If you’ve put off the purchase of an HDTV this long, here’s one reason to wait until December: The VIA Internet TV from Vizio, the Irvine TV company that became the nation’s biggest seller of LCD TVs this year.
The Vizio Internet Apps TV will let people watch TV and check Facebook status, tweet on Twitter or order a Netflix movie. It was supposed to go on sale this summer but Vizio wanted to add more content so it delayed the launch till just before Christmas.
“We want to make sure that we bring features to market that are important to the consumer,” said John Schindler, vice president of product planning.
Vizio has announced several partners including Accedo Broadband, Amazon Video On Demand, Blockbuster On Demand, Flickr, Netflix, Pandora and Rhapsody. More recently, Vizio added eBay, Facebook, Radiotime, Revision 3, Rallypoint Sports, Showtime TV, Twitter and Vudu.
The 55-inch VIA will be an LED TV with Web access (Wi-Fi and Ethernet), a USB port, 240 hertz and a Bluetooth remote with slide-out QWERTY keyboard for $2,199. Price and launch date are moving targets. When I first heard of this set at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, Vizio priced the TV at $1,999.
But don’t expect to be able to surf all of your favorite Web sites. The TV doesn’t offer full browsing — something Vizio felt was better left to a computer.
“This is a garden environment,” Schindler said.
Vizio has come a long way from being a no-name TV maker. Even just three years ago, few knew about Vizio. Back then, the start-up was in Costa Mesa with just 45 employees. It’s more than doubled its employee count and become the biggest seller of LCD TVs after wowing American consumers with big-screen TVs for a fraction of what others charged (see the 2006 story, “Vizio sales strategy is highly defined“).
Also back then, there were other startups eyeing the low-cost HDTV market and using nearly the same business model as Vizio: Focus on U.S. sales and marketing with low-cost, outsourced product made in Asia. Somehow, Vizio won. And it won big. Many of those rivals are no longer around, while Vizio now outsells Samsung, Sony and LG in the United States in LCD TVs (see earlier: Is Vizio No. 1 LCD TV seller or not?).
“Vizio has done a pretty remarkable job in upsetting the marketplace,” said Paul Gagnon, director of North American TV Research for DisplaySearch. “Its distribution outlets versus someone like Samsung are very focused on low-cost retailers, like Walmart, Costco and Sam’s Club. That’s really good alignment for how the economy is today and what consumers are looking for. It’s certainly shocked Samsung and Sony.”
Gagnon said that Sony and Samsung reacted last year by offering lower-priced models. While that helped Samsung gain marketshare, investors of Sony blasted the company for delivering a money-losing quarter.
Still, it was a close quarter for Vizio, which nearly lost its first-place lead to Samsung. Samsung’s growth is credited to pushing new LED technology. The targeted LED lighting is supposed to give movies a better, brighter picture. Vizio plans to launch its first LED TV this month.
Dubbed TruLED, Vizio will have a 47-inch model for $1,699 in October and a 55-inch model for $2,199 in September. That’s the suggested price. By the time they hit stores, prices could be much lower. Right now, Samsung LEDs for the same size are more expensive. Here’s a list of TVs, prices and launch dates for Vizio HDTVs coming out this fall (click to enlarge):
“We fully get that we’re here to give the consumer more,” said Laynie Newsome, Vizio’s energetic vice president of sales and marketing and a co-founder. “Everyday we pull up in the parking and ask ourselves, ‘Does the world need Vizio?’ ”
Perhaps a key reason for its success is that Vizio’s budget mentality is passed on to employees. When Vizio launched its first Blu-ray disc player, Newsome headed to the store to pick up her own instead of relying on a company freebie.
“I know what we make,” she said.
Previous stories about Vizio: