My deep dive into the world of Connected TV and Web Video starts with a look at a low-cost but powerful – if flawed – option: The Vizio 22″ HDTV with VIA (Vizio Internet Applications). The smallest, lowest-cost member of Vizio’s growing line of VIA TVs, the 22″ model features full 1080p resolution, LED edge backlighting, and integrated Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity for use with the built-in VIA suite of apps.
With a street price of $270, Vizio’s asking a lot for a 22″ tv set. I picked my unit up for $199 plus shipping on a pre-Xmas sale, a price point which makes the set much more seductive. Two hundred bucks for a super thin LED TV that can double as a 1920 x 1080 PC monitor and features integrated networking and Web media streaming is pretty sweet, at least on paper.
In practice the Vizio has a ton going for it, but two fatal flaws; at least, I found the flaws fatal enough to necessitate returning the TV for a refund; you might not be quite so bothered by them. First off, the integrated speakers are terrible. This wasn’t too surprising given the set’s thin profile and low price point – lousy speakers are commonplace on cheap flat panel TVs. But given that I was planning to use the set in the bedroom, where it would replace an older, larger 23″ Sony with an actually very good integrated audio system, this was a problem. The Vizio features analog and digital audio out, so hooking up external speakers or routing to a home theater system is a snap. But on their own the speakers are pretty bad.
The second issue was more egregious. While the integrated Neftlix app is one of the best I’ve tried, with a nice user interface and full access to Search and instant playback of search results and suggested titles, it had all sorts of problems with audio syncing during playback. Some titles streamed just fine, with lips matching to their words as they should. But other titles just looked and sounded like so many bad Kung Fu movies.
I’m currently deeply engaged in a Veronica Mars marathon over Netflix streaming. Episodes from all three seasons play back just fine on the TiVo HD box in our living room. They also look and sound fine via Apple TV. But none of them – not a one – was even watchable on the Vizio set. The audio was off-synced to the point of maddening frustration, and the “Audio Sync” part of the settings menu proved useless. Same for some random TV series I tried and a few movies. Then again, Season One of The Larry Sanders Show played back without a hitch. So your mileage may vary. But given the importance of Netflix streaming in my Connected TV Life and the availability of cheap Netflix-compatible boxes like Apple TV and the Roku line, I wasn’t willing to settle for Kung Fu Veronica.
Otherwise, the set was pretty nice. Good color, good handling of motion during sports and action movies, and a super thin profile. While 1080p resolution is sort of silly on a 22″ display, it does make the set useful as a dual-duty TV/computer monitor, what with its two HDMI and single RGB inputs. Then again, if you’re hooking your computer up to the screen, why would you need the VIA apps? You could just queue up your online content via your computer, instead.
The included, not-backlit remote is cheap and I hate the always-lit up VIZIO logo on the bottom front bezel, but the VIA apps are generally great and the integrated networking is killer. I was able to stream full 1080p Vudu “HDX” movies over WiFi without any issues (I have a 15 Mbps cable modem connection at home) and while I found them sort of silly, the Facebook and Twitter widgets worked well and look nice.
The set also features Hulu Plus, Amazon VOD, and Blockbuster pay-per-view video streaming and a host of Web TV options including Revision3 but no YouTube. No YouTube? #FAIL. Though there may be a workaround somewhere out there given that VIA is really just a rebranded take on Yahoo!’s TV Widgets. Still, why hack a workaround onto your TV when you can pick up a pre-YouTube-ified set top box for under $100 instead? Depends on your wants and needs, I guess.
I hear the larger VIZIO VIA sets come with a full QWERTY remote. That’s nice. I also hear the larger sets offer a pretty good performance-to-cost ratio if you’re looking for a larger screen for your family/living/media room. So maybe they’re looking into – just beware that nasty Netflix lip sync bug.
Check out the entire Connected TV series: