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LG Smart TVs log USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers (doctorbeet.blogspot.com)
297 points by Amadou on Nov 19, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 178 comments

Dear TV manufacturers,

No one want's your shitty software, it's not a competitive edge. No one has ever been impressed by the software their TV comes with, and for every person that found your software easy to use, there is a thousand who are still trying to figure out what that one button does on their remote. You wanna know what people are care about? Picture quality. That's it. That's always been the key. I don't know why you constantly fail to understand that.

Why can't you just make a dumb screen? You know desktop monitors? Like that. No sound, minimal software, but if you really want to get fancy, maybe a nice small remote to turn it on and off. Everything else, from sound to color profiles can, and have already for years now, be handled by external devices smarter than you.

If you make this, and you focus on picture quality instead of figuring out ways to confuse and exploit the customer, I promise you, I absolutely promise you, every AV nerd I know will buy one. And they will love it. And they will recommend it, and share it, and buy them for their loved ones. And blog about it. Tweet about it. Podcast, vlog and sing about it.

And you'll disrupt the old model. You will be the company that brings about the next revolution in television. You've been looking to do that for so long haven't you? And while you always secretly knew it wasn't IPTV or 3D that was going to start the next revolution, what you didn't know is how easy it would be to disrupt the current incumbents.

The customer is waiting, cash in hand.

Disagree. I agree that many current 'Smart TV' efforts are awful, but the concept is very, very sound. There are TVs with Hulu and Netflix just a few remote presses away - people want that. AV nerds are a small market by comparison.

This seems like more of an extension of hardware manufacturers still not being good at software. I'd say Samsung's version of Android proves that they still aren't great at it (but are getting better).

One major problem is that the TV makers continue to release new models without updating old ones. I got a high-end 55" LG TV with Netflix built in. One year later I moved to another country, where Netflix exists but the TV didn't support it. LG told me that the model year after mine supported changing the region, whatever that means. Since then I changed to iTunes then Amazon, neither of which the TV has. Built-in stuff in will continue to suck until it becomes modular and upgradeable. The rest is mostly worthless, and separate boxes remain necessary.

Exactly. Users are okay with old cellphones getting deprecated because they buy a new one every few years. TVs are expected to last a lot longer. Give me some good powered USB ports for an HDMI stick and get the heck out of my way.

Give me some good powered USB ports for an HDMI stick and get the heck out of my way.

That is a profoundly good idea. Let the TV manufacturer bundle all their "smart apps" stuff on USB-powered HDMI stick like a chromecast. Then five years down the line when the manufacturer has completely forgotten that the model even exists you can just spend $100 and get a modern one from some third party.

With HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) they can even integrate controlling the HDMI stick through the TV's remote for a completely seamless experience.

It's probably one of those ideas that is so good no manufacturer will ever do it though and we'll just be stuck with obsolete and forgotten software.

That's what AppleTV is, just a hockey puck not a stick.

I still don't understand why "AppleTV" isn't just a dock for your phone with an HDMI tail and an IR receiver on the front... Maybe it's old fashioned of me to not use my phone while watching TV.

Chromecast has shown how very little you actually need connected to the TV in order to provide this kind of functionality though.

Yes - that fight seems similar to cellphones a few years ago. TVs based on Android and the like might be a good start for getting more updates.

How will updating the old model's software help them sell you the new/upgraded one?

I bought the samsung with upgrade ability via evolution kit.


Until they decide not to offer it any more. Which could be next year for what you know.

Personally I'll stick with an external device, as it means there's an endless line of companies waiting to pick up the baton, and if I don't find an off the shelf device, I can set up my own.

There's just no compelling reason to lock myself into whatever the TV manufacturer decides to provide.

Agreed. I've been trying to get my parents and in-laws to check out Netflix for a while. Recently both got new "smart" TVs. Now that Netflix is right on the remote they seem to feel confident and comfortable enough to start using it.

The problem with smart TVs is that their set of applications is quite limited, and once the manufacturer stops updating it, you're stuck with it. I very much prefer just attaching a laptop with the OS of your choice, and the applications of your choice to the TV if/when needed.

That's cool. You may prefer that. But let's not deny that there's a huge market who have valid reasons for preferring it to work in the TV.

Agreed again (I'm just agreeable today), my point was more that once the barrier of another device, another setup, another x is gone, there's going to be a massive influx of new users. I think we're still very much in a transition period, the internet is everywhere and everyone knows it but there's still a surprisingly large amount of growth left.

Another personal anecdote, my father-in-law, who not 2 years ago was unaware of what Google was or how to use it, ordered a riding mower online for next day delivery. That's a large purchase made all of his life at a B&M which he was fine doing online. If someone reliable besides Lowes'/HD had a better price, they would've made the sale.

> I agree that many current 'Smart TV' efforts are awful, but the concept is very, very sound.

What makes the concept sound if the implementation certainly isn't?

> There are TVs with Hulu and Netflix just a few remote presses away - people want that.

Most Blu-ray players, game consoles, DVRs, etc come with Netflix and Hulu too. Why do I want my TV to do it when I have 5 other devices hooked up that can do it with a better UI? People already have these devices, so no, I don't think people want another, shittier, implementation.

> AV nerds are a small market by comparison.

Small, but like every nerd market, very vocal and very influential. Look at the best selling TVs on Amazon, they are all highly recommended in AV circles.

> This seems like more of an extension of hardware manufacturers still not being good at software. I'd say Samsung's version of Android proves that they still aren't great at it (but are getting better).


One look at the average TV remote tells you enough about TV manufacturers and their ability to do any kind of UI design.

Remotes like this: http://wardiesworld.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/raspi_samsun...

always remind me of this: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2006/11/this-is-what-happen...

have you seen the 2013 samsung remote? http://www2.crutchfield.com.edgesuite.net/pix.crutchfield.co...

It's like the remote designer's revenge. "Too many buttons? I'll show you what it's like to not have buttons!" This remote literally has a button on it that brings up an on-screen picture of a remote that you use by swiping around on the trackpad, so you can get at the buttons your remote is missing.

Ahh, Samsung. Always masters at figuring out how to do the right thing completely wrong. Holy crap that's ugly.

