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Worried about spying smart TVs? Try a home theater PC

Lucian Constantin | Feb. 10, 2015
In the wake of revelations about eavesdropping Samsung and LG smart TVs, don't forget the wide world of HTPC options available.

For example, a Raspberry Pi can easily be turned into an HTPC by installing OpenELEC, a lightweight Linux distribution designed specifically to turn a computer into a media center.

OpenELEC is built around the popular Kodi (formerly XMBC) open-source home theater software, which supports a wide variety of media formats, streaming and file sharing protocols -- often more than what the media players included in smart TV firmware can handle. It's also extensible and has a large collection of add-ons that provide anything from weather information, to Web browsing, YouTube viewing and even voice control through mobile phones.

If Raspberry Pi is not powerful enough, there are other small alternatives. For example, currently sold for $120, the 2-by-2 inch CuBoxTV packs a quad core ARMv7 CPU, 1GB RAM, a 3D graphics chip, HDMI, USB, Gigabit Ethernet, eSATA and optical audio ports; and an InfraRed receiver for use with TV remote controls. Users can get SD memory cards preloaded with OpenELEC or Android that just need to be plugged in.

Granted, setting up and configuring an HTPC can take more work than simply buying a smart TV and turning it on. However, given TV manufacturers' increased appetite for user data, HTPCs, especially those based on open source software, are a safer choice for those who value their privacy.

Samsung is transparent about its data gathering practices on Smart TVs and provides "meaningful options for consumers to freely choose or to opt out of a service," a company representative said in an emailed statement. "We employ industry-standard security safeguards and practices, including data encryption, to secure consumers' personal information and prevent unauthorized collection or use."

Users can easily recognize when the voice recognition feature is active on a Samsung smart TV because a microphone icon appears on the screen, the representative said, adding that collected voice data is not sold to third parties.

 

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