Vizio Costar: A Better, But Not Good, Google TV

Dave Zatz —  September 1, 2012 — 23 Comments

vizio-costar-google-tv

As you may have gathered, Vizio, FedEx, and USPS have collectively been unable to deliver a Costar to the address I specified or fee-free as advertised. Fortunately (perhaps), our pals Scott Greczkowski of Satellite Guys and Chris Kapusta of The Game Corps have received shipment of second generation Google TV hardware. And while the form factor and pricing ($100) are both improved over first gen hardware, it seems the overall experience is still lacking.

Scott’s had all sorts of difficulty streaming content from various sources and was ready to return the unit, until Vizio informed him he’d be responsible for return shipping costs and hit with a restocking fee. As Vizio probably intends, that disincentive (corroborated on AVS) has been enough for Scott to hang onto his flawed Co-star — which he’s pretty much relegated to a single function “Slingcatcher” device given Google TV’s limited ecosystem of compelling native apps (versus the kludge of icons masquerading as app that send you to webpages… that fail to stream or offer SD-only video).

vizio-costar-remote-keyboard

There’s been some discussion of Vizio’s bulky remote. While this may be the first RF remote with touchpad and QWERTY keyboard bundled with a hundred dollar streamer, it is indeed thick – about as thick as the competing Roku 2 XS box is tall and about twice as thick as Boxee’s comparable clicker but without the ergonomics of say the TiVo Slide. Also, I’m getting kinda tired of these branded buttons (as also seen from Roku). But, most importantly, Scott tells me the touchpad isn’t super responsive and he has a difficult time moving the cursor. I guess it’s not all bad though, as Chris was able to easily take control of his Vizio TV, DirecTV HR-34 DVR, and Onkyo TX-NR701 receiver.

vizio-costar-portsSpeaking of Chris’s experience, he’s been more satisfied with his purchase than Scott. Especially once a recent firmware update hit which reduced UI lag and resolved some Dolby Digital-related playback issues. And Google TV does provide the single input, pass-thru trick – when it works. However, for a dedicated Netflix streamer (with benefits) we’d point you to the cheaper Roku (starting at $50) or for a more capable device, on par with what you might expect from Google TV, we’d suggest the WDTV Live ($90) or Boxee ($178). Of course, there’s always the Apple TV ($99) — app options are somewhat limited, but it provides a polished experience and obviously integrates well into Apple’s ecosystem.

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23 responses to Vizio Costar: A Better, But Not Good, Google TV

  1. Wondering if the Remote would work on a pc using a bluetooth dongle?

  2. gonzo, Not sure — I did see on AVS people were looking for some sort of pairing button and there may not have been one… but that could have been the Costar itself, versus the remote. But it would be nice if it could serve double duty for something else, although it may not have say the MCE functions keys you might want.

    One more note, on AVS seems like some people were interested in Google TV and the Costar for Plex. Just an fyi I’ve run Plex on my Roku (native app) and Apple TV (hacked). Not sure if it’s better or different on Google TV, but fyi.

  3. As long as someone finds a way to pair it you can always use something like Eventghost to map MCE function keys.

  4. I have every Google TV device that’s out there and the Vizio is the best one yet. The remote may be thick, but it is by far the easist to use, the Sony remotes suck, and the Logitech was my favorite until the Co-Star came out. You should really stop comparing the Google TV to the other devices, they do 2 completely different things. Most people buy the GTV for Google Play apps and the Chrome browser, the Roku or any other device can’t do those 2 things. I have a Roku and it’s a piece of s***, there are more christian channels on there than any thing else. As far as apps go, what is it you are looking for, i can side load anything i want on the Google TV, GMail, GVoice, Amazon App Store and pretty much any Android game i want, can your other devices do that????????

  5. Well, I have a Revue which I keep boxed up… I admit that the Google TV browsing experience is top notch. However, I have little interest in browsing the web on TV. I did that in like 1999 via WebTV and my Sega Dreamcast. Was fun, but I’ve moved on. Streaming video with Flash via sites that don’t have apps would have been killer but, as I’m sure you know, many providers block gTV access. Not Google’s fault, but Google’s customers do pay the price. Google TV’s best feature remains HDMI pass-thru on Input One. But the platform needs more native apps, versus webpages or sideloading, and more reliability before I’ll recommend it. I just hope Google sticks with it — however, I have doubts as they seem somewhat schizophrenic given their Sage TV and Motorola set-top box acquisitions along with development of that crazy Nexus Orb.

