Vizio Home Theater Displays — TVs Without Tuners

What is a Vizio Home Theater Display?

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

When it comes to TVs, Vizio has definitely made its mark in 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.

However, 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 full-array backlighting (with local dimming) on most of its TVs, embracing 4K Ultra HD across multiple product lines, as well as becoming a player in the adoption of HDR (including Dolby Vision) and wide color gamut technology. All of these technologies really improve the TV viewing experience, in terms of image quality.

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. 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 cutting-edge product innovation, such as SmartCast, there is one move that Vizio made in 2016 that is 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".

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 the 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.

Vizio also touted that consumers can still receive over-the-air TV broadcasts, with the addition of an external DTV tuner/antenna combo - but that requires an optional purchase from a third-party, and results in another box that needs to be plugged into the TV. With the increase in cable/satellite cord cutting, which also included the renewed emphasis over-the-air TV reception, which has increased to about 20% of TV viewers, having to purchase an added box to receive program defeats the purpose of cutting-the-cord.

Potential Retail and Customer Confusion

For the retailer and consumer, this definitely caused some confusion (at least until 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.

The question is if Vizio is establishing a trend that will filter to its competition. As of 2017, no other TV maker had adopted this product strategy, and Vizio finally relented and includes tuners in its 2018 TVs and plans to go forward with this strategy. However, if more tunerless TVs appear on store shelves, will the FCC be forced to redefine what a TV is?