You just want to turn on your TV and play a video game, or use your Apple TV or Roku to watch a favorite show, but every time you need to tinker with your TV’s interface, there are ads everywhere. Ads in the bar that shows inputs, ads on the screen where you have apps installed – it feels like they’re everywhere. It’s almost impossible these days to get a “dumb” TV and still have anything like modern features. However, there are ways to disrupt the constant onslaught of ads on your devices, and we offer five, organized by increasing complexity and cost.
Some of these are as easy as being yourself while setting up Linux on a Raspberry Pi. There’s an option for every skill and engagement, and you can combine more than one of these options together to create the most effective scenario. However, the ultimate goal is that you can get the most out of your TV without its smart features getting in the way.
Do not connect to the Internet
The simplest and easiest way to stop your TV from throwing ads at you is to simply not connect it to the internet. If you never connect it to Ethernet or enter your Wi-Fi credentials, the TV won’t be able to come online. That means no updates, but also no ads. You can always plug in temporarily to download an update if your TV manufacturer releases a firmware update that enables an important feature, as both LG and Sony have done in newer TVs. This is especially worth considering if your TV comes with microphones and a camera, which are becoming more common.
Disable Automatic Content Recognition (ACR).
If you need to connect your TV to the internet, check if your smart TV has a feature called Automatic Content Detection or ACR. When enabled, ACR attempts to identify everything you view on your screen. This includes over-the-air, cable, streaming, and disc media. This information can then be used to show you dynamic ads related to the content you are currently viewing.
Like so many other features, ACR is an industry standard name that every manufacturer changes on their set. When you first set up your TV, it should give you the option to turn it off immediately. Consumer Reports has a great guide on disabling this feature on some of the biggest brands.
Use a set top box
Instead of installing apps on your TV, use a set-top box like one apple tv, nvidia shield, chromecast, amazon fire stick, or roku Many set-top boxes have ads, but it’s usually just an ad on the main screen, making it easy to ignore. It’s worth noting that Apple’s offering does Not have advertising.
As a bonus, popular set-top boxes generally have better app support with more frequently updated apps, while smart TV apps can eventually fall victim to an outdated TV or one that isn’t capable of playing modern content. The box can do what it does best – stream content – while your TV only has to worry about displaying the picture.
Also, one thing worth exploring is which TVs you can set it up with without forcing you to use a connected interface. For example, on devices that use the Google TV operating system (not Android TV), like TCL’s R646 mini LED TV, you can use the default Google TV setting, which has less of a TV interface and more of a glorified front-end for Google’s Media Store. However, you can sign out of the Google TV setup and choose basic mode. That way, the TV’s only ad is one that politely suggests that Google TV could be a cool thing. This allows you to effectively use the TV as a dumb TV.
Get an AV receiver
This is arguably the most effective option on this list as it works with almost any TV. An audio video receiver, or home theater receiver, is a receiver that can process the video signals from your devices and send audio to your speakers. This can be a bit complex to set up, as we found when trying to buy a fully HDMI 2.1 enabled receiver recently, but it’s doable and can be very effective. With a suitable receiver, you connect your devices – Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, Switch, a set-top box – to the receiver and not to the TV.
Then you can switch inputs on the receiver while leaving your TV on the same input the whole time. In other words, it minimizes dealing with a digital interface and lets you deal with simple buttons instead.
Another advantage is that many modern devices are equipped with HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), which allows your TV and device to communicate with each other via HDMI. When you turn on your PlayStation, your TV will turn on. Use the volume button on your Xbox Media Remote to change the volume on the receiver. You still need to keep the receiver away for more complex actions, but you shouldn’t have to touch it all that often.
Configure a Pi Hole
Pi-Hole is a silly, crude-sounding name for a powerful little device. A Pi-Hole is a network-level ad and tracker blocker. You build and configure this device yourself using a DIY computer such as a Raspberry Pi 3 or 4. There are tons of guides online, so we won’t go into the details here. There are excellent guides on YouTube and plenty of text-based guides. This is by far the most complicated option on this list, but it can be the most effective.
Once set up, this device protects all other devices on your network from ads and trackers. This includes your computers, phones, and even built-in devices like TVs and set-top boxes. A Raspberry Pi computer can be had for as little as $35 and may require the purchase of a few additional items like memory, but even with accessories it’s still cheaper than most set-top boxes and almost any receiver. So when you’re ready to get the job done, this option lets you continue using your smart TV’s features without being attacked by ads – the best of both worlds.