--Vizio launches five PCs
--Pricing for laptops starts at $898
--Electronics company is hoping to change PC industry like it did with TVs
(Updates with additional details and analyst comments in the 10th, 11th, 15th, 18th, 19th and 20th paragraphs.)
By Shara Tibken
NEW YORK--Vizio Inc. Thursday unveiled a line of laptops and all-in-one desktop computers, marking the electronics maker's first push into the personal-computer market with pricing that starts at $898.
The Irvine, Calif., company, which ranks as one of the top sellers of televisions in the U.S., announced five different computers at a New York event. The products will be available this summer in time for the back-to-school selling season.
Vizio first showed the products, which run Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows operating system, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Vizio shook up the market with inexpensive high-definition televisions, and it is trying to do the same in the PC industry. The closely held company, which also produces Blu-ray players and a tablet, worked on the computer designs for a couple years in an attempt to offer an aesthetic that competes with Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) popular products but at a lower price.
The new PCs announced Thursday will start at $898 for a 14-inch, thin-and-light laptop. That compares with $999 for the least-expensive, 11-inch Apple MacBook Air and the approximate $1,000 pricing for most new, thin-and-light notebooks, dubbed ultrabooks by chip company Intel Corp. (INTC). A 27-inch, all-in-one desktop, Vizio's highest-end computer, starts at $1,098.
"People don't need another PC manufacturer giving them a bunch of junk at a low price," Vizio Chief Executive William Wang said. He stressed that Vizio used high-end components to help it target tech-savvy consumers who can't afford pricy notebooks.
Vizio isn't targeting the high end of the PC market, he said in an interview following the event.
"Our target audience is people who can't afford a $2,000 notebook," Mr. Wang said.
Vizio is entering the crowded computer market at a time of upheaval. PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Dell Inc. (DELL) have faced falling prices and sluggish sales as consumers instead choose to spend their dollars on smartphones and tablets.
Computer makers are counting on new designs and Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system to reinvigorate the sector. Vizio, meanwhile, believes its products will entice consumers looking for distinctive designs at attractive pricing, much like it did in the TV market. Its new computers bear a striking resemblance to those from Apple but generally cost less.
"They've got the right pricing," NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker said. "But the big challenge is what everyone faces--the market isn't strong right now."
Matthew McRae, Vizio's technology chief, said people commonly ask why Vizio would enter the PC market at this time.
"If anyone says you can't disrupt a mature market, they're wrong," he said, using the TV market as an example.
The products introduced Thursday include two thin-and-light notebooks with 14-inch and 15.6-inch screens; a 15.6-inch standard notebook; and two all-in-one desktops with 24-inch and 27-inch displays.
Each machine's keyboard includes a special "V" function button that allows users to access online content, such as Netflix Inc.'s (NFLX) streaming video.
The products uses Intel's newest processors, and most include Nvidia Corp.'s (NVDA) new, discrete graphics.
"Every single component has the highest specs," Mr. McRae said.
Vizio will be selling the products through retailers such as Wal-Mart Inc. (WMT) and its Sam's Club stores; Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN); Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST); Target Corp. (TGT) and Microsoft's new stores.
It also plans to create mini-stores--built into shipping containers--that it will move around the country, visiting colleges, music festivals and other events.
"We want to bring the experience all the way out to the consumer," Mr. McRae said.
Write to Shara Tibken at email@example.com