I'm a little surprised that these are all held up as "bad examples". For example, I looked at the picture of the Windows `wget` gui and thought "that doesn't look that bad." Sure there's a lot of dense information, but things are pretty well explained and it's pretty clear how it works. It is ugly, but it's also totally functional.

I guess ultimately, I really don't care how ugly something is if it's at least consistent and informative. However, I know I'm an outlier in this.

Imagine it wasn't wget, but a tool you'd never used before and you didn't know what the arguments meant. All those options are poorly defined. Also, it's confusing how filetypes switch from checkboxes to a listbox.

Trying to cram everything into one panel has left us with nothing but the controls and very little space for information.

Also, even if you wanted that layout, the alignments are terrible and the use of frames is arbitrary and inconsistent.

If I were in that situation, and I find I often am, my choice is to go and read the manual. I think this comes from years of reading man pages for command line tools, but the first step I feel should always be to read the instructions.

You are not the target user for GUIs.

Remotes are incredibly hard to design. My company builds Smart TV Apps we have just about every remote imaginable and that Samsung one you chose "just works" its like the Nokia 3310 of remotes. You can pick it up and use it without thinking about it.

Show me a remote that works better then that one and I can probably tell you why it sucks.

That was my first-cut search and so it's certainly not the worst example, but in software if I put buttons like "T.Link" and "DMA" and 4 unlabeled colored buttons right on the main home-screen of a consumer-oriented UI I'd be laughed out of the room.

Buttons like that are an artifact of the days when TVs didn't have on-screen UIs. The remote should not be designed for the 1% of users that fiddle with such things.

Do heatmaps and find out which buttons are actually used frequently give those big clear buttons with unabbreviated labels, and move everything else into the menus.

And the menus themselves - you have a whole screenful of space, you can actually describe to the user what each option does in helpful detail.

Apple remote comes to mind: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht3176

I would like to hear you opinion.

The Apple Remote is solid similar to the Samsung but with out all the keys.

Roku's first remote was very similar but had the same problem - no back button. If you're going to do interactive apps on your TV you need a back button and an exit or "home" button - they're two different things. The Apple remote assumes very limited input almost zero text input so no numbers or extraneous keys like the color keys.

My favorite remote close to the apple one was the Boxee 1 remote (it too needs an explicit back button). But the slim, pared down front side design with the full keyboard on the back was very slick and usable.


That's interesting: the remote was one of the two reasons I ditched my Boxee (the second being that the UI was painful). Initially, the keyboard was a major selling point for me over my AppleTV remote but grey text on black rubber buttons? No backlight? Trying to use the keyboard functionality of the remote in anything other than full lighting was an exercise in futility.

To be fair: UI (virtual and physical) is hard. Thus far, the AppleTV is my favorite but it's a "lesser of two evils" scenario.

I like this one:


It's purely meant as a mouse-and-keyboard thing, and in that vein it has some failures (the mouse-buttons are face-buttons instead of console-style triggers, and the keyboard lacks a way to use the F function keys)... but in general? I used its predecessor (the N9501 instead of N9502) and found the design lovely.

I could navigate my set-top PC easily with the trackball and mouse buttons, and when I needed to do text-entry I could hold it like a thumb keyboard. I even got pretty far in Cipher Prime's Auditorium with the trackball - it was quite pleasant for low-stress mouse-only games (as long as they only need click, not drag). The problem with my old version was that the trackball was not user-servicable (trackballs get dirty, fast) and it wasn't backlit.

The new one uses a touchpad and has backlighting.

I bought the predecessor as well and you're absolutely right: the design is lovely. While I'd say it's more of a full-featured HID than a remote it's well designed and comfortable to use. I didn't know about the new one and I'll keep an eye out for it.

A problem I see is that the tasks of set-top-boxes and displays are relatively constrained, so having a reduced input device seems like a good idea. But how to support free-text searching without a full keyboard (on-screen menus are painful) or having to deal with limited battery life due to a touchscreen?

I lucked into a N5901 -- note that it's N5901 and N5902 -- when I picked up a used Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150, which included one. It beats a wireless keyboard for controlling a set-top PC. I use a IOGEAR wireless compact keyboard on the other set-top PC, but will probably pick up another M5901/N5902 at some point.

Apple remote is great for the target audience, but unusable for a mass market product.

For many consumers, any feature not accessible with a single button won't exist. It will be a major pain point. Having it be accessible as a sequence of actions or through a menu won't work.

Try doing usability testing with a few grumpy 65 year olds or people who have trouble operating a microwave. They are a larger market than you think.

> For many consumers, any feature not accessible with a single button won't exist. It will be a major pain point. Having it be accessible as a sequence of actions or through a menu won't work.

Then those features don't exist, and that's fine. Is our hypothetical Luddite going to be switching audio streams to SAP? Playing with the picture-in-picture feature? Is he going to know what TTX/MIX means? DMA? E.MODE?

No. Undocumented features are also non-existent features. And for most users, the instruction-manual doesn't count.

It's a TV.

Give basic menu-nav buttons - 4 arrows, OK, Back, show/hide menu.

Give the basic TV tuner buttons - the 0-9 buttons, channel up/down, "Guide" menu button. There's the entirety of your TV facility. Guide needs arrow keys, but our main menu nav already provides that. We don't even really need a "Guide" button, "Guide" can be just be the default view of "Menu".

Volume control, input-selector for its functions as a monitor.

That's it. Notice something? None of those require horrifying abbreviations. We already have standard symbols for all of them. No unlabeled colored buttons. Most of those buttons don't even require words because they're so common we have symbols for them. We just covered all of Grandpa's uses - he wants to change channels and change the volume. We're done. Everything else? Your crazy abbreviated buttons are even more user-hostile than the menu, because at least entries in the menu have vowels.

You could easily cut 6 rows off the Samsung I used as an example and Grandpa would still be happy. Happier even because he's no longer confused about all these crazy weird tiny illegible buttons on his remote. You could even make a large-print version for him and it would be smaller than a dinner-plate.

> No unlabeled colored buttons

The red button in particular is used in the UK for lots of TV services. It's not unusual to hear the phrase 'push the red button for X' on TV.

