This is as close to dumb TV as we’ll get in the near future

“Basic TV” option in TCL television settings. Phil Nickkinson / Digital Trends

When it comes to “smart TVs,” you’ll often find that people fall into two different camps. There are people who say: “Connect me to everything!” And there are people who just want a display that can connect other devices, like our picks for the best streaming devices.

Both are not necessarily the correct route. It’s a matter of preference, and what you’re comfortable with. Some people want to restrict devices on their home network for privacy reasons. Other people don’t worry too much about it. For the former group, there has been a slight resurgence in the desire for “dumb TV.” That means a television that lets you connect peripherals — like an Apple TV box, or a stick from Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Or maybe an over-the-air antenna. But that’s all. There is no built-in operating system to manage. And there’s no need to worry about what type of data might be sent home.

This will be nearly impossible by 2023. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a television that doesn’t have a built-in operating system from Roku, Google, Amazon — or even the manufacturer itself. Of course LG and Samsung are big players in this field.

But while setting up the new TCL TV, I discovered something that was honestly a bit surprising. TCL Q6 uses Google TV for its operating system. And early in the setup process, you get the option to do what you do best — sign in with your Google account and get everything the smart TV platform has to offer. Or you can choose “basic TV”.

Settings screen on TCL TV.
The options to enable all Google TV features are colorful and interesting. Phil Nickkinson / Digital Trends

It’s also interesting to see how the options are presented. Google TV’s full options are displayed with logo, apps, and channels. It is colorful and quite pleasing to the eye. Why wouldn’t you want that, right? The basic TV option, on the other hand, turns off all logos and leaves just a bit of monochrome text, highlighting what you’re getting: a live broadcast of the TV and external devices via HDMI.

After that, you will still be presented with the option to activate the network connection (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet). And you still have some terms and conditions to agree to or not. (Some are optional. Some are not.) And you can opt out of some Google tracking.

And after all that, you’re still not presented with a stupid TV interface. TCL has its own hands-on guide built into the OS (in addition to Google’s own hands-on guide, if you prefer to jump in at the start and use that full interface) that’s available even in basic mode. It combines a number of FAST (free, ad-supported television) channels with an antenna, if you will.

So it’s not really “stupid.” At least until you disconnect the network, which you can do in settings. It’s not difficult or anything — it just takes a few clicks with the remote control. This isn’t really what people want, namely a large computer monitor on their wall, without the huge price tag that usually accompanies such a thing.

But what you get with a relatively recent TCL TV – the option to use the full Google TV system, or not – is probably as close to what we’ll get in the near future.

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