When it comes to pure, cutting the cord TVs, Amazon’s Fire TV Edition paved new ground in 2018. It was low-priced and aimed at folks who were happy ditching cable, plugging in an antenna and using the set to watch Internet programming.
Vizio’s new V436-G1, just out, goes even further. It does all of that, and more. Instead of just being able to use voice commands via the Amazon Alexa assistant, Vizio lets you use Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant as well.
Sure, Amazon’s set has dozens of apps that let you watch streaming content, including Netflix, Hulu, and of course, Amazon Prime Video.
Vizio has apps too, plus the ability to “cast” movies and TV shows from any app off your phone, along with photos and videos you made yourself on the phone. And you can “mirror” presentations and other content off the phone, and view them on the TV.
It also has better, richer colors than the 43-inch Toshiba Fire TV Edition I own, with the addition of HDR for crisp dynamic range.
At $299, the Vizio does cost $50 more than the Toshiba. For comparison purposes, a 50-inch Fire TV Edition from Best Buy’s Insignia brand also costs $299, same as another Vizio model, a 50-inch for the same price as the 43-inch version. .
The big news for Vizio is that it’s one of a handful of manufacturers (which also includes LG, Samsung and Sony) that works with Apple’s AirPlay system, allowing iPhone and iPad content to be broadcast directly to the TV.
I’ve been testing out the V436-G1 and using the beta version of Vizio’s SmartCast software to connect with AirPlay 2. The set will be updated with final software in the coming weeks, Vizio says, while the higher end P series of Vizio sets, which start at $699 and go all the way up to $1,649, have the final software installed now.
I like the picture quality of the Vizio set, which is markedly richer than the Toshiba. And I don’t miss Amazon using the set to sell me more e-commerce and potentially monitor my viewing habits.
Vizio is guilty of this as well, jotting down my viewing preferences and making some extra bucks by selling the data–which luckily, I blocked.
There was a lot of hoopla earlier this year when Apple said it would bring AirPlay 2 to TVs from outside the Apple ecosystem, the first time Apple allowed something like this to happen. Previously, if you wanted to see programming from your iPhone, you had to connect it with the Apple TV set-top box.
The bigger question is, ahem, who cares? The Vizio sets have a smaller suite of apps than the Amazon TV does, but at first glance it seemingly has all the ones you would most likely care about–after YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, CBS All-Access, NBC and, how much more programming do you need?
Turns out, there are many holes. Sure, there are 30 plus apps, but missing in action are such key apps as PBS and ESPN, and cable alternatives like DirecTV Now, Sony PlayStation VUE and Sling TV. And there’s no way for the viewer to download and add these apps to their set.
Vizio wants you to use your phone or tablet to “cast” them to the set instead. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a good remote control instead. I want to see available programming on the TV’s menu screen. I spend more than enough time with my phone.
But more importantly, how good is your phone battery? If you’re watching in prime-time, it’s probably almost gone for the night. So to do this the Vizio way, you’ll have to sit watching with the phone plugged in. Do you have an electrical outlet by the La-Z-Boy, or will you have to run an extension cord through the living room?
Both the Fire TV Edition and Vizio sets have cord cutter-inspired menu screens that show what’s on TV (via the antenna) now, and make suggestions of movies and TV shows you might want to watch.
This is a smart move, as the trend for cord cutting couldn’t be rosier. Just this week market researcher eMarketer released a new study showing cord cutting growing 19.2% this year, with 40.2 million homes without cable, vs. 86.5 million that have it. Cable homes have fallen from 100 million in 2013, while cord cutting homes has doubled from 20.6 million during the same period.
On the Vizio, I like that I can have the three voice assistants, all programmed into the TV, and I don’t have to choose one or the other. I can use any at will, once they’ve been set up.
You program the set to understand “Alexa, turn off Vizio living room TV” as opposed to “turn off the TV,” and ditto for Siri and Google.
Readers: have questions about cutting the cord? Send them my way via Twitter (@jeffersongraham.) You can sign up for my new daily text feature here https://projecttext.com/jeffersongraham