X is usually alternative video feeds of live/sporting events, or different sporting commentary

You can also use the red button for other information such as news headlines, the weather, sport scores. Grandpa uses this, youngsters have their phones and the internet

That is a good point - there can be a good middle ground that's much less complicated than the current 'standard' remotes, but not so extreme as the Apple remote shown above.

On that note, I somehow recall seeing TVs shipped with 2 remotes - the 'full one' and a simple one like you describe, with the expectation that people will choose which they prefer, and members of the same family might have opposite preferences.

Well, part of the difference is that the Apple TV device isn't going to be changing channels, so it doesn't need the whole list of buttons I just mentioned related to channel-surfing. It's basically just the Guide without the numbers. So we're down to just pure menu-nav and the volume-control.

So really, the Apple TV remote isn't that extreme. It's just a remote for an Apple TV set-top box and not a television.

The Apple remote is exactly the remote that came to my mind when I think simplicity. That's what most people use. up, down, left, right, center(for enter/go/confirm) and a menu (for options, back).

Thats 99% of a remote usage, the rest is handled by any GUI.

Except when you have nearly 100+ channels, and remember the 3 digit code for most of the ones you care about - then you want a numeric keypad rather than fiddling around moving up and down in a menu.

I'd never want to be stuck with just an Apple remote.

Layers upon layers of broken systems built upon broken systems.

You only have a few channels you like, and should be able to simply switch between them with a D-pad. But the cable industry's broken business model requires you to subscribe to an order of magnitude more than you want. Clunky set-top box UIs have you constantly paging up and down massive lists. A "favorites" system is nestled deep within some unintuitive menu, and never displays anyway when you go to the channel guide, always requiring more button presses followed by high-latency screen redraws. And thus, you're stuck dialing in a numeric code like it's 1968.

I'm sure you'd be ecstatic to be stuck with an Apple remote, if only the entire rest of the TV experience were up to speed with it.

Car-stereos are another rant on their own (a particularly nasty one since we're going straight from '80s crap to toushcreens and skipping right over sensible car-appropriate UIs), but interesting car-stereo manufacturers always provide presets and don't require you to surf to find the content you want.

1) As another poster pointed out, almost nobody _wants_ 100+ channels.

2) Good God, nobody wants to enter "3-digit codes". Your 100+ channels fit into a regular grid, with, you know, pictures. So I can actually see what's what, without remembering that "124" is "shitty shopping channel #16".

Said grid can be navigated quite quickly with a d-pad. If it was just a regular grid of, say, 12x12 entries, you can reach any entry in 12 clicks. (Assuming your UI does the smart thing and wraps)

3) If you had a better interface, like e.g. categorization, you could do with less than 12 clicks. Optimally utilizing the 4 directions, 4 clicks would do. You'll probably need one or two more, but it's fairly straightforward

4) If the UI designers had paid any attention to decent UIs, they'd be aware of such nifty inventions as "Favorites" and "Recently visited", which means even less key strokes.

5) Can we already ditch the "dedicated remote" nonsense, even the Apple one, and admit pretty much every household has some sort of Wifi enabled touch screen in their home? E.g. a much better device for your UI?

That was my though too. But to do that you have to control both software and hardware which Apple can.

As does every other TV and player manufacturer. We're not talking about PCs here, or 3rd-party remote manufacturers. We're talking about Sony, Samsung, and LG and the baked-in TV software.

They control the screen, the software, and the controller, same as Apple. They're just not as good at it as Apple.

I don't like Apple - I don't like the horrifying complete lock-in of hardware/software/media. But I admit something: Apple wins because they're the best. Period.

Actually that's not necessary. I have XBMC installed into an old Macbook that uses the Apple Remote perfectly. Their usage fits into A.R. layout and buttons.

The LG Magic Remote is by far the best remote I have ever used, particularly for "smart" content, browsing, using apps such as NetFlix, etc. It's almost as natural and simple as using a mouse and hands down beats other TV type input methods I've seen (game controllers, Apple remote, etc.).

Shame LG seem intent on ruining it with the spying, I hope they have a change of approach and resolve this.

One interesting thing about UI design - it all seems so obvious. But a guy who designed airplane cockpits told me that those "obvious" aspects were all paid for in blood.

They're obvious only in hindsight.

I had that Samsung remote and then upgraded to a newer model as the previous Samsung glass TV base literally exploded. And amusingly, the newer remote is far worse than the one you've used as an example. I wish I could revert!


I plan to keep using my TV for at least 10 years and probably rather longer. There is no chance any of the "smart" BS will still be useful then. (Imagine you had a "smart" TV in 2004 that, say, updated your Myspace page.)

Obviously as far as the manufacturer is concerned, they'd rather I buy a new TV after 4 years so I can get new "smart apps" and yada yada yada, but anyone who does research isn't going to fall for that.

My mother bought a nice Sony smart TV in 2012, but it was a 2011 model still in stores. The TV has a bunch of apps, can display video from a bunch of sites, but Sony REFUSES to release a Netflix app for it, stating Netflix is only for 2012 models.

The hardware is there, it can run stuff and show videos just fine, but the manufacturer refuses to update it. It really pisses me off since it's a nice panel with great picture quality.

Breaking news: Customer buys something from Sony, gets boned without lube. Ric Romero has film at 11.

That doesn't make sense to me. I have a Sony I bought in 2010 that has Netflix on it. Never-going-to-get updated, slow interface Netflix, but it's there.

It sure doesn't, but it's what happened.


The rate of change of the "smart" technology is far greater than that of the actual video display. That is, I expect that the TV will continue to work for displaying video for many years, but the cycle time for "smart" services is currently months or very few years.

Thus, to keep current with the ability to display content, I'd need to dump a display system that's perfectly good.

Better to separate the modules. Have a really good display system, and separate, a smart device that handles content. That smart device can be dead-simple to install and to operate, and still do a great job (like Roku).

So, basically a monitor attached to an HTPC?

Tangent: I think there's room for an 'Android of TVs.'

