Vizio Home Theater Displays: TVs Without Tuners

What is a Vizio home theater display?

Is a TV without a TV tuner still a TV? Well, Visio seemed to think so in creating their line of tuner-less TVs that focused more on streaming than traditional cable and satellite connections. In fact, without a built-in tuner, these TVs can't connect directly to a traditional cable or satellite input. The results, however, were mixed at best, and the TV manufacturer has since backed off the strategy. Explore the short and somewhat puzzling history of Visio's tuner-less TVs.

Vizio Picture Quality Tech

Vizio made its mark in sales with its low prices and has made an impact on the technology front by incorporating important features emphasizing picture quality, such as:

Vizio 2016 P-Series Tunerless Home Theater Display


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, 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 Vizio 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. If a tablet isn't included, you can use your 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 caused a stir in the TV industry and caused some confusion with retailers and consumers.

That move was the elimination of built-in TV tuners on many of its TV products. The tuners were removed from all the Vizio P and M-Series sets and some of the 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. 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. 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 percent of consumers at the time relied on over-the-air broadcasting for receiving TV programs and that 90 percent enjoyed other options, such as cable, satellite, DVD, Blu-ray, and 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 tunerless 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 doesn't make its own external tuners, nor recommends a specific brand or model to purchase.

On TVs with a built-in tuner, you can connect an antenna directly to the TV, and an extra box isn't required to receive TV programs. The only exception would be if you wanted to add DVR capabilities, which requires an external box with its own built-in tuner. One example is the TIVO Bolt OTA.

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

Retail and Customer Confusion

Vizio's tunerless home theater display approach causes confusion (unless more TV makers adopt the tunerless concept). Even though the products look like TVs, those products can't legally be called TVs. FCC lawyers could troll retailers for advertising or store display violations, and untrained sales associates could confuse things, just as 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. However, in Vizio's case, its solution is to refer to its new sets for the consumer market 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 the Vizio tunerless concept will make a comeback and filter into its competition. As of 2020, no other TV maker has adopted this product strategy. Vizio 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?

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