Vizio is well-known for their reasonably-priced TVs, but they also make a lot of other products, including sound bars and blu-ray disc players, and has even ventured into the cut-throat PC and tablet business. However, one new product debut that may also deserve your attention is Vizio's Co-Star Streaming Player featuring the Google TV operating system. To find out if this product is the right addition to your home theater setup, keep reading this review. Also, after reading the review, check out more details about the Vizio Co-Star in my Photo Profile
The features of the Vizio Co-Star include:
1. Streaming Media Player featuring Google TV content search, organization, and access platform. Playback of content from USB devices, home network, and the internet. Through Google TV, there is access to a host of internet audio/video content providers, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Pandora, Slacker Personal Radio, IMDB (Internet Movie Database), and many more....
4. The Co-Star is also compatible with 3D content, should such content be available and you are viewing on a 3D compatible TV.
5. Rear mounted USB port provided for access to content on USB flash drives, many digital still cameras, and other compatible devices.
7. Onscreen user interface allows setup, operation, and navigation of the Vizio Co-Star media player functions.
9. Wireless remote control included (includes touchpad and QWERTY keyboard functions).
10. Suggested Price: $99.99
The additional home theater hardware used in this review included:
Home Theater Receiver: Onkyo TX-SR705.
Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System (5.1 channels): EMP Tek E5Ci center channel speaker, four E5Bi compact bookshelf speakers for left and right main and surrounds, and an ES10i 100 watt powered subwoofer.
Vizio Co-Star Setup
The Vizio Co-Star is extremely small, at just 4.2-inches square, the it can easily fit in an average size palm, making easy to place in just any small space that might still available on a crowded equipment rack or shelf.
Once you place the Co-Star where you want it, just plug in the HDMI output of your cable or satellite box into the HDMI input on the Co-Star (if you use one, if not skip this step). Next, connect the Co-Star's HDMI output to your TV or video projector, then either connect an Ethernet cable (or use the WiFi option), and finally connect the provided AC Adapter to the Co-Star and a power outlet, and you are now set to get started.
It is important to note that to use the Vizio Co-Star, you must have a TV with an HDMI input, there are no other TV connection options provided.
The only other connection available on the Co-start is a USB port, which can be used to connect USB flash drive (for access to flash drive stored media content), a USB Keyboard or Mouse, a wireless USB adapter for the option OnLive Game Controller, or other Vizio-designated compatible USB device.
I found that using either the wired or WiFi internet connection was fine. However, if you experience intermittent connection loss using WiFi, then switch to the Ethernet as that would be more stable.
Menu Navigation and Remote Control
Once you have the Vizio Co-Star up and connected to the internet, you are set to go. The main Apps menu is displayed the left side of the screen. Also, when you click on Settings, the settings options will also appear on the left side of the screen.
There are no access controls on the unit itself, but Vizio provides an innovative remote control that includes traditional buttons and a touchpad on one side, and also a QWERTY keyboard and game control buttons on the other. However, since there no controls on the Co-Star unit, it is important you do not misplace or lose the remote, as it the only way to navigate the menu system and player functions. The only other option would be to connect a USB keyboard into the Co-Star's USB port, but that would only give you partial control.
On the other hand, using either an external or the built-in keyboard on the provided remote control definitely comes in handy - as it makes a lot easier to input username and passwords, access number info, and search terms directly into the Google Chrome browser.
Although I certainly appreciated the convenience of having both the touchpad and keyboard features on the provided remote control, I found that there were a few issues.
First, although the touchpad's cursor moved around the screen easy enough, the tapping function is not very responsive, sometimes I had to tap the touchpad more than once to click on an icon or text box.
A second issue I had was that the built-in keyboard is rather small (out of necessity, of course) and since they keys are not backlit, this made it a little tricky to use the small buttons in a darkened room - in fact, it would have been nice to have the entire remote backlit, so that even though the buttons and keys are small, they would be more visible.
The remote control utilizes Bluetooth technology to communicate with the Co-Star box, which also makes the box compatible with bluetooth-enabled keyboards, mice, and headphones. In addition, the Co-Star remote also has a built-in IR blaster for controlling TVs and other compatible IR remote-controlled devices.
The main feature of the Vizio Co-Star is the incorporation of the Google TV platform, which has as it heart, Google's Chrome Browser. This provides a more efficient way of searching for, accessing, and organizing audio video content supplied by your cable/satellite box or streamed from the internet.
However, it is important to point out that although you can use Google TV's search tools to find a lot of desired content, there is a lot you can't access directly, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and their associated cable networks (although a limited number of TV series is available indirectly through Netflix on a more delayed basis).
On the other hand, when using the Google Chrome browser, the search results are listed the same way they are listed on your PC, which is fine if you are doing a general search, but it doesn't place the searches into categories, so you still have to scroll through several different types of content to find you may be looking for, just as would if your were searching for something on your PC.
