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You Asked: Sonos setups, 5,000 nits, and dumb TVs

In this installment of You Asked, the series in which we answer your TV-related questions in the hopes of helping you and others, we tackle trouble with Sonos, whether 5,000 nits of brightness is bad for the eyes, and if there is such a thing as a dumb TV.

Single Sonos surround?

A man watches a movie in a studio with a Sonos Era 300 in a surround sound setup.
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

The first question comes from @ragoheads, who says: I’m unable to connect my single Era 300 to the Arc and sub. Do we need two Era 300s for these to connect?

Based on your description of the situation, it sounds like you are trying to use just one Era 300 as a surround speaker in combination with the Sonos Arc and Sonos sub. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no way to set up just one surround speaker in a Sonos system. The Sonos setup system wants to see two speakers, one for the left channel signal and one for the right channel signal. I don’t believe the Sonos system has the ability to mix a stereo surround signal down to mono and route it through one speaker. So, yes, if you want to set up a surround system with Era 300 speakers, you’ll probably need two. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t think Sonos would allow you to mix two different Sonos speaker models, either. So, you probably couldn’t use, say, a Sonos Era 300 for the right surround speaker and a Sonos One for the left speaker.

You can use the Era 300 on its own as a music speaker or TV speaker by assigning it to a different room. And then you could just position it behind you in the room where your Arc and sub are, but it’s not going to be actual surround sound, and you might create more problems than you solve, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

How bright is too bright?

A man measures the brightness of a Sony X95L mini-LED.
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

@elmousse007 says: How bad would 5,000 nits be for the eyes?

Well, it would depend on how much screen area was emitting 5,000 nits. If just little slivers of the screen are putting out 5,000 nits as highlights, then it might be intense, but it’s not going to cause problems. But the more screen area that is putting out 5,000 nits of brightness, the more the cumulative effect of that brightness will mount. Also, keep in mind that 5,000 nits of bright white light is going to hit different than 5,000 nits of red or green.

Nvidia Shield upscaling

An Nvidia Shield on a table with purple back light.
Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

@jaimedejesus759 writes: If I’m using an Nvidia Shield TV Pro, should I worry about the TCL QM8 upscaling?

Admittedly, I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking here, but I’m going to guess that what you mean is that you’re concerned the TCL QM8 upscaling isn’t going to be good enough for your needs, and you’re wondering if you can set that concern aside because the Nvidia Shield does upscaling and maybe it is good enough or better than the QM8.

As usual, there isn’t a simple answer to what could be a simple question. The first thing I need to say is that upscaling and video processing are not one and the same. Upscaling is part of image processing, but image processing involves more than just upscaling.

I don’t take a huge issue with the TCL QM8’s resolution upscaling — it’s just taking low-resolution content and upscaling it to the panel’s native 4K resolution. It’s not as sharp as some other TVs, that’s true, but it is not objectively or subjectively bad. My main concern was with smoothing out color gradation on low-bit-depth content, which isn’t tied to upscaling.

I don’t know what your needs are; I don’t have enough information. What is the resolution of the content you need upscaled? What size is the TV you would have? Do you really mean resolution upscaling, or is it something else?

I tend to think that the QM8 is probably going to do as well as, if not better than, what the Nvidia Shield Pro can do. But, you know what? I don’t have an Nvidia Shield Pro, so I can’t say for sure. I’m going to fix that, though. I need to get one in and just have it on standby, especially with what I’m seeing happen with certain apps on certain TV brands.

If you can get me more information, I might be able to get you a better answer. And that sentiment – with more information, I can provide a better answer – very much applies to the next question, and is exactly why I’m bringing this question up this week.

Help me help you

A still image of a painting in a frame on a TCL QM8.
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

@jaimedejesus759 also writes: As of today, the LG C3 65-inch is at the same price as the TCL QM8 75-inch. Which one should I buy?

