Vizio Rolling Out Chromecast Update to Access Disney+ on Smart TVs

Vizio will roll out a Chromecast built-in update that will allow users to cast Disney+ content to their Vizio SmartCast TVs.

The update will start rolling out in early December.

Owners can already watch content from the Disney+ app using Apple AirPlay 2 by tapping the AirPlay icon and selecting their SmartCastTV when in the app.

Vizio can roll out updates to models dating back to 2016.

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“We want consumers to know that when they purchase a Vizio TV, it will keep its value for years to come,” said Bill Baxter, Vizio chief technology officer, in a statement. “Our team is continually improving SmartCast to ensure users have the best home entertainment experience with more ways to enjoy their favorite content.”

VIZIO SmartCast TVs users can also view apps such as Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube directly from the SmartCast Home screen.

IHS: China’s TCL Brand Tops North American TV Market

With just about everything made in China, it’s little surprise a Chinese television manufacturer has unseated South Korea’s Samsung for top unit sales in North America.

With China and the United States embroiled in a trade dispute, the rush to import Chinese TVs ahead of proposed tariffs is at a fevered pitch.

China’s TCL unit shipments climbed to 26.2% in the first quarter (ended March 31), up from 16% during the previous-year period, according to new data from IHS Markit.

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Perennial market leader Samsung saw shipments drop to 21.8% from 28%. No. 3 Vizio shipments nearly reached 14%, according to the data first reported by Advanced-Television.

TCL, which markets TVs featuring the Roku operating system, helped drive North American unit shipments up 30% to a record 9.3 million units.

Samsung still dominates the market in revenue (36.9%) due to its larger screens across its product line and higher price points.

“As uncertainty mounts around a possible tariff-driven rise in costs, these brands have been bolstering shipments to protect against any potential disruption,” Paul Gagnon, research executive director at IHS Markit, said in a statement. “Given that margins for TVs are relatively low compared to other consumer-electronics categories, any tariff increase would have a major impact on sales.”

 

News Analysis: AVOD Just Got Real

The biggest news during last week’s CES occurred hundreds of miles away in Los Angeles.

Amazon’s IMDb.com movie industry website confirmed previous rumors and nixed executive denials with the launch of a branded ad-supported video streaming platform.

IMDb Freedive enables customers to watch TV shows, including “Fringe,” “Heroes,” “The Bachelor” and “Without a Trace,” as well as movies, such as Awakenings, Foxcatcher, Memento, Monster, Run Lola Run, The Illusionist, The Last Samurai and True Romance, without purchasing a subscription, according to Media Play News’ Stephanie Prange.

The launch is significant. Heretofore, AVOD was a distant stepchild to SVOD — the latter spearheaded by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. With a media landscape littered with SVOD and subscription-based online TV, ad-supported platforms offer an economical (i.e. free) alternative.

To be sure, Sony Crackle and Shout! TV have offered ad-supported content without subscription largely to niche audiences for some time. The Roku Channel upped the format by tapping into a user base of more than 27 million Roku subscribers — users who registered to the platform for access to third-party platforms such as Netflix.

The channel, which features catalog TV shows and movies, is now among Roku’s Top 5 accessed platforms. Roku recently licensed the platform to Samsung’s Internet-connected TVs.

“Strong active account growth and accelerating streaming hours point to consumers’ growing enthusiasm for [free] streaming,” said Roku CEO Anthony Wood.

Freedive takes AVOD to another level.

Long before there was Google, IMDb.com was the go-to source for actors, TV shows, movies and behind-the-scenes information. Through October, the platform had about 5.3 million titles (including episodes) and 9.3 million personalities in its database, as well as 83 million registered users. Subscription-based IMDb Pro is considered a must-have database for the business-side of Hollywood.

“Once you’ve signed up for Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, you’re more than $30 deep,” Colin Petrie-Norris, CEO of Xumo, an-ad-supported live TV/on-demand platform, told Digiday.com. “Price-sensitive consumers are seeing [free video streaming services] as viable alternatives or complements to paid services — that’s probably the biggest factor.”

Los Angeles-based Pluto TV launched in 2013 featuring about 100 channels via an ad-supported app that operates on 14 platforms, including Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and PlayStation consoles.

Last August, Irvine, Calif.-based Vizio rolled out WatchFree, a proprietary ad-supported streaming video platform that partnered with Pluto TV featuring action movies, black cinema, news channels, NBC News, MSNBC, Fox Sports and related fare.

NBC Universal plans to roll out an ad-supported streaming video service in 2020. The media company Jan. 14 re-organized its management structure to accommodate the future streaming service.

Bonnie Hammer, who was named chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, will also oversee NBCU stakes in digital media outlets, including Vox, Snap and BuzzFeed.