This may or may not be Android, which is kind of the problem. The most likely contenders here (Apple, Google, MS, Sony) have a dog in the race & incumbent problems. They committed to an approach or a technology too early. They have a market (eg itunes), complementary products or ecosystems to protect.

What does TV software really need in order to be significantly better than the average smart TV? A handful of core apps (Youtube, Netflix), some local ???Players (these could be introduced market by market) and some experimental/novelty apps (eg Skype, spotify). That's it. That's a good start. Crappy games and access to 99 upstart content marketplaces is not necessary. An app marketplace could come second.

*Vanilla android is not the answer. If it's going to be android it needs to be android for TV.

Isn't the Android of TVs the Google TV?

What you're describing though is currently what the Apple TV is like. It comes with Netflix, Youtube and a bunch of other apps (sports stuff, a few music services, etc). It's missing an app store - but there's a pretty decent chance that will arrive at some point over the next few years (there are so many apps on there at this point that it's becoming a little cluttered, so I think it's coming sooner rather than later).

Even though Apple has iTunes, their primary business is hardware and they don't seem to have an issue with putting iTunes competitors on there.

Of course, the Apple TV has a long way to go. It's still pretty much a hobby project (although recently it's getting more and more updates).

My Apple TV is one of my absolute favorite gadgets. I seriously love this little box. My TV is merely turned on, the HDMI input is selected, and between the neat remote and my iPhone I'm set for all my content.

I wish the YouTube interface was better though, but with the new AirPlay stuff, it's becoming less and less of an issue. Very neat, if you have all the bits for the full "ecosystem" (up until I did, it was a lot more painful and got less use).

Maybe eventually but not yet.

Android on the TV is like Windows XP on your phone right now. It's cool that it's possible, but very obviously not what it was intended for. Android for TV (whether or not it is based on Android) needs to be designed for the job.

The Apple TV is problematic in that it can't come bundled with your TV. Part of what I mean by 'Android for X' is that Samsung can put it in their products and build their strategy around it.

Android on the TV is something to run XBMC on, where you only occasionally, if ever, exit to "plain" Android.

I think the best solution would be a well-built remote that plays nice with vanilla android. Android needs touch - that means a quick way to click on various screen elements, a good way to drag-scroll, and a way to use the onscreen keyboard.

A good hardware peripheral should be able to provide those services. Just give me an airmouse with a drag-scroll joystick and a keyboard when I need it. The problem is that most hardware vendors trying to hit this market are serious lowest-common-denominator companies - fly-by-night Chinese manufacturers and whatnot. Sony did it too, but they stuck it to the stillborn Google TV OS.

Take it away from the TV division and get somebody who designs controllers to make the remote. Get the Playstation guys on this. A hybrid between the PS3 Move Controller and this thing:


Why isn't the Android based Google TV the "Android of TVs?" If I remember correctly, most of Google TV was merged into Android itself.



why is vanilla android not the answer? i don't even need apps. just a browser, really.

Because Android is a touch-centric OS. I've picked up some HDMI sticks that put a decent skin on Android and use an AirMouse for the UI, and it's not fun. Most of the apps use drag-based scrolling which is painful with an airmouse, and on-screen keyboards.

That said, a simple clean airmouse is so much nicer than the zillion-button monstrosities of traditional TV remotes.

The problem is that what you're suggesting is a race to the bottom in terms of price. The TV industry is hurting from that approach, which is why they're now trying to become more than just dumb panels.

"No one want's your shitty software, it's not a competitive edge [...] You wanna know what people are care about? Picture quality."

To be fair, a lot of that is software, too, nowadays. Upscaling without visible artifacts? Figuring out what the optimal backlighting should be? Adaptive blurring? Motion blur compensation? All done in software.

A large part of the problem, I think, is that tv companies, traditionally, let the hardware engineers who write that software add a menu structure, because they are programmers, and all programming is programming, isn't it? I do think things are a lot better than they were 5 years ago, but could be a lot better still.

No, that's not what happens at all. Are you living under a rock? Every CEO and his brother wants to talk about "value-adds" via custom software and branded interfaces.

No one would argue that signal processing and the stuff traditionally known as "firmware" has a valid purpose. It's the stuff that arises when an executive get a boner for a "product vision" that people don't want or need. It's the kind of trash that looks alluring on a list of bullet points, but gets turned over every 24 months because it's utterly void of any substance, and only got produced at the whims of some empty suit trying to prove his worth.

I agree; what I described is an early stage that we have left far behind. Your description is way more accurate for where we are now. And that isn't limited to firmware; I think 3D TV sets with shutter glasses fall in the same category (everybody wants 3D, but that technology simply isn't convenient enough for home use)

I also think that t.v. manufacturers _must_ try to improve their offering with features not directly related to image or audio quality; there is no margin in plain television sets and too few get sold (one every 4-5 years per family vs one smartphone every two years or so per person). Problem is not that they try, but that they don't succeed. In that sense, there is an opportunity for someone with an Apple-like approach to enter the market.

I doubt people care about picture quality as they watch SD channels when the HD version is available. Norms care about having 1 box that they plug in with the fewest number of cables and works well enough they don't need to buy something else. Geeks want a display, norms want a TV.

Of course I want a new firmware board for my 5 year old HD TV which sends the wrong resolution data to my pc, has a terrible SD UI, and doesn't decode HD OTA signals, but it's not going to be cheaper than buying a new TV

Norms? Really.

Edit: You can get big, dumb TVs that look stellar. Look at TVs targeting the commercial space. Of course, you're going to pay for it though.

My mother bought an LG flatscreen, but I had to show her how to use it. A gyroscopic remote? Ads in her TV menu? Using the system was painful even for me and I fully expect that the software will not be updated two years from now. I guess the manufacturers feel they have to be able to point to something unique or different, even if it doesn't actually provide any value (like "Collectors Edition cereal boxes") and that idea gets in the way of focusing on core strengths/"less-is-more".

(I bought her a Roku 3 but it was returned due to hardware errors so she's been using the TV system since)

Actually quite like the DLNA browser and renderer capabilities on mine, and the youtube feature, means I don't need another box attached. I already have enough with the audio receiver and various consoles.