However, since the Google Chrome browser for Google TV works the same as it does on a PC, you can also perform the same type of searches, thus allowing for all types of web searches, read and answer email, and also posting on Facebook, Twitter, or a Blog. Check out an example of what Google Chrome browser search results look like.
In addition to search using Chrome, Google TV also incorporates aspects of the Android operating system and Android Market app store (referred to as Google Play). This enables users to add additional (either free or purchase) Apps that provide more content access options that you can access directly, in this case, optimized for use on the Vizio Co-Star.
In terms of content services directly available or that can be added, there is Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Slacker Personal Radio, Rhapsody, and many others, but access to Hulu or HuluPlus is not offered.
It must be noted that although some services are freely accessible, or can be setup using the Co-Star's remote, setting up some new accounts may also require access to a PC (and access to content may also require an additional pay-per-view or monthly fee).
Once you have established access, you can navigate through each of your chosen providers, or simply use the Google Chrome or Quick Search tools, to type in the name, or other relevant keywords about the program or movie you are looking for, and the search results will provide you with content listing that you can more easily see that shows what services offer the content.
OnLive Game Play
An addition to watching TV programs and movies, and listening to interent-based music selections, the Co-Star can also provide access to online game play via the Online Service, which is accessible via by a pre-installed OnLive App. The provided remote control can be used as basic game controller (there are gaming buttons on the keyboard side), but for full game play operation, it is best to purchase the optional OnLive Game Controller.
Unfortunately, even though the optional game controller was provided to me for this review, when I tried to access the service (using both wireless and wifi connection options), I was informed by an onscreen message that my broadband speed was not fast enough. It turns out that my internet speed of 1.5mbps is just short of the minimum 2Mbps speed required to access the service. Check out further details on the internet speed requirements for using OnLive.
Media Player Functions
In addition to Google TV and Internet Streaming, the Vizio Co-Star also incorporates standard media player functions, such as the ability to play audio, video, and image files stored on flash drives, iPods, or other compatible USB devices, as well the ability to access audio, video, and still image files stored on home network-connected devices.
However, it would be more convenient to have the USB port located on the front of the Co-Star, rather than on the back, above the HDMI output.
Overall I was pleased with Vizio Co-Star's video performance. To get the best quality video playback result from internet streamed content, it is definitely desirable to have a high-speed internet connection. If you have a slow broadband connection, such video playback may stop periodically so that it can buffer. On the other hand, Netflix is one service that is pretty good at determining your broadband speed and adjusting accordingly, but image quality is less with slower broadband speeds.
However, must be also be noted that regardless of the Co-Star's upscaling capability, both broadband speed and the quality of the source content are still important factors in the quality of the image you see on the screen. The quality you see can vary from less than VHS quality up to DVD quality or better. Even streaming content advertised as 1080p, will not look as detailed as 1080p content viewed directly from a Blu-ray Disc version of the same content.
The Vizio Co-Star is compatible with Dolby Digital bitstream audio that can be decoded by a compatible home theater receivers. The Onkyo TX-SR705 home theater receiver I used for this review registering the incoming audio formats and correctly including Dolby Digital EX. However, it must be noted that Co-star does not pass DTS bitstream audio.
For music, the Co-Star was able to play audio encoded in MP3, AAC, and WMA. Besides accessing audio from internet services, such as Pandora, and USB flash drives, I was also able to listen to music from a 2nd Generation iPod NANO.
What I Liked About the Vizio Co-Star
1. Very compact size.
2. Fast start-up.
3. Content search and organization via Google TV interface.
4. Very good video and audio quality.
5. Colorful and easy to read and understand onscreen menus.
6. Inclusion of touchpad and QWERTY Keyboard on provided remote control.
7. Easy Access to both Internet and Home Network-based content.
What I Didn't Like About the Vizio Co-Star
1. Limitations of Google TV with regards to access of network broadcast and affiliated cable content.
2. No analog video or audio outputs.
3. Touchpad not responsive enough on tap function.
4. USB port on back instead of more convenient front location.
5. No onboard controls.
6. Remote control not backlit - tricky to use in darkened room.
The ability to stream audio and video content from the internet and a home network is becoming a mainstream feature in many home theater setups. If you don't have an internet-enabled TV or Blu-ray Disc player, an expensive option is to add a network media player or media streamer.
The Vizio Co-Star is a network media player that is extremely compact, making it easy to place on even crowded equipment shelfs. You can access your home network and the internet using either wired ethernet or the more convenient Wifi option. Also, with 1080p resolution video output, the Co-Star is a good match for viewing on an HDTV. If you don't already have a network connected TV or Blu-ray Disc player, the Vizio Co-Star, although not perfect, especially with the current built-in access limitations of Google TV, might still be a good addition to your home theater setup.
For an additional look a the features and connection of the Vizio Co-Star, check out my supplementary Photo Profile.
Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.