    Having said all of that, people should enjoy their purchases and I’m glad you’re pleased with the Co-star and Google TV. Everyone has somewhat different usage scenarios and expectations… and there’s room for more than one box in this space. In fact, more is better as it’ll push the competing vendors to innovate.

  6. I would call the Revue s*** compared to the Roku2. The Revue was the worst media player I’ve ever owned.(The best thing about it was the keyboard) They couldn’t even get the audio output correct. And from what I hear it still isn’t output properly to a 7.1 system.

  7. Will the costar allow you to block ads when using the browser? I don’t see how they can put this device on the market with essentially no parental controls. Young people are overwhelming ditching cable in favor of watching video off the internet. If they use google TV, they will be hammered with inappropriate ads.

  8. Yes, you have parental controls and just like any other version of Chrome, there is the safe search option

  9. I have the Vizio CoStar, and overall I am pleased with it. Impressed with Google Chrome, all aspects of that work great, apps too. What can improve is the reaction time on the bluetooth remote. Sometimes it works good, other times I have a second or two lag on the response time. Hopefully that can be corrected by a software update. They should have also made the enter key larger on the back of the remote.
    I do have a question on the wifi access. I have a 42” 1½ year old Vizio SV422XVT Smart TV that has the Yahoo Connected TV. I also have a Vizio XWR Dual Band Router. I can connect my VizioYahoo Connected TV to the “Vizio HD” Dual Band wifi, which is optimized for HD Video streaming and operates at about (5 GHz). My Vizio CoStar cannot get or access the the “Vizio HD” wifi. “Vizio HD” does not show up as a open network on the CoStar . The CoStar only receives the “Vizio” (At 2.4 GHz) and “Classic” (Lower than 2.4GHz) single band network. I called Vizio support and was told the Vizio CoStar is only single band, it can’t access dual band. I was just wondering if that information is correct, since I use a Vizio dual band router. I have not had any buffering problems and get Netflix good with the CoStar. Also wondering if my Vizio SV422XVT TV will be eventually switched to a full or partial Google TV or will it keep the Yahoo Connected TV.

  10. densed, the single band thing wouldn’t surprise me. Roku pulled a similar move with their newer hardware in dropping the second band (5GHz) – perhaps as a cost cutting measure.

    FYI the Google TV Forum has been documenting the specs and capabilities of the Costar (versus the Revue) here:
    http://www.googletvforum.org/forum/vizio-co-star/5604-vizio-co-star-gtv-set-top-box.html#post32419

    One of the more interesting aspects is that the Costar integrates “IR blaster” capabilities directly into the remote (versus into the box or with cable appendages).

    I, too, have a Vizio connected television with Yahoo apps. It was extremely unstable the first many months I owned it, but it’s settled down after a series of updates. I don’t love the connected features and don’t use them frequently… and I wouldn’t mind at all if they upgraded us to Google TV, but I doubt that’ll happen. These units were specced out for the Yahoo, versus Google, platform and Vizio has already made their money off us.

  11. “densed, the single band thing wouldn’t surprise me. Roku pulled a similar move with their newer hardware in dropping the second band (5GHz) – perhaps as a cost cutting measure.”

    Sheer insanity, IMHO.

    Video streamer boxes for the lean-back demand 5GHz radios. If you understand the infrastructure demands, this all becomes pretty obvious. It may not be a great marketing hook for the nescient, but if a company actually cares about its customers’ experience…

  12. Our new neighbors invited us over for drinks yesterday. Turns out they just bought a 40″ Sony Google TV… and I had to admit I’m not the biggest fan. However, it did emphasize to me that Google TV within a TV is somewhat different than a Google TV add-on box. I’d much prefer Google TV in my television, over Yahoo or some of the manufacturers kludgy attempts at apps.

  13. The Vizio box is an improvement on the Logitech Revue box. I don’t know if my touchpad problem is a problem with my remote or if they are all like that.

    I talked to someone else who has one and they said that their is “stiff” as well. If you glide your finger over it, its does nothing but if you push hard and move your finger over it it moves but not smoothly.

