Google TV is a powerful platform for media hubs, but it still suffers from an interface that offers plenty of functionality at the cost of ease of use. Vizio’s Co-Star VAP430 is a little different; it’s a Google TV device that Vizio has tried to improve upon by adding its own interface. It works, but it’s every bit as clunky as Google TV’s default interface, which brings it back to square one. The Co-Star is an affordable $99.99 (direct) media hub that lets you access lots of online content and even some gaming features. But if you want a smooth, polished media experience, you’re still better off with devices like the Apple TVand the Roku LT, which don’t have as many features, but make up for that with sheer accessibility.
The Co-Star is a tapered, 1.6-inch-tall square puck measuring 4.2 inches on its sides. It’s silver with a black top that features a metallic Vizio logo on it. The back of the device holds an HDMI input for connecting your cable or satellite box, an HDMI output for connecting your HDTV, a USB port, and an Ethernet port if you don’t want to use the integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.
The included remote control is a full inch thick and double-sided, with a conventional remote and touchpad on one side, and a QWERTY keyboard on the other. The remote side’s 2-inch touchpad feels tiny compared to the Sony NSZ-GS7′s sleek 2.7-inch touchpad, and it doesn’t physically click when you select items on the screen. However, the navigation pad is easier to find blindly, the playback controls are more pronounced, and there’s a number pad which the Sony’s remote lacks on its control side.
Vizio’s remote also has dedicated Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and M-Go (another online media service that has not yet launched, but is being promoted on Vizio products) buttons. Notably, it lacks a Home button; instead, it has a Vizio button that brings up Vizio’s own menu system instead of the standard Google TV interface. The QWERTY keyboard is arranged in a grid, so it isn’t nearly as intuitive to use as the Sony’s conventional QWERTY keyboard. Direction arrows and X/Y/A/B buttons flank the keyboard on the left and right, to offer some navigation and gaming control.
A Vizio Twist on Google TV
As mentioned earlier, the Co-Star uses Google TV with a Vizio skin on top. This makes it behave slightly differently than conventional Google TV devices like the Sony NSZ-GS7 or the last-gen Logitech Revue. The Vizio button brings up a menu on the left side of the screen that features the most commonly used apps arranged in a grid, with Vizio services and OnLive highlighted in the top row. Fortunately, you can still access the Google Play store to download a wide variety of Google TV apps, in addition to the Vizio selections. Google Play has thousands of apps, many of which are Google TV-compatible. You won’t be able to run every Android app available on the Co-Star, but you’ll be able to access nearly any online service or app you might want on it.
Like all Google TV devices, the Co-Star includes a Chrome Web browser that works generally like a desktop Web browser. It loads and renders most Web pages perfectly, and the remote’s touchpad and QWERTY keyboard make it easy to navigate and enter text. It has issues with Flash, so multimedia-heavy sites like blip.tv and Kongregate won’t load properly and won’t let you watch their videos or play their games. For general Web browsing, however, Google TV is a much better experience than HDTVs and Blu-ray players thanks to its remote, and goes far beyond media hubs like the Apple TV and Roku LT, which don’t have Web browsers.
The Co-Star can double as a gaming device thanks to OnLive and its support for the OnLive Wireless Controller. With the optional wireless controller, you can play console and PC video games through OnLive, a service that runs the games on its own servers and streams the input and output to and from your device. We’ve reviewed OnLive in the past, and it shows a lot of potential for fun. However, because of its streaming system, it can’t compare to dedicated gaming systems connected directly to your HDTV on graphics or responsiveness. Still, the physical controls with the wireless controller add a physical gaming element previously only offered by dedicated game consoles (and OnLive’s own MicroConsole), and is something other Google TV devices don’t offer.
Thanks to the infrared blaster on the remote and a very simple programming process, you can set the Co-Star to control your cable or satellite box easily. By entering the provider and manufacturer, you can tie the remote directly to the box, letting you navigate the program guide, set DVR recordings, and access other functions on the box without picking up another remote. The Live TV function passes through all video from the HDMI input, so you can watch TV with the Google TV overlay seamlessly.
Two years after Google launched Google TV, it still lags behind Apple and Roku’s media hubs. The Vizio Co-Star VAP430 is an affordable and functional Google TV box that puts a lot of online services and features at your fingertips for just $100. However, it feels clunkier and less streamlined than the Sony Internet TV Player with Google TV NSZ-GS7, and both are much less polished (albeit with more features) than the Editors’ Choice Apple TV. The OnLive support is a fun feature, but it isn’t nearly as functional or responsive as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and feels like a novelty that requires an additional $50 to work (for the gamepad). That makes the Co-Star cost as much as the Sony NSZ-GS7. Since you’ll be spending most of your time with the remote in your hand and not a game controller, the NSZ-GS7 is simply a better choice as a Google TV device.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc