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.

 
There are 46 comments

Brian Stein says:

Sorry Jerry,

You definitely got a bum device. You really need to call ahead and ask for a replacement/refund. I have had a few problems with my remote and Vizio's customer support has been nothing short of amazing in this day and age of outsourced cs. If you have already done the things that they tell you, just play along and say you are. You gotta remember, most of the people that are going to call in are going to be non-technical. For people like us, calling is a last resort. Anyways, I DO have a working unit and it is pretty awesome.. especially after the recent updates. Muuuuuuuuch slicker. If you stick it out, I think you will have a night and day experience.

Brian

They said they update will fix it, and if I left it on long enough i would get the update. They do not want to RMA the unit.

They were given a fair chance, and they blew it. 

wewewi says:

This is where the real problem is;

God knows shyt happens; especially on Android.
Thig is, when it doesnt work at all, fix it!

Glad it happened to you of all people; (meaning an AC staff member, a techno-guru and a gentlemen)

Now that they are exposed, maybe they will come up with some kind of public announcement.

Darins Dad says:

Jerry

Sounds like your App Launcher db has a problem

Try this...

Hit the V key
Highlight Settings, but don't hit OK/select
Hit the options key (the one with three horizontal lines to the right of V Key)
Select Open
Applications->Manage Applications
Select application AppLauncher
Select Clear Data
Hit V key (twice) First time rebuilds the db, second time will launch

Please post your results...

I have much better things to do with my time. If Vizio doesn't clear the application data and cache during a factory reset, they earned this review. DO NOT BUY VIZIO PRODUCTS UNTIL THEY LEARN 2 ANDROID.

Besides, hit V key = force close. I would have to reset, enable remote debugging during the setup process, then send intents individually via the adb interface to open the settings dialog.

At this point, I'm not going to care any more about this than Vizio does. My mother wouldn't attempt it, and would be stuck with a 99$ paperweight and a promise of a mystery update. People like my mother are who we write reviews for, not people who can flush and reset a SQLite DB by hand.

Tom Brooks says:

A neighbor's grandson bought a CoStar from Amazon and came to me frustrated with
the damn thing. Just because my first computer was a Radio Shack Model 1 that I
purchased in 1980, he thinks I am all knowing about computers. Evidently he is
way off the mark. I have all the problems everyone else has with Vizio, plus
problems with his first and last purchase from Amazon.

First let me get Amazon out of the way. When you buy from Amazon, and if you open
the package, Amazon will not accept a return unless the item was damaged in
transit. This policy is revealed upon opening the package. So he bought a "pig
in a poke" and is stuck with a real piece of junk.

Picture on his Hiteker 32" LCD TV sucks.

The costar does not support the Hiteker brand so he must keep swapping remotes.

The program keeps stalling while the device catches up to the download. This
does not happen when bypassing the costar and connecting directly to Netflix,
Google, You Tube or any other site.

All in all, I am glad the kid bought the damn thing before I did. He saved me a hundred bucks.

Hbomber110 says:

Its time for a real Nexus TV

My heart sunk when I saw the title. I was planning to get a Costar. I cut the cord and I was going to use it for video services. I think Google needs to make a cheaper version of the Nexus Q that drops the amp. Add apps and I'd buy it quick. Drop this whole merging of cable and web idea and go after the growing segment that's sick of cable.

randall2580 says:

You took the words right out of my mouth

Volvogga says:

I'll disagree with this one. Google TV solved a very real problem for me. Cable gave me a new-ish tuner that could handle their weird encrypted channels, but the thing has an interface on it that hasn't changed since the late 90's. "Paging" through four channels at a time is not my idea of channel surfing. There are too many channels now anyway, and I have to look through all of them (even the one's I don't pay for) to find a channel I subscribe to that may have something I want to watch way up in the 600s. For most channels, there are now SD and HD versions as well.

Google TV gives me a nice app that works around that, and instant search for something I want to watch and tunes to the proper channel (in HD first, with SD fall back the way I set it up). Much nicer.

