Vizio's 2012 Smart TV Platform: Explained
Vizio offers a decent amount of content, but there are some notable apps and services missing.
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2012 has seen some huge improvement to the "smart platform," an internet TV's presentation and organization of its online content. We've detailed and reviewed the smart platforms of Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and Sharp. While the results have varied greatly, most of them have been decent attempts at a cohesive presentation of valuable content; yet not all smart platforms are created equal.
Vizio makes decent televisions, and they make a lot of them. But its 2012 smart platform is much less rewarding to the user, in terms of content quality and quantity, than manufacturers like LG and Samsung. Like Sony, Vizio leans heavily on Yahoo! apps and services to provide the bulk of its content.
How To Use It
If you've got an internet-enabled Vizio television, you've probably discovered the one and only way to access the available smart content. Vizio has not only imitated Sony's use of Yahoo! services, it has also imitated the "cross-bar" design schematic. Pressing the stylized Vizio emblem on your TV's remote will bring up a horizontal row of apps and widgets. Some of these apps can also be "rotated" by pressing up or down on your remote, a lot like Sony's horizontal/vertical cross-bar setup.
This menu contains about 16 apps, some of which allow access to provider-specific apps within the service provider's interface. There isn't really any organization here, and it seems like Yahoo! weather, for example, is simply thrown in at random between two other apps so there aren't three apps in a row you've never heard of. Scrolling between and selecting them is done with the Vizio remote, using the navigational arrows and the confirm button. Here, you'll also find some blue-chip partners: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, and Skype.
Unlike other smart platforms, Vizio's platform gives no credence to the "type" of app in its organization (or lack thereof). Apps like Netflix, which offer streaming TV and movies, are sprinkled at random with social networking apps like Skype, or the mysterious MGO. MGO isn't available yet, by the way, but our attempts to discover what it was only taught us a little something special about magnesium oxide.
In truth, Vizio's "Wireless Internet Apps" can be boiled down to services provided by Yahoo!—like weather, stock market information, and news—and the blue-chip content providers found on just about every smart platform at this point: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and VUDU, each of which have their own dedicated buttons on your Vizio remote, and require a recurring subscription fee to make use of.
Upon pressing the Vizio smart platform emblem on your remote, you'll be brought to the first "page" of four apps. One of them allows you to access your Vizio user profile. One of them is HDTV settings—so not really an app. One of them, Media, will allow you to play back your USB connected media (more on that below). But the first one, the Yahoo! Connected TV Store, is actually an app, or rather, an app store. The Yahoo! store provides "extra" apps for your Vizio TV, but they can still only be accessed through the store after being dowloaded.
Yahoo! has also provided an app specifically for news, which will offer up top headlines, and organize news by type: Sports, Science, Business, etc. Unfortunately, beyond the fish hook headlines, there's really only a few sentences provided about the story itself. This app is updated automatically through your internet connection, but don't expect to walk away from it feeling terribly well-informed.
Yahoo! Weather will give daily updates on the weather of major cities like London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and... Sunnyvale? The weather information is provided by The Weather Channel, but beyond a graphical representation of sunshine, clouds, or rain, and the temperature in your location, there's no other information available. Creating and updating a Vizio profile will allow you to replace Sunnyvale, CA with your own location.
Streaming Movies, TV, and Music
The major providers of streaming content, as we mentioned, are Netflix, VUDU, and Amazon Instant Video. Each of these content providers has a dedicated button on the remote, so if you want, you can skip the Vizio smart interface and jump right into your favorite episode of Futurama. Good news, everyone! Unlike all of the free apps on Vizio's platform, these three will actually initiate their own interface and fill your whole screen, offering a well-organized and aesthetically sound look at all of their content.
Netflix, VUDU, and Amazon each offer streaming movies and television. If you're looking for a content provider that offers the same sprawling collection of music, Vizio has also included access to Rhapsody, a subscription service music provider. Rhapsody organizes artists and bands by genre, name, and popularity, and also offers users a free trial of their services. These content providers can be searched using an on-screen keyboard that requires the included remote control for navigating and selecting letters.
Your Personal Media (photos, music, & videos)
Inserting a USB flash drive into your Vizio TV's USB input will initiate the option of playback, but you can also jump into this menu by clicking on the "Media" app on your smart selection bar. Vizio's TVs may make use of wireless internet apps, but they don't allow any wireless interfacing, so the only content you can access must be stored on a USB flash drive, and that flash drive also needs to be compatible with Vizio TVs. Sound annoying? It is.
Once you've worked the right magic to have your USB device and files detected, your photos, music, and video content is then organized into sections, and displayed in a plain but useable string of thumbnails across the screen. Supported files and unsupported files will both show up, so there's no way of knowing whether or not a photo can be expanded to fullscreen, or a video can be played back at all, without attempting to do so first.
It's good that Vizio has taken the time to include media playback alongside its less than stellar selection of apps, but like so much of its smart content, it feels tacked on, lackluster, and last minute.