    The biggest issue I have with the GoogleTV is the promise to bring the Internet to your TV. I remember them saying wouldn’t you rather watch internet video on your TV then on a tiny computer screen? Yet to this day most of the real television sites block access to the GoogleTV. If I want to watch last nights Leno show, I can watch it on my laptop but not my Google TV.

    For me the best features is the build in Slingplayer support (Labeled the Slingplayer for Logitech Revue)

    One thing I found strange about the Co-Star is that out of the box the search bar is not set to search the internet. You need to go into settings and turn that on.

    Another thing I don’t understand is even though I purchased the Plex app for my Logitech Revue, I was required to purchase it again for the Co-Star box. It wasnt like buying a new android phone where I could download apps I already purchased.

    I do find the Co-Star remote easy to type on, more so then the mini keyboard that I purchased for $79 (on sale) for my Logitech Revue. The only thing I wish it had was a backlit keyboard.

    So far the best box for streaming most everything from everywhere is still the Boxee Box. Its just sad that things have been quiet lately from the Boxee camp.

  14. My girlfriend got a Vizio Smart TV this past weekend. Does the Vizio CoStar offer teh same apps? Her TV has VUDU, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu+, Pandora, Skype and more. I was surprised how well it worked and all the major apps it offered.

  15. Ok just a simple Question….I want to cut cable all together but I am lost on the best streaming device to get. My question is which would be great for entertaining the kids as well as the wife and my main concern would be Sons of Anarchy. Please help,

  16. michael,
    you might want to go with the co star
    i also cut off cables and have internet only.
    i bought the vizio 3d ‘smart’ tv a week ago.
    all that mattered to me was web browsing, and streaming media from my pc.

    turns out (yet was not clearly stated anywhere you vizio pieces of @#$%):
    1 – you CANNOT surf online with their Yahoo imprisoned TVs…
    2 – you are in Yahoo prison…
    3 – Yahoo lacks any descent app but netflix (unless you are a news fanatic and would like to have a news-app-per-city-in-the-usa or you have extra money to pay per movie in Vudu and such)
    4 – 3D on TV is far from impressive.. at least in this TV
    5 – you cannot stream anything to your TV, nor can you buy an app to do that…

    that said, i can now either return the TV, which i am not about too as it is too much of a headache – or – i could buy a streamer that will transform this into a google tv –
    hence the co star…

    co star seems like the better option for what you and i are looking for.

    you go buy it.. i will go and pay ransom to free my TV…

    good luck!

  17. “Weird… my Apple TV may have the best wireless reception of all my devices. Seeing tons of “new” networks.”

    See, that’s why I’m always obsessing on the radios in lean-back streamer boxes.

    The lean-back streamer box is the once non-PC device that demands good radios. The folks stinting on 5Ghz radios, (and likely good 2.4Ghz radios as well), are just not serving their customers properly. The necessary chipsets just aren’t that expensive in terms of total BOM.

  18. Best box out there still is a hacked ATV2 you can run all most anything on it , guys at Firecore giving great browser and media player then you also have the option of xbmc player which anybody with a little tech know how will say you can watch everything from there (free)

  19. Does anyone know if you can access skype through the co-star?

  20. I got my costar for christmas. At first i had 2.1 that was running on my co-star it was lagging in all areas but a firmware was updated to 3.1 .somthing and its running like a champ ……….the only thing is i wish there was a more variety of apps available but my panasonic wont support it!

  21. I just bought a Vizio E-Series Smart TV. I wanted to be able to surf the web, however after setting up my tv, I have found out you can’t surf using this tv.
    Will the Vizio Co-star do the the trick for this?

  22. Yes Rhonda, you can surf the web with the Co-Star or any other Google TV device.

  23. I totally disagree with this article. I just got the Co-star for Christmas, and it not only took less than 15 minutes to set up through easy navigation, but it also converts everything to 1080p HD quality, including my external drive’s shows and movies. The apps already loaded are more than satisfying, easy to navigate, and user friendly. Additionally, the remote has everything on it that a simple laptop would have; a keyboard with ease of use and a mouse tracking board that also has the functions to drag pictures from app to web and vice versa. You can adjust your settings for each app you use and make the adjustments to your liking. You can also search the net, download any and all apps have been no problem for me. I use Hulu Plus, Netflix, and my external drive regularly, and I haven’t any problems whatsoever. Lastly, the picture can’t be any better than it already is, and I’m not even streaming it through a cable box!

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