If nothing on TV strikes me, then I can check out my streaming services. If I know I want to watch streaming, then I don't turn the cable box on. I don't think this TV functionality is holding anything back as far as an android OS running your entertainment center.

For cable cutters, I don't think it would be cost effected to offer a Google TV light either. The Nexus Q is close, but it, to me, seemed to be a music-centered machine that wasn't really adding enough value to your music to be worth it. The other entertainment things it did were pretty clearly in Google TV's territory. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few angry phone calls between teams within Google after that thing came out. It seemed from it's release that the Q's music/party features should have just been merged into a premium Nexus Google TV box, and we never should have seen a Q.

I also think that the growing segment of cable cutters is still pretty tiny. It's hard to cut cable if you actually want to watch more than one show a year. A lot of TV is social, especially with higher-caliber shows coming out with bigger twists and higher production budgets. That cheap sit-com from 10 years ago may not have been worth talking about by the water-cooler, but the new show that aired last night where the main character lost a limb in a TV-MA rated way is. Walking past the break room the day after the show you are waiting to hit DVD or Netflix in 9 months aired live is dangerous. That's not to mention social networking websites. I heard something about a HBO show I want to watch (but don't subscribe to HBO) on the morning radio last week. You can get Hulu and hope your show is there, and put up with their ad-ridden service (note: last I checked premium still had ads). Or you can pick up the season on Google Play or Amazon if they have it. If you like to watch too many shows, that cost adds up really fast though.

If you have the disposable income anyway, having cable just seems easier than having to research the best way to see a show at the start of every season. If you can do it, then cut the chord. Maybe we'll get sensible cable rates someday. I just don't think I can help, and I don't think a lot of other people will be able to either.

KahneFan says:

("Paging" through four channels at a time is not my idea of channel surfing. There are too many channels now anyway, and I have to look through all of them (even the one's I don't pay for) to find a channel I subscribe to that may have something I want to watch way up in the 600s. For most channels, there are now SD and HD versions as well.)

You need to check out DirecTV. You have 6 channel per page view. Within your list you can create favorites lists and remove channels you don't watch/need. And, HD/SD channels are the same (channel 7 is channel 7), the box is smart enough to know "hey, if I'm an HD box, they want and HD channel".

TenshiNo says:

DirectTV is not an option for everyone. Going from a listing of 4 to a listing of 6 doesn't really help the problem he's describing. It sounds like DirectTV has a good setup, and it sounds like you love (which is awesome), but it's not a cure-all for many people.

lol damn finally you guys post some news. i was getting bored having nothing good to read today! :P

Jaredshoes says:

This

Lee Friedman says:

The point is, what average consumer would put up with this. Answer: No one!

Until this is worked out, it's a beta system with experimental software. This is not a consumer product in any manner, way, shape, or form. I am so disappointed in Google's launch of Google TV. It's an epic failure so far.

Bingo.

Hackers don't need a review. Moms and Grandmas do.

 

erstam says:

I have 2 of these. one got update right away. the other took like 2 weeks, butnow that they are updated it is as huge difference. totally worth the hundred bucks after the update. Not before.

Darins Dad says:

Jerry

Sounds like your App Launcher db has a problem

Try this...

Hit the V key
Highlight Settings, but don't hit OK/select
Hit the options key (the one with three horizontal lines to the right of V Key)
Select Open
Applications->Manage Applications
Select application AppLauncher
Select Clear Data
Hit V key (twice) First time rebuilds the db, second time will launch

Please post your results...

The problem is Step 1: Hit the V key.

V key = Force close. Every time. No escape, ever. At all. He can't proceed through steps 2-9 because he can't get past step 1. If he could, this would be a review and not a saga.

Jerry which Onkyo avr do you have? What you can try instead. Don't go thru the cable box.. Take your co star and connect it straight to the avr thru it's own HDMI port so that it's its own component and do a factory reset.. I got a tx-nr818 and had to do that Cuz it would act up if I went thru the DVR-gtv to avr

milesmcever says:

You just made a point that I have noticed but didnt think about. When I changed what room my Vizio was in it moved to an Onkyo receiver and it has been really slow. Im running the TX-nr414.

