Vizio pulling out all stops to turn HDTV into Internet platform

August 7, 2009
By Ryan Kim
San Francisco Chronicle

Vizio isn't just about cost-friendly TVs.

The Irvine TV-maker, the No. 1 HDTV seller in the United States, is pushing ahead with plans to turn the TV into a robust and viable platform for Internet access. In the process, Vizio is creating opportunities for developers and an exciting future for consumers.

I got a chance to talk with Vizio earlier this week about its strategy for its top-end XVT line of displays. The latest models coming out this November boast what Vizio is calling smart dimming, which involves turning off sections of LED backlighting dynamically to boost blacks and turn up the contrast ratio. It works really well and creates some very vivid images.

But what I'm really interested in are Vizio's plans to make TVs connected and what that means for consumers. Vizio truly believes that the TV is going to be a robust Internet platform, taking its place next to the PC and mobile phone.

But Vizio isn't just putting an Ethernet jack in the back of its TVs. It's installed Wi-Fi 802.11n on many of the coming XVT series sets. The Wi-Fi is great because not everyone has his router nearby or wants to work with a home bridge. Now, you can easily connect the TV with no wires.

But Vizio is going a step further. It's not only supporting Yahoo's Widget Channel, it is also offering a home for Adobe Flash apps. That means developers and companies can build apps in either environment and know that they will get play on the TVs.

A number of big-name TV companies have announced support for the Yahoo Widget channel, but Vizio said they are the only ones to support both Yahoo and Adobe. It's not trivial, said Matt McRae, vice president and GM of advanced platforms.

He said the two sets of apps will be seamlessly blended into one interface for Vizio users so they won't have to leave one list and visit another. It'll all be in one place.

"It's about getting as many connected TVs out there so developers have the biggest audience to develop for," McRae said.

Some of the announced widgets include Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Showtime, Netflix and Rhapsody, which is exclusive to Vizio. There will be about 15 to 20 at launch and about 30 to 40 by year's end. By the end of 2010, there should be hundreds, perhaps a thousand widgets and apps, said McRae.

He said Vizio won't be trying to recreate a browser experience, but will look to developers to fashion optimized apps that work well on a TV display. He said he is hoping to create an open environment that will lure in developers and turn Vizio's TVs into a major platform, much the way the iPhone has become a showcase for mobile developers.

McRae said the 42-inch set will premiere with the same $999 price as its predecessor.