Vizio Via TVs combine Internet and LEDs, could torpedo major brands' flagships

Vizio enters the high-end HDTV market for real with models that feature enhanced Internet connectivity and interactive features, along with LED backlighting with local dimming.

The well-equipped Vizio VF552XVT takes aim at the best HDTVs available when it launches in November. CNET
(Update November 20, 2009: We've posted a review of the step-down Vizio VF551XVT, which lacks the interactive features of the Via models below but does include LED backlighting. See the full review of the Vizio VF551XVT for details. Also, the release date for the Via models has been pushed back to January 2010.)

The Via line of HDTVs from Vizio, due this January, promises the most comprehensive suite of interactive features yet seen on any HDTV, including a Bluetooth remote control with a keyboard. The two largest models will also pack LED backlighting with local dimming, the holy grail of LCD picture quality. These highly desirable features, combined with Vizio's customarily aggressive pricing, propel the flagship Vizio TVs past their counterparts from major brands like Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony--at least on paper.

Designed foremost to compete against current Internet-enabled HDTVs, the three "Via" (Vizio Interactive Apps) models are available in 42-inch, 47-inch, and 55-inch varieties. Here's a quick rundown:

Key features of the Vizio Via 2XVT series:

  • LED backlight with local dimming (47- and 55-inch models only)
  • 240Hz processing
  • Bluetooth remote with full QWERTY keyboard
  • Integrated 802.11(n) Wi-Fi
  • Support for Adobe Flash for the Digital Home
  • Yahoo widgets engine
  • 42-inch SV422XVT: $1,199 MSRP | 47-inch SV472XVT: $1,699 | 55-inch XV552XVT: $2,199
  • Available in January

As CNET noted earlier , the Bluetooth keyboard remote and built-in Wi-fi will be firsts among interactive TVs, which typically require cumbersome virtual keyboards for text entry and expensive extra dongles or third-party solutions for wireless connectivity. Since few people have an Ethernet cable next to their televisions, Wi-fi makes setup much more convenient, while the keyboard on the remote should make accessing and using the TV's "Apps" as easy as sending an e-mail on a BlackBerry.

Vizio Bluetooth remote
Vizio

Vizio promises to have more such applications on the Via platform than any other current maker, and the list is impressive indeed. The company's press release drops big names like Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Vudu, Twitter, and Flickr, each of which is also available on other brands' HDTVs. No current set has all five, although the LG LH50 series comes closest (it's missing only Amazon, which is found on Sony and Panasonic models).

The 47-inch SV472XVT will also get an LED backlight, but the 42-inch VF422XVT will not. Vizio

Vizio ups the ante, however, with a Rhapsody app (billed as an "exclusive"; in the demo we saw it was barely working, but the company does have until November), Blockbuster on Demand (also soon to hit Samsung TVs ), Pandora, Facebook, and Showtime (which, like CNET, is owned by CBS). None of these are offered on current interactive TVs, although any or all could surface before November. The press release also mentions less well-known but currently exclusive-to-Via app names, like Revision3 and RadioTime, but there's no built-in Web browser.

Play

Aside from the interactive features, the Via models will be as well-featured as any flagship HDTV from another maker. The 240Hz processing uses the same "scanning backlight" variety as LG and Toshiba, which in our tests of the VF551XVT didn't perform quite as well as other varieties--but that's no big deal. The company did improve its dejudder processing over previous models however.

Speaking of the the 55-inch Vizio VF551XVT, which is available now, it will be discontinued and replaced after just four months by the Via-equipped VF552XVT at the same price point of $2,199. In the meantime, however, it does deliver excellent picture quality for the buck.

All told, the Via models are the best-featured HDTVs announced this year. We'll have to wait for a review to see if the interactive features are worth the anticipation.

About the author

Section Editor David Katzmaier has reviewed TVs at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

 

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