Hands On: Vizio Tablet (Part 1: Initial Impressions)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that Costco is selling an 8″ Android tablet from Vizio (Model VTAB1008) for the very attractive price of $234.99. Unfortunately, their merchandising is somewhat lacking as this is a Wi-Fi only tablet, and there’s no Wi-Fi to speak of at Costco (and, as it turns out, the demo mode on them won’t allow Wi-Fi anyway!). I remembered today that Costco has a very generous 90-day return policy, which should give me ample opportunity to put one of these units through its paces, and picked one up.

The specs:

  • 802.11n Wifi
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • HDMI Out
  • MicroSD slot
  • 4GB onboard storage (about 2.4 GB is available to the user)
  • 1 GHz Processor
  • Front facing camera (VGA)
  • Universal Remote App
  • 1024×768 screen
  • Lifetime tech support

What’s inside:

  • The tablet
  • Wall charger and cable (standard USB-microUSB)
  • Screen cloth
  • Quick Start Manual (full manual preloaded on the device)

Hardware:

  • Power button on the top, in the middle, flanked with a pair of speakers
  • Volume buttons on the right side
  • MicroUSB and HDMI on the bottom, in the middle, with the SD slot to the left and another speaker to the right – this is so that your audio still sounds right in landscape orientation.
  • There’s a back on it that looks like the battery may be user-accessible.

Initial impressions:

  • This thing seems a little dense for its size, but it’s not bad. The unit weighs in at 20.6 ounces (584 grams). The screen is reasonably bright.
  • When you fire up the tablet (and it came with a more than reasonable 80% battery charge), you go through a simple 5-step setup process that instructs you on general UI usage, connecting to Wi-Fi, and linking up to your Google account. Almost immediately after the setup, the device informed me of an available firmware update that added Netflix and some Android updates.¬†Unfortunately, the device comes with Gingerbread¬†and not Honeycomb.
  • There are 3 soft buttons on the bottom of the screen, the “return” button, a vizio logo, and the “menu” button. The Vizio logo is meant to be the home button, but that’s not particularly obvious (I purposely skipped the UI intro to see how intuitive things would be to someone who uses an Android phone and who has used an iPad)

Preloaded Apps:

  • The usual set of Googly stuff
  • A universal remote control app
  • Barnes & Noble’s Nook app
  • Adobe Flash Player 11
  • Netflix (with the OTA update)
  • Widget Board
The Android market comes up with a UI that looks suspiciously like Microsoft Windows Phone. I installed my usual set of apps, and they work quite nicely.

Weird quirks:

There’s a set of buttons across the bottom on the UI labeled “Browser”, “Market”, “Email”, “Gallery”, and “Music”. Oddly enough, even if you’ve set up your google account, the “Email” button runs you through another setup, asking if the account is IMAP, POP3, or Exchange. Has nothing to do with the gMail app.
Connecting to USB presents you with a file structure that isn’t really clearly documented. Tried copying a video over, but had to use a file browser app to actually locate it.

Really cool stuff:

I dropped an XVID-encoded AVI file onto the storage, and once I was able to locate it (see above), It played. No fuss, no muss, no conversions. This is a pretty standard format for the sorts of video you’d find on the internet (so I’ve heard), so this is really convenient if you have lots of content in that format.

The on-screen keyboard is nice to use, especially coming from a phone-sized android keyboard.

Kindle on this screen is NICE. This could make a pretty good alternative to the Fire.

The size on this unit is about perfect… A little bigger than the 7-inch “mini tablets”, but not as obnoxiously big as a 10″ tablet like a Xoom or iPad.

Screen at full brightness is actually too bright to use indoors.

The soft buttons are also present on the side of the unit. The correct set lights up based on orientation

Audio is excellent.

In combination with CoPilot Live, this could make a kick-butt car GPS.

Meh stuff:

The camera sucks. This is unsurprising. It’ll work fine for video chat, which is its primary purpose.

UI Animations are a little sluggish. They can be turned off, though.

Viewing angles from top and right (portrait) / top and left (landscape) leave something to be desired.

tl;dr version

Decent tablet for the money, probably usable by your grandmother. Onboard storage is adequate for someone not using it as a media device. Expandable storage solves that problem. Good support for multiple media formats. Makes a good e-reader.

Making Sense of Mobile Streaming

Now that we’ve gotten streaming to computers down pat, I’ve set my sights on delivering a good experience for mobile users. Unfortunately, with the wide variety of mobile platforms out there, this is not an especially easy task. The Mac/PC/Linux issues are complicated enough, and it gets really tricky when the platform ecosystem has half a dozen major players (and a truckload of minor ones)

Since July or so, we’ve been using a preview version of the recently released Wowza V2 server software to deliver our video content to iPhone/iPod devices that support Apple’s new HTTP Streaming format. With minimal changes, Wowza V2 can also rebroadcast the same H.264/AAC stream over RTSP, which reaches a lot more devices. But this is where it gets complicated. BlackBerry has been supporting RTSP for some time, but it’s only recently that they’ve supported h.264/AAC media. According to their KB article on the subject, you can do H.264 on the following:

  • Bold 9000/9700
  • Tour 9630
  • Storm 9500/9520/9530/9550
  • Curve 8900/8520

Most HTC phones have a streaming media app that supports RTSP, but only recent versions seem support H.264. For example, my Mogul has the app, but I can only hear the audio. Brian‘s Touch Pro 2 gets both (and on the TP2’s WVGA screen, it looks amazing!).

Windows Media Player supports RTSP, but doesn’t come with an H.264 codec (even in Windows 7!!!! BOOO!!!!). I have yet to get the RTSP stream to work on Windows Media Player. The mobile player doesn’t support RTSP at all, just MMS and HTTP (but not the same HTTP as Apple! Grr!), and with the 9.5 generation of Windows Media Services (2008), MMS has gone away in favor of HTTP (which Microsoft calls Smooth Streaming, also not supported on WiMo).

The Palm Pre is supposedly able to do RTSP and H.264, but I’m waiting to hear back from one of our pre-wielding pastors to see if this is actually the case.

Thanks to Daryl Hunter at lifechurch.tv for letting me know that it works on his HTC Hero (Android 1.5). It seems that on Android you can’t manually enter an RTSP URL into the browser bar, but a web link or tinyurl redirect that goes to an RTSP URL does work.

Meanwhile, VLC player will play just about anything you throw at it, including the RTMP flash stream. Pity it’s not available in a mobile version.

So, as it stands now, in order to deliver a mobile experience to as many people as possible, I’m still going to need to run a separate Windows Media server for our Windows Mobile clients, But everyone else should be able to pull from the “iPhone” stream (which I’m probably going to need to rename), as long as the device supports H.264/AAC and RTSP.