In 2002, Vizio began to bull its way into the television market, taking over 20 percent market share of HDTV sales even after everyone had warned them that this was impossible, that the major players were too established.
Now, California-based Vizio will attempt to disrupt another section of the electronics aisle dominated by well-entrenched competitors: computers.
At an understated media event in New York City Thursday night, Vizio unveiled the pricing and specs on its beautiful new laptop and all-in-one computers, expected to hit stores in the coming weeks. Computers are currently stale and overpriced, Vizio CTO Matt McRae said onstage to a gathering of about 50 reporters and Vizio execs, before explaining why he felt Vizio's machines were well-positioned to win away customers from the likes of Dell and Apple.
Vizio will sell three computers: a slim, sleek Ultrabook, called the Thin+Light; a more traditionally sized laptop computer called the Notebook; and an desktop computer similar to the iMac, called the All-in-One.
Vizio's devices, many news outlets have noted, look similar to the MacBook Air and iMac offered by Apple; the design emphasizes cleanliness, clutter is eliminated and the branding is simple, without letters and numbers to muddy up the product's name.
Not similar to Apple: the price of Vizio's gadgets. These computers are cheap, and not just compared to Apple, but to some PC manufacturers as well. Its Ultrabooks -- the new breed of thin, light Windows laptops widely viewed as a response to the MacBook Air -- will start at $898 for a 14-inch configuration. Its 15.6-inch notebook computer, too, will start at $898. And its All-in-One desktop PC, which is similar in design to the iMac, will start at -- you guessed it -- $898.
All of these Windows 7-running devices will be available for purchase in the coming weeks, both online and at various retailers including Walmart, Costco, Target and Amazon.com.
Here's what you need to know:
The Vizio Ultrabook, which Vizio has descriptively dubbed the Vizio Thin+Light, will come in two screen sizes: 14-inches and 15.6-inches. Each will ship with an Intel Ivy Bride Processor, full HD (either 1,600 x 900, or 1,920 x 1,080) displays, 4GB RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of Solid State Drive (SSD) storage. Vizio lists battery life at between 5.5 and 7 hours, depending on your model.
All of Vizio's computers come with HDMI-out ports to connect your device to your television.
The Thin+Lights are, true to their name, thin and light. A clever design trick makes the Thin+Light appear to float on air when it is placed flat on the surface of the table. These are, in short, good-looking computers. The cheapest model -- a 14-inch Thin+Light with 128GB storage -- will cost $898.
Vizio's MacBook Pro competitor is named the Notebook. Its screen boasts a 1,920 x 1,080, full HD display. It also runs on Intel's Ivy Bridge chip. You can configure it to get either 4GB or 8GB RAM, and 500GB or 1TB storage. Vizio lists battery life as "up to 6 hours." The cheapest configuration, with 4GB RAM and 500GB storage, costs $898.
The Notebook is -- just as the MacBook Pro compared to the MacBook Air -- a bit thicker than the Thin+Light, though it boasts better processing performance and much more onboard memory. It also has far more ports: In addition to the two USB 3.0 ports and HDMI-out port on the Thin+Light, the Notebook adds an Ethernet port for wired Internet and SD card slot. It does so without adding price: The 14-inch Notebook, with 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive (non-SSD) also costs $898.
Vizio's All-in-One computer comes in a 24-inch model or a 27-inch model. Each runs an Intel Ivy Bridge processor; your hard drive options are 500GB or 1TB, while memory options are 4GB or 8GB.
Both models come with a wireless keyboard and wireless trackpad, each of which run on AAA batteries; the All-in-Ones also ship with a traditional remote control (to manage your monitor from afar), especially when you've plugged in a Blu-Ray or DVD player into one of the machine's HDMI-in ports. Interestingly, the hub into which you plug your monitor for power doubles as a subwoofer, giving the All-in-One a nice audio boost. The monitor is hinged, so that you can tilt it up and down.
The 24-inch model, with 4GB RAM and 500GB hard drive, costs $898.
All Vizio computers will ship with a version of Windows 7 called "Microsoft Signature," which eliminates all pre-loaded software and trialware that bloats most Windows PCs: Not only does this mean that trial programs won't be bugging you for your credit card after 30 days; it also
means faster booting of the machine and a much cleaner look, more akin to the way Apple's OS X appears on first glance.
The only icon that you will see on the homescreen when you start your computer for the first time? The Recycle Bin.
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Vizio's first attempt at computers appears, in terms of design and performance, a success. In the two hours I had to try them out, I found the machines to be distinctive and speedy; the touchpads operated well -- not the case on all Ultrabooks -- and the keyboards felt well-made. The displays, as you would expect from an HDTV maker, appeared crisp from several angles. Each laptop felt sturdily, and not cheaply, built, and yet the price is reasonably low.
The cleanliness of Microsoft Signature is also a welcome departure from the clutter of most Windows PCs; hopefully this becomes standard, and soon.
Vizio's greatest disadvantage is that it is not known as a computer company: It has never made one before. The upstart that shocked the television industry seems well-positioned to do the same in the PC market, however: Competing Windows PC makers should be afraid, especially with the exposure that Vizio will get in big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco. Its laptops and all-in-ones will likely be, at once, one of the most attractive and one of the least expensive models available in any given category. That's a dangerous combination for anyone who is not Vizio, just as the combo of attractive design and low price caused trouble for Vizio's competitors in the television market ten years prior.
Below, take a look at some photos of the All-in-One, Thin+Light, and Notebook, all of which should be available "imminently," per Vizio. You can also discover more technical specifications on Vizio's website.