Agreed, I have a Sony Bravia and I love the Netflix button, plus the ability to easily watch youtube and movies that I have on my computer through the menu. Sure, I could get the same thing other ways (Roku, Wii, etc), but having it built into the TV is pretty handy.

I just bought a TV. I bought a 720 'cos it was cheaper (because, really, who cares about "picture quality" except nerds?), and I was really impressed with the software - it can do DLNA streaming, Youtube pairing, and Netflix and none of that was even mentioned on the box! Means I don't even need to bother gluing a Raspberry Pi to the back like I planned. Awesome! And so cheap!

(In case it wasn't clear... you are not the only market segment. Neither am I.)

I don't believe this is true. Anecdotally:

1. I cannot easily distinguish between SD and HD screens. I would much rather have a faster frame rate or better sound quality or an easier way to legally access international TV channels. Better picture quality? I don't care for that any more.

2. My (non-technical) housemate plans to upgrade his TV to one with built-in software, because he thinks it will be an improvement on the buggy set-top box software and he won't need to worry about cabling and upgrading external devices. He has no interest in HD either, but he is happy to pay for a TV with better picture quality simply because he imagines that paying more for a TV means he'll get better software.

Dear LG,

I just returned a Nexus 5 because it had poor reception compared to other phones using the same SIM card.

I was going to buy a LG G2 but having just seen how you treat your TV customers as cattle, I won't touch anything from LG for the forseeable future.

In a nutshell, LG, you lose my money.



Most people dont actually care about picture quality, if they did they wouldnt buy a tv based on how it looks in the store. From my personal experience there are a lot of people who either cant tell or dont care if the current cable channel is in HD or not.

Most people care about how big it is and much it cost, hench why LCDs beat out Plasmas.

In case you're wondering, here's the company behind this: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/02/cognitive_lands_lg_a...

Alternatively, just throw Android in there and let me hack away. That would at least be fun.

It's too bad your views don't represent the views of the vast majority of TV buyers.

Simplicity is another thing I value immensely, which this branded-software nightmare is completely at odds with. A TV should be a dumb display, with connectivity for anything people may want to add. Nothing more. I don't want to pay for trash I'll never use and I certainly don't want to be stuck with it or spied on by it. Nor do I want a frankenstein-remote with 300 buttons when 12 will do.

If the data sending wasn't creepy enough, LG's response to the author's letter takes the cake - they tell him to contact the retailer!

"The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer. We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T's and C's at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions."

Next time I buy a loaf of bread I shall ask for the terms and conditions, just to be sure...

You joke but I can totally imagine a future where there are embedded sensors in the bread that transmit local conditions and (after ingestion) health/medical data.

Such a loaf could be given away free if the data collected could be repackaged and access to it sold to the highest bidder (I'm thinking pharma companies might pay).

A (imho insidious) way to get this accepted by the public would be to target humanitarian efforts first. Tracking health and disease in refugee populations is a real problem, so this system could offer tangible benefits. The refugees aren't really in a position to complain about privacy aspects and it'd be unpalatable for anyone to try a cost/benefit analysis when considering immediate survival against future privacy concerns (esp when it's framed from the point of view of saving a child -- as it usually is). Once this is considered 'normal' in such situations, it could be a short hop (or slippery slope?) to the supermarket.

If you think this is ridiculous, please remember that there was once a time when having robots read our email was considered hugely invasive by much of the public (Gmail launch).

I have an idea for a novel about this, I'm just not a good writer.

Basically, you ingest food and something in it collects data and can show you advertisements (or whatever) based on your eating habits. You wouldn't even have to know you've eaten the stuff (the nano-machines or whatever) but you'd start seeing ads because the nano-machines have attached themselves to your eyes and are creating images for you to see. How do you know what's real, then?

We don't have that technology yet (AFAIK), but this is just one step beyond a few current technologies (Google Glass + nano-machines?) and an extension of the path of privacy invasion via technology we're currently on.

This might just sound like crazy science fiction paranoia but I'm pretty sure we'll see something like this happen in the next 100 years.

Doesn't seem too far fetched...

By removing the sealed packaging on this loaf of bread, you agree to the following terms and conditions:

-- 10 pages of terms and conditions in tiny print condensed to fit on the packaging of a loaf of bread --

Never said it was ridiculous.

Just joking about today. Of course it will become mainstream but by then we shall all be conscious of it.

I hope...

The 'save the children' attitude will kill us all, yes.

I read this as: "Please organize a class action lawsuit if you have any further concerns."

The problem for LG is: more than 0 people do do that.

That's the UK law if you have a faulty product.

It is not, however, the UK law on data protection.

And if LG's argument is that the software that comes with the TV has some sort of licence agreement that customers must accept before using it, that's another whole can of worms.

Please let them try to fight this in a court high enough to set a precedent. Making an example of LG under the various consumer protection laws might be easier than taking on a dedicated software company.

We are well overdue for a heavyweight case in the UK to prove that vendors selling a device for a well understood purpose can't get away with sneaking terms into their legal weasel words about DRM or spyware or introducing security vulnerabilities or rights of physical access for audit purposes or various other abuses that really have nothing to do with what the customer bought the device for.

Actually, there's real good and simple method to determine which one is a shit or not. If it has a word SMART on its name, that's a shit. SMART - it's a magic word to identify shits. Because I never saw stupid companies can make great stuff with more computing power and accessibility. When they have more freedom, they always make a bigger shit. And sometimes it becomes deadly huge.

Real nice product doesn't advertise such smart shit stuff, and only focus on the feature what you actually need and use. Even such computing features made you happy, they know that's not a feature to be advertised.

Just don't buy any SMART stuff. Whatever they ADVERTISE, they're saying on advertisement are all bullshit.

Just started looking at what my Samsung is dialing up. + huge url param string is one thing that jumps out. Resolves to 'Samsung AdHub Portal'

Only seems to be transmitting back when using the smart tv stuff though. The request params and some of the stuff I can decipher. request? id=<some id> s=220x124 dt=03 did=<device id> pt=04 pv=T-INFOLINK2012-1003 nt=10 coc=<country> lnc=<language> ts=1384856584858 <timestamp> tz=<time zone> scr=1280x720 <screen size> dy=2012 md=12_X10PLUS mf=Samsung HTTP/1.1\\r\\n

I have a Samsung "Smart TV" and fortunately as their frontend is a piece of shit I never use their "smart" features.

