Normally, you would expect to find traditional top-tier makers such as Sony and Samsung battling it out for the honor of being the best HDTV for most people, and make no mistake, those and other companies do produce TVs that are well worth considering. However, sets from Vizio more than hold their own in overall picture performance, and have a decisive lead when it comes to value.
Tops this year is the Vizio M series of UHD TVs, including the Vizio M65-C1 (Est. $1,500). Picture quality isn't flaw-free, but that can be said of every TV currently being made -- including the very big-ticket TVs profiled in our section on the TVs with the best picture quality. However, as CNET's David Katzmaier notes of the Vizio, "It's priced hundreds less than any of the 4K offerings from Samsung and Sony, and performs better than most."
The Vizio M Series TV fails to win an Editors' Choice award at Sound & Vision as it "deviated from ideal technical performance in ways that may bother the fussy videophile." However, Thomas J. Norton is quick to add, "But in the qualities that matter most to the average buyer -- a big picture and an impressive viewing experience -- the Vizio M65-C1 delivers at a less wallet-flattening sacrifice than most of its competition." He benchmarks the TV against two high-performance TVs -- the Samsung UN65JS9500 ($4,500), a flagship 4K TV covered in our section on see TVs with the best picture quality, and the Panasonic TC-65ZT60, one of the most impressive plasma TVs ever made, but now discontinued -- and found that the Vizio stood up well. "Those are better sets in many ways, to be sure," Norton says, but adds that he watched the M65-C1 for "dozens of hours without itching to return to one of the two high-end sets I had on hand."
Many other reviewers are more unequivocally impressed. TVs in the Vizio M Series are an Editors' Choice pick at Reviewed.com, currently the top-rated set at CNET, and earn a 5-star overall rating at HomeTheaterReview.com. User reviews are strong, too, including a 4.2-star rating at Amazon.com based on more than 520 reviews spread out among the nine screen sizes offered, ranging from 43 inches to 80 inches.
One "complication" in rating the Vizio M Series is that unlike most other makers, there can be quite a bit of variation in specifications and features among different screen sizes offered. For example, CNET notes that while TVs in the M Series with screen sizes of 60 inches and up feature a true 120 Hz refresh rate (as opposed to the pumped up 240 Hz Clear Motion Rate Vizio uses to market the set -- see our discussion of refresh rates in important TV features for more information on that), 55-inch and smaller models only have a true 60 Hz refresh rate. As a result, while the motion performance of the Vizio M Series isn't a highlight to begin with, it takes a further hit on those smaller screen sizes. Whether that matters depends on the content you typically watch (sports lovers take note) and whether you are sensitive to motion artifacts. Be that as it may, CNET feels that while the variations exist, they are not great enough to deter them from saying that the comments it makes regarding the 65-inch Vizio M65-C1 can be applied "to most of the other screen sizes in the series," and many other reviewers follow suit.
What sets the Vizio apart from its like-priced competition -- and competitors that are priced substantially more -- is that it uses a full matrix backlight with 32 zones of local dimming. That's not a ton of dimmable zones -- and that can lead to some artifacts on test patterns and certain other situations -- but Reviewed.com's Lee Neikirk says that it doesn't appear in normal content. What does appear are terrific black levels for an LED TV, with uniformity that few sets can match. "The TV's full-array LED backlighting system and local dimming function helped to produce a wonderfully deep black level while allowing bright elements to remain bright, resulting in rich, wonderfully saturated film images in a dark room," says HomeTheaterReview.com's Adrienne Maxwell.
Most reviewers note some color inaccuracies out of the box, but most also say that those should not be deal breakers to the non-obsessive -- "minute color discrepancies that are more apparent to laboratory meters than human eyes," Neikirk says. Maxwell says that while a professional calibration can make things look even better, color accuracy measurements pre-calibration are actually, "very good -- which is important since, at this price point, people are less likely to pay for a professional calibration."
With impressive picture quality at an impressive price, something has to give, and with the Vizio M65-C1 that something is design and features. This is a 4K set, but it lacks some of the higher-end features of some competing 4K sets, including support for HDR content. The smart platform is functional rather than fancy. It lacks some of the sports apps (MLB TV, for example) found on some other systems, but the content selection is otherwise very good. The remote lacks pointing or voice features, but does have a full QWERTY keyboard on its reverse side. There's no 3D support whatsoever.
No one will mistake a Vizio M series set for a work of art. Styling is largely described as plain, though not unattractive, per se. The screen is flat, not curved, and the set is thicker than some competing models -- a byproduct of the full matrix rather than edge-lit backlight, and a trade-off that most reviewers say they are happy to make in exchange for near flagship performance at a price that competitors can't match.
