This year I've seen plenty of LED-based LCD TVs with disappointing picture quality, but the Vizio M3D0KD series isn't one of them. It boasts black levels and color accuracy that surpass competitors costing hundreds more, making it one of the elite values in its class. No, the series doesn't quite match the price-to-picture ratio of some of our favorite plasmas this year, but at least it comes in a screen size smaller than 50 inches.
For TV buyers who don't want a plasma TV or are sold on another aspect of this Vizio's spec sheet, like passive 3D or its QWERTY Bluetooth remote, the Vizio M3D0KD belongs high on the list of candidates.
Two brighter elements annoy me, though: the gray strip adjacent to the screen along the bottom (material right next to the screen should ideally be black and the same on every side) and the silver pedestal.
The remote is Bluetooth so you don't need line-of-sight to the TV; it can control other devices; and it has a slide-open QWERTY keyboard for easier typing of searches, passwords, and other Smart TV data.
Unfortunately, the slider feels cheap, the buttons aren't very responsive, and the unit felt more like a plastic brick than a svelte, modern controller in my hand. I'll take function over form faster than the next guy, but Vizio takes it too far in the wrong direction.
Like many passive 3D TVs this year, the M3D0KD includes a four-pack of glasses. Vizio charges $16 for a two-pack if you want more, and most third-party circular polarized glasses, such as those used at movie theaters, should work, too. No maker of active-3D TVs this year, aside from Samsung, which throws in at least two pairs with every 3D set, includes glasses. Check out our 3D TV buying guide and comparison of active and passive 3D for more.
I prefer LG's aviator-style passive glasses over the generic-looking ones Vizio includes, which didn't fit as well over my prescription lenses. Both were plenty comfortable, although I wish they'd shut out ambient light better, like Panasonic's active glasses do. Overall Vizio's glasses are fine, especially for the price, and you can always buy other passive glasses for cheap if you don't like the fit.
If Vizio's remote seems dated, then its VIA Smart TV suite, which looks exactly the same as it did during its first generation, deserves the same adjective. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than it needs to be since you'll need to scroll through the small ticker at the bottom of the page. Yes, you can rearrange the ticker and weed out the apps you don't want, but it's still a pain for those who want to keep more than a few apps installed. Response times were decent, but not as snappy as from Samsung's or LG's app suites.
At the time of this review Vizio's M3D0KD offered more than 150 apps. Vizio's app selection is devoid of sports-streaming apps like MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter Live, but otherwise excellent -- in fact, it's the only Smart TV purveyor aside from Panasonic to include Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. There's no Web browser, but that's no major loss since TV-based browsers are universally inferior to smartphone, tablet, and of course PC browsers.
Vizio lacks an "app store" and any paid app choices, but the Yahoo Connected TV Store (the VIA engine is based on Yahoo widgets) has plenty of free, somewhat useful others like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango (with ticket purchasing), iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live. The remainder of that 150 are inevitably less useful, including umpteen apps devoted to local news channels.
Tops on the list in my book is Vizio's Smart Dimming feature, which makes the M3D0KD a member of the increasingly select tribe of LED TVs with local dimming. Yes, those edge-lit areas of the screen dim in large, imprecise swaths compared with the dimmers that have full-array backlights, but some local dimming is better than none in my experience since it usually improves black-level performance.
Advanced settings include two-point color temperature and a couple of dejudder settings, along with the option to enable or disable the local dimming and ambient light sensor. Missing are a color management system, gamma presets, and more-involved grayscale controls, so the M3D0KD isn't as friendly to tweakers as sets from LG and Samsung, for example.
Simply put, the Vizio is the second-best-performing LED TV we've tested so far this year, falling short of the superb Sony KDL-HX850 and beating the other contenders by a greater or lesser margin. Its strengths include black-level performance and color accuracy, as well as solid screen uniformity, 3D picture quality, and bright-room performance. Variable black levels, blooming, and an inability to properly handle 1080p/24 sources are flies in the ointment, but not enough to seriously contaminate the Vizio's overall picture.