Sure, Siri can open Netflix for you and search for a George Clooney movie, but only if you spring $179 to $199 for the Apple TV accessory streamer. Now, Apple's personal assistant can turn on the TV, change the channel and find a specific TV show, on certain newer TVs from Vizio, Samsung, Sony and LG. It's part of a radical rethink on Apple's part to bring Apple outside of the ecosystem, and onto mainstream television sets. Samsung pushed out Apple's AirPlay features on new smart TVs that began shipping May 13. AirPlay lets you mirror what's on your device.
Apple may not have an official booth or presence at CES but that doesn't mean it isn't making any news at the annual industry showcase. The iPhone-maker and electronics giant has announced partnerships with Samsung, LG and Vizio to bring its AirPlay 2 streaming technology to the latter's TVs. AirPlay 2 tech was previously largely limited to Apple's own Apple TV streaming boxes and speakers from Sonos, Beats, and Bose, among others. By bringing the tech to TVs viewers who own Apple devices will soon be able to wirelessly stream what is on their iPhone, iPad or Mac screens to their big screens. This includes not only streaming videos from apps like YouTube, Netflix or HBO but also games, photos, and music.
Let's award a medal of bravery to Vizio CTO Bill Baxter, who last week delivered a candid explanation for why modern smart TVs--even the really good ones--have become so cheap. Speaking to The Verge's Nilay Patel, Baxter acknowledged that Vizio can monitor everything users are watching, then anonymize that data and sell it to marketers or use it to show targeted ads. Those methods, along with the occasional movie rental or TV show purchase, help Vizio make money long after selling the television itself. A dumb TV without internet features, Baxter said, would probably cost more than a comparable smart TV due to the hardware's slim profit margins and inability to pull in extra revenue down the road. If you have a few minutes, try to find another example of a TV vendor executive describing "post-purchase monetization" in such a straightforward way to a consumer publication.
Part of Vizio's big news for CES 2019 is the reveal of SmartCast 3.0. This edition of its smart TV platform's big addition is support for Apple AirPlay 2, as well as enhancements for tie-ins with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The new software is coming to all SmartCast TVs eventually, after a beta test in Q1 of this year before rolling out widely in Q2. The Apple integrations will support AirPlay features you've seen on Apple TV and various smart speakers including multiroom audio, screen mirroring and streaming music from users' iTunes library. At this point Vizio hasn't announced an iTunes app like Samsung that will work on its own to pull in TV shows and movies.
Vizio is making some bold moves with its latest smart TVs, but the changes aren't all great for cord cutters. Replacing the traditional remote control with Google Cast and a dedicated Android tablet is a wonderful idea, but Vizio is also boasting that its SmartCast 4K TVs will be "Tuner-Free." That means they won't have ATSC tuners onboard and therefore won't be able to receive over-the-air (OTA) digital broadcasts from major networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS. If you want to access the free (well, ad-supported) content available from those sources, you'll need to buy an outboard tuner--along with the antenna you'd need anyway--and connect the tuner to one of the TV's HDMI inputs. The changes will apply to all of Vizio's 4K Ultra HD TVs with SmartCast, including the new P-Series and upcoming E- and M-Series sets.