It's very hard today to find a competent TV without it having some form of smart functionality. Unfortunately, any device connected to the internet will run the risk of seeing ads serviced by whatever platform they're utilizing. Some manufacturers have decided to build ad distribution platforms from within their operating systems. This can considerably hinder the user's experience, especially in the case of pop-up ads.
Note: While we consider our test to be fairly extensive, it's impossible to imitate every scenario, especially because the appearance of ads is highly dependent on location. If you encounter a different behavior on your TV, feel free to send us an email at email@example.com.
When it matters
Ads on smart TVs are still pretty rare today. Not many manufacturers distribute them through their TVs. For the sets we were able to find them on, it's usually a little box you can click to view the contents. Very similar to regular web banner-type ads.
We've only been able to find advertising on Samsung's Tizen-based smart TVs as well as LG WebOS TVs. It shows up in the bottom left corner of the main interface, next to the input and settings icons on Samsung TVs. They can also be seen in the app store. On WebOS, they appear in the LG content Store.
What it is:
Whether the TV's main interface has ads. This does take into account ads in third-party apps.
When it matters:
When using the smart features.
Most manufacturers don't put ads on their TVs. We've only ever seen them on Samsung and LG Smart TVs. Our rating is a simple boolean; if it has ads, it gets a 0. If it doesn't, it gets a 10. We consider banners that are mentioned as sponsored to be adverts as well as anything that isn't related to what you should be seeing (e.g. a car ad on the app store).
What it is:
Whether you can opt out of the ad services or not. A TV only passes this test if it allows you to remove them completely, not only disable the personalized advertising.
When it matters:
When using the smart features.
If a TV allows you to remove ads without any form of trickery, it passes this test. We don't consider the option of opting out of them to be of equal value as a true ad-free experience. Just allowing you to opt-out of personalized advertising also doesn't pass this test. We have not yet seen a TV with ads that allowed us to disable them completely.
Getting rid of ads
There are ways to block the ads, but they're unfortunately not simple settings you can set on TVs themselves. You have to block them network-wide using more advanced methods such as a custom router firmware and 3rd party ad-blocking DNS servers. These aren't really accessible to most users. Some of the TVs, including Samsung ones, allow you to apply this DNS server from within the TV itself. For more advanced readers that do want to learn about these solutions, here are some methods that can provide ad-blocking over your entire network:
Some TVs allow you to opt out of personalized advertising. Unfortunately, all this does is show you random adverts instead of ones that are based on data they have of you. We've yet to see a TV that simply allows you to disable them entirely. Samsung is also currently phasing out this option as of software version number 1155.
Many consumers looking for TVs today are interested in smart features since it allows them to cut the cord and consume content on an ad-free platform whenever they want. It's unfortunate that manufacturers have decided to build ad services within their software to compensate for the ever falling margins on TV sales. Some might not mind, but for a lot of people, it might be a deal-breaker.
Questions & Answers
7 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
I have complained to Samsung about this at great length, and they seem to insist that it's a "feature not a bug". When I contacted support and complained they said 1) It used to be removable (as you allude to), and 2) they "apologized" in the following non-apoligetic way:
"I am sorry that the unit is not meeting your expectations. However, We can not repair or fix the symptoms that you're experiencing as the unit is working how it was designed."
I have a good mind to return the darn thing as defective.
Unfortunately even if you buy the TV without ads, it is possible for manufacturers to update the firmware and include them. If your router supports it you can look into blocking the ad servers.
Do you avoid ads if you don't use the smart functions?
If the TV doesn't have internet access you shouldn't see any ads. With internet access, we've only seen ads on LG and Samsung TVs. On LG TVs they're only in the app store and voice searches, so if you don't use these then you'll never see them. On Samsung TVs ads are almost unavoidable because they're on the home menu, which is needed to access nearly everything the remote doesn't do. Heavy use of voice commands (if the TV is capable) can let you avoid using the home menu as much as possible.
Can you roll back to an earlier software version that doesn't have ads? I have taken my iPhone iOS back to 8.4 before the next version was digitally signed by Apple. Can the same be done with the Samsung TV? If so is there a special way to do it or a hack that won't hurt the TV or void the warranty?
It depends on the TV. With many Samsung TVs you cannot roll back the firmware, and with others it's possible but with great difficulty. And upgrading or downgrading firmware comes with the risk of causing problems.
I've done research on this and discovered CERTAIN parts of ads can be prevented via disabling the "opt out of yahoo" option, is this true? How do these ads work on smart TVs? Do they appear during the app or during your viewing? If its during viewing I would probably be able to simply opt out from using smart functions and simply use something like an Xbox for my Netflix etc correct?
The ads depend on the smart OS being used, but for modern smart TVs none appear during viewing. They're usually small and appear in a common menu, like in the home screen of Samsung TVs or the store in LG TVs. That said third party apps can have ads, but most of the popular ones such as Netflix don't. The ads in the smart OS itself are only mildly annoying at worst so the TV should still be usable for watching Netflix on the built in app. About the "opt out of yahoo" option, some older Samsung TVs had pop up yahoo ads if you opted into them during the TV setup. You could opt out of them later.
Netflix had bad performance and was unusable on the Sony Blu-Ray player because I heard they were routing traffic through the Sony servers to observe viewing habits. Do Samsung products contain such spyware? Is Sony still using spyware?