Unfortunately for me my cable and internet provider (Bell Canada) has decided to start tracking usage habits to target ads:


Have you tried blocking the IP and see what that might break?

A nice write up for the Information Commissioner would probably be a good idea.

I'd suggest doing a short cover letter, a simple-English write-up, with a detailed technical appendix.

I'd ask if LG are registered to collect data, and if their registration covers this data. And if any of this information leave the EU etc.

Thanks for the write up! It's interesting. I wonder if rooting the telly to replace this functionality is legal? I never know what the laws are about reverse engineering stuff now.

I can't even find LG Electronics UK Ltd on the data protection register...

Actually perhaps the most annoying thing I can see is that after paying a fuck-load for the television, they dare to show me adverts on the guide!

LG is instantly on my shitlist for this and the channel and media data leaks.

Do you know what, this actually annoyed me about my Panasonic TV, it does exactly the same.

When I go into the "Internet" function, it shows me ads at the bottom. Why am I seeing these ads?

For example, in the UK we pay the TV license to BBC to NOT see ads. We are paying for a TV so why am I still seeing ads?

If I was renting a TV at a reduced cost or some type of freemium model then I would expect it, takes the biscuit a little I say.

Samsung smart TVs are the same. I'm normally happy to view adverts if I am benefiting from whatever they fund - TV advert breaks paying for the content that I'm watching, in-app ads because I got the app for free, etc. With the adverts on the Samsung SmartHub all I can see is the software that I have already paid for.

Of course, the demo mode doesn't have advertising, so there is no way to know about it beforehand.

Potentially relevant link: http://www.samsungadhub.com

I'd have taken it back.

My Bravia EX has no adverts but I don't entirely trust it.

i have an NX Bravia and in the Channel Guide there are ads.. what about yours?

Not a thing. No ads at all anywhere. I'm in the UK though so it might be different and this unit is 3 years old now.

You can turn this off. There's a setting somewhere, I forget which

I'm looking at buying a new TV at the moment, and it's disturbingly difficult these days to find a regular TV that doesn't come with so-called smart features.

I don't want smart features in my TV. I want my TV to show pictures and maybe make sounds from a useful range of input connections, and nothing else.

I can add my own features by connecting different sources to the TV, and so can anyone else who ever bought a FreeView box or PVR or other similar device. And that way, we can also ignore those sources that don't serve our interests, and upgrade or replace the supplementary sources as things like catch-up and on-demand services evolve, without throwing out perfectly good TV hardware.

I get that the TV brands want to jump on the advertising bandwagon, but this is the UK, home of the (commercial-ad-free) BBC. The vendors aren't going to be popular if they try to ram this obvious backward step down our throats, and I suspect they may be surprised by how many of us will vote with our wallets to avoid it. We just need to make sure customers who aren't A/V fanatics or HN-reading geeks are educated about what is going on, so they can vote with their wallets too.

I don't buy TVs anymore. I just buy a monitor that takes HDMI input. After all, the output of the cable box is HDMI.

Unfortunately, there are still areas where a good TV will beat a computer-style monitor, such as availability in sizes above 30" or so, and coming with a remote that can at least select between input sources and control basics like power/volume/brightness. But I agree with you, a good and dumb screen is what I really want.

Same here.

My TV does not even play sound through its speakers anymore since I upgraded to a surround setup. It literally does just display whatever I feed it through its HDMI inputs.

I kinda like it that way. Should the TV break, I can get a new one and won't have to spend hours trying to set everything back up the way it was.

I worked for a system like this, but for Philips. Could be that the company ( cannot tell the name!) sold the solution to LG. Actually this was meant to display channel suggestions, not ads. Seems like since last time they twisted it. Quite a shame.

It was an opt out system, every TV got a unique ID, but it was anonymous - Philips didn't knew who you were. If someone watched something more than 15 mins, it was send to the DB and was profiled. After a while, the system learned your preferences - also depending on the watching hour - and started to show, per request, recommandations what to watch - which channel was the most close to your preferences. It worked like a charm.

But indeed, no personal data was collected so I don't really understand the fuss. Same for this case, LG sens anonymous data, and returns best ads for you. A little better than Google, i might say.

I'm sorry, but every detail of what I do or my family does within the privacy of our own home is personal. I do not expect my TV to be spying on me in any form.

>I do not expect my TV to be spying on me in any form.

The spying is done by the people working at LG. The TV is only the technical method used to spy on you and your family.

>But indeed, no personal data was collected so I don't really understand the fuss.

Filenames on USB sticks attached to the TV could quite easily include personal data. That and the lack of (working) option to disable the feature entirely.

It sounds like this solution was for cable shows, not every piece of media that is played.

Such a service (even the one you describe, not the ads) would be a breach of privacy if merely opt-out. Anything like this must be opt-in.

> LG sens anonymous data, and returns best ads for you

Thanks! I always love it when I get the best ads!

Make it opt in, present it as an option when user sets up TV, and avoid all the negative publicity.

You had us until "but indeed".

My television preferences and the times that I am normally watching TV are personal data - and potentially sensitive.

There is some disconnection within two sentences: If it's not personal to me, how can they return the best ads for me?

priz3 found this info on the company

The first comment on that page is important: contact the ICO.

But it's interesting and worrying that this problem would not have been found if LG was using SSL.

Well, I doubt they would be using certificate pinning.

So you could bypass it easily

How would I get a SSL certificate issued for an lg domain from an issuer that the LG tv trusts?

Best case is, they left the "--no-check-certificate" option on for debugging purposes.

Or maybe you can import a certificate somehow.

No certificate checking is quite likely unless the TV also has a method to update its CA trust list, and maybe even handle CRL/OCSP depending on the client library.

So when this sniffs the viewing habits of someone who is under 13, does it run afoul of CIPA or COPA or whatever it's called?

I don't think so, because COPPA only applies if the service is directed at children and/or asks (directly or indirectly) the user's age.

