HomeTech Takeaways: Vizio Thinks Your Handheld Remote is Dumb

company boldly Proclaims the era of Physical button Remotes is "Going to End" - But should we believe them?

Vizio got some great press this week following the release of the 2016 P-Series Home Theater Display line. The series boasts all the features you'd expect from a new TV, such as 4K, HDR, and a proprietary color gamut technology the company is calling Ultra Color Spectrum. But what really had the tech press buzzing was the company's novel approach to the remote control. 

In addition to a small, traditional IR remote, the new P-Series TV's will ship with a 6-inch tablet included. The tablet, which runs on a standard version of Android Lollipop, comes pre-installed with a Vizio app dubbed SmartCast. 

Developed in conjunction with Google, the SmartCast system is essentially a baked-in version of Google Cast, allowing users to browse content from any video streaming app available for Android, then wirelessly "cast" it to the Vizio display.

What makes Vizio's approach completely novel is the fact that the P-Series TV's contain absolutely no on-screen display. There are no on-screen menus and no built-in apps. All of these functions are instead served via the SmartCast app. It's an approach that Matt McRae, CTO of Vizio, thinks will supplant the idea of a traditional hard-button, handheld remote.

The Takeaway: 

At it's most fundamental level SmartCast amounts to little more than an ability to use Google Cast without needing any additional hardware (i.e. an external dongle). In and of itself this doesn't strike me as that big of a deal. Consumers have had the option to do this for years using mirroring technologies such as Apple's AirPlay, and more recently Google Cast. 

What does resonate with me is the idea that we need to separate ourselves from the horrid smartTV platforms that manufacturers have been shoving down our throats for years. I've yet to meet a single person who has had anything positive to say about the experience of using these built in apps. They're little more than gimmicks crafted to appease the marketing department. Universally these platforms are poorly developed, poorly supported, unreliable, and downright clunky. On this front, I applaud Vizio for thinking outside of the box.

I part ways with Vizio when it comes to the idea that SmartCast is going to make the traditional handheld remote irrelevant. An article on The Verge quotes Matt McRae as saying "The era of having a couple of buttons on a physical remote that sits there and does nothing else is going to end,"  and "We’re the ones who are going to end it."

Don't hold your breath. Physical buttons aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I can think of countless scenarios when a simple, physical button will be far preferable to an app. Take channel surfing for instance (yes some people still do that). What about adjusting the volume? How about quickly pausing a show to go grab another beer? You really want to fumble with an app when your drink is empty? 

Notably absent were details about how SmartCast will (or won't) communicate with other devices in a home theater such as AV receivers and cable boxes. This strikes me as a pretty big omission for a company claiming they're about to replace the remote control. 

With all of that said, the release of SmartCast might mean that fewer consumers will be inclined to use smartTV platforms as a primary streaming solution. If that holds true, then I'm all for it.  

Read a full write-up from The Verge here... 

- Jason Griffing