Vizio sacrifices smart TV apps for built-in Chromecast on some 2016 TVs

Vizio has been using the same unimpressive, dated smart TV suite for years on its TVs, but in 2016 the company plans to ditch it for Google Cast in some TVs, according to a report.

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For years we've been telling people to skip the built-in smart TV apps on their TVs and use an external device like a Roku or Google's $35 Chromecast. Now Vizio is internalizing our advice.

According to a report in Variety, the TV maker is removing the built-in smart TV apps from some of its 2016 TVs and replacing it with Google Cast functionality.

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No need to plug Chromecast into these Vizio TVs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio is known for its budget TVs, many of which have earned high praise in our reviews as excellent values. But we've complained about its smart TV implementation, which is dated-looking and slow to respond compared to rivals Samsung, LG and especially Roku TV, and typically offers fewer apps. Cast could potentially improve that experience, and if nothing else will significantly increase the number of apps Vizio TVs can access.

CNET reached out to both Google and Vizio for specifics, including how the Cast feature works and how many Vizio models will get it. Vizio has yet to respond, and a Google rep told us the company could not comment on rumor and speculation.

So-called smart TVs like Vizio's typically offer access to streaming apps, like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Pandora, directly on the TV's on-screen interface by pressing a few keys on the remote. Vizio's current remotes even offer a dedicated Netflix button.

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Google's Cast feature requires a phone, tablet or PC.

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Google's Cast functionality differs in one important respect from built-in apps: You'll need to use your phone, tablet or a PC to access the app, rather than doing so directly from the TV. If you always have your phone with you while watching TV that's probably not an issue, but for some people direct access from the TV, no phone required, is important.

The Variety story mentions the possibility that Vizio will include a tablet with the TVs perhaps even as a replacement to the traditional remote control. Given the already low prices of most Vizio TVs I find that tough to believe, but then again the "get a free tablet!" marketing pitch has been used successfully before.

The Cast arrangement has some advantages over built-in apps, including access to many more apps and all of the features offered on a phone, for example voice search in some apps like YouTube, easier keyboard searches and reliable screen mirroring. Vizio's implementation will likely be the same as plugging in a $35 Chromecast except you won't have to switch the input -- ideally, the TV will sense when you begin Casting and respond immediately.

Google has worked with TV makers in the past, notably with its failed Google TV products and, more recently, its implementation of Android TV built into Sony televisions in the US (Android TV appeared in Sharp TVs in 2015, but not this year). Sony's Android TVs also have Cast functionality in addition to built-in apps.

Vizio's move is part of a growing trend for TV makers to hand off smart TV software development to third parties, such as Roku and Google. The only two major US makers actively developing smart TV suites are LG and Samsung, and even LG experimented with Roku TV last year. The Variety report mentions that Google has also approached other TV vendors about adding Cast support, but no maker other than Vizio was named.

Given how much better than built-in smarts the third-party streaming app experience generally is, we hope the trend continues.

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