Friday, January 9, 2009

CES: Vizio Visit

I was fortunate to spent an hour with Ken Lowe, one of Vizio's co-founders. Like so many companies this year, Vizio isn't on the show floor, but has taken a ballroom at Wynn.

As you'd expect, I saw a lot of TVs. LCD, plasma, high-end, mid-range, value, 120 Hz, 240 Hz, big, small, and in-between.

Of the two dozen or so models they were showing, I coveted three. One is a prototype/proof-of-concept device that I referred to as the BFI--big (friggin') iPod. Seriously...take an iPod, blow it up to TV size, and stick it on a pole. I didn't think to ask, but I believe it was a 47". And it looked WAAAY cool. Of course, it didn't have a touch-screen...that'd be a little counter-productive. Fingerprints on a TV aren't a very good idea.

The second was a 240 Hz LCD, which showed zero blurring motion. The demo didn't necessarily make me covet a Vizio TV, but as with every 240 Hz demo I've seen, I came away favorably impressed.

The third was a 55" LCD in their XVT line, which I'm seriously considering as my next TV. Blacks still aren't *truly* black; forthcoming XVT models using hundreds of local dimming regions will get to true black, but it'll be a few months before that's available. Despite that, the 55" panel has an MSRP of $1999, meaning you can pick it up for less than that at your local warehouse store. I expect to see aggressive price offerings from all TV manufacturers and retailers across the board in the next couple of weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, so you might want to keep your eyes pealed.

All that said, the Vizio device that I covet most (and WILL be buying) isn't a TV. It's a sound bar. Vizio announced a (IIRC) $349 sound bar last summer, whose shipping is imminent. When you consider that as of last summer, a lot of folks considered the $1000+ Yamaha sound bar to be state-of-the-art, a price point of less than half that makes a lot of folks stand up and take notice. The price point alone is compelling, but it's the capability that I find so cool--the sound bar delivers the 5 channels via the stylish bar placed below the TV, but the fact that the subwoofer (the .1 part of 5.1 sound) is wireless seals the deal. This isn't crap wireless, either--this is high-quality wireless audio delivered using award-winning silicon. The flexibility of combining a sound bar and a wireless sub is exactly what I need in our home, since pulling wires to do a proper 5.1 install is difficult and pricey. True audiophiles typically consider sound bars to be heresy, but this is the best option I've found for our home.

Vizio's done an awesome job of working their way up the value chain over the past couple of years. I think that a lot of the marquee names in TV have been napping while Vizio has somewhat stealthily made themselves into not just a company providing value-priced TVs, but one providing high-quality TVs at great price points. No, you won't confuse a Vizio TV with a Pioneer Elite TV, but you won't pay nearly as much, either. In today's economy, Vizio's looking better than factor isn't the most important factor for success. The mix of a wide range of choices, at a quality/price-point combo that's considered sufficient for each buying demographic, should lead to further success for Vizio for years to come.

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