Posted Fri Apr 17, 2015 at 04:00 PM PDT by Steven Cohen
Earlier this week, High-Def Digest was invited to attend VIZIO's Spring Launch Showcase in New York, where the company spotlighted its latest displays and audio gear. On hand at the event, were demos of the new E-Series, M-Series, and Reference Series TVs, as well as VIZIO's new 40-inch soundbar and 2.1 sound stand, rounding out a comprehensive collection of A/V products.
Expanding upon the impressive combination of affordability and performance that was found in the company's 2014 lineup, these new models offer premium picture quality features for surprisingly inexpensive price tags. With HD, Ultra HD, and even Dolby Vision models all accounted for, VIZIO's latest TVs have all budgets and tastes under consideration, truly taking the company into the premium market while still maintaining mass market price points.
With displays artfully hung across the event space's walls, and secluded demo rooms setup for more intimate demonstrations, the showcase provided a tantalizing preview of what customers can expect from each product. So, how do these TVs and speakers stack up? Did they leave a strong impression or is there a good reason VIZIO's prices are so low? And just what's the deal with Dolby Vision? Is it really worth the upgrade? Well, here are our initial impressions…
Upon first entering the event, attendees were greeted by the company's latest crop of 1080p HDTVs -- yes, they do still exist. Available in sizes ranging from 24-inches to 70-inches with prices starting at $179 and going all the way to $1,399, these LCD displays offer a solid set of smart TV options and picture quality features. Most notably, the E-Series offers full-array local dimming with up to 16 active zones, resulting in superior black level performance over traditional LCDs and edge-lit LEDs.
Unfortunately, the lighting conditions in the main showroom weren't exactly ideal for demoing this feature, but the sets looked quite pleasing regardless. With that said, next to the company's Ultra HD offerings, these 1080p models couldn't help but fade into the background, lacking that extra sheen of detail and pop that their big brothers bring to the table. Of course, at least there's still tons of HD content readily available… something Ultra HD still can't quite claim.
E-Series 24" Razor LED Smart TV - $179.99
E-Series 28" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $199.99
E-Series 32" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $259.99
E-Series 40" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $349.99
E-Series 43" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $389.99
E-Series 48" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $479.99
E-Series 50" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $529.99
E-Series 55" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $629.99
E-Series 60" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $799.99
E-Series 65" Full-Array LED Smart TV -$999.99
E-Series 70" Full-Array LED Smart TV - $1,399.99
Leaving the quaint world of 1080p behind (aren't they adorable?), we moved on to the recently launched M-Series. Unlike last year's models, 2015's M-Series makes the jump from HD to full Ultra HD, serving as new companions to the company's previously released P-Series 4K TVs. Once again, the LCD panels feature full-array local dimming -- this time with up to 32 zones. Models are available in sizes ranging from 43-inches to 80-inches and prices ranging from $599 to $3,999. In addition, each set offers several 4K streaming options, including Amazon and Netflix, along with HDMI 2.0 connections and HDCP 2.2 support.
With a beautiful demo reel marked by striking nature and city shots on display, these models looked rather gorgeous in person. Of course, the sets were likely tuned to unrealistic "vivid" settings, but thankfully I detected no egregious sharpening artifacts, allowing one to move right up to the screen without seeing any pixels or defects. However, up close and personal probably isn't how most viewers will want to experience their fancy 4K sets. I mean, I love my TV, but that level of intimacy is usually reserved for something with a pulse. Still, even from a reasonable distance, the TVs instantly caught ones eye -- and though I still heavily doubt that a 4K display under 65-inches is really worth consideration, next to the E-Series, these models did offer a noticeable (albeit subtle) step up in quality.
To further demonstrate the M-Series' superior black level performance, VIZIO also had a separate demo room with an M-series display side-by-side with a Samsung edge-lit Ultra HD model. Both TVs were playing a scene from one of Peter Jackson's 'Hobbit' films (sorry, they all blur together in my head). The difference between both technologies was readily apparent, with the Samsung appearing a bit more washed out and uneven with grey/blue blacks. Meanwhile, the VIZIO maintained a more uniform and deep shade of black, allowing the 2.35:1 bars to disappear into the dark of the room. Of course, both sets still use LCD tech, and picture quality did suffer a bit from off-angle viewing -- something that plasmas (may they rest in peace) and OLEDs (may they soon come down in price) handle much better.
