ask a question like that is the same as saying should I buy a car or a Corrola? Should I buy a washing machine or a Maytag?
TVs with apps built into them are what used to be promoted as “smart TVs”. The term got coined in the early 2000s when the first TV’s with built in. There had never been a TV with video apps built in. Even more, streaming apps were new. So they were dubbed “smart TVs” I guess it’s because people think of computers as smart, despite all of the stupid things they do. Most importantly, calling them smart TVs made them stand out. Because most TVs did not have apps. So it differentiated them. But now people are confusing the whole concept. It’s not that some companies make smart TVs and others make Roku TVs or Fire TVs etc. Anything that ships with apps and a way to get on the Internet is a smart TV.
People looking for recommendations often don’t seem to get that. And it’s understandable. That is not their background and they have not lived in that world for a decade. And tech has its own inside language But maybe we can clear things up.
Really what people think of as a smart TV is a TV using some kind of streaming platform. What I think people are confusing is that there are connected TVs that have closed systems, meaning that a user can not add apps that are not available in a platform’s app store. Examples of closed systems are LG’s Web OS and Samsung’s Tizen. And there are the almost wide open TV’s powered by Android/Google TV as well as the Fire TV operating system. Multiple manufacturers employ Android TV, Google TV and Fire TV OS operating systems on their TVs. The Fire TV system was built on top of Android, so people often call TVs with Fire TV OS Android TVs too. There are TVs with Roku OS built-in. There are 12 manufacturers who sell sets in the US that use the Roku operating system. They license it from Roku.
More on Android TV/Google TV
As an aside I’ll mention that Android TV is made by Google and so is no shock Google TV. Android TV was Google’s second attempt to build a TV operating system. Want to know something incredibly confounding. Android TV replaced a totally different TV operating system called….”Google TV” only to have the company release a totally different operating system called “Google TV” after spending years on the Android TV rebrand. That is some messy branding. And it is even a little confusing for those of us who have followed it the whole time to make sense of it.
So what are these different platforms and what do new buyers need to know about them?
LG makes internet connected “smart TVs” They run an operating system called Web OS. They have lots of apps, probably most of the ones you have heard about and seen commercials for. But no, you can not add some new APK to it and watch free pirated movies on one.
Samsung TV makes smart TVs. I challenge you to find one made in the past year that does not have apps. They run on an operating system called Tizen. They have lots of apps, probably most of the ones you have heard about and seen commercials for. But no, you can not add some new APK to it and watch free pirated movies on one.
Android TV OS/Google TV
TV’s built with Android TV or (The New) Google TV are smart TV’s. The companies that build TVs with those operating systems changes over time. At the moment Google does not actually build TVs. But at the moment Sony, Hisense and TCL build TVs with Android TV installed. There are probably others I failed to mention. TVs running on Android TV OS/Google TV will allow users to install apps that are not in the app store.
Fire TV OS
TVs with Fire TV OS are built by multiple manufacturers. Some of the bigger brands that use Fire OS include Toshiba, Element and Insignia (Best Buy’s House brand). Amazon will actually start manufacturing their own TV’s soon. That is sure to confuse the market. TVs that run Fire OS are also capable of running and installing apps that are not available in the TVs app store.
Roku-powered TVs are powered by the operating system originally created for and still used by the companies streaming sticks, streaming boxes, and soundbars. They have lots of apps, probably most or all of the ones you have heard about and seen commercials for and lots that you have never heard of. The system is capable of running apps that are not available in the app store, though there are not many out there that would strike much interest. Yes, there are a few and if one of them happens to be your favorite one please don’t take the above statement personally. But Roku polices their system regularly. And apps that circumvent copyright laws are often pushed off the system when they come into the light. Plus compared to the ability to add multiple alternative app stores and file-sharing programs found on other TVs it Roku’s operating system doesn’t belong in the same breath, which is why it is literally its own paragraph.
I hope that makes things a little more clear. There is no way to compare a “Smart TV” to another TV with apps because there is no defined idea of what a Smart TV is. This is not the solution for people asking the question, because there will always be people who are new to the market for a new TV. But hopefully, it can be a guide for those who begin to ask the questions.