As Internet-connected TVs, set makers are looking for ways to stand out from each other. Vizio, which made its name by undercutting much larger names in electronics on LCD sets, is no longer just looking to attract buyers at Costco. It's now trying to compete directly on the number of bells and whistles with the likes of Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony.
Announced in late June, Vizio'shas some things going for it that its competitors' sets do not: integrated 802.11(n) Wi-Fi--which means no separate dongle for connecting to the Web--2GB of flash memory, and a well thought-out remote control.
The remote design is almost a no-brainer in retrospect, and makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before. It looks like a standard model, but with this one, Vizio took into account what the user would be doing with it: interacting with Web applications like Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo Sports, and Flickr. The TV maker put a slideout QWERTY keyboard on the back of the Bluetooth remote, so users can type as they would on some smartphones, instead of keying in letters one at a time. And, it doesn't seem to add much to the price of the Via HDTV: the 42-inch version will begin at $999 when it starts selling in stores in November.
Vizio is also looking to differentiate itself with developers who will create more applications for the TV. Yahoolast year, which brings a range of preselected applications like Twitter, eBay, Flickr, Yahoo Sports, Showtime, and many others right onto the TV screen. Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and Vizio each offer it. But Vizio says it wants to appeal to application developers, so it integrated Adobe Flash directly into its Via HDTV.
That way, developers like Netflix, for instance, can decide if they want to make a Flash-based app or a Yahoo widget to deliver its streaming video service to a TV, according to Matt McRae, Vizio's vice president of advanced platforms. So far, Netflix and Rhapsody have created Flash-based versions of their services for Vizio. Rhapsody's app is exclusive to the Via HDTV. McRae said allowing Flash-based apps on its TV would allow for better animation or anything with vector-based graphics
But while Vizio is keen on bringing Web-based activities like Facebook, Twitter, and others (there will be more next year, the company says) to the TV, one thing we definitely won't see on a Vizio TV is a browser.
The experience of surfing the Web on a TV screen "looks awful," said McRae. And while Vizio believes consumers want to do some Web activities on TV, they don't want to duplicate how they'd use a computer. "It's just a different experience."