Cubfan says:

Professional review as always. Congrats. :)

KSmithInNY says:

?? huh ::shrug::

My launch day co-star, which i use daily (I MEAN EVERY SINGLE DAY I USE IT) has never had a single FC, lag, hiccup, or otherwise undesirable response. That's not to say there isn't an acceptable number of defective devices, or people using it different exposing bugs i don't see, but I love my co-star and would recommend it well over my revue, my apple TV 1, Apple TV2, Roku 1, *BUT* in terms of media and UX i prefer my Roku 2 over all.

Hand_O_Death says:

I was very excited to get this (check the forums), first one didn't work, got a replacement, still didn't work. found that it was not compatible with my crappy Westinghouse TV. after a lot of research, found it was Westinghouse's fault (and they said that they would not fix it) but found that when hooked up to my main television (that I didn't want it on), it was still a little sluggish, but did what I wanted it to. ended up trading it for a Roku with my mom. sucks that after I wanted it for so long (since the car announcement) and I was going to try out onlive.

but the customer service was excellent with Vizio and iI did appreciate their efforts. hopefully the CoStar 2 will be better.

jbjonesjr says:

Jerry, great revue, and although I don't have your show-stopping launcher issue, I don't think you were missing much

The Co-Star is definitly a step in the right direction for GTV, but unfortunatly also a step back in many ways as well.

As an early adopter of the Revue, I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into with the CS. I had planned on giving the CS as a gift, but I knew enough to try it out myself before sending it along to a not-as-capable family member for their everyday use.

For all the promises of improved hardware, better speed, and (in my opinion) slightly improved interfaces, many "user experience" things were missing:

The remote, connecting via bluetooth, seems to leave with the option of either allow autosleep and have a heck of a time dealing with tasks like fast foward and rewind, or never sleep and buy stock in a battery company. On top of this, using the touchpad for me has never been successful. The cursor skips or doesn't move at all. A complete step back from the revue.

No IR Blaster. Really? The best thing so far with googletv has been it's extensability (namely Able Remotes extensions) that make controlling it a breeze and actually DO take managing a TV a step forward. With no IR blaster, and the sleeping remote problem, it renders this mostly useless.

For all of it's extra horsepower and ARM optimizations, it still seems to degrade over time. While it does handle "flash-video" sites better than the Revue, leave it on for a few days and then try them. I'm more often than not left with a crashing Chrome that may bring down my box. But even if it doesn't, it won't be long because...

And maybe it's just me, but is anyone else's unit have horrible lip sync issues? I assuming that's why they tried to "expose" a lip sync configuration tool. But as an old professor once taught me, if you have to expose a configuration/preference for something that should just work, you're doing something wrong.

And the final show stopper seems to be a bug that if an app (I'm assuming the LiveTV app) crashes, bringing you the force close screen, but you don't make a choice before the screen/CS goes to sleep, you are stuck in a perpetual dead screen. Maybe there is a handy way to reset it (boy do I miss the Revue's Ctrl+Alt+Del), but I haven't found it yet. These leads me to hard power cycling the system every 3 or 4 days at best.

For all those complaints, the Co-Star IS a progression ahead of the Revue, but not as smooth as I'm sure Google or Vizio would like. With the latest news that no microphone will delay the voice features, it is seeming more and more like an intermediary step along the way to GTV acceptance.

It's been 3 months, and theres enough there to stop me from hooking the Revue back up in my living room, but not enough there to ever give this device to it's original recipient.

Like everyone else, I sit waiting for the next iteration of GTV and *maybe* a Q-like device that finally brings the promise to bear. And native Hulu, HBO-GO, and ESPN apps wouldn't kill us either...

bendrum30 says:

I know how you feel man. I bought a Logitech Revue for $250 at it's release and I own a Droid Bionic... which I bought at it's release. Both devices have been abandoned by their manufacturers. The bionic to a lesser extent since it is supposed to get Jelly Bean, but I'm guessing Q3 2013 for that.