M-Series 43" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $599.99
M-Series 49" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $769.99
M-Series 50" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $799.99
M-Series 55" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $999.99
M-Series 60" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $1499.99
M-Series 65" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $1699.99
M-Series 70" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $2199.99
M-Series 75" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $2999.99
M-Series 80" Ultra HD Full Array LED Smart TV - $3999.99
With HD and regular old Ultra HD out of the way, we can now get to the real showstopper. Dubbed "The Reference Series," this special Ultra HD collection is geared toward delivering premium picture quality with all of the latest tech bells and whistles that companies have been pushing since CES. Due out by the end of the year in 65-inch and 120-inch models, these displays offer full-array local dimming with a whopping 384 zones and Dolby Vision integration, providing full support for high dynamic range and wide color content with an 800-Nit backlight. In simplest terms, this means that the TVs can display enhanced levels of brightness and contrast with more detailed and intense highlights and shadows, along with more realistic colors -- that is, as long as the content being played has been formatted to fit to these new expanded standards.
At the event, VIZIO had the 65-inch and 120-inch Reference Series TVs on display and, with the exception of some minor motion anomalies, they both looked rather magnificent. To demo the models' Dolby Vision support, VIZIO had 4K Dolby Vision content streaming from VUDU. The reel featured clips from several Warner Bros. titles, including 'The Lego Movie,' 'Edge of Tomorrow,' 'Into the Storm,' and 'Man of Steel.' Each film has been re-graded through the Dolby Vision process to support high dynamic range and wide colors by the studio… and the results were simply spectacular.
The Dolby Vision process provides intense peak brightness without clipping detail. Instead, the highlights retain intricate fine details while still popping from the screen. Likewise, as intense as these highlights are, black levels remain inky, and shadow delineation is strong without crushing. In essence, the extremes of both contrast levels are pushed to new highs without sacrificing anything in between. In addition, color reproduction is much more realistic and varied, offering grades of colors not currently possible in the standard Rec. 709 color space. Though the Dolby Vision format offers support for Rec. 2020, VIZIO and Dolby would not give an exact number for the Reference Series models' expanded color gamut, only saying that is was wider than current sets.
A sequence from 'The Lego Movie' was particularly impressive, featuring the characters riding through a neon-lit city at night. The colors and lights popped with gorgeous saturation and the blacks remained deep and full. Scenes with more subdued apparent contrast also benefited from the process, but to a lesser degree. For instance, the initial beach invasion scene from 'Edge of Tomorrow' certainly looked great, but lacked the extra pop that the other clips offered.
VUDU Dolby Vision titles will use the HEVC codec for compression and will be backwards compatible with legacy formats. This means that TVs that don't support Dolby Vision will still be able to play the content, it will just conform to current color and contrast standards instead of the expanded ones. Finally, Dolby also confirmed that VUDU Dolby Vision titles will be able to offer Atmos soundtracks. With that said, they will not be lossless, and will instead be embedded using the Dolby Digital Plus codec. Support for the Ultra HD Blu-ray spec is also planned.
To highlight the display's impressive 384 local dimming zones, a special demo was offered that pitted the Reference Series against a competing edge-lit model. Both displays were hung side-by-side and each had their diffusers and light guides removed. A simple animation of fish swimming around the screen played on both sets, demonstrating the many active zones lighting up in specific sections of the panel on the VIZIO and the comparatively dim center and bright sides of the edge-lit model.
In addition to the main room displays, VIZIO also had a private demo room setup to directly compare the 65-inch Reference Series TV against two top competitors. In the pitch-black room, the Reference Series set was placed in the middle of a Samsung 8550 series Ultra HD TV and a Pioneer Kuro plasma HDTV (once heralded as one of the absolute best TVs on the market). The VUDU Dolby Vision reel was played on all three, highlighting the differences between contrast and colors between the displays and technologies.
While color on the Samsung and Pioneer were similar, the VIZIO had sometimes dramatically different saturation, ostensibly offering a more accurate and wide spectrum. This typically resulted in more bold primaries and varied hues. Contrast and brightness were also noticeably different. The Pioneer, in particular, appeared extremely dim compared to the LCD sets, and while the Samsung had solid brightness, black levels were more faded and uneven. On the other hand, the VIZIO actually managed to best both sets in both categories, offering deeper blacks and more intense peak brightness without troublesome blooming.
