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Vizio To Expand LED Assortment, Blu-ray Models

Vizio used a recent press briefing here to reveal plans to expand its offerings in LCD TVs using LED technology.

First, John Schindler, Vizio’s new product development VP, said the company’s previously announced 55-inch 1080p/240Hz full-area LED backlit TV, model VF551XVT ($2,200 suggested retail), will ship to retail this September.

Unlike many competitors’ LED offerings, Schindler said the model uses 960 LEDs across 80 cells (12 LEDs per cell) to illuminate the full back area of the LCD screen. The technology is said to reduce power consumption over traditional CCFL backlighting systems, while combining with the company’s Smart Dimming technology to yield greater color saturation and improved contrast and black levels from other non-LED-lit products.

In addition, Schindler said, because the technology illuminates the full back of the panel, instead of using edge-mounted LEDs that must fill the back plane with light projected from the sides of the panel, the Vizio model will have more consistently even lighting across the full panel width.

In December the company will upgrade the VF551XVT to the VF552XVT, which for the same price will include the Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) system to enable the set to link to online content and programming services over the Web.

The system is powered by the Yahoo! Widget Engine, which provides an open platform and an optimized implementation of flash technology that enables developers and content providers to deliver HD video and other Internet content to IPTVs and set-top devices.

The company also said it is adding the eBay, Facebook, RadioTime, Revision3, Rallypoint Sports, Showtime, Twitter and Vudu services to its list of content partners available through the VIA-enabled TVs.

Previously announced partners for the system include Accedo Broadband, Amazon Video On Demand, Blockbuster On Demand, Flickr, Netflix, Pandora and the Rhapsody Internet music service.

The VIA system, which also includes an internal 802.11n wireless receiver for easy connection to an in-home Wi-Fi network, is included in three models due out this fall. The two other models include the 42-inch 1080p/240Hz SV422XVT ($1,199) with CCFL lighting, and the 47-inch 1080p/240Hz LED-backlit SV4722SVT ($1,699), which is due in October.

Meanwhile, Schindler said the company plans to expand the LED portfolio to a pair of smaller-screen models late in the holiday selling season.

These models, which will be available in the 19- and 23-inch screen sizes, will use edge-mounted LEDs and are expected to see suggested retails of around $249 and $319, respectively.

Vizio is using a high-gloss black design with an all-glass screen for the models. Vizio will play up the products’ environmentally friendly attributes, made possible by the LEDs that require less power to operate than equivalent CCFL versions.

Schindler said Vizio is still exploring the distribution partners it will target for the smaller LED models, adding that derivative designs with different cosmetics may also be used for different retail partners.

As for the company’s previously announced Blu-ray Disc player, Schindler said it now plans to launch its VBR100 BD-Live ready Blu-ray Disc as a Walmart exclusive in late July, carrying a $188 selling price. The player will support BD-Live interactive extras when an optional 1GB (or larger) USB thumb drive is connected to the player’s USB 2.0 port.

Vizio will follow up in the November/December time frame by offering the VBR110 Blu-ray player with similar features and price point for the rest of its retail customers, Schindler said.

Schindler said Vizio is also considering offering specially priced bundles of TVs and Blu-ray Disc players to maintain the strong demand for its brand, which recently reached the No. 1 LCD TV market share position in the United States, according to several first-quarter market research studies.

Meanwhile, armed with its new No. 1 status, Vizio became the subject of critical attacks from several industry parties concerned that the company apparently lacks any form of take back recycling program, and has allegedly failed to pay royalties on certain technologies used in its sets.

The company was recently issued an “F” on a TV recycling report card from the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a special interest group dedicated to the responsible recycling of hazardous electronics materials.

“While some companies got their act together since the last report card, a few companies still failed to make the grade,” the group said in a statement. “Vizio’s sales have been growing steadily, even in this challenging economy, but they still have no take-back program at all for their old products.

A company spokesman told TWICE: “We pay many royalty fees, just not ones that we feel are invalid, like those from Funai that have been final rejected by the USTPO. As far as recycling, we support and comply [with] all states that have a recycling program.”