Smart apps haven’t been the revolution in television we hoped they’d be six years ago when they were first announced.
Most smart TV apps aren’t updated nearly enough, and even the most functional of them don’t compare to their mobile device equivalent. Plain and simple, they’re pale comparisons of the apps we use every day on mobile phones, tablets and PCs.
So, when Vizio’s Chief Technology Officer Matt McRea told me he’d cut them out completely from this year’s new lineup of TVs, I wasn’t complaining.
Instead, this year’s all-new SmartCast P-Series will have a souped-up version of Chromecast baked right into the box that’s capable of 4K HDR streaming and Dolby Vision.
Unlike last year’s TVs where you had to navigate through clunky menus to pull up shows like House of Cards on Netflix or Transparent on Amazon Prime Instant Video, the new operating system will stream content directly from phone or tablet. Oh, and just in case you don’t have an Android device sitting around your living room at all times, Vizio’s going to give you one.
Meet the first-ever ‘Chrome TV’
Admittedly, I knew that Vizio was adopting Google’s Cast technology long before I laid eyes on the wonderfully rich 70-inch P-Series TV at a private demo in San Francisco.
A journalist at Variety leaked the news about the P-Series last month – though with a lot less detail than I would’ve liked.
The report claimed that Vizio had partnered with Google to build Chromecast directly into the TV, and that it’d be easier than ever to stream content from our phone or tablet directly to the massive panel sitting in the middle of your living room.
It also claimed that every new TV would ship with a 6-inch tablet instead of a remote. (It will ship with both, it turns out.)
The report missed the part about 4K HDR streaming but, for the most part, hit the nail on the head.
McRae says a Cast-enabled operating system and Vizio SmartCast app that comes pre-installed on every tablet “finally bring home entertainment into the mobile era with advanced navigation, search and control of content sources.”
What he means is that it’s easier than ever to find content and seamlessly transfer it to your TV. The solution to smart TVs’ problems was there all along.
Design, interface and picture quality
So what does the new UI look like? Well, honestly, not much. Chromecast, and by extension the new SmartCast TV, doesn’t have much of an interface to speak of.
Like the streaming dongle, the SmartCast TV will sit there and wait for you to pass it content from your phone or the provided tablet. The beauty of having a Vizio SmartCast app, however, is that all of your traditional controls are now at your fingertips instead of buried under heaps of menus. You can change the contrast, increase or decrease volume, switch sources and more on any Vizio P-Series TV from inside the app.
For traditionalists, McRae says, every TV will also include a standard IR remote, too.
The P-Series comes in four variations: 50″, 55″, 65″ and 75″. Each come with a Full HD, 6-inch tablet and each set has the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna built into it, the same as the latest iteration of Chromecast but with a wider range.
Every TV in the bunch is capable of producing HDR images and Dolby Vision, and the three larger sets have a 240Hz refresh rate while the 50″ taps out at 120Hz. On the outside of the panel, you can expect five HDMI ports, one set of component inputs, one USB 2.0 port and a single USB 3.0 port.
McRae was quick to point out that there are 126 active LED zones inside every panel, and that Vizio’s proprietary technology has an algorithm that tells individual pixels to adapt their brightness to the pixel next to it to prevent light bleed.
The overall picture isn’t as bright or as vivid as LG’s G6 OLED and didn’t pop the same way Samsung’s SUHD with Quantum Dot did at CES 2016 a few months ago, but I the picture quality is still darn good for a sub-$2,000 TV.
Pricing starts at $999.99 for the 50-incher (which goes by the technical name P50-C1), and extends up to $3,799 for the 75″ set, i.e. the P75-C1.
The SmartCast Home Theater Displays are the first of many products to share the SmartCast monicker. McRae says that soon you’ll see soundbars and Bluetooth speakers with integrated Cast technology built-in. These devices will work with the Vizio SmartCast app, creating a small, egalitarian ecosystem of Vizio products.
The Vizio SmartCast P-Series has a lot of great features going for it: it’s open to both iOS and Android; it doesn’t depend on software companies to update the TV version of their apps; and 4K HDR content, while sparse, looks darn good on Vizio’s 65″ set.
The three major hurdles the TV will have to overcome are its price, lack of 4K content available right now and most consumers’ lack quality broadband internet that makes watching data-heavy HDR content an unsavory experience.
That said, all of those problems will lessen over time and, if the current trends are cord-cutting are any indication, Vizio has placed itself in the prime position to capitalize on 2016’s mass migration towards streaming content.