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Vizio CA27 review: Vizio CA27

Not all of Vizio's bets pay off in its debut all-in-one PC, but enough of them succeed to make this a decent home entertainment hub.

Rich Brown

Rich Brown

Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness

Rich is the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, KY. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printing to Z-Wave smart locks.

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8 min read

Editors' note: Despite multiple different attempts and methodologies, we were unable to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on this desktop. We are thus unable to report on our experience with the track pad in Windows 8.

Vizio CA27-A1 All-in-One (27-inch)

Vizio CA27

The Good

The <b>Vizio CA27-A1</b> offers a 27-inch all-in-one and a bold, mostly compelling set of home entertainment features for a reasonable price.

The Bad

A few risks, like swapping in a touch pad for a mouse, don't pay off, and some quality shortcuts take away from the overall polish.

The Bottom Line

Forgive its quirks, and people looking for a big-screen all-in-one to serve as a small-room entertainment hub will find the Vizio CA27-A1 a price-competitive possibility.

Vizio's first attempt at a desktop PC is a consumer-friendly effort that succeeds almost in spite of itself. You'll admire the CA27-A1's large, thin display, its clean Windows installation, and a generally tidy take on the PC as home entertainment device. An imprecise touch pad and a few nagging design issues are the main complaints, but it's hard to argue against the overall value of this $1,149 desktop, one of the most affordable with a 27-inch screen. Wait a few weeks to see what other PCs emerge in the run-up to Windows 8, but Vizio has a respectable claim thus far to making an affordable, big-screen all-in-one that we can recommend.

From first glance it's apparent that Vizio has put significant effort into the shelf appeal of its new PCs. The thin 27-inch screen, port-obscuring base unit, and sleek, all-wireless input devices collectively give this PC an anti-computer vibe. Yes, this is a standard Intel-based Windows PC, it seems to say, but only because it has to be. Forget all that, try out the touch pad, then use the remote to access your non-PC content via one of the two HDMI inputs. You did connect your cable box to the system, didn't you?

Vizio's approach dovetails nicely with that of Microsoft with Windows 8. Both companies want to compel even desktop users to embrace a touch-driven future. However you feel about that particular shift, you will want an input device other than Vizio's laggy touch pad. Even a coming software update, slated to include Windows 8-specific gestures, won't likely redeem the touch pad due to the mechanical mushiness of its click functions.

You can solve the input problem easily enough with a $20 mouse, but it hints at an overall sense of corner-cutting about this PC. Both the screen and the base unit are remarkably thin, but you get the impression that it's because Vizio has scrimped on certain features. When you tilt the display, for example, it wobbles. On the one hand, so what, a little jitter never hurt anyone. On the other, it's hard to imagine an iMac or a premium Dell or HP all-in-one going out with such a wimpy monitor support joint.

Vizio has also played a bit of a shell game with the internal components. The base unit is thin because Vizio has stripped out the PC power supply and bundled it in with the external subwoofer. Depending on your tolerance for peripheral hardware, that design decision is either genius or maddening. Either way, and unlike with the Asus ET2700I and its standalone sub, you must keep the Vizio's subwoofer connected to the PC, since it's required to plug the system into the wall.

Despite those generally minor issues, the Vizio CA27-A1 is still the most affordable all-in-one PC with a 27-inch screen, and for that alone it deserves some attention.

Vizio CA27-A1 HP Omni 27 Quad Asus ET2700I
Price $1,149 $1,249 $1,399
Display size/resolution 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400S 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S
Graphics 1GB Nvidia Geforce GT 640M LE 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive None Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

As the middle member of the Vizio CA27 line, the A1 is not the cheapest. That would be the $999 CA27-A0. Technically, HP offers a discounted version of its Omni 27 all-in-one for the same price, but that unit has a generation-old Intel CPU, and there's no guarantee the discount will stay in place. Falling down the pricing rabbit hole doesn't really help anyone (what about eBay? What about refurbished units?), so based on starting price, I'm sticking with Vizio as maker of the most affordable 27-inchers.

