Vizio wants to blow up everything you've come to expect from a "smart" TV. In 2014, the introduction of the P-Series marked the company's entrance into 4K. Fast forward to today, and Vizio sells some of the most affordable 4K TVs you can buy — and they're almost universally well regarded. So with its first-ever revision of the P-Series, available beginning today starting at $999, Vizio needed a new headlining feature. And though it may surprise you, it's not Dolby Vision HDR, which has trickled down from the Reference Series to offer incredible dynamic range, vibrant colors, and eye-popping brightness. The most notable about the P-Series isn't how it looks; it's how you use it.
Vizio is completely resetting expectations for how a TV should function in 2016. There are no built-in apps for Netflix, Hulu, and other services. You don't control it with a button-filled remote, and in fact, there's pretty much no user interface anywhere on the TV itself. See, the 2016 P-Series is built upon Google Cast, and every set — from the $999 50-inch base model on up to the top tier $3,799 75-incher — ships with a 6-inch Android tablet in the box. That's how you control this TV. You charge the remote wirelessly on a dock that also comes bundled.
Turn on that tablet you'll find a new app called Vizio SmartCast, which is what you'll use to change inputs and adjust the volume. It's how you'll access the menus that would normally be buried somewhere in a laggy, unintuitive interface on the TV. Here, it's all right in your hand. SmartCast is actually pretty sleek and intuitive, putting a big focus on discovery and highlighting exactly where you can watch whatever movie or show you're searching for. Tapping into a title gives you a synopsis, cast info, Tomatometer score, and other details. Services like Hulu, Crackle, Walmart's Vudu, and even Sling TV are integrated with SmartCast, but Vizio's still missing some key ones like Netflix and Amazon, so this isn't quite universal search.
Throw out everything you expect from a TV, because this one barely even has a UI
But since this is Google Cast we're talking about, you can avoid Vizio's software completely if that's your preference. Open an app, hit the cast button, and it'll play on your 4K HDR TV. The guiding principle, according to the company, is to let customers take control of their content and viewing experience. From that perspective, I can't recall seeing anything quite like what Vizio's presenting here. Any Android or iOS device in your house can be another remote. If it works with a Chromecast, it'll shine on Vizio's latest TV.
Maybe that's the simplest way of looking at the new P-Series. It's a tremendous looking screen that any Cast-compatible app can stream to. Making this happen wasn't easy, according to Vizio. Whereas other manufacturers like Sony are building Android TV into their TVs, Vizio specifically wanted Google Cast to be the brain of the P-Series, and this required extensive collaboration with Google. It's a bit tempting to call the end result a dumb TV, but really it's a very smart display that's free of the clutter and frustration you'd find on other sets. You turn the thing on and there's nothing but the Chromecast home screen. That's it. The content lives in and comes from the apps on your phone — apps that actually get regular updates and improvements, unlike their awful and oft-ignored "smart TV" counterparts.
Vizio's tablet remote charges wirelessly when placed on its dock
That said, this is pretty sophisticated for your average TV buyer. Out of the box, there's no way to, say, pull up the TV menu and open Netflix. Or anything, for that matter. That's not at all what people are used to. Thankfully, Vizio is also including a very simple IR remote for the basics like volume, channel switching, and video input. No one's forcing you to power on the bundled tablet or your phone for that stuff, but the content's up to you, whether it's coming from a cable box, Apple TV, game console, or Blu-ray player. Without one of those things, you'll have nothing to watch. Contrast this approach with what you'd get from Samsung, LG, or other companies that preinstall dozens of "channels" or apps on their TVs. I suspect many of our readers will praise what Vizio's doing. Your everyday Best Buy customer? Well, they might miss the simplicity of built-in apps.
As for the TV itself, it definitely outperforms the prior P-Series. This one's got Dolby Vision HDR, and maintains the full array LED backlighting with over 120 active LED zones. That makes for punchy, vibrant highlights but also dark, lush blacks. You get 5 HDMI ports, with one optimized for gaming (it exhibits very little input lag). And then there's that 6-inch tablet, which you're free to install Google Play apps on and use like any other Android device. It feels comfortable to use and has a 1080p screen. It runs Android Lollipop, and according to Vizio is powered by an octacore Qualcomm processor. This is by no means a throwaway gadget. And it comes with this TV for free. For prices starting at $999 — beginning right now. The new P-Series will be on display at your local Best Buy very soon, so you can see for yourself just how well this Google Cast experience works in practice.