NEW YORK --- Five years ago, Vizio was one of a number of unknown companies and new brands trying to break into the LCD TV market.
Since then, the company has been the top-selling TV brand in the U.S. for two years.
The company will now try to pull the same trick in LED bulbs, says co-founder Ken Lowe.
The California company will come out with a line of LED bulbs to replace 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs as well as a line of floodlights, Lowe told me at the CEA Line Show taking place in New York. I was moderating a panel with Lowe when he got up and unfurled the upcoming line of bulbs.
Vizio will also come out with a tablet.
The move could be good for consumers by accelerating a growing price war in LED bulbs. Although based in California, Vizio works extensively with contract manufacturers in Taiwan and China. It also has a robust sales channel. Vizio was one of the first manufacturers to emphasize selling TVs at Costco instead of electronics stores like Best Buy. The strategy worked and helped make Costco one of the largest electronics retailers in the nation.
Because of the past history of the two companies, one can imagine that Vizio won't have a tremendous amount of difficulty getting shelf space at the big-box behemoth.
"We don't have highly paid executives or fly around on corporate jets," is how CEO William Wang once described the Vizio corporate ethos to me.
Lowe did not provide pricing, but said the bulbs would be affordable. The tablet, based on Google's Android operating system, could also, technically speaking, be loaded up with apps for controlling home energy. Google earlier this year announced an effort to produce a networked Android bulb with Lighting Science. One therefore could imagine Vizio putting networking into its bulb and dipping a toe into home automation.
LED bulb prices have been dropping steadily. In 2008, a 60-watt replacement bulb cost close to $100. Last year, $40 bulbs began to appear. Now, Lighting Sciences sells bulbs at Home Depot for under $20. Switch Lighting, which has designed a bulb filled with liquid to dissipate heat, will come out with 75-watt-equivalent bulbs for around $25 in the second half of the year. LED bulbs can save consumers around $10 to $12 a year in energy costs, so a $20 bulb could find buyers. Some, such as VantagePoint Venture Partner's Alan Salzman and Bridgelux CEO Bill Watkins, have said that the market will toggle over when LED bulbs hit $20.
The big issue for all of these LED companies, however, will be quality. Consumes won't put up with dim bulbs that make a living room as welcoming as one of the caves in the Tora Bora region. I've reviewed a number of LED bulbs. Some are tremendous while others stink. The short demonstration Lowe provided indicated that the Vizio bulbs worked fine, but it was in an unusual environment -- dark room, overhead spotlights, lots of people wearing name tags -- so it was tough to tell.
Still, the history of the company and what it accomplished in TVs are factors that other bulb makers can't ignore.