Vizio on Tuesday announced the release of its Co-Star Stream Player set-top box, which includes Google TV and the OnLive gaming service. The company known for affordable televisions first revealed the device at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in January.
While this is the company’s first foray into set-top box territory, it could also prove to be a “reboot” of sorts for the Google TV service, which was clearly not ready for prime time when it arrived for the 2010 holiday season.
The Logitech Revue Google TV set-top box was so badly received that Logitech CEO Guerrino De Lunca reportedly described the product as a “mistake of implementation of gigantic nature.”
Vizio is thus giving Google TV a do-over, and ignoring the past problems with the service.
“Logitech admitted it was a disaster,” said Tom Morrod, senior analyst and head of TV technology at iHS Screen Digest. “Everything we can tell is that this is really a revamp on its first attempt. That doesn’t mean it is going to work, but it could be a good second try. This is when the market will get interesting. It is an important step.”
Vizio did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Vizio could also be seen as hedging its bets with the Co-Star box, which includes Google TV and features support for the Chome Web browser, as well as apps; supports Flash and HTML 5 in the browser; and provides users a way to make full use of the Internet. The box can be connected to existing satellite or cable boxes via HDMI, and it can stream content from services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. It will also provide access to OnLive’s cloud-based gaming service.
The Co-Star will offer control from a Bluetooth remote or QWERTY keyboard, and features support for an external hard drive via a USB port. The box, which will be available in July for US$99.99, thus offers an affordable way to transform a regular TV into a smart or connected set.
“To a certain extent, this is a way for people to get access to services very inexpensively,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
Subscriptions will be required, however.
“OnLive is a subscription service,” added Enderle. “There are some options, including a flat rate or monthly subscription. Google TV is connected to Hulu Plus, as well as those other subscription services.”
Google TV’s Reboot
With the 2010 launch of Google TV on Logitech and Sony devices, the search giant clearly was looking at a way to venture into the living room and capture eyeballs on what remains the primary screen in most homes. However, Google will undoubtedly face some serious competition, with virtually every set-top box on the market — including game consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 — essentially also being able to transform every TV into a smart TV that provides endless content options.
Moreover, the company needs to show that it is really ready this time, and the Vizio box maybe a cost-effective proof of concept for Google.
“Google TV has a very bad reputation and it needs to recover,” Morrod told the E-Commerce Times. “These types of products do help. Google would have had a difficult time convincing people of the benefits with a full smart TV set, but some people will spend $100 on a media extender with the OnLive player and other features. That could remedy the bad reputation and allow users to see that Google ‘mark II’ works quite well. That could prove there is a value-add and that Google is worthwhile.”
It also positions Google and Vizio against Sony and Microsoft.
“OnLive also offers high value for the consumer,” added Morrod. “With this type of device for $100, you don’t really need to have a game console in the living room.”
Vizio’s Time to Shine
While Google may hope the Co-Star will give Google TV another chance with consumers, Vizio, which relies on contract manufacturers to provide affordable flat panel TVs, could use this to leverage its other products.
Users of other sets might not notice or consider the maker of their sets as much when they see the Vizio and Google TV interface every day.
“This could very well be a way to turn another brand’s TV into essentially a Vizio TV,” said Morrod. “This could help Vizio sell TVs to users who become accustomed to those features.”
Thus far, Vizio has succeeded at attracting budget-minded consumers.
“Vizio already has been really aggressive in carving out a niche of affordable price points,” said Enderle. “They can be very aggressive in value technology angle. They provide a significant amount of value at a reasonable price.”
The question is whether products such as the Co-Star will turn Vizio into a consumer electronics superstar, but past history says it might not be that much of a stretch.
“LG and Samsung were not the premium brands 10 years ago,” emphasized Morrod. “And before that, the Japanese companies weren’t the premium brands. It is certainly a possibility that Vizio could move up into that space.”