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Dear Roku, you ruined my TV

Dear Roku, you ruined my TV

Image: Kristen Radtke / The Verge

Roku has made my TV unusable.

On June 6th, my TCL TV’s Roku OS was updated to version 13.0.0. Ever since, on everything I watch, there is motion smoothing — a TV and film purists’ deepest nightmare. There is no way to turn it off.

In the updated OS, Roku added a feature called Roku Smart Picture, which, according to its release notes, “automatically improves picture quality dynamically as users stream.” While Roku doesn’t explicitly mention motion smoothing, or what Roku calls “action smoothing,” the update has made it so that I and many others with Roku TVs see motion smoothing, regardless of whether the picture setting is Roku Smart Picture or not. My TV didn’t even support motion smoothing before this. Now, I can’t make it go away.

If you’re someone who doesn’t notice motion smoothing or doesn’t particularly care about it, imagine if, suddenly, your ebook updated so all the fonts were three times as large. Or if your phone decided all video and audio would be played at 2x. Some folks might prefer that, but it should be a choice. Forcing a device to change how a user experiences content that is different than what is expected, with no means to revert or disable the change, is bad. That should be obvious.

Not long after the update rolled out, other Roku TV owners (mainly TCL, but Hisense, too) began posting about the issue in Roku’s community forum and on Reddit. Since I work at The Verge, I told our team about my issue. We reached out to Roku for comment and got no response. We wrote about the problem. Commenters on that post agreed: it sucks. Still, there was radio silence from Roku.

Shipping software can be challenging, especially if you’re shipping updates to a multitude of different devices. QA should catch issues, but sometimes they don’t, and a bug is shipped. It happens! So, in moments like these, it’s important to have strong customer support and to be responsive and communicative. What you probably should avoid is weeks of customers flagging the same issue with no meaningful feedback or updates. Possibly even more important, your support infrastructure shouldn’t be difficult to navigate or have their own bugs that hinder their use. In this case, there’s both.

Unlike my TV’s new picture setting, Roku’s customer support experience has been anything but smooth. I ran into technical issues sending a community moderator my information. The DM button was missing and then magically appeared the next day. Then, I couldn’t send a message, getting an error that my message contained invalid HTML (it did not). I was even told I had “reached the limit for number of private messages that you can send” even though I was never able to send a message to begin with. When I did finally get through, the response I got offered no solution — and barely made any sense.

This whole experience strikes me as something truly wild. If you’re in the business of making a product that plays movies and shows, you should be aware of how divisive a feature like motion smoothing is, as well as how filmmakers feel about it. If your slogan is “happy streaming,” making streaming hell is a bad look.

With so many competing companies and products in the streaming world, brand loyalty is something every company should covet. Again, bugs happen! We all experience irritating technical issues with apps, sites, and devices. But usually, a brand wants to address those quickly to keep their customers feeling like they are a priority in fear of losing them to any of the many other similar services out there.

It’s possible that, right now, a team is working on a fix. But I’m not holding out hope: it turns out that this isn’t the first time there’s been an issue with motion smoothing. In 2020, on the same Roku community forum, almost the exact same issue happened to a different group of TCL TVs. The very last comment, posted by a user named DigitalFirefly in 2022, is short and bleak: “I’m still having this issue, I wish they would fix this already.” Me, too, DigitalFirefly. Me, too.

Roku didn’t respond to requests for comment at the time of publish, but we will update this article with any responses we receive.

So, I’m not holding out hope that this will be resolved soon. Because it wasn’t in 2020, and it hasn’t in the last three weeks. Instead, I’m in the market for a new TV, maybe a dumb one that I will never have to connect to the internet. So if you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments.

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