HDTV Maker Vizio Wades Into Android Pool With Two New Devices

Add one more consumer electronics name to the long list of those developing Android-based devices: ahead of the CES show starting this week, Vizio, the low-cost HDTV maker, announced today it will be releasing both a tablet and a handset based on Google’s operating system. The Via Phone and Via Tablet will be available this summer, and if the company remains true to form, the devices will put a lot of cost pressure on competitors trying to tap into the mainstream mobile market with enhanced devices. The news comes on the same day that another HDTV and LCD manufacturer, AOC, unveiled its own Android-powered tablet, the Breeze, which will retail for under $200.

Prices for the devices will not be made public until closer to their launch date, but Vizio says that it already has a carrier lined up for the mobile handset, according to the WSJ. It will also sell the devices directly through retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and Costco.

Vizio has a golden mobile content opportunity here. In addition to all the usual apps that Android users can access through the Market app store, Vizio’s products will be integrated into the company’s existing Via Plus ecosystem, which also includes its HDTVs and Blu-ray players. This lets users access content from companies such as Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), as well as their larger home theater libraries, and view that content across different devices.

“By integrating the Via Plus user experience also found on our next generation TVs and Blu-ray devices, VIZIO is delivering the multi-screen, unified ecosystem others have talked about for years and never delivered,” Matthew McRae, Vizio’s CTO, claims in the company’s announcement.

Can a new-entrant consumer electronics player really make credible communications devices? You should not underestimate a company that has, almost out of nowhere, taken the lead in the U.S. HDTV market, and has apparently hired former experts from mobile powerhouse Nokia (NYSE: NOK) to help develop these new products. Having said that, it’s not always the case that leadership in one category translates into success in another.

Based on the specs alone, the handsets look like they will be aiming at the middle-part of the smartphone market: the phone will have a1 GHz processor, four-inch high-resolution capacitive touch screen, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a MicroSD card slot for memory expansion and HDMI output with HD video playback, as well as a front-facing camera and a 5 megapixel rear camera for photos and HD video capture.

The tablets, meanwhile, will be initially lacking in cellular connectivity, but will be very much geared to video consumption rather than computing or other kinds of app consumption. One key detail is the :three-speaker design for stereo audio in both portrait and landscape modes.” Other features include a 1 GHz processor, an eight-inch high-resolution capacitive touch screen, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a MicroSD card slot for additional memory expansion, HDMI output with HD video playback, and a front-facing camera.