To further exemplify the benefits of Dolby Vision, the VIZIO representative also paused the picture during a sequence from 'The Lego Movie' to show off a close-up of a headlight. On the Samsung and Pioneer TVs, all detail was lost in the light, but on the VIZIO, the brightness from the light popped from the screen while still retaining more levels of detail. Of course, the LCD VIZIO was still subject to off-angle picture quality degradation, but from a reasonable viewing position the Dolby Vision process really blew away the competition. While I've included pictures from the presentation to give you an idea of the differences between the three sets (Samsung left, VIZIO center, Pioneer right), please note that my smartphone camera is not a particularly good way to capture such a comparison, and the VIZIO did not look blown out in person like it does in the pictures above and below.
Finally, beyond all of the impressive TVs on hand, VIZIO also had an audio demo room to show off its new 2.1 sound stand, 40-inch soundbar, and integrated Reference Series audio system. The 2.1 soundstand ($250) is designed to slide right under the company's 2015 display lineup and can also sit comfortably under other TVs up to 55-inches in size and up to 60 pounds in weight. The speaker includes an integrated subwoofer for a low frequency response of 55 Hz. To demo the soundstand, a clip from 'Captain America: The Winter Solder' was played. While the tiny device offered an impressive, room-filling sound and some surprisingly aggressive bass activity, I found the stereo audio to be less distinct than I would have liked, leading to a slightly muddled presentation that lacked any real sense of directionality or separation. Of course, more time with the system is needed to really form a full opinion.
On the other hand, the new 40-inch 5.1 soundbar system ($350) sounded quite good all across the board. This time, the company used a scene from 'Edge of Tomorrow' and the soundbar provided room-filling audio with distinct three channel separation from the front, solid surround sound presence from the included satellite rears, and ample bass from the wireless 6-inch subwoofer. Overall, the brief demo sounded comparable to the similar 38-inch 5.1 soundbar system that I reviewed last year.
In typical fashion, however, VIZIO was saving the best for last. For the final audio demo, we stayed with the same clip from 'Edge of Tomorrow' but switched to the 65-inch Reference Series integrated 5.1 audio system. This setup includes a 3-channel soudbar built right into the TV's bezel, two separate rear satellites, and a 10-inch wireless subwoofer. Immediately, there was a clear step up in performance from the 40-inch soundbar, with surround activity and bass becoming much more substantial and immersive. The soundstage extended all around the room, providing a convincing home theater experience that left a strong impression. With that said, while the idea of a high-performing integrated audio system in an Ultra HD TV is great, it should be noted that the soundbar only supports standard Dolby and DTS formats. Since customers are already paying for top-of-the-line picture in the Reference Series, it's likely that they will at least want a lossless audio presentation as well, still making a separate audio system a necessity… which sort of defeats the purpose of the included 5.1 soundbar.
No too long ago, VIZIO was simply known as a budget TV manufacturer, but with new lineups like this, that perception is starting to dramatically change. While companies like Samsung and Sony continue to primarily rely on edge-lit local dimming, VIZIO has become committed to offering the superior full-array backlight technology on all of their models. Likewise, upcoming displays like the Reference Series will include all of the fancy new picture quality features that competing top-of-the-line sets offer without any of the divisive gimmicks (no curves here) -- fully bringing the company into the premium market. Really, the only thing missing here is 3D support, and while that might be a deal-breaker to some consumers, the cost to performance ratio on these displays is undeniably enticing.
MSRPs have not been announced for the Reference Series yet, but based on what I've seen, if VIZIO can maintain its trademark competitive pricing, then these models might actually be among the Ultra HD TVs to beat in 2015. We're hoping to get more hands-on time with these displays and audio products soon, so stay tuned to High-Deft Digest for all of the latest HD gear news and reviews!
For now, though, what do you think about VIZIO's latest products? Are these prices and picture quality features tempting enough to finally justify making the leap to 4K? Or is the lack of 3D still a deal-breaker? And what do you think about Dolby Vision? Will you be holding off for a set that supports HDR and expanded colors? Share your thoughts in the forums!
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