Once known strictly as a manufacturer of budget TVs, Vizio has upped its game in recent years to offer sets with surprising levels of performance given their relatively modest prices. For this year, we see strong reviews for a couple of Vizio's M-series TVs -- the 50 inch Vizio M501D-A2R (Est. $800) and 55-inch Vizio M551D-A2R (Est. $1,100) . Note that while Vizio offers other sets in the M series -- ranging from 32-inches to 80 inches -- specifications and features vary enough that the comments that follow don't pertain to those other models.
In terms of picture quality, these two M1D-A2R sets don't quite measure up to the very best LED TVs, but they do come close and even outperform some sets costing more. The Vizio M1D-A2R earns Editors' Choice recognition from PCMag.com and TelevisionInfo.com, and gets a positive write-up and 4 stars out of 5 from CNET. "With its new M-Series, Vizio has shown that it is determined to deliver a good-looking TV with unexpected performance for the price," says CNET's Ty Pendlebury.
Despite the use of local dimming, the biggest image downside is the black level. Although it's not bad, it's nonetheless outdone by some better sets as well as some of Vizio's still cheaper E-series TVs. Color performance is very good. Some reviewers find more quibbles in that respect than others, but TelevisionInfo.com says the M1D-A2R's "calibrated picture mode nails most of the international standards for HDTV images right out of the box, with properly saturated colors, and just enough white balance control to tweak the little slips that occur during shipping." Uniformity is above average for an edge-lit LED TV, but blooming -- halos around bright objects against dark backgrounds -- can be seen, especially when viewed from the sides, CNET reports.
Features aren't maxed out, but most of the essentials are well covered. Vizio recently revamped its smart platform, transforming it into Vizio Internet Apps Plus, and the M-series sets were the first to receive the upgrade. It adds some new apps, notably an on-demand 3D streaming service called 3DGo. Usability and appearance are improved, but CNET gripes about how some of the apps look and behave on Vizio's sets.
Vizio was one of the first TV manufacturers to fully embrace passive 3D, and most experts have good things to say about 3D performance here. As long as the interlacing lines that are a byproduct of passive 3D don't bother you, CNET's Pendlebury says 3D performance "is excellent with 3D as good as I've seen -- it exhibited no crosstalk, with good color, and a solidity to images that active TVs can't muster." PCMag.com has mostly good things to say, as well, but finds that 3D screen pictures don't look quite as nice if viewed too close or off-axis. The inclusion of eight pairs of passive glasses in the box is a nice plus for large families, and extras are fairly cheap.
Some sets in the entry-level Vizio E-series also draw praise from reviewers. Although the 70-inch Sharp Aquos LC-70LE650U (Est. $1,850) gets our Best Reviewed nod for a bargain big-screen LED TV based on its slightly better picture quality, given the lower price of the 70-inch Vizio E701i-A3 (Est. $1,700) , it's really a coin toss. Neither set offers the best picture quality you can find in a large-screen LED TV, but you can't buy anything in the 70-inch and above class for anywhere near their prices.
Black level is the one area where the Vizio suffers. PCMag.com calls it "modest" and CNET is similarly unimpressed, but says differences would be hard to see except in a side-by-side comparison in a dark room. Color accuracy is good, however, and picture quality holds up pretty well under bright lights. On the features front, some things -- notably 3D support -- are missing. The E-series Vizio TVs have yet to receive the Vizio Internet Apps Plus, instead relying on an older smart platform.
Some smaller-screen E-series TVs also get good feedback. As long as you don't want or need 3D, the 39-inch Vizio E390i-A1 (Est. $420) (Est. $420) is a solid choice. Specifications and features are similar enough to some other Vizio E-series LED TVs -- the 42-inch E420i-A1 (Est. $500) and 50-inch E500i-A1 (Est. $650) -- that the following comments apply to those sets, as well. Vizio offers a ton of additional E-series sets, but most have different features and even use differing technologies like edge-lit versus direct-lit LED backlights. CNET deciphers the company's confusing model numbering system in this article.
It's important to note that some early E0i-A1 sets received mixed reviews because Vizio's local dimming technology didn't always work properly. Now that local dimming performance is improved following a July 2013 firmware update, CNET gives these TVs fairly high praise but an overall rating of just 3.5 stars out of 5. Grading on a curve against like-priced sets, David Katzmaier is impressed with both performance and value. "The Vizio E0i-A1 competes well against, or surpasses, the picture quality of other LCD TVs in its price class, while delivering plenty of Smart TV content and sleek minimalist style," he says. At BestBuy.com, about 95 percent of the more than 400 owners that leave feedback say they'd recommend the 50-inch Vizio E500i-A1 to a friend.
Even with the aforementioned update, the set can still produce a bit of black "crush," where gradations of black crush together and cause a loss of detail in an image's deep shadow areas. However, black levels overall and uniformity are exemplary for an LCD TV. Color accuracy isn't terrible, but could be better. In terms of features, this set still uses Vizio's older smart platform. There's no 3D and the refresh rate is a standard 60 Hz, no matter what the company's marketing department claims.