Even this midprice unit compares reasonably well against units from competing vendors. Looking at a $1,249 HP Omni 27 I reviewed back in March, the Vizio has a more recent Intel CPU and a discrete Nvidia graphics card to the HP's embedded Intel graphics core. The absent optical drive and a stingy 4GB of memory to 8GB in the HP prevent the Vizio from a clean features sweep. In all, and given the $100 price difference, Vizio has a fairly priced offering in this PC.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

Sacrificing memory has its consequences, of course, and evidence of the Vizio's smaller RAM allotment turned up across our performance tests. From new and older versions of Photoshop, to iTunes MP3 processing, to our homemade multimedia multitasking test, the Vizio system came in at or near the bottom of the pack on every test. That's not unreasonable given that the Vizio is the most affordable of any other system in our charts, but particularly on our Photoshop CS5 charts, you'll see the huge gap in performance between the 8GB Lenovo and the 4GB Vizio, which use the same Intel Core i5 chip.

If you like the Vizio otherwise, the Photoshop scores for this model might compel you to consider the $1,349 CA27-A2, which has 8GB of memory and a Core i7 CPU. Upgrading the RAM on this unit is an option, but you'll need a small Torx screw to open up the underside plate.

Aside from its PC components, the Vizio has everything I expect to see in a contemporary all-in-one, along with a few useful, less common touches. The pair of HDMI inputs is a start. One HDMI input is common, and Lenovo typically offers one in and one out. Two HDMI inputs mean you can connect both a cable box and a game console to the Vizio (or two game consoles), without an external HDMI hub. That's a huge convenience for those inclined to use this system as a home entertainment hub, and I hope other vendors take note.

Another multimedia-friendly feature is the included remote control. Where many all-in-one PCs offer screen and volume controls built into the display bezel, Vizio has instead incorporated those buttons into a standalone remote control. The remote lets you switch between the video input source, power the display on and off, adjust the volume and also navigate the onscreen display. It suffers some of the same shallow button depth mushiness as the touch pad, but overall the RF-based, watch-battery-powered remote works well. Just don't lose it. The keyboard has volume controls, and a key for swapping between video sources, but you get no secondary display power or onscreen display controls.

The Vizio has a few distinct shortcomings as a home entertainment device, among them the audio output and the lack of an optical drive. Even with the subwoofer, sound never gets quite loud enough to really fill a dorm- or office-size room. Lower tones also tend to break up and lose fidelity at the highest volume settings. Your ability to change the output is also limited, since the system has only a single headphone jack for dedicated audio connectivity. USB or Bluetooth speakers might offer a viable alternative.

For the missing DVD or Blu-ray drive, you can always add an external PC optical drive, or rely on a connected game console or dedicated player. For those with no intention of connecting an external video component, you might already feel encumbered by the subwoofer/power supply module and loathe the idea of adding yet another piece of peripheral hardware. If that describes you, I might suggest you look into a different computer.

Fortunately Vizio mostly hits the key notes in terms of other connectivity and data options. You get four USB 3.0 ports on the unit; three in back, one on the right side. It also offers an eSATA port and an SD card reader. For most common peripherals and external data formats, those ports should suffice. With only four USB ports you might find yourself relying on a USB hub before too long, but aside from some extra audio output jacks, I can think of few other ports I'd like to see here.

The one other feature of note in this system is the dedicated V-key keyboard hot button that sends your directly to Vizio's support Web page. The page also doubles as an advertising destination, with dedicated fields hawking Netflix, Hulu, and other services. Helpfully, though, the support page also recognized the specific review model successfully, and highlighted a touch-pad software update in a clear location at the top of the screen. The update didn't help the touch pad's performance in any discernible way once I applied it, but at least Vizio made discovery and downloading easy.

Vizio's PC-making efforts thus far seem to mirror those of its TV business: offer compelling-enough core features and aggressive pricing, and customers will likely forgive some sacrifices along the way. Not everyone will be so willing, and by leaving off a traditional mouse and an optical drive, Vizio has also taken some bold chances. But as long as you're aware of what you're missing, the CA27-A1 will satisfy those in the market for a large-screen, affordable all-in-one desktop.

Performance testing conducted by Joseph Kaminksi. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

Apple iMac 21.5-inch (2.5GHz Core i5, May 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-540; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB AMD Radeon HD 4670M graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 27-inch (3.1GHz Core i5, May 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 (second generation); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Asus ET2700I (Core i7, April 2012)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell XPS One 2710
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i5-3450S; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce 640M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Omni 27 Quad
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Vizio CA27-A1 (Core i5, August 2012)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 640M LE graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Vizio CA27-A1 All-in-One (27-inch)

Vizio CA27

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 5Support 7
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