Vizio VBR122 Review: A Basic, Inexpensive Blu-ray Player
At a Glance
If you're looking for a bargain-priced Blu-ray player, the Vizio VBR122 makes an excellent choice. For $110 (as of November 3, 2011), you get very good image quality and a large selection of streaming Internet services. You also get a nifty remote control that becomes a QWERTY keyboard when you flip it over.
As television accessories become more Internet-oriented, users are finding themselves having to enter text--usually passwords and search terms--into them. A conventional remote control gives you only number and arrow buttons for handling this job, making it an annoying chore. Remote-control phone apps offer an option, but they're not a cure-all.
I vastly prefer the VBR122's solution: a two-sided remote. On one side, it's a conventional remote control. Turn it over, though, and you have a QWERTY keyboard. This simple, clean approach works in situations where remote-control apps on a smartphone can't do the job (such as for Wi-Fi passwords and Netflix searches). Vizio doesn't provide iOS or Android remote-control apps--but with this keyboard, you don't need them.
The conventional remote-control side is functional but not optimal. It's crowded--presumably to make the keyboard small enough for comfortable thumb-typing. Some bad layout decisions make the tiny size worse, too. For instance, the big button that takes you to the home screen sits in the middle of a lot of wasted space, while Pause is up high where it's hard to press (and located where you're likely to press Stop by mistake). The remote is neither programmable nor backlit, two niceties you may miss.
With dimensions of less than 13 by 9 by 2 inches, the VBR122 is one of the smallest Blu-ray players I've yet reviewed. It will fit almost anywhere. Its compact size resulted in the loss of a standard feature, though: This is the first Blu-ray player I've ever tested without analog outputs. If you're thinking of buying a Blu-ray player before you buy an HDTV (and yes, there are reasons to do so), this player isn’t for you. And you can't attach it to an analog receiver, either.
You'll have to be patient with this player. When I inserted the Independence Day Blu-ray Disc into the VBR122, I had to wait a seemingly interminable 54 seconds before I could read the FBI warning. A couple of years ago, that kind of delay would have been acceptable, but not in 2011, when 30-second start times are the norm, and 24-second ones aren't unheard of.
Once a disc finally loads, the VBR122 does a very good job outputting images to an HDTV. Overall, it performed slightly better than PCWorld's reference player, the Sony PlayStation 3, when we played Blu-ray discs. It performed a bit worse, however, with DVDs, suggesting that it has trouble upconverting a standard-definition image for high-def.
For such an inexpensive player, the VBR122 provides a surprisingly good selection of streaming Internet sources. It has Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube, plus a service called Web Videos that contains various stations and even a local broadcast channel. It also offers three pay-per-view services: Amazon, Blockbuster, and Vudu. Note, though, that Vudu on this machine is more than just a PPV service; the VBR122 comes with Vudu Apps, which is itself a large selection of streaming services, including Facebook, Flickr, the New York Times, Picasa, and Twitter.
Will Vizio add more apps in the future? The company tells me that doing so is technically possible, but that "there are currently no plans to bring additional services to the VBR122." And even if Vizio doesn't update the services, Vudu might.
Unfortunately, the VBR122 is considerably more limited if you want to view your own media. You can listen to music and view photos by way of a USB storage device, such as a flash drive. It lacks video file support, and you can't play videos even via USB. Music is limited to MP3 and AAC files, and photos must be either JPG or PNG.
The photo slideshow feature has a few transition effects, but gives you no clear way to play music with your slides. I figured out a way to do so, but it caused problems with the slide playback.
This isn't the easiest Blu-ray player to set up and use. Although it has a Quick Setup wizard, you need to find it in the Setup menu--the wizard doesn't automatically start the first time you turn on the player.
The home screen is attractive and simple to use, but once you move from that to the setup menu, you'll notice the lack of on-screen explanations. You'll find good explanations in the manual--but you won't find the manual in the box. You'll have to download the manual from the Vizio website, and then either print it out or keep something that reads PDFs handy while you're setting up the player.
You can't expect everything for $110. But for that very low price, the Vizio VBR122 gives you an acceptable Blu-ray player with some more-than-acceptable capabilities.