A major player in high-definition television is finally coming to Canada, and just in time for the next wave of screen technology.
Vizio Inc., the No. 2 seller of HDTVs in the U.S., will announce Wednesday that starting Sept. 12 it is expanding out of its home market for the first time. The timing is key: Analysts expect this holiday shopping season will feature the first large-scale adoption of the super-high resolution picture technology known as 4K or Ultra-HDTV, a format that essentially doubles the current high-definition pixel resolution and has the potential to transform the television marketplace the way the arrival of HDTV screens did in the past decade.
Canadians may not know the Vizio brand name, but in its first full international expansion, the Irvine, Calif.-based company plans to rely on the same strategy that let it grow from a virtual unknown in 2002.
According to Vizio chief technology officer Matt McRae, the company has steadily stolen market share from its rivals with three tenets: A relentless focus on price, a punishing innovation cycle and a willingness to make sudden shifts that have left giant competitors zigging while Vizio zagged.
"You can innovate just on price by ripping stuff out of a product, or lowering the quality … we're not interested in doing that," Mr. McRae said. "The most satisfying innovation is to bring the quality up, or to bring a new technology to market, and actually still innovate on price at the same time."
The Canadian Vizio launch in September will be nationwide in 207 Best Buy Canada and Future Shop stores, but will focus on the most up-to-date version of the company's smart-enabled HDTVs. Mr. McRae says the 4K displays are expected to come later this year, closer to the holiday shopping period that falls in the busiest quarter for television sales in North America.
Samsung is the No. 1 TV seller in the world, and also No. 1 in Canada, according to Veronica Gonzalez-Thayer, consumer electronics analyst for IHS Technology. Vizio has claimed the No. 2 spot in the U.S. and has come close to beating Samsung in some recent quarters. On an annual basis, it has about 20-per-cent share to Samsung's 25 per cent.
Ms. Thayer expects 2014 will see 1.7 million units shipped in North America, a decent second year in a market that typically sees between 12 million and 13 million TVs of all kinds sold annually. "This is the first year that we're finally going to see a good amount of volume."
Vizio now makes some of the best-regarded sets around, and in 2014 won numerous awards at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. But in this business, no technological lead is safe.
According to Ms. Thayer, the trend in North America has been toward bigger screens, at lower cost: "For what you paid to get a 47-inch in 2009, you can get a 55- and 60-inch now." Advances in liquid-crystal displays have bumped the screen sizes up beyond what a typical high-end plasma screen can achieve, and at lower cost. The big knock against LCD has always been picture quality – it could never match plasma for depth of blacks on-screen. But a technology Vizio has worked hard to build – light-emitting diode backlighting – lets LCD screens reach near parity with plasma's colours, with none of the brightness drawbacks.
All of the TVs Vizio will be selling in Canada are so-called smart-enabled, to stream video and other content from the Internet with built-in apps, no need for a separate set-top box. "In the U.S., more than 50 per cent of the time a Vizio-connected TV was turned on it was streaming content or using applications," Mr. McRae said.
"We are either at or very close to a point where Internet-delivered content to televisions may begin to overtake a more traditional distribution means into someone's living room," Mr. McRae said.