The revue has been far from dependable...I feel burned by the manufacturers and Google. I still love Android and its potential. I was going to buy the costar since it seemed like an affordable alternative, but I learned my lesson not to buy anything until Android Central gives a favorable review.

S_C_B says:

I don't know what kind of unit u received, but your experience is so different than mine. I really enjoy mine. Since we r different people and have different units, that is not odd. The only issue I have with my CoStar is that my remote doesn't work consistently with my TiVo Premiere. I have rma'd both the box and remote once. I rma'd the second remote once also. Come to find out, the remote isn't compatible with the TiVo Premiere. I found that by going to the TiVo website. Why the Vizio rep didn't tell me that the first time, I'll never know. Other than the remote issue, I use mine and enjoy it everyday.

I have my Revue in the bedroom, and it works just fine. Its not as powerful as the CoStar, but I mainly use it for Netflix and Google Music.

stevenlem says:

Had one for 2 weeks. Constant errors, black screens, wouldn't load apps. It would drop the internet connection and the only way to get it back was to unplug the power source. Returned it right away, after losing out on the $10 original shipping, my return shipping cost, and a 10% restocking fee. This was my first Vizio product and it will be my last. Stick with a blu-ray player and built in apps from Samsung for a product that works and still only cost $100.

Its dissapointing that all the box units of google tv are horrible. I sell TVs for a living and the LG Google Tvs have high praises from most customers. It works and works well.

shortdeck says:

I love my Co-Star so I'm surprised to hear so many people having difficulties with the device. The thing that made the biggest difference for me was switching from wifi to an ethernet cable for the internet. The Co-Star went from an often sluggish and unreliable device to something magical that worked flawlessly. Unless your wifi is really strong by your TV, I really recommend connecting directly to your network. I use OnLive now constantly with no problems, and everything else works so well that I can't imagine not using GTV for now on.

rkhaudio says:

I have had 4 vizio products: 2 tvs, 1 dvd player and their tablet. All were great and their phone support service was excellent (the tablet was sold and replaced with a nexus 7) but one thing that has always kept me away from a co-star was the only online purchase option. Knowing the history of google tv products overall and the possible problem with something like this, I have stayed away. But if I could purchase one from a retailer, I would still consider it. With any credit card purchase online or brick & mortar, you still have rights to force depute and the retailer will always loose that battle, 30 days or 6 months, but it takes time.

albokay says:

Had mine since launch and while I dont think its the end all be all for google tv, the fact its something that I can hook up to any tv and watch slingbox on makes it worth it. Plus it has hbo go that isnt blocked (like Roku. Thanks comcast)

With plex I can stream stuff from my computer so I dont need that useless usb port.

The amazon shortcut brings you to the webiste which is pointless. It would be nice to have its own app like Roku does. Netflix is great too and the picture streaming looks great as well.

At 100 bucks it is worth it for me. That remote is lousy but we can all download the google tv app and fix that.

long2know says:

I have two Revues and the Costar. I have no major problems whatsoever with the Costar. I have a bluertooth keyboard and mouse connected.. And Bluetooth headphones, I use the Costar with Plex, Chrome, and other various apps. Plex occassionslly restarts itself, but that is literally the only quirk that I experience.

Comparatively speaking, I have to reset the Revues once a week since they become unresponsive. I can use the Costar for a solid month, at least, and never need to restart it.

I have enjoyed the Costar more than the Revue. It's faster and I've grown to like the remote far more than the Revue's clunky keyboard/interface.

biln says:

Its a vizio what do you expect. its no different than Coby, Huawei, Elocity or any of the other junk. Seems like they just make it and sell it, no testing or quality control or nothing. i would say 95% of android stuff out there is junk, i know it is cause ive owned some of it. thats the bad thing about open source, anybody can make anything and sell it if it works or not. It gives android a bad name, someone buys a junk android product and has a horrible experience with it and think all android is junk then go to apple.

garfnodie says:

It looks like my Roku is keeping it's spot in my entertainment center for now.

