Viewers watching Blu-ray see no black bars at home

Vizio is betting consumers are sick of black bars when they watch movies at home.

The TV manufacturer, known for its lower-priced screens, is introducing its CinemaWide line of sets at CES today, eschewing the 16:9 widescreen for a 21:9 aspect ratio, preferred by filmmakers.

As a result, viewers watching Blu-ray movies on the new TV line will see films full screen, without the typical black bars at the top and bottom.

“We’re trying to give consumers what they see in the theater in their home,” John Schindler, VP of products at Vizio told Variety. “We’re trying to bring all of the benefits of when you go to the theater to your home.”

All CinemaWide sets will feature Vizio’s 3D technology (which uses passive polarized glasses, rather than the active shutter technology favored by other TV manufacturers). They’ll also have integrated Wi-Fi, a Bluetooth remote, keyboard and USB multimedia ports.

The line will include three models, a 50-inch and 58-inch version that will debut in the first half of 2012, with a 71-inch model (featuring full array TruLED backlighting) scheduled for the second half of the year.

The company hasn’t yet finalized pricing for the set, but says it will be targeted at an affluent audience and carry a higher price point than its other TVs. Vizio is in the process of selecting retail partners to help market the CinemaWide to customers.

One thing’s certain: Vizio’s new screen won’t assuage theater owners’ fears that improved entertainment systems are encouraging more consumers to stay home rather than head to their local megaplex to watch movies.

While it’s being positioned as a movie lover’s TV, the CinemaWide is also Vizio’s push to reclaim viewer’s attention from the second screen.

Because of its extra width (the set boasts a 2560 x 1080 resolution), people can watch a TV program in typical widescreen ratio and have an app open alongside it, letting them chat with friends, browse social networks or access any of the dozens of Internet-based programs Vizio offers on its sets.

“We have to make the Internet easier to use for the consumer,” says Schindler. “A lot of the applications (available) are apps you want to do while you watch TV. Instead of grabbing that tablet and doing it there, you can now do it while you watch TV. You’re actually looking at one screen.”

Vizio says internal focus groups have also found that users were more likely to embrace 3D using CinemaWide, a bonus for a set that will be marketed to cinema fans. Still, Schindler acknowledges that 3D hasn’t been the replacement cycle driver the industry was hoping it would be.

Part of the problem, he says, was the decision by manufacturers to work separately, resulting in too many types of 3D TVs.

“If you ask the average consumer why they haven’t embraced it, they’ll say ‘I don’t really need 3D’ and that’s an opportunity for us to overcome,” he says.

“We have to make the glasses cool and hip … We need to work as an industry to drive the right standard. This will not work if there’s not a single standard for consumers. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to drive adoption.”

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