Vizio Co-Star

Will anyone ever get Google TV right?

Here's where I try to review the Vizio Co-Star. It's the second-generation Google TV box that had everyone excited, because of OnLive and the $99 price tag. On paper, it looked like this would be the one. ARM based, Netflix, Amazon VoD, a ton of games and apps from Google Play and available everywhere for under a hundred bucks. This has to get Google TV rolling, right?

So Phil has one sent to my house. I'm really the only one around here who uses Google TV regularly anymore (Phil ditched his for the Nexus Q), so it makes sense. Now, I realize he did it to punish me for some unknown transgression I committed and forgot about. The Co-Star is that bad. Here's my Oddyssy.

I busted open the box, excited. A new Androidy toy to play with is always fun. Inside was the CoStar itself, about 4.5-inches square, the remote, and a quick start guide. The quick start guide probably has everything you would need to know to hook up the Co-Star, but I saw the website link so I opened the full manual from the site. I like to read manuals about electronics. Go on and laugh, but it's true. Anyhoo, let's continue.

The equipment I hooked it up to is pretty average. A 42-inch Samsung TV, a Samsung BluRay player (a "Smart" one with Samsung apps), a Motorola DVR cable box, all going through an Oynko 7.1 receiver. The cabling set up was a breeze. As long as your receiver supports HDMI passthrough (mine does), you just plug the box itself inline with the cable box output. Yes, it's was that simple. Turn it on, and it booted right up.

Setup on the device went just as easy. Tell it what model TV, cable box, and other components you're using and it will control them all. Everything I have was listed, and I only had to type in a few digits of the model number. Then you just reboot, and you're good to go. Live TV, and great sound. It's a good thing setting up after a reset is so easy.

Things went downhill from there. At first, everything was just really slow. Chrome was next to useless, Google Play took forever to load, and I wanted to give up when trying to watch a movie from an external USB stick. I go online, and see that my complaints are pretty common, but an update is coming that will fix it all. 

I unplug it, and set it aside to wait for the update.

The update came a few weeks later, and people were saying it really did improve the software. I now think those people were an organized group troll who wanted to sit back and laugh at my struggles. I'm over it now, and can laugh with them, but several nights there for a while had me pretty pissed off at both Vizio for putting out this product, and Google because their name was on the box. 

The Co-Star has a unique UI, with a sort of app drawer on the left side of the screen. To get there, you press the "V" button on the remote and it slides into the screen. Except that now, on mine, the V button gives you a force close. Every. Time. Force. Close. It's OK, I have the link to the great big online manual saved. Let's consult it. 

In the troubleshooting section you'll find how to do a factory reset. You push a paperclip into a hole, and it reboots. There's even a fancy progress bar so you know just how long to keep pushing the paperclip in. When it comes back, you go through the easy set up again. Then it still force closes.

Back to the Internet, where I find that I should try using a different Google account to sign in with. Back to the paperclip, more easy setup, and more force closing. I tried this several times, with several accounts, and even made a brand new one in case there was some sort of flag on all my active accounts that said "be sure to f*ck with Jerry if he buys a Co-Star." Didn't help. Time to call support.

For anyone who's dealt with an Android manufacturer's tech support channel knows what comes next. I'm a patient man, so I went ahead and did the factory reset they told me would fix the issue. I grumbled to my wife (who looked at me funny then went back to her book) and did a reset like the lady from Vizio told me to do. I'm not mad at her, she was just doing her job, but of course it didn't work. Even though she told me it would work, and to call them back any time with other questions. Still, it's not her fault. But I did call them back.

The kind gentleman I spoke with seemed sincere when he told me he was sorry, but I needed to do another factory reset for him. I get it, people call in and say they did it, but they were too lazy and just lied. It happens. This time he stayed on the line with me, I think he was sending me positive vibes to help out. It didn't work. He had me on hold a while, then came back to let me know that the update would take care of this issue. The problem is, I couldn't get to the damn setting screen to check for the update, and it didn't seem to want to come on it's own. I'm stuck in some sort of limbo, and Vizio supports says I should just leave it on for 24 hours and see if the update comes on its own.

It never did. Every time I click the V button to do something besides watch TV, it force closes. I'm stuck, and a trawl through different support forums says I'm not alone. Those are the people I feel bad for, and I hope Vizio can figure out a solution for them. As for me, I just unplugged the damn thing and went back to my Sony GTV player. It cost $100 more, and still isn't very fast, but at least it works.

If you've bought one of these and it works, awesome. I hope you're having a blast with it. If you've bought one and it's not working very well, I hope Vizio can fix you up. Most importantly, if you haven't bought one of these, keep your hundred bucks.