The ad-supported service will be available at no cost to NBC Universal’s pay-TV subscribers in the U.S. and major international markets. Comcast Cable and Sky will provide the service to their 52 million subscribers. An ad-free version will also be available for a fee.

Additionally, non-pay TV customers can purchase a subscription to the service. Consistent with the company’s long-standing strategy to distribute its content broadly, NBC Universal will continue to license content to other studios and platforms, while retaining rights to certain titles for its new service.

“Our new service will be different than those presently in the market and it will be built on the company’s strengths, with NBC Universal’s great content and the technology expertise, broad scale and the wide distribution of Comcast Cable and Sky,” said Steve Burke, CEO, NBC Universal.

Michael Pachter, analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, doubts AVOD will threaten Netflix & Co. anytime soon. He considers the formats largely supplemental to SVOD.

“I’m sure that there are people who can’t afford Netflix who will watch, and there are a handful of subscribers who will defect from Netflix, but most subscribers appreciate the unique content available only on Netflix and will remain subscribers so long as there is fresh original content,” he said.

Vizio Adds Features to Smart TV Experience

Vizio announced the rollout of new features to its smart TV experience, SmartCast Home, adding such entertainment apps as CBS All Access and allowing users to personalize their SmartCast Home experience via the app sorting feature.

The latest iteration of SmartCast Home is rolling out via free cloud-based updates to Vizio SmartCast 4K Ultra HD TVs and displays, as well as select HD and Full HD models.

“Vizio continues to fulfill consumer demands by way of free, rolling cloud-based updates that enable new, intuitive smart TV features via Vizio SmartCast,” said Vizio chief technology officer Bill Baxter in a statement. “With versatility, simplicity and value in mind, Vizio SmartCast is an ever-evolving entertainment solution. Everyday users, cord-cutters and smart home enthusiasts alike are able to continuously receive new features, the latest apps and other beneficial enhancements that help ensure they are getting the most out of their viewing experience.”

With the update, Vizio SmartCast Home users can sort and position their favorite and most frequented apps on the home screen. To change the order of apps within the app row at the bottom of the SmartCast Home screen, users scroll to the end of the app row and select the “Sort App Row” icon. From there, they will be prompted with on-screen cues that guide them through the process of highlighting and selecting various apps to customize their position.

New to Vizio SmartCast Home is the CBS All Access app, offering such programs as “NCIS,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Madam Secretary”; exclusive original series such as “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Good Fight”; and streaming of local live broadcasts. YouTube TV — which allows SmartCast users to watch and record live TV from more than 60 networks — Baeble and Toon Goggles, among other apps, have also been added to the SmartCast lineup.

With the latest updates, the Vizio WatchFree free streaming service is now also included in the App Row.

SmartCast also now offers dedicated TV and Movie Detail pages highlighting the selected title’s trailer and synopsis, along with cast and director credits, running time, parental ratings, critic insights and more. The TV and Movie Detail pages will also soon allow users to browse seasons and episodes across multiple apps such as FandangoNow and Hulu, and then view on their app of choice.

Vudu Adds Sony TVs to 4K UHD Compatible Devices List

Walmart-owned online movie service Vudu.com has upgraded its Android TV app to include Sony televisions, enabling users to watch Vudu UHD titles in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR and HDR-10 functionality.

4K claims four time the pixels of 1080p with added life-like color of high dynamic range technology.

Vudu currently offers 4K UHD on most TV brands (Samsung, LG, Vizio, inadddtion to streaming media devices Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, TiVo, Xbox One S and Nvidia Shield video game consoles.

“4K and HDR represent the best possible cinematic experience in the home – and we want to be able to deliver that experience to as many people as possible, accorss as many devices as possible,” Kristine Lopes, senior manager, product marketing at Vudu, said in a statement.

Vizio Rolls Out Free Streaming Service With Pluto TV

Vizio has announced the rollout of a new streaming service, WatchFree.

Available now on nearly all Vizio SmartCast TVs, WatchFree, in partnership with streaming TV service Pluto TV, offers free, direct streaming access to more than 100 live and linear channels, according to a Vizio press release.

“With the TV landscape continuously evolving, we’re excited to offer consumers a comprehensive entertainment solution packed with free and unlimited content offerings.” said Bill Baxter, Vizio’s chief technology officer, in a statement. “Powered by Pluto TV, WatchFree is a next-generation streaming service with an easy-to-navigate, cable-like interface that delivers creative and thoughtful content selections.”

WatchFree is accessible via a dedicated input. SmartCast TV users press the “Input” button and select “WatchFree.”

“Powering Vizio’s WatchFree service is a pivotal next step in our goal to deliver free, premium entertainment to as many consumers as possible,” said Tom Ryan, Pluto TV co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “From hit TV shows to blockbuster movies, news, sports, lifestyle and more, WatchFree is a gamechanger for cord-cutting enthusiasts.”