What about when it starts showing ads for things kiddie shows?

I wonder what would happen if I had a movie on my USB stick I wanted to watch, and it happened to be in the same folder as a few documents that happened to be named with my personal identifying data.

My name, address, tax number, drivers license number, passport number, etc, etc.

Now they've slurped that off my drive without my permission, and transmitted it in the clear. Can I sue them for "unauthorized access" or identity theft?

What if the file name was some industry secret under NDA or other protection?

(For example Apple_iPhone_7_2015_design_spec.pdf or NSA_POTUS_PHONE_LOGS_2013_TOP_SECRET.csv )

Trade secret information is not blanket protected. For example, the recipe for Coke is a trade secret, but you can still try to reverse engineer it. You cannot try to steal it, or pay someone to give it to you. It seems that the user agreed that the TV would give that information, in some sort of license agreement, and plugged that data into the TV also. I don't think it would count as a fraudulent way of getting the data.

With regard to TOP SECRET info, I think that the person plugging the data in is at fault, if they were under an obligation to keep it protected, and they failed by letting it go to a private server.

Identity information could be a liability for them, I think. By instituting this feature, they open a possibility of collecting private information, which they should have a duty to protect.

Anyone have a link to LG's Terms and Conditions that reveal they will be collecting data?

Furthermore, there's an issue of going further down the rabbit hole with smart TVs. What about the terms and conditions of use of software that you may never even use that is still collecting data?

I have a LG dumb TV with DLNA and wired connectivity only. LAN only setup does not work. It has to have a full Internet connection.

I'm currently in the market for a new TV 50-55", preferably the least smart, the better.

Any suggestions? I can't seem to find any non-smart TVs that are reasonably current with at least 3 HDMI ports.

Why non-smart especially ? You're free not to connect it to the internet. That's exactly what most customers do with their 'smart' tvs : not plugging them or getting their hands dirty with the wifi settings.

Why non-smart especially ? You're free not to connect it to the internet.

Until they get "smart" enough to connect via someone else's WiFi hotspot within range.

If you think this is a joke or some sort of silly conspiracy theory, please consider the scheme BT already operate across the UK where you can piggy back on other people's home broadband to get wireless Internet access. On my fairly typical residential street, I already have several homes within range of this computer that are part of that scheme, which any wireless device in my home could be connecting to without my knowledge or consent, including those with access to my home network or that include equipment like cameras and microphones.

I expect BT could make a tidy profit from making deals with these kinds of companies so they can phone home using their built-in wireless without depending on the customer's own Internet provision, and given their track record, I have no reason to believe they would object to their networks being used for the purposes of intrusive surveillance. I am hoping that laws against these in-home privacy intrusions will arrive before it becomes the norm for consumer products to use the national wireless spynet for this kind of purpose, but given the way the market is going, I am not happy about our prospects on this one.

I've never tried this but knowing Samsung/LG/etc, you would get constant nag screens...

I've got one of these TV's and annoyingly I think it's great. I'm likely going to have to set up some routing/dns/proxy rules to defeat this.

Might even have some fun with it by sending it lots of channel changes, pen drive details and the rest.

could you get a small USB device (Rasberry Pi?) and set it up to show as a USB storage device and randomly generate file names while it's plugged in? That would flood their servers with dummy data :)

It would be easier just to write a script that makes repeated requests and running that since it's just HTTP anyway

Perhaps the upper post imagines reverse engineering the HTTP API is too difficult. I'm sure his suggestion was the same in spirit/principle.

And I'm sure that you'll get a nice letter in the mail accusing you of breaking some sort of law that attempts to protect them from such shenanigans.

It would be far easier to set that Pi up as an XMBC instance with RaspBMC and treat the TV as a dumb output device.

That scares me. I'm going to fire up wireshark on my Sony Bravia tonight and see what that sends off as well.

Now who can suggest the best software to install on the home router to block the connections based on the URLs? Ideally it would be a transparent solution -- the client computers shouldn't need any additional configuration. I have an OpenWrt based router.

Another question is how to handle https requests?

URLs or domains? If the latter is enough, you could just install a DNS resolver like dnsmasq and configure those domain to redirect to or so. Example config:

  address=/[banned domain]/
Then either configure your dhcp server or clients to use the router as the DNS resolver.

> software to install on the home router to block the connections based on the URLs?

tinyproxy does what you want.


Theoretically. But I've found out that it doesn't work on small Linuxes like OpenWRT -- the guy who took over maintenance obviously only works with big desktops and servers, he even removed the mechanisms for proper cross-compiling, at least the last time I looked, a couple of years ago. It looks like the people who use such distros aren't particularly interested in URL-based blocking?

We are really making it easy for all the companies that do the same that LG does.

Ah, didn't realize it wasn't supported for openWRT anymore.

Perhaps you would be happier with a script like https://gist.github.com/aarmot/5730468

There's also http://block.si/ cloud service but I haven't tried that.

Pretty sure there's a small dns blocker app for openwrt/pineapple as well, but don't remember the name of it right now.

someone should DDOS these servers. Or may be pass wrong info. JK.

These is very bad For LG, And Samsung. These wrongful data collection should stop.

JK but not really

Auto manufacturers do the same thing. Stop giving me a button to talk to your shitty computer and have it be a bluetooth command action for Siri or Google Now.

My phone is smarter than you.

How can't it be disabled? It needs a network connection to do that. I imagine there is a use case compelling enough to encourage the user to hook it up (YouTube?) but I doubt it has satcoms. Sooo... just don't configure the network.

That notwithstanding, I see boxes like Apple TV and Xbox One becoming the way that people interact with their TVs, making the whole problem somewhat moot anyway.

As I posted to his blog, I think he should contact the Information Commissioners Office. The TV appears to be sending cookie information, which makes it likely that not presenting him with the information in a clear way runs afoul of the infamous EU cookie law. Expecting people to read T&C's for a TV is nonsene.

There are also potentially other issues with the UK Data Protection Act, such as if they were to collect any personally identifiable information, which is likely that they will at times do if it snarfs data from attached USB devices at will.

