Smart TVs were supposed to save us from streaming sticks and set-top boxes. But due to slow hardware and unpredictable update schedules, the all-in-one smart TV solution is often more frustrating than useful. This is why your smart TV, which may have Roku or Amazon Fire TV software built in, still needs a streaming stick.
First of all: what is a smart TV?
Like smartphones or tablets, smart TVs connect to your home internet and support a range of streaming apps. They provide an all-in-one solution to watch traditional TV in addition to Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and other online media sources. In addition to video and audio streaming, smart TVs often include Bluetooth and smart home support, making it easy to connect wireless speakers or integrate your TV with Alexa or Google Assistant.
Most smart TVs run Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Android TV software, which is why they have such wide app compatibility and smart home support. As the names suggest, this is the same software found in popular streaming sticks. Companies like TCL, Sony and Insignia pay to use this software on their TVs, eliminating the need to design or maintain custom smart TV software.
But some smart TVs, especially older models, run on proprietary software. Samsung TVs run the Tizen operating system, LG TVs have webOS, and VIZIO TVs use the SmartCast system. For example, if you own a Samsung smart TV, Samsung will take care of the development and maintenance of your TV’s software. While proprietary smart TV systems are really well made and often include exclusive content, they offer less app support and smart home features than smart TVs with the Roku, Fire, or Android TV software.
The problem with smart TVs
Smart TVs should make streaming easier and eliminate the need for a dedicated streaming stick or set-top box. But in practice, smart TVs are often frustrating to use and may lack some of the apps you care about most.
Underpowered hardware is the major problem plaguing smart TVs. Most smart TVs come without the power needed to run their software properly, resulting in delays in navigating menus or opening apps. Sure, some smart TVs work great out of the box, but they slow down quickly as software updates require more computing power.
Update support is also a serious problem for smart TVs. While your phone manufacturer only needs to support a handful of devices at a time, TV manufacturers should keep track of dozens and dozens of smart TVs. You never know if and when you will get the latest update, and by extension, the latest features.
Roku and Amazon TVs tend to receive software updates a few months after their respective streaming sticks, while Google is leaving TV manufacturers to distribute the latest versions of Android TV. Unsurprisingly, proprietary smart TV software such as webOS and Tizen have the least predictable update schedules as it is up to the manufacturer to develop, optimize and distribute updates.
And then there is app compatibility. While smart TVs with Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or Android TV support the vast majority of streaming apps, TVs with their own software offer very limited app selection and rarely support new services. In some cases, TV manufacturers will fight with their own systems for exclusive app deals – that’s why Samsung’s Tizen TVs don’t have Spotify and LG and VIZIO TVs. (Roku, Amazon, and Google rarely fight for exclusive apps, although they regularly argue with streaming services over things like ad revenue).
The solution? Buy a streaming stick.
Whether your smart TV is slow and buggy or just doesn’t have the apps you need, there is only one solution to your streaming problems: get a dedicated streaming stick. The cheapest streaming sticks from Roku and Amazon cost less than $ 40, but support all of your favorite apps and have enough horsepower to run at top speed. And since streaming stick manufacturers only need to support a few devices at a time, you never have to worry about missing out on a cool update.
Streaming sticks will of course slow down and become buggy with age. But while many smart TVs are slow out of the box, it takes years for a streaming stick to show its age. If that happens, you can buy a replacement for as little as $ 30 and move the old streaming stick to another TV.
But since there are so many great streaming sticks at so many different prices, it can be a daunting task to get one. That’s why we’re taking a moment to check out some of the most popular streaming sticks from brands like Roku, Amazon and Google. If you’d rather take an in-depth look at all of the streaming sticks available today, check out our detailed streaming stick buying guide.
The cheap and simple option
Roku Premiere 4K
Why make things too complicated? The Roku Premiere costs less than $ 40 and works with all of your favorite services. In addition, it can stream 4K video and is compatible with your Alexa and Google Assistant for voice commands.
For Amazon households
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K highlights the Prime Video expiration date and integrates seamlessly with the Alexa smart assistant. If you have subscribed to Amazon services or have some smart Echo speakers then this is the streaming stick for you.