Pluto TV channels available through WatchFree include Pluto TV Movies, Action Movies, Black Cinema, News 24/7, NBC News/MSNBC, Fox Sports, Frontdoor, Cats 24/7, Crime Network, MST3K and The Surf Channel. Pluto TV will soon launch two new pop-up channels also available on WatchFree, featuring Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Vizio Unveils 4K HDR Smart TV Collections

Vizio April 10 unveiled its new 2018 P-Series 4K HDR Smart TV collection and value-priced D-Series and E-Series 4K HDR Smart TV collections.

The latest P-Series collection features a bezel-less industrial design, a blend of 4K HDR picture quality enhancements and smart TV and smart home capabilities. The series also includes Dolby Vision HDR and up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness and more than 1 billion colors thanks to Ultra Color Spectrum, according to Vizio. Also, the 2018 SmartCast OS offers streaming options and smart home controls with the integration of voice-control support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Offered in 55-, 65- and 75-inchs sizes, the 2018 P-Series 4K HDR Smart TVs are now available on Vizio.com and are coming soon to retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Costco and Sam’s Club, according to Vizio. The TVs retail at $899.99 for the 55-inch set, $1,299.99 for the 65-inch and $2,499.99 for the 75-inch.

Active Full Array Pro backlight combines a full array backlight with up to 120 local dimming zones, according to Vizio. UltraBright 1000 features up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness, and Clear Action 720 features a 240Hz effective refresh rate achieved with backlight scanning.

“Picture quality technologies like Ultra Color Spectrum, Dolby Vision HDR and UltraBright 1000 enable the P-Series to take 4K HDR performance to the next level,” said Vizio chief technology officer Bill Baxter in a statement. “Incredibly, realistic on-screen imagery is complemented by cutting-edge smart TV features to round out the collection’s entertainment experience. Vizio SmartCast OS not only expands discovery and streaming options so consumers can watch content they love from their favorite apps, but also serves as an ideal centerpiece to any smart home with easy-to-use voice-control support through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.”

Through the 2018 SmartCast OS, apps such as Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu, iHeartRadio, Crackle and Xumo can be instantly accessed on the TV screen using the included remote, according to Vizio. Users can also download the free SmartCast Mobile app to turn their smartphone into a touchscreen remote. The SmartCast OS also features Google Chromecast built-in and offers voice-control support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. By utilizing speaking commands, users can turn their TVs on and off, change channels or adjust volume — and for Google Assistant users, stream content to the TV, according to Vizio.

Offered in sizes 43 inches and above, both the D-Series and E-Series collections also feature the 2018 SmartCast OS experience with Google Chromecast built-in. They support HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats and full array LED backlighting. The E-Series collection also supports Dolby Vision HDR content. Prices for the D-Series range from $349.99 (43-inch) to $999.99 (70-inch). Prices for the E-Series range from $349.99 (43-inch) to $1,549.99 (75-inch).

The 2018 D- and E-Series 4K HDR Smart TVs are now available on VIZIO.com and coming soon to retailers such as Best Buy, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart.

“VIZIO believes all consumers — including those on a budget — should be able to enjoy the growing library of 4K and HDR movies and shows available to them,” said Baxter in a statement. “Packed with picture quality benefits that are oftentimes reserved for pricey, high-end TVs, our all-new 2018 D-Series and E-Series 4K HDR models were engineered to bring the benefits of 4K HDR to the masses. The entertainment experience is rounded out by our easy-to-use, on-screen smart TV experience that grants access to thousands of popular streaming apps.”

Cinedigm Adds Dove Channel to Vizio Smart TVs

In a significant move, Cinedigm Feb. 14 announced it has licensed the Dove Channel, its digital-first family network, to select Vizio SmartCast and Vizio Internet Apps Plus devices.

Vizio television and related CE device users will now be able to access the Dove Channel app, which includes hundreds of hours of ad-supported programming.

In addition to subscription content, the Dove Channel encompasses three free, ad-supported, 24/7 linear networks offering a wide-array of entertainment.

The networks include DoveNow, which features movies and shows, DoveKids, which grants access to children’s animation and series programming, and Newsy, a 24/7 news and information network.

Vizio SmartCast users can also access Dove programming via the Vizio SmartCast Mobile app, which is free for iOS and Android users.

Vizio  Internet Apps Plus users can access the Dove Channel by selecting the app from the gallery on their Vizio TV.

“We are particularly excited to see the app available on Vizio [devices],” Erick Opeka, EVP of Cinedigm Networks, said in a statement. “This additional availability of the Dove Channel means more consumers will have access to our premium subscription offerings.”