When Vizio unveiled its “new” 2017 P-Series and actually-new 2017 M-Series TVs on Tuesday, it seemed as though the company was making a quick return to the old smart TV approach of preloading apps like Hulu, Vudu, and others onto the sets. Last year, no apps were included on Vizio’s TVs out of the box; instead, they were designed as great looking displays that hooked into Google Chromecast, allowing owners to stream content from hundreds of apps using their own smartphone. But despite Vizio going so far as to bundle an Android tablet in the box, this concept likely confused some consumers.
So it is true that Vizio is making a change this year. A select few apps will come included out of the box to make things more convenient for people who might’ve found last year’s Chromecast-driven interface too perplexing. You can sign into them just like you would on any another smart TV — no extra devices required. But Vizio’s implementation isn’t quite what I was expecting; it’s rather clever and should hopefully ensure that you don’t get saddled with out-of-date streaming apps. But there are still unanswered questions about why big apps like Netflix and Amazon are absent right now.
Matt McRae, Vizio’s chief technology officer, took to AVSForum (where he maintains an active presence) to explain the revised user interface to the company’s most fervent users.
It would be wrong to think we are porting a bunch of native apps to the screen and doing an about-face on Cast. SmartCast TV is just SmartCast Mobile built for the 10ft experience. Meaning the UX is actually driven from the cloud and the same backend servers as SmartCast mobile. There is no native app running... which means we can add features, improve design, add content, etc without having to do an app or firmware update. Also, the apps "running" in the TV are actually cloud based HTML5 interfaces that also can be updated without downloads or firmware updates.
So these aren’t regular “apps” that you’d need to update through some TV app store. They’re HTML5 apps that the TV loads from the cloud; the streaming companies themselves have full control over pushing new features or other changes. McRae confirms as much in a later reply:
When Hulu wants to update their app they make a change on their server. Immediately all SmartCast displays will be updated since an "app launch" is basically just loading it from their server. They can update their app as often as they wish and you will always have the latest without having to download code to your display.
There will be a couple of exceptions to this that we can talk more about when they are announced.
This should also help on the security side of things. Vizio’s TVs won’t store your login credentials for these preinstalled apps, according to McRae. There’s still a layer of proprietary Vizio software running underneath everything, but that was the case last year, too. Another neat, nerdy thing is how these apps actually send video to your screen. It’s all still hooked into Chromecast; only here, the TVs are sending their own request for a video — much like your smartphone or the old bundled tablet would before (and still can). The TVs are essentially just casting to themselves when you watch video the included apps.
McRae told me that eventually users will be able to customize which of those apps appear on their TV’s interface or hide ones they rarely use. (What even is Xumo?) However, that won’t be possible at launch or when this updated software reaches last year’s TVs. For now, the bundled app experience will still ultimately be controlled by Vizio. And some big players might be missing out of the box.
Vizio isn’t definitively saying whether Netflix or Amazon Video, two hugely popular services, will be on the TVs when they ship this summer. HBO is also missing from the announced list of what’ll come included. Amazon Video doesn’t support Chromecast, so it would need to be one of the “exceptions” that McRae mentions above and might require a more traditional native app.
I’m a little more confused as to why Netflix isn’t yet officially on board, and I’ve emailed the company for comment. Netflix is increasingly demanding more from TV makers that want to stamp its “Netflix Recommended” badge on their packaging, however. Vizio is not among Netflix’s recommended TVs for 2017, nor was it last year. There’s no longer a Netflix button on the remote control for these TVs, either.
Regardless, Vizio “going back to apps” isn’t as much of a reversion as some of the company’s customers (or myself) might’ve thought. You can ignore the new screen of “built-in” apps completely if you prefer. In that case, Vizio’s new P- and M-Series TVs behave just like last year: they’re beautiful displays with deep Chromecast integration.