Viper says:

What's up with the increase in spam recently?

Wired03 says:

wow,

makes me sad. I was planning on getting a few of those devices for my house.

I don't know what I want to do now. I don't use live TV. I want a device that is android so I can get the Google Play store and their TV shows and Movies.

Ideas?

levelm says:

Add my name to the list of disappointed Co-Star owners. While I don't have the force close issues that Jerry is having, I have had nothing but problems with the device since I received it. It gets extremely hot due to poor ventilation design, causing it to cut in and crash. The remote is all but useless to me as it never works unless I'm like 2 feet away from the box. Slow is an understatement as waiting for the UI to react takes me back to a day when AOL and dial-up ruled the world. I'd be absolutely fuming if it weren't for the fact that I only paid $99 for the device. I'd definitely pass on this and wait for someone else to take a crack at it. Hopefully someone will get it right.

AnnDroid says:

I had problems with my remote because of the gyro, if you are holding the remote even slightly sideways, it maybe cutting off the top keyboard. When my remote stops working, I hold it very horizontal and lightly hit it on the palm of my hand to 'remind' it what side is up. Before anyone b1tches about this, I have to do this on my Android phones every now and again too.

liteon163 says:

I pre-ordered one of these before they came out. I canceled that order as soon as I realized that Hulu Plus isn't available on it. Instead, I ordered a Roku 2 XS. It works great, but I'm bummed it doesn't do DLNA out of the box. But that obviously wasn't a deal-breaker.

Glad I dodged the Co-Star bullet.

faceless says:

i understand the point that some people are making, and i would also love a proper review of a working device from this site, but when something like this doesn't work and tech support can't solve the problem or replace the unit, that also needs to be put out there. great review Jerry!

rozelle25 says:

Thanks for the review. Almost bought one.

I'm setting one up now -- to replace my Logitech GTV which I hope to move to another TV. So far I see a difference between computer people and TV people. OK, so maybe I can live with the cramped keyboard but they appear to be using the IR controls on their remote rather than a radio link! With the Logitech I don't have to worry about pointing and even use their remote IR dongle.

Now I have to point to each device and make sure I have line of site?

There seems to be a cultural divide between the two worlds and the TV world is lagging.

(now waiting for through update ... and waiting ... and ...)

Now I have to point the remote control to each device for each function. It's the 1990 version of GTV?

the remote for this comes unpaired by default(not sure the logic of this)
it is a bluetooth remote with irblaster capabilities

to pair it
1. hit the V
2. find settings in the list of apps
3. look for devices
4. look for bluetooth
5. follow the instructions on the screen for the remote
6. once paired enjoy your nolonger limeted remote

a small suggestion to anyone who isnt happy with the default interface, on the google play store is an app called "Open Launcher" that has a nice replacement interface that looks like the interface I have seen on a lot of google TV units

if you are having trouble with your unit try this
1. press the reset button on the bottom of the unit,
2. then wait for it to start to boot
3. repeat steps 1. and 2. four more times don't wait for it to finish booting
4. once it has finished booting after the fifth reset try going through the setup

this might seem crazy but this trick has fixed many of the bad co-star units for some reason.

Mark T Day says:

I have 2 Costars. Yes they were slow when I first got them.
Not sure how many updates they've been thru but they are both
now VERY much improved and have never had any issues with them
whatsoever.

Tom May says:

I Just got my Co-Star and I agree with Mark. I think this review is no longer accurate or relevant – except for the ease of setup. So far, this thing works great and has given new life to my old brain-dead 37” Vizio. I use it in a room where all I have is a WiFi connection. I soon hope to include OTA recording playback via my MythTV – but alas, it requires a MythTV upgrade to v.26 – so it’ll be awhile before that takes place. Botton line: It is fast and flawless – even Chrome isn’t too bad. Good times are ahead for Android devices.