Vizio Home Theater Displays — TVs Without Tuners

What is a Vizio home theater display?

When it comes to TVs, Vizio has definitely impacted the marketplace. Although Samsung is the top TV seller Worldwide, when it comes to the U.S., Vizio and Samsung have see-sawed back-and-forth for years in claiming the top spot.

Vizio Picture Quality Tech

Vizio has not only made its mark in sales with its low prices but has also made an impact on the technology front by incorporating important features emphasizing picture quality, such as:

Vizio 2016 P-Series Tunerless Home Theater Display
Image provided by Vizio

Vizio Smart TV Tech

In addition to image-quality related technologies, Vizio has also been on the forefront of Smart TV tech, first with the incorporation of its Vizio Internet Apps/AppsPlus platform, and, more recently, with its partnership with Google on its SmartCast platform (Vizio's enhanced version of Chromecast Built-in) which provides an innovative way to view, manage, and add apps on their TVs.

As part of the SmartCast platform, even though a standard remote control is included, some sets include a 6-inch tablet that provides access to all of the needed streaming apps is included as part of the package. If a tablet is not included, you also have the option of using your own smartphone or tablet.

Vizio TVs Without Tuners

Although moving forward with product innovation, such as SmartCast, there is one move that Vizio made in 2016 that not only caused a stir in the TV industry but caused some confusion with both retailers and consumers.

That move was the elimination of built-in TV tuners on many of its "TV" products. They were removed from all of their P and M-Series sets, and some of their E-series sets. Vizio labeled these sets as "Home Theater Displays". This strategy was in effect for the 2016 and 2017 model years.

Vizio D-Series sets continued to offer built-in tuners, and in 2018 Vizio reinstated tuners in all of its TVs.

The reason that removing tuners from TVs was significant was that not having a built-in tuner prevents a TV from being able to receive programming over-the-air via an antenna, and even more significantly, according to FCC regulations adopted in 2007, a TV without a built-in tuner, specifically an ATSC (aka digital tuner or DTV tuner), cannot be legally called a TV (Television), thus, Vizio's use of the term "Home Theater Display".

Vizio's reasons for eliminating tuners from its sets rested upon the observation that only about 10% of consumers at the time were relying on over-the-air broadcasting for receiving TV programs and that 90% were enjoying other options, such as cable, satellite, DVD, Blu-ray, and, of course, the continued trend toward internet streaming. All those can be accessed via HDMI or other connection options provided on today's TVs, including Vizio's TVs and tuner-less home theater displays.

Vizio also touted that consumers could still receive over-the-air TV broadcasts, with the addition of an external DTV tuner/antenna combo. However, that requires an optional purchase from a third-party and results in another box that needs to be plugged into the TV.

Vizio does not make its own external tuners, nor recommends a specific brand/model to purchase.

On TVs with a built-in tuner, you can connect an antenna directly to the TV, no extra box required to receive TV programs. The only exception would be if you wanted to add DVR capabilities, which does require an external box with its own built-in tuner(s). One Example is the TIVO Bolt OTA.

With the increase in cable/satellite cord-cutting, which also included the renewed emphasis of over-the-air TV reception, which has increased to about 20% of TV viewers, having to purchase an added box to receive programs increases a cord-cutting budget.

Retail and Customer Confusion

For the retailer and consumer, Vizio's tunerless home theater display approach definitely caused some confusion (unless the tunerless concept is adopted by more TV makers), as even though the products look like TVs, they can't legally be called TVs (FCC lawyers could troll retailers for advertising or store display violations – and, of course, any untrained sales associates will muck things up, just as they did when "LED TVs" were first introduced).

So, what do you call a TV, when it can't be called a TV? In the professional realm, a TV without a built-in tuner is usually referred to as a monitor or a video display, but in Vizio's case, for the consumer market, their solution is to refer to their new sets as "Home Theater Displays".

So, next time you go shopping for a TV, you may end up buying what looks like a TV, but really isn't one after all - at least by strict definition.

Vizio Tunerless TV – Looking Ahead

The question is if Vizio tunerless concept will make a comeback and filter into its competition. As of 2020, no other TV maker has adopted this product strategy, and Vizio, as mentioned above, reinstated tuners in its 2018 models and is still going forward with this strategy. However, if tunerless TVs appear on store shelves again, will the FCC be forced to redefine what a TV is?