And I'd love to see how they respond if he serves them with a Subject Access Notice (in the EU we have a legal right to see what data companies hold on us in most cases).

My TV (not an LG, thankfully) has really very good LoveFilm and BBC iPlayer apps built right into it, both of which require a network connection and are quite compelling reasons to use said network connection. I could watch both of these things via my Xbox, but then I'm needlessly powering the TV and the Xbox, rather than just the TV as in scenario one. I don't think I should have to double my power use just to avoid being spied upon.

Isn't network connectivity kind of the point of a smart tv?

Yes, but reporting back every program you choose to watch to the TV manufacturer certainly isn't.

Naturally they bury this little fact deep in the T&Cs where you won't even get to read it until you get the TV home, and who reads T&Cs? Almost nobody & the LG knows it.

How well do you think this TV would sell if they had to emblazon "This TV will report what you watch to LG so that they can sell that information to anyone" across the front in the store?

> Yes, but reporting back every program you choose to watch to the TV manufacturer certainly isn't

Of course, I agree. My point was that since the buyer wants a "smart" tv, they probably mean to connect it to the network. So instead of not configuring the network, blocking the "phone home" ips might be a more realistic (although probably too technical for most) solution.

I've been shopping for a TV, and while the network-enabled features may be the point of calling certain models "smart", it is not necessarily something the buyer wants. It may appeal to many people - if they don't realize that the software may be buggy, security-compromising, or soon outdated and hard to update.

For me it's only unwanted bloat, like 3D. IOW, I may buy a "smart" TV, but if so it's only for the other features like screen size and quality. Nontechnical people have to be educated that the network features may compromise privacy and LAN security - but AFAIK you can always opt out, as the grandparent points out.

At least I assume it needs a cable or a wifi key - if it actually seeks out wireless and connects without permission, it's lawsuit time.

>hard to update

Usually intentionally impossible to increase sales.

> I think it's important to point out that the URL that the data is being POSTed to doesn't in fact exist, you can see this from the HTTP 404 response

Is it possible that they do indeed collect it, but are faking 404?

Step now would be implement technology into the TVs. check

Step two would be to accept payload, however perhaps they are in waiting period to see if news like this one will come up, and then how much damage, if any, it will create. If none, then Step two: check.

What's step 3? Agreement with RIAA or Holywood to sell this data? It could help in litigation by giving more ammunition to plantiff. What is LG TOS of the TV says? Mentions anything about it?

Thank you for the post BTW. While they are tens of TV brands, its good to know which one to stay away from.

I've worked in the consumer electronics business for quite some time so let me present some information for your consideration, I don't expect you to like it but it will explain context: 1) Adverts: These are often used to subsidise features and capabilities. Sometimes good EPG data needs to be paid for, sometimes you need to justify the running of applications stores. This is a business choice that the manufacturer has to make, be off-putting or lose money. Targeted advertising does increase acceptance of advertising over non-targeted advertising, however if you hate advertising your just not going to get a subsidised product (if it is economically feasible to make one). 2) Viewer tracking: This has many uses a) product improvement: by knowing how users use products you can improve your designs. However this isn't usually done in such a scatter gun approach. b) You can sell anonymous information to agencies who use it to understand viewing habits and increase the value of traditional TV advertising. 3) Third party content tracking - This could be used a) to identify working and non-working content formats, not all encoders are the same and it is a nightmare debugging all the strange formats the people of the internet generate. b) to deliver improved titling, indexing and other metadata.

Above all remember Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.": 1) LG's response from their CS department was composed by a minimum wage agent who got a response from their mid-level supervisor who enquired with someone in product management who badly translated that from some Korean discussions. 2) Most Koreans don't care about content piracy, it is rife in Korea, especially with their excellent bandwidth. 3) Most of these policies were probably written by someone more interested in making the best product for the least money and probably not someone from the west.

I would hope that LG might pick up on this and make a better statement, but it won't change their attitude.

Finally, personally as someone who makes a lot of set-top boxes I would happily see more dumb TVs, but the business of TVs is loss making. None of the big brands has made money in the TV business in ages, most people do it either for turn-over or brand recognition. Making basic large "monitors" is a difficult business to make a profit in because you are selling something very basic in a mature market.

"just not going to get a subsidised product"

What subsidized product? I just paid hundreds to thousands for something you advertise as a smart tv.

And I would happily pay more for a top display and decent audio, if I could have it without all the junk. I don't even need a tuner or channel selection. Just let me point the TV at the input source I want and then do what that input tells it, but do it well. My PVR/Blu-Ray/console/whatever can do the rest.

I suspect many other people would as well, but I have never been able to convince anyone else that there is sufficiently large enough market to make it viable. Remove the tuner: $2-5 Remove the codecs: £15 You still need a graphics plane, image scaler and video switch. In the end it is the panel that takes up most of the money. That and marketing, plastics, PSU, etc.

Which might not have those features if it wasn't subsidised.

Found this info on the company behind the LG data collection:



What's funny is that they think they can make their TVs phone home and get away with it.

Well they have mostly so far. What do you think is going to stop them getting away with it?

class action lawsuit?

Erm, the law?

Let me know how that works out for you...

I wonder what the names/IP addresses of those servers are that this TV is contacting? Has anyone sniffed the data and figured out a way to spam their servers with bogus data? Feels to me like they're inviting something like this.

Why do these companies seem to always get away with violating their customers privacy? Why don't they have to pay huge fines for that, or even better, go to jail (those who made such decisions)? Seriously, what they do is criminal.

TVs need a tomato or ddwrt

Some alternative OS they can install that doesn't suck.

Guess which TV brand I wont be buying this black friday?

Time to put a packet sniffer on my home network & see whether our Panasonic smart TV does the same!

Let us know if you turn up anything interesting :-)

Why does he assume that 404 means there isn't something on the server slurping the submissions...

Absolutely, The server can do whatever it wants with the data and return a 404 header.

Yup, this actually saved me in the past when a statistics logger was returning an internal error (PHP) but Apache was logging the requests, so we could just parse the logs to get the info needed :)

Been there, done that too! Less than 2 weeks ago at that.

Thanks for the heads up. That's the last time I buy from LG. Ever. Period.

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