CES 2009: Vizio previews Connected HDTV platform, $2,000 LED TV, first Blu-ray player

Vizio has made a noticeable dent in the U.S. HDTV market by selling decently performing sets for much less than premium brands like Samsung and Sony.
Written by Sean Portnoy, Contributor

Vizio has made a noticeable dent in the U.S. HDTV market by selling decently performing sets for much less than premium brands like Samsung and Sony. The company looks to be continuing that strategy in 2009, announcing its new product lineup at CES, which will include its first Blu-ray player, its first LED-backlight LCD set, and its version of the Internet TV widgets that many other manufacturers are debuting in Vegas as well.

Vizio calls its networked TV platform "Connected HDTV," and it has a few wrinkles that other TV makers haven't announced for all of their widget-enabled models. While its platform uses the same Yahoo/Intel-concocted widget engine that Samsung, Toshiba, and others are using, Vizio is already claiming support for services like on-demand video streaming from Amazon, Blockbuster, and Netflix, along with online music from Pandora and Rhapsody. (Other widget TV demos I saw this week only showed CinemaNow as a online movie widget.) The Connected HDTV platform will offer both an Ethernet port and built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi, the latter of which is far less common on other new sets than the wired connection. Finally, Vizio has crafted a special remote with slide-out keyboard that should come in handy for interacting with widgets that require heavy text input. Sets running the Connected HDTV platform will start shipping in the fall, though there's no indication yet how much of a price premium those TVs will have over Vizio's other models.

Among the many LCD HDTVs Vizio introduced this week (no new plasmas were announced), the most interesting is its first LED-backlit set. As you might expect from this company, the VF551XVT is aggressively priced considering that the LED technology is only now being pushed by companies other than Samsung: $1,999 for a 55-inch LED set is going to be tough to beat when it becomes available in the summer, though how its performance will compare to Samsung's more mature implementation remains to be seen. The VF551XVT is one of a few new Vizios that will come with an integrated sound bar, which also includes SRS TruVolume. That new audio enhancement lets you set a volume threshold that prevents extra-loud commercials from blasting your ears when you've been watching a quieter program.

After expanding its product offerings to include sound bar systems, Vizio has now turned its sights to Blu-ray, introducing its first player in the VBR100. The unit supports BD-Live (Profile 2.0), which means it can handle streaming online features on compatible discs via the included Ethernet port. It has similar features as other mainstream players, including an HDMI v1.3 port, support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio high-definition multichannel sound, and upconversion of standard DVDs. The VBR100 will be available in April, and though its listed price is $199.99, you should be able to find it for less once it hits stores.

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