This question is a good example of why I can’t give a really helpful answer unless I have more information. And also why it’s hard for me to give individual buying advice in general.

There’s virtually no way for me to do the job of a salesman via text or email without there being a series of exchanges wherein I ask multiple qualifying questions. A great sales associate will seek to understand what your needs and goals are. And that is a dynamic, conversation-based process that is hard to mimic via text-based communication.

With Jaime, I’m curious to know how much importance he places on size and see how that contrasts with the importance he places on the quality of the image — and specifically what he feels makes a quality image. What kind of content does he watch, and what are the sources he uses for each type of content? Where is the TV going? Does he watch during the day a lot? How much does he watch at night? What are the priorities? In person, I’d probably spend 5 to 10 minutes doing that. Via email or DM or text, it could take multiple exchanges that could involve way more time than that.

People get paid to be personal shoppers and consultants, and I understand why. It takes time, effort, and skill to be good at it. I imagine you all realize that, too, which is why you try to make the questions simple and straightforward, in hopes that it won’t take a ton of time and I’m more likely to answer. But,I don’t want to give you half-assed help. So, I hope you’ll understand that I’m not going to be able to help many of you individually to make a purchase decision – I have to do that at a macro level. But if you are going to ask, be as detailed as you can. You have to help me … help you. Help ME, help you.

Dumb TVs would be smart, right?

A side by side comparison of native apps on the Hisense U8K vs TCL QM8.
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

Kewitt writes: Is there such a thing as a dumb TV? Wouldn’t it be better to bundle a media box like Nvidia Shield versus the development and upkeep of one for every TV? I know my LG TV apps are out of date. My friend’s Philips TV stopped getting updates like four years ago.

And another along the same lines came from Alex del Castillo: Why are there no modern “dumb” TVs? My dream TV would be one that has five or six HDMI inputs and a tuner (only because it has to). With an interface to change the input and settings (which would include unused inputs). This way, I can connect only the devices I want.

Preach on, guys! You will find no greater ally than me in the advocacy of a dumb TV.

I would prefer to be able to have a completely dumb TV, where I can get access to TV settings and inputs, and prompt it for firmware updates if needed — and that’s it. No apps, no ads — just a TV ready to display what I tell it to. But I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

There are some practical reasons that TV makers can’t turn back to dumb TVs or make special editions of TVs without smart TV software loaded onto them. Some of them are the same reasons we won’t see TVs without speakers — it’s not feasible to make separate SKUs, at least not at scale without any guarantee they will be popular enough to sell and cover costs. Also, as I’ve said here before, not doing something (in this case, not putting a smart TV platform in a TV) isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. You’d think that just not doing it would be easier than doing it. But the basic TV functionality — menus, settings, picture quality adjustments — has been baked into smart TV operating systems. Breaking it back out requires that a different software run on the TV. So you’re not just not doing something, you’re forcing yourself to make something different. That costs money.

Speaking of money — and yeah, I’m afraid money is often at the heart of these things — the profit to be made on these TVs is so low (sometimes at a loss) that other ways of making revenue have been created to make sure that making TVs remains profitable. Those buttons on remotes that take you straight to a streaming app? Those are bought and paid for by the streaming services. That’s revenue. Driving viewers to certain pieces of content on certain streaming services? That’s worth money. Advertising products through the TV? That’s worth money. And aggregate viewer data? That’s worth money, too.

Yes, you can buy a decent 55-inch 4K TV for $300 now. But there’s a cost that comes with that.

To its credit, Google TV at least has a “dumb TV” option that doesn’t exactly make it a dumb TV, but scales back how invasive the smart TV platform feels for everyday use. But it’s not really a return to dumb TV.

It’s frustrating, I get it. But, frankly, those of us who want dumb TVs are in the minority. Most folks are fine with it or actually want it.

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Caleb Denison
Digital Trends Editor at Large Caleb Denison is a sought-after writer, speaker, and television correspondent with unmatched…
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