We cover the very impressive and very expensive LG 65EG9600 4K OLED TV (Est. $5,000) in our section on TVs with the best picture quality. But if you don't care about 4K, and aren't scared away by some of the drawbacks of OLED technology (see our discussion of the 65EG9600 for more information), the 55-inch LG 55EC9300 (Est. $1,800) is an interesting choice. Originally introduced in late 2014, and debuting to largely excellent reviews, including a Best Reviewed selection here, it remains available in 2015 but with one significant difference -- it's now being sold at less than half of its original price. But while $1,800 is still pretty pricy for a 55-inch, non-4K set, 4K content remains scarce for now, and the picture quality of this LG OLED TV remains just as spectacular as the day it debuted, even compared to newer models.
The LG 55EC9300 draws admiration for its picture quality from most reviewers. It earns Editors' Choice awards from CNET and PCMag.com, a Highly Recommended award from FlatpanelsHD.com, and an 8.7 score from Reviewed.com, placing among the top 5 percent of TVs that site has tested. The set is also a past co-winner of the Value Electronics Shoot Out. Most recently, Cedric Demers at Rtings.com benchmarks the LG 55EC9300 against its 2015 LED competition and says that while it "isn't without flaws, it still managed to beat all the LCD LED TVs that we have reviewed up to this point in our test bench."
Picture quality is why experts simply love this TV. The LG 55EC9300 delivers nearly all of the image goodness that OLED has been touted for. Blacks are simply spectacular. Will Greenwald at PCMag.com gets a little meandering in his technical explanation of what a set with infinite contrast really means, but the bottom line is that this is one of those rare cases where a manufacturer's claim for that specification was actually accurate. CNET sees -- or maybe more accurately doesn't see -- the same thing. "In a completely dark room with an active screen, I couldn't tell where the black backdrop of my lab wall ended and the TV screen began," David Katzmaier writes.
If black were the only measure of TV picture quality we could stop this write up right here, but while the LG OLED is in reality an above-average performer in other regards, things are not quite perfect.
The "infinite" contrast means that very bright whites accompany the very deep blacks, normally a good thing, but it can cause some problems with some types of scenes. The set does do a good job bringing out details in shadows, but CNET reports that it is also prone to some video noise (random flickers of dots) in near-black areas when the set is adjusted for best performance in that regard. Reviewed.com notes that out of the box, the set's best picture is seen in well-lit rooms rather than dark ones. "Dark and middle gray tones above black are too luminous for an ideal home-theater setup; for example, if you're watching a dim, wintery scene, highlights of white within dirty snow are so luminous that your eyes will struggle to see the subtler, darker details around them," Lee Neikirk says. He adds that the issue can be fixed via calibration for dark room viewing.
We saw some differing opinions regarding color. PCMag.com and HDGuru.com are impressed with color accuracy. CNET, however, notes that the set they tested was, after calibration, slightly undersaturated, and that a reddish tinge could be seen in some scenes. FlatpanelsHD.com notes some very minor color banding but adds that color gradation is actually "quite good, and it is almost impossible to find a TV without some minor issues in the area." The bottom line is that despite some bobbles, just about every reviewer agrees that color performance is, in fact, very good at a minimum, and competitive with flagship TVs in general.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is in the area of motion resolution. Most reviewers note image blurring during fast motion -- more so than on most flagship sets. That's correctable to some degree with LG's TruMotion system, but it's a balancing act to find a setting that reduces blur without introducing unacceptable levels of artifacts. Again, whether you even notice the blur under normal viewing depends on your sensitivity to it in the first place.
The LG 55EC9300 has a curved screen, and we discuss the pros and cons of that in our section on important TV features. The screen is very glossy, but does a good job reducing reflections. Uniformity is excellent, but not quite perfect, at least in CNET's eyes.
Picture quality and price (for an OLED TV) are the headline "features" here, but the LG 55EC9300 is otherwise stuffed with goodies. The smart platform is built on WebOS technology; it is applauded for being simple to use. The original version caught a little flack for not being particularly snappy, but that's been upgraded to a more nimble version, WebOS 2.0, which is earning lots of praise. The app line up is broad, and there's an available app store. The Magic Motion remote is an LG staple that offers Wii-like motion control, and a built in microphone for voice control.
The 55EC9300 uses passive 3D, and puts two full pairs of glasses in the box as well as two pairs of clip-ons for those who wear prescription glasses.
There are lots and lots -- and lots of very good sets worth considering -- one top reviewer recommends nearly half of the over 150 sets it tests. That said, in the sweet zone where price and performance intersect, many of the best choices bear the Samsung or Sony brands.
Up first is the Sony XBR-55X850C (Est. $1,500). That's a 55-inch 4K LED TV that's received some strong feedback. It's an Editors' Choice at Reviewed.com, where Niekirk says "You'd have to be a real doof -- or a little bit mad -- not to see the value here." It also receives a Recommended notation from an independent reviewer, is the highest-rated 55-inch or larger set at LCDBuyingGuide.com and is the second best Sony TV available (after the more prodigiously priced Sony XBR-65X930C (Est. $3,500), covered in our section on the TVs with the best picture quality) at Rtings.com. User feedback is solid, including a 4.4-star rating at BestBuy.com following more than 400 reviews. Other screen sizes (65 inches and 75 inches) are also available, and should perform similarly.
