Vizio Pulls the Plug on Free TV

Vizio recently unveiled its new P-series models. And they are pretty impressive, featuring 4K UHD and the very cool SmartCast app that essentially builds in all the capabilities of Google Cast. Since they are Vizios, they are very competitively priced. Very nice. The problem is, if you want to be a stickler for details, these devices aren't actually TVs.

Yes, that's right; the Vizio P-series models are extremely cool, but they aren't TVs. The Consumer Technology Association specifically prescribes the technical requirements that must be included in every HDTV. One of those requirements is that the device must have a tuner that receives and decodes over-the-air ATSC terrestrial digital broadcasts. You know—the signals you can receive for free if you bother to connect an antenna. The problem is that the P-series devices don't have tuners. Therefore they are not TVs; they are displays. Even Vizio agrees; they clearly try to avoid the term on their website, preferring to use the term "display" instead.

The question is, what are the ramifications when you omit a tuner? Certainly, the great majority of viewers don't view terrestrial broadcasts. But so-called cord-cutters still account for millions of consumers. In fact, the number of cord-cutters is growing. Cable and satellite companies are suffering a net decline in subscribers. eMarketer says that in 2015, 4.9 million households once paid for TV, but no longer do, a 10.9% increase over 2014; they expect an increase of 12.5% in 2016.

Not all of those households are only watching over-the-air (OTA); some are only streaming, and some are doing both. In any case, about 20% of U.S. households get TV from OTA; that is about 20 million households, or 60 million people. The OTAs are mainly younger, lower-income, and minority. In fact, about 40% of OTA households are minorities.

Is the P-series an outlier for Vizio? Apparently not. It appears that most of their new SmartCast 4K UHD displays will omit a tuner. In particular, the P-series, M-series and most E-series SmartCast sets will be tuner-free. Only the D-series sets will have tuners.

Remember when the U.S. switched from analog NTSC to digital ATSC? Before most NTSC transmitters went dark in 2009, the federal government issued vouchers for people to buy external ATSC tuners. It looks like Vizio thinks that's still a good option. If you want to watch over-the-air broadcasts on a new Vizio, pony up for an external tuner, or some other device that contains a tuner, like a TiVo Roamio, or Tablo.

Clearly, omitting a tuner saves manufacturing cost. How much could a tuner cost? A couple of bucks? In the big-league world of mass produced consumer products and highly competitive pricing, every penny counts, and I guess Vizio decided that lowering its price point, and thus presumably increasing its sales, would offset any ill-will and confusion when people got their TVs home and their rabbit ears didn't work.

When you see a new Vizio P-series, you can call it a brilliant piece of engineering, or a pile or junk. But whatever you do, don't call it a TV.

hk2000's picture

A pile of junk it is!! It's a Vizio for heavens sake, so even with a tuner, it's still a pile junk. Vizio can ascend to the top of the heap in the TV-oops, monitor- makers, in my mind, it'll always be a pile of junk!! With Vizio being the cheapest TVs out there, and the fact that low income consumers are most likely to be in need of free TV reception, makes you wonder if Vizio took some bribes from cable/satellite providers?

jmilton7043's picture

...mine arrives Saturday! HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Smart cast!! A paradigm shift. 126 zone FALD. Woo Hoo.......

gnagus's picture

Tell us a bit about the antennae in the picture. Is there a link on how to make it?

TVMania's picture

I already have the new P series and it is one of the best looking images I have ever seen (I have seen the new OLEDS). In contrast to what hk2000 says, I have had no issues with the Vizio TVs that I have owned and my family members have had zero issues. I remember when Samsung products were considered junk, things have really changed. I only watch OTA on one of my three TVs, so this is not an issue for me. Also, for the cost of the new P series and a TV tuner you will save a large amount of money. The new P series is the hottest TV on the market right now. Please check other mainstream forums and sites and see for yourself. The new equivalent Samsung that they just announced would cost me $4500 for their 65" with FALD. Most TV makers are keeping prices artificially high to make more money.

John Sully's picture

Since you can get an ATSC tuner for $40, it really isn't that big a deal.

Warrior24_7's picture

Unless the consumer is an informed shopper, or Vizio makes this difference known, there are bound to be people who are fooled by this and disappointed. I believe that Vizio understands this and will let these uninformed consumers be victims of their own circumstance just to sell them. They'll simply say that "we never said that they were "TVs" (if they are ever sued) but will continue to allow them to be displayed alongside real TVs and marketed as such. Vizio is mainly sold in Walmart and COSTCO, I haven't seen them anywhere else
really. Vizo's rep is cheap. They look good but don't last long. Maybe this has changed? Don't know, never owned one. Hyundai had that same reputation, now they have a $70,000.00 car, at which I laughed... Out loud... In the showroom while pointing to the sticker price! Bwwwaaaahahahaha!!

mikem's picture

I've had an OTA for close to 15+ years with my Directv sat receiver. It is an actual DTV OTA device. I live in Florida and we get seriously bad weather frequently which knocks out my sat. When that happens I simply switch my receiver to local channels. The catch is that I only get local channels but at least I have a picture.

lotusguy's picture

I've had a Vizio 42" LCD set for 8 years with no problem and an excellent picture. It has outlasted my Sony TV. I've seen the P series sets and they are fantastic although I would still give the nod to the LG OLED for the ultimate image quality. Certainly Vizio sets are not as described by hk2000. BTW, Costco makes sure that customers understand that most of the Vizio sets they sell are tunerless.