Can HDTV Behemoth Vizio Chart a Similar Course with Its New PCs?

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The first TV I ever bought was from Vizio. I was fresh out of college and the relatively young company offered me exactly what I was looking for — an attractive HDTV that I could actually afford.

To go from a brand-new company in 2002 to an industry behemoth in 2012 is pretty amazing, especially considering the HDTV market was relatively saturated when Vizio entered it. The company’s secret? When you walk through Costco or Walmart, the TVs from Vizio look just as attractive as those from Sony or Samsung, except they’re priced just a little bit lower — but not so low that you think they’re cheap.

Yesterday, Vizio’s chief technology officer, Matt McRae, tried to assure a crowd of tech journalists that the company’s new line of Ultrabooks, notebooks and all-in-one desktops could do for the PC market what Vizio has done for the HDTV market.

So, can Vizio become a giant-killer once again? Back during CES, Techland’s Jared Newman wrote an article titled “Yes, Vizio, Your ‘Thin + Light’ Laptops Are Pretty, but Will They Be Cheap?” The answer is: kind of. Its three new product lines — the Ultrabooks, the notebooks and the all-in-one desktops — start at $899.99.

Yes, if the company was releasing an Ultrabook for under $800 it really would have turned some heads, but as it stands, Vizio’s Thin + Light is still a nice value. The sleek, aluminum body follows in the same path as many other Intel Ultrabooks.

At only .66 inches thick, it has a nice, solid feel to it, with a responsive trackpad and a comfortable keyboard with rectangular keys that rest against each other. The 14-inch model starts with an Intel Core i3 processor, 1,600 x 900-resolution display and, according to Vizio, a battery life of 7 hours.

Vizio

Also intriguing is Vizio’s all-in-one desktop. The 24- and 27-inch models (starting at $898 and $1,098, respectively) are made for the Netflix and Hulu age. Vizio leverages its experience in the TV business by including two HDMI inputs, a power supply that doubles as a subwoofer and a remote control. The 1920 x 1080-resolution display swivels up and down on an aluminum hinge, with the computer’s components hidden in the small base.

What I’m not so sure about is the wireless keyboard. Granted, I only had a few minutes to play around with it, but it seems awfully claustrophobic. The fact that the desktops are being shipped with a trackpad instead of a mouse also raises some questions.

Still, it looks like Vizio is aiming for that same sweet spot it hit with its HDTVs. What you have currently in the PC market is Apple on the high end and a lot of Windows-based PC makers fighting for the lower end near the $600 mark.

That leaves a lot of undistinguishable slush in the middle. All of Vizio’s PCs have an extremely contemporary, high-quality feel to them, with no bloatware or outdated optical drives. Vizio also has the advantage of already having huge distribution channels thanks to its TV business, meaning you’ll be able to find these PCs just about everywhere.

In the end, Vizio’s success will depend on whether there are enough consumers in that middle market between bargain hunters and Apple fans. I know I wouldn’t underestimate them.

MORE: Yes, Vizio, Your ‘Thin + Light’ Laptops Are Pretty, but Will They Be Cheap?

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