The set is feature packed. The flat screen uses Quantum Dot technology (marketed by Sony as Triluminous) and will support HDR. It has an Android-based smart TV platform that's debuted to mixed feedback. Some, such as LCDBuyingGuide.com, applaud its speed, while others, such as Reviewed.com complain that the interface can be occasionally sluggish. Those expecting the same breadth of Android apps as on their smartphones will likely be disappointed, though the number of apps is steadily increasing, notes Rtings.com. There is 3D capability built-in, but you'll need to supply your own glasses.
Picture quality is quite good. Black levels and uniformity are surprisingly strong for an edge-lit LED TV, which is great for dark room viewing. Not so great is that performance in a well-lit room is only so-so; "Its brightness is only average, so it's not the best choice for a room that is full of windows, says Rtings.com's Demers. Colors performance is excellent, even right out of the box, and the use of Quantum Dot technology means that the set can display more colors than TVs that lack that.
If you don't want as big a screen, the Sony X830C series could be a consideration. Compared to Sony's more upscale sets (such as the X850C above), you give up Quantum Dot technology, HDR support, and 3D, but the smart TV platform -- for better or worse -- is the same.
Reviews for these sets, such as the 49-inch Sony XBR49X830C (Est. $1,000), are a little all over the place. Rtings.com says flatly that "The Sony X830C doesn't have good picture quality," complaining about weak black levels, poor contrast, and a highly reflective screen that negatively affects viewing in well-lit or window-rich rooms. However, because of the technology used by its LCD screen, viewing angles are quite a bit wider than with many competing TVs and color fidelity is maintained even for viewers sitting quite a bit off center from the set.
However, LCDBuyingGuide.com takes a completely different view -- so much so that we have to wonder if these reviewers were looking at the same TV. "Blacks are inky and excellent as is black uniformity, "says Jack Burden. He does say, however, to ignore many of the preset picture modes as they are very inaccurate. He recommends using the custom mode to adjust settings to get the very best picture quality. Otherwise, he adds, "If you don't have any time to make adjustments, try the Cinema Pro setting for nighttime viewing and the Cinema Home setting for day time viewing. User reviews show no caution flags, and the set (and its 43-inch series mate) earn a 4.4 star score at BestBuy.com following almost 430 ratings.
Some Samsung sets also receive meritorious mention in expert and user reviews. The Samsung UN55JS8500 (Est. $1,800) blurs the line between a TV that delivers both top picture quality and value, and one that delivers the best picture quality, period. This 4K LED TV is the highest end one that Samsung produces with a flat rather than curved screen. It delivers much of the picture quality and all of the features -- HDR support, a Quantum Dot screen, One Connect connection box, 3D support (but no included glasses), Android-based smart platform, and more -- of the more upscale JS9000 series (profiled in our discussion of TVs with the best picture quality), such as the Samsung UN55JS9000 (Est. $2,500), but for hundreds less in comparable screen sizes (48-inch and 65-inch screens are also offered).
The Samsung JU7500 series gets even better feedback, though some of what that's based on has changed. When originally released, the JS8500 was priced substantially higher than the JU7500, but offered no better picture quality in most experts' eyes than the less expensive set. However, while the UPP (unilateral pricing policy -- see the buying guide for more information) price for the JU7500 has only seen modest cuts, the JS8500 has enjoyed deeper discounts -- the result is that the two sets are priced nearly identically in some screen sizes -- which range from 40 inches to 78 inches for the JU7500 series.
Be that as it may, the Samsung UN55JU7500 (Est. $1,800) is an Editors' Choice selection at Reviewed.com, named the best mid-range Samsung TV by Rtings.com, and enjoys solid expert feedback elsewhere along with strong user reviews at sites like Amazon.com. It's a 4K set with a curved screen and most of the features of Samsung's more premium offerings. What's missing are some of the more forward looking features -- features like HDR support and Quantum Dots, which experts say aren't a concern for many TV owners, at least not yet.
Finally, Samsung's JU7100 series is the flat-screen version of the JU7500 series. It's available in a bevy of screen sizes from 40 to 75 inches, including the 55-inch Samsung UN55JU7100 (Est. $1,600). At CNET, Katzmaier looks at the 65-inch Samsung UN65JU7100 (Est. $2,300) and finds a lot to like. "It balances a not-too-crazy price with commendable picture quality, beautiful design, oodles of features and a healthy dose of future-readiness, for what I'm guessing will be Samsung's best 4K TV value of 2015," says Katzmaier. It receives solid editorial and user feedback elsewhere as well, including a 4.7-star rating at BestBuy.com following more than 200 reviews spread out over the various screen sizes. An impressive 96 percent say they would recommend their TV to a friend.