Don't spend $150 to bring Samsung's clunky smart TV experience to your set
Samsung offers some of the industry's sleekest, most bleeding edge smart TVs—from a hardware point of view. From a software standpoint, their "Smart Hub" interface is less than impressive. That's why it's curious that the company has released the $150 Smart Media Player to bring its flawed Smart Hub experience to any "dumb" HDTV—especially when there are so many other, better TV-smartening options.
Samsung's new set-top device gives users of any TV access to apps such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, or YouTube. And that's dandy! I'm just not exactly sure what the Smart Media Player provides that the recently announced $80 CoStar-LT box from Vizio won't. Not to mention the $100 AppleTV, multiple affordable devices from Roku, or any number of other options. And let's not forget Google's $35 Chromecast dongle for viewers who want access to just a few basic smart TV functions.
Samsung's Smart Media Player may appeal to certain low-information consumers who are familiar with the Samsung brand and interface and want to bring that functionality to a second "dumb TV" in their house. A Samsung release on the new product touts the ability to replace a second cable box with a more-affordable CableCard rental from one's moribund service provider.
However, Samsung even appears to be competing with itself to a certain extent. I'm not exactly sure what options—if any—are available on the $150 Smart Media Player that aren't available in Samsung's own $130 Smart Blu-ray player, which sports the Smart Hub UI in addition to Blu-ray functionality.
The takeaway is this: All these smart streaming TV boxes and dongles will go away one day, when all TVs come with built-in smarts. They are a transitional technology. And since most people are willing to ride out their current set until the need arises to purchase a new one, it may make sense to buy a device that will bring the Web and streaming services directly to their TV. But they should keep in mind that there are a lot of quality options out there. There's no need to settle.