The Death of the TV Antenna and Tuner?

April 20th, 2016

While reading over recent press releases from VIZIO about new versions of their Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Displays, I caught something, a significant fact that might be overlooked. For most of you it won’t matter, but it demonstrates just how the TV market has changed.

What I’m referring to is this, from the release on one of the new models: “As with all VIZIO SmartCast™ 4K Ultra HD displays, the M-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Display is tuner-free. For those that use an external antenna to watch local broadcasts, a separate external TV tuner is required.”

That’s why it’s referred to as a “Display” rather than an HDTV.

What this means is that, if you receive TV shows via casting from an Apple TV or a similar device, a cable connection, a satellite hookup, a gaming console, or a DVD player, the set will work normally. But if you want traditional broadcast TV, using an external antenna, you’re stuck unless you buy that tuner.

I wondered about the reason for the decision, and got the answer from a VIZIO spokesperson: “Research shows that less than 10% of TV viewers receive over the air broadcast programs. As we continually evaluate and focus on designing products that deliver a beautifully simple experience, we felt that removing the tuner would simplify the overall setup and user experience for the vast majority of customers.”

More to the point, VIZIO is also able to reduce the price of the TV slightly, or keep the same price and add more content, such as enhanced hardware for a superior quality picture. If you look at recent reviews of VIZIO sets, you find they almost always deliver picture quality that’s far better than you might expect for the price. So saving production costs is not so bad an idea. Some time back VIZIO also removed 3D from their sets, with good reason. It’s a feature few used, and even though it worked well enough, I cannot imagine missing it. Although other TV makers still offer 3D, it’s a feature that appears to work best in a movie theater. Perhaps a proper technique to show a 3D picture without the need for glasses will change things, but it doesn’t seem the public is clamoring for such a feature.

But what about that missing digital TV tuner? How much would you need to pay to get one? Well, digital TV converters, the devices you use to allow you to receive the new-fangled TV broadcasts on old analog sets, can be had for $30-50 at Amazon. I found similarly low-cost tuners at eBay. Best Buy had one for around $60 or so. Regardless, this shouldn’t present a problem for that small segment of buyers who need them.

I do hope that VIZIO is being proactive to remind customers that the set doesn’t have a tuner. This is the sort of thing that might be overlooked when you check out one of these sets at a consumer electronics store. At the very least, there ought to be a big sign near the price stating that it requires a TV tuner to receive broadcast stations, or at least an information sheet in the shipping carton. That will avoid some complaints later on when customers attempt to hook it up to their antennas and discover, to their surprise, that it won’t work.

All right, perhaps I’m being alarmist. But VIZIO has sold over 15 million smart TVs through the years. In its IPO announcement last year, the company boasted of having a 35% share of the market for such gear. So this means that potentially hundreds of thousands of customers who need TV with tuners may suddenly discover they need to buy something extra unless they are well informed.

Now I like VIZIO. I’ve owned two of their sets over the years, and have had great experiences. They also offer respectable U.S.-based customer service, and that’s not a given these days with any manufacturer. It does make sense not to include a feature that 90% of the people who purchase their sets don’t need. But that still leaves a substantial number of customers who may be in for a shock.

Retailers can probably help by offering a tuner prominently displayed near sets that don’t include them. They might even be useful for customers who, confronted with an unexpected cable/satellite outage, can pull out an antenna, if they have one, and still get some live TV shows. Indeed, a mix of broadcast TV and a streaming service or two, such as Netflix or iTunes, is a terrific way to cut the cord and save money. The price of a TV tuner would be covered, and then some, the very first month.

My VIZIO set is an older model, with a digital tuner and 3D. I have considered different cord cutting schemes, but I am somewhat in the fringe area when it comes to broadcast stations from Phoenix. I did a test once with a Radio Shack digital antenna, and found that I could receive maybe two-thirds of the stations consistently, but it required constant fiddling with the rabbit ears. I would probably need to set up a rooftop antenna to get more consistent performance, and even if the landlord had no objection, I hardly want to plant roots in this place.

In any case, now that VIZIO has made broadcast TV more of an endangered species than ever, you’ll want to consider your options if you’re in the market for a new set.

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7 Responses to “The Death of the TV Antenna and Tuner?”

  1. dfs says:

    Gene, without quite realizing it you’ve constructed a very compelling case for outfitting the iMac, especially the 27-in. model, with a couple of HDMI ports.

  2. gene says:

    That too. But it’s been a long long time since I felt a 27-inch TV was big enough.


    • dfs says:

      If you lived in a dorm room or an efficiency apartment you would probably feel differently. And even if you don’t, you might be satisfied with a 27-incher as a secondary t. v. in your office or whatever. If you had a multi-monitor setup you should be able to work on a spreadsheet on your Mac and watch Judge Judy on your secondary one.

  3. Kaleberg says:

    There used to be television tuners you could hook up to your Mac via USB, but these are no longer available for receiving US broadcasts. You can still get them for use in Europe, but even EyeTV has dropped US support.

  4. Sanjay K says:

    Pretty dumb move on Vizio’s part honestly. Adding the tuner to their TVs can’t cost them hardly anything, and allows people who don’t want to spend $100 a month on overpriced cable to at least be able to get a few channels. I’m not saying this as if Vizio is being evil, but rather that they’re removing a very handy feature of their televisions for at least some segment of their customer base, for basically no reason (although if you can show me the price of the TV with/without the tuner I’d surely be interested).

    But as always, the market will sort it out. If people want TVs with tuners, they just won’t buy Vizio TVs – just hopefully Vizio is making it clear their TVs don’t have them.

    • You can buy a digital tuner for $30, one-time, if you want over-the-air programming.

      I suspect Vizio’s bean counters looked at this and decided that there weren’t enough customers who need them. More to the point, a new tuner standard, supporting Ultra HD 4K, is coming. You’ll be able to buy one of those.

      If you don’t want a TV display, and need a tuner, and don’t want to spend $30 for one, buy someone else’s TV.


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