Cleaning up a Hisense Android TV

In this thrilling sequel to the previous post about trying to block Youtube ads on a TCL Roku TV, I purchased, and subsequently returned, a very cheap Hisense Android TV. The main reason for this was the existence of the Smart Youtube TV app, which blocks ads.

Immediately, out of the box, the first problem we noticed was that the UI looked and ran like complete garbage. Visually, the screen was dominated by grids of thumbnails from various services I don't even use (effectively, ads), animations were super sluggish and jerky, and there was a lot of delay between pressing a button on the remote and something happening on the screen.

Another thing that was immediately apparent was that everything was blurry. I came to find out that Android TV apparently renders all of the UI in 1080p by default, even on 4K TVs.

Thankfully, this can be fixed using another feature that drew me to the Android TV platform: access to debugging tools, or adb. Getting a shell on the device is as easy as connecting it to the LAN and enabling USB debugging, which is done in exactly the same way as any ordinary Android phone; go to Settings->About, tap Build Number 7 times, and enable the option under Developer Options. In the shell, two commands can be used to set the resolution and play around with the scaling.

wm size 3840x2160
wm density <300-600>

The changes take effect almost immediately on the TV, causing the UI to look much crisper, but also run even slower. Additionally, some UI elements do not display properly at this resolution, and some fail to display at all.

To help alleviate some of the slowness, I followed some advice I saw repeated on many forums and used the Developer Options menu to limit the number of background processes to just 4. I'm not sure what the original value was, but this change, as well as changing the speed of the UI animations in the same menu, made the TV slightly more usable. It at least seemed to respond to button presses on the remote slightly quicker.

One final thing I did was force close and disable many of the built-in apps that I did not plan on using, as well as remove pretty much everything from the home screen. This made me feel a little better, but didn't seem to have much of an effect on the TV.

A couple other concerns also remained:

  1. It's huge, relative to our living room. We wouldn't be able to view it comfortably without rearranging all of our furniture.
  2. The audio was a noticeable downgrade from our old TCL Roku TV. I've messed with the settings, checked and unchecked boxes, and I cannot find a configuration that at least matches the audio quality of our old TV. We could purchase a soundbar, but that's another $150+ purchase just to make this TV usable.

I should also mention that the build quality was pretty bad; super flimsy plastic, but you get what you pay for. Our other TV at least feels somewhat solid and not like it's going to bend and snap in half under its own weight.

After all the tweaking, the performance could almost be described as... tolerable, for the price. Obviously, you can't expect much from an Android device when you scrape the bottom of the barrel for hardware, but this TV is borderline unusable. The fact that the UI elements of the OS itself aren't rendered in 4K on a 4K TV (and thus cause everything to appear blurry) out of the box is just sad. It constantly hangs and freezes for 5-10 seconds at a time.

I'm still not sure how this happened, but in a pathetic final struggle as I attempted to traverse the ultra slow settings menus to reach the factory reset button, the TV started cycling through a bunch of its apps, opening them one by one as I sat there and watched without pressing any buttons. I eventually managed to get to the factory reset button, only to have it display improperly due to having changed the resolution to 4K.

I did some research on other Android TV devices and found that the most recommended device, even after all this time, still seems to be an Nvidia Shield, released in either 2017 or 2019. At the time of writing, they're on sale for around $175. So, if we eschew the smart TV and instead opt for a smart device that plugs into a dumb TV, we're still looking at around $350-$400 for the TV and Shield, plus a possible $150 for a sound bar if the audio is as bad as this Hisense TV.

It's looking like our best option may be to plug an Nvidia Shield into another TCL Roku TV, since those at least function at a basic level, in our experience, and we can probably pick up a used one for pretty cheap.

All in all, a pretty bad first impression for Android TV, but it mainly comes down to performance issues and other problems that are specific to this particular model from Hisense, so I'm not writing off the entire platform yet. That said, this is definitely a lot more work than our Roku TV, which just worked out of the box, while looking and sounding perfectly fine. This whole thing almost has me considering just paying for Youtube Premium, but a couple years of paying for that adds up to about the cost of an Nvidia Shield, which I can block Youtube ads on.

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