ViewSonic VSD220 22-inch Smart Display

 

I'm not sure what to make of the Viewsonic VSD220. I like it. It works as you'd hope, looks quite nice, and is priced well.

But it is definitely a niche product. If you can spot a place in your life for this niche, then I think it's definitely worth checking out.

What is it? Well, you can think of it as a 22-inch Android tablet, with HDMI and USB inputs. Or, you can think of it as a small Smart TV with Android OS.

Got ideas yet? I do.

I can think of two places the VSD220 would be ideal, and I'm sure there are plenty more but these are the ones that pop to mind for me. The first is as a kitchen TV. I use my phone or tablet to look up recipes all the time (well, OK, as often as I cook which admittedly... never mind). This is great, but the small screen ends up being almost as annoying as it is helpful, not least because it times out and I need to swipe it awake with whatever digit is somewhat clean. It's often easier for me to just print it out (oh the horror, analog).

I've never had a TV in my kitchen, but I've been in kitchens that have TVs. Most run a composite video feed, or over-the-air TV. You can't do either with the VSD220, and in no way is that a bad thing.

Instead, you get HDMI, and the Interwebs. This is, of course, much better.

Because the VSD220 runs on Android, the home screen should be familiar to anyone who's used an Android tablet (or many Android phones). I found the touchscreen to be fairly responsive, and the various actions to be fast enough for my tastes. The micro HDMI input (along with a micro SD card slot) are buried on the back in a little cubby next to the power plug. Since there are two USB inputs prominently on the side of the bezel, this is puzzling placement. I'll give ViewSonic credit, though, for including a micro HDMI-to-regular HDMI cable in the box. Most displays don't come with any HDMI cables, so the inclusion of a cable most people are unlikely to have laying around gets them bonus points.

You can download most apps... eventually. With the 1.1 version of the VSD220's software, there's a setting in the Settings menu called Google Play Compatibility. Make sure this is set to High, otherwise certain apps in the Google Play store won't work.

I downloaded the big three: Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO Go.

Hulu Plus works great with the touchscreen interface. The picture quality is a little soft, but worse there's a noticeable lip sync error. I connected an Apple TV via HDMI to check if this was an app problem or a display problem. Seems like a bit of both, as the lip sync issue was still there over HDMI, but it wasn't quite as severe. It also showed how soft the app was, as HD (even 720p via the Apple TV), looked nicely sharp on this 22-inch 1080p panel. The tiny, tiny pixels made for a very smooth looking screen.

Netflix is similar. A little soft, the touchscreen is fantastic for the interface, and there's a mild lip sync error. I also noticed a bit of a green tinge to the video.

HBO Go, on the other hand, looked pretty good. Not nearly as soft as the other two. The green tinge and lip sync errors were still there, but of the three, it looks the best. The scrolling tiles of the interface looked sweet. One interesting (and somewhat serious) bug: if you connect something via HDMI, the HBO Go app for some reason thinks this is HDMI out. This causes it to freak out and refuse to play "HBO Go does not support HDMI out..." The other apps didn't have this problem. Hopefully a future software update will address this. In the mean time, I just unplugged the Apple TV.

Amazon Prime streaming, and most other web streaming, won't work out of the box. This isn't ViewSonic's fault, it's Google's fault. If you're an adventurous type, you can install Flash yourself following CNET's handy how to: Install Adobe Flash Player on Jelly Bean devices. I didn't try this as my general rule for reviewing a product is to review it as the "average" person would use it. Installing 3rd party software is not something I feel most people would attempt. Note because this is an Android issue not a ViewSonic issue, the lack of flash or Amazon had no affect on the review (beyond just being a bummer for all Android devices).

You also get access to Google's no-longer-quite-abysmal Goolge Play (explained here)

There's a built-in camera as well, so you can Skype. It needs a lot of light, and is pretty noisy. Of course, you can do all the other typical tabetly things too, like email, calendar, web surfing, etc.

You can also use the VSD220 as touchscreen monitor, just by hooking up via HDMI and USB. If you use this as a second monitor (which I'm tempted to), you could have a ton of screen real estate, and Netflix/Hulu/HBO streaming when you want it. In other words, a perfect device to make it seem like you get a lot of work done, but in realty you just watch Sports Night on Netflix while playing Day Z.

The image is also plenty bright. I measured 70.5 ftL, with a black level of 0.081 for a contrast ratio of 870:1. Not great, but about the same as the $2,500 Panasonic TC-L55WT50. The only two menu settings are Brightness and Contrast, but Brightness is actually mislabeled backlight control (OK, I guess you could argue that this is the correct usage of the term and all other Brightness controls are mislabeled, but pick your battles, you know?). Dropping this to the bottom, I got 10.41/0.011 for a contrast ratio of 946:1. Colors, however, are fairly muted. There's a pretty narrow sweet spot, too, typical of lower-priced LCD panels.

One last thing to note. In my short time with the ViewSonic, I experienced several lockups and a few crashes requiring a hard reset (pulling the power plug, the power button doing nothing). I can't say if you'll have more or less of this, but given how often I have to reset my Android-based phone, I can't say it's solely ViewSonic's issue.

Bottom Line

The VSD220 is an awesome niche product. If there's a spot in your house where you think this would be cool, it probably will be. If you're expecting the pinnacle of performance (either picture quality or computationally), this isn't it. But then again, for $400 were you really expecting either? I'd like the picture quality to be a little better, the performance to be a little faster, the lip sync problem to go away, and a few other little issues, but overall I like the VSD220. It's bigger than a tablet, with more functionality than a smart TV. It's not perfect, but very cool none the less.

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