Vizio Makes ATSC Tuner-Free 4KTVs

IRVINE, CALIF.— Vizio is rolling out a new line of smart 4KTVs that aren’t. The Southern California set maker announced a new line of television sets with the works—Ultra HD resolution, high dynamic range, integrated Google Cast streaming technology and a 6-inch, 1080p Android tablet remote… but no ATSC over-the-air tuners. Without tuners, Vizio’s new line legally can’t be referred to as “TVs.”

“They are obviously trying to get around that problem by including no tuner at all, as opposed to including a tuner that picks up only some channels,” said one veteran media attorney based in Washington, D.C. “However, you then need to market the device as a ‘monitor’ or a ‘display.’ Calling it a ‘TV’ leads to an issue with consumer confusion. Some manufacturers produced similar sets during the DTV transition when tuners were expensive, but they flopped with consumers.”

The 1962 All Channel Receiver Act “authorized the commission to require that all television receivers shipped in interstate commerce, or imported into the United States, for sale or resale to the public be capable of receiving all channels allocated to television broadcasting.” The Federal Communications Commission further amended its TV reception rules for the digital transition, requiring all new TV receivers shipped into and within the United States to have ATSC tuners as of May 1, 2007.

In fact, Vizio itself does not refer directly to its new TVs as “TVs” or “televisions.” The terms appear only in the boilerplate of Vizio’s press release announcing its new “Vizio SmartCast P-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Display collection.” However, the P-Series falls under the category of “TV Series” on the Vizio website.

News sites that picked up the press release connected the dots. “Vizio’s newest 4K UHD HDR P-series TVs with Google Cast baked right into them,” the headline at 4K News said.
“Why Did Vizio Remove ATSC Tuners From P-Series 4K TVs?” TV Technology sister publication TWICE said.
From The Verge: “Vizio’s new P-Series reinvents the ‘smart’ TV with Google Cast — and nothing else.”
And TechHive: “Cord cutters should hope Vizio’s new smart TVs don’t spark a trend.”

“Vizio is also boasting that its SmartCast 4KTVs will be ‘tuner-free,” Jared Newman wrote for TechHive. He reported that a Vizio spokesman told him that since a minority of U.S. households rely exclusively on over-the-air TV—roughly 10 percent—that Vizio decided to leave out the tuners and simplify the set-up process.

Reliance on over-the-air TV reception could be changing, however. A Canadian market researcher recently said 1.13 million U.S. households dropped pay TV in 2015, up four times the 2014 cord-cutting rate, according to Multichannel News.

When asked directly why it was leaving tuners out of the P-Series and possibly other lines, Vizio provided TV Technology with the same statement it gave to TechHive:

“Research shows that less than 10 percent of TV viewers receive over-the-air broadcast programs. As we continually evaluate and focus on designing products that deliver a beautifully simple experience, we felt that removing the tuner would simplify the overall setup and user experience for the vast majority of customers. P-Series users can play content from nearly all content sources, like most cable/satellite set-top boxes, game consoles, Blu-ray players and more. If consumers use an external ‘rabbit ear’ antenna to watch local over-the-air broadcast TV signals, a TV tuner can be purchased separately,” it said.

Additionally, a Vizio spokesperson said the company continued to make “TVs.”

“Vizio released the D-Series TVs earlier this year that do include over-the-air ATSC tuners. Those models range in size from 24 to 70 inches, from prices between $149.99 and $1299.99.”

Vizio is well known among TV manufacturers for making low-cost sets, but there was no mention of saving money by omitting ATSC receiver chips. The Vizio spokesman said the company does not share component costs. Television display expert Pete Putman said it would save Vizio roughly $10 per set to leave out the tuners, or about 1 percent on the low-end P-Series 50-inch display, MSRP listed at $999.99. A 55-inch goes for $1,299.99; 65-inch for $1,999.99; and a 75-inch P-Series Ultra HD HDR display is MSRP’d at $3,799.99.

The FCC has been known to fine manufacturers for selling TV sets without tuners. Between May of 2007 and July of 2012, a total of 17 DTV tuner enforcement actions were taken, according to FCC records.

The commission fined Regent USA $63,650 in 2007 for non-compliant receivers. Tempe, Ariz.-based Syntax-Brillian Corp. was fined $1,277,100 in 2008 for importing tuner-free TVs. The most recent action was against Hanspree, a U.S. subsidiary for Taipai-based HannStar Display Corp. Hanspree was fined $11,800 in 2012 for DTV tuner requirement violations.

The FCC’s DTV tuner mandate also requires that receivers have the capability to fix on virtual as well as actual channels, which came into question last fall when viewers looking for WJLP-TV of Middletown Township, N.J. on Ch. 33 consistently ended up looking at WCBS-TV out of New York. CBS asked the FCC to look into the issue. (See “CBS Alerts FCC to TV Tuning Failure.”)

According to an FCC spokesman, the commission can initiate its own action regarding tuner enforcement, or an affected party can file a complaint.

Also see…
Oct. 9, 2014
4KTVs: A Conversation with Vizio’s Carlos Angulo
Vizio's latest connected platform is equipped with support for the HEVC H.265 codec and 802.11ac dual-band WiFi for a better streaming experience that is up to three times faster. 

October 7, 2015
Vizio Launches $130,000 HDR 4KTV Set
Vizio and Dolby Laboratories have announced the pricing and availability of the new Vizio Reference Series HDTVs, with a 120-inch version going for a starting price of $129,999.99; the 65-inch model starts at $5,999.99.

July 3, 2012
Vizio Launches First 21:9 HDTV in U.S.
Vizio has announced the availability of its XVT Series Cinemawide LED Smart TV with Theater 3D, the first 21:9 ultra-widescreen TV available in the United States.

Sept. 1, 2010
Vizio to Introduce 9-inch Mobile DTV Receiver in January
The device would be Vizio’s first ATSC-M/H compliant receiver. LG, Samsung and Dell have the only Mobile DTV receivers currently in use.