Running into a Burning Building?

HDTV maker VIZIO has decided to enter the personal computer market.

You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. In yesterday’s Almanac entry, I told you about personal computer maker Lenovo’s surprising entry into the HDTV market. Today, it’s time for turnabout. If there’s a technology market that is worse than the HDTV business in terms of slim profit margins, cut throat competition, and distribution challenges, it’s the personal computer market. It’s so bad that the industry leader HP announced plans to exit the business last year (though it quickly rescinded that decision).

So who is running into this burning building? None other than VIZIO, the company that provides high-end HDTV designs and technology at prices well below those of the biggest brands. It uses strong vertical integration in its supply chain to wring out costs, and has managed to become one of the leading brands in the business. Perhaps they were emboldened by their success with an Android tablet last year, but they have taken the plunge and will ship two desktop systems and three notebooks this spring.

The most striking feature of all the products is their elegant design. The desktop systems are “all-in-one” with the computer integrated into the display itself. Two of the notebooks are in the “thin and light” category. Based on the photos from VIZIO, the company has challenged Apple in its area of core competance by making the new products look appealing and state of the art. VIZIO has also drawn on its experience with entertainment hardware, and all the computers are designed with high-definition screens ready to play video from a variety of sources. They include HDMI ports so that you can attach them to Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, or other devices.

This is certainly an aggressive move on VIZIO’s part, but given their track record in the seemingly-impossible HDTV market, I’m not about to bet against them. No pricing has been announced, but if they follow their familiar strategy, they will have features similar to their top competitors but priced a notch below. I’m not shopping for a new computer right now, but I’ll still be curious to see these new products when they become available.

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