Vizio M series (2015) review:

An affordable 4K TV with an excellent picture

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Vizio M series is one of the least-expensive 4K TVs you can buy. Its picture quality, thanks to full-array local dimming, delivers deep black levels and excellent contrast for an LCD TV. Color accuracy and some aspects of video processing are solid, and input lag for gaming is among the lowest we've ever tested. The Vizio's feature set is well-chosen but not bloated, and it includes excellent connectivity with five 4K-compatible HDMI inputs.

The Bad Competing 4K TVs offer better video processing and more accurate color prior to picture-setting calibration. Only one HDMI input is compatible both HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. The silver finish doesn't blend in as well as black would.

The Bottom Line The Vizio M series sits at this year's sweet spot of price and picture, and just happens to be 4K too.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Value 9.0

Finally, I can wholeheartedly recommend a 4K TV. Not because its higher pixel count makes a major difference in picture quality -- it still doesn't and 4K content in the wild is still as scarce as giant pandas -- but because it finally offers a better picture for the buck with all kinds of content than its 1080p counterparts. That TV is the Vizio M series.

Vizio is the current godfather of high-value TVs, and the 2015 M series is the poster child. It's priced hundreds less than any of the 4K offerings from Samsung and Sony, and performs better than most. The secret to that picture has nothing to do with resolution, but instead to a technology called local dimming, which can selectively dim and brighten independent areas of the screen for better contrast than competing TVs. Its benefits extend to everything you watch, 4K or otherwise.

Aside from traditional brand-related prestige, what are you missing when you go with the Vizio M? Well, it lacks a curved screen, doesn't have a sophisticated Smart TV system, doesn't support 3D, and won't blow anybody away with its dashing good looks. You can't talk into the remote to search, and you can't launch a Web browser on the screen. If any of that matters to you -- and for the record, almost none of it matters to me -- then this isn't your TV.

But if you want the best image quality for the buck along with the assurance that you can display 4K content now and in the future, the Vizio M series is my top recommendation so far in 2015. Its picture quality advantage over the Vizio E series , and any other less-expensive TV I've seen, is definitely worth the extra money in my book.

Meanwhile the Vizio P series from last year performed a hair better in my side-by-side tests, so if you can get one for the same price or less than the M, go for it. That difference isn't worth much extra money, however, and according to Vizio the P is being phased out soon anyway, likely to make way for a new (and I'm guessing more expensive) 2015 P this fall. Whatever other TVs come along during the rest of 2015, the mighty M is going to be tough to beat.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Vizio M65-C1, but this review also applies to most of the other screen sizes in the series. There are some variations among the models that may lead to some differences in picture quality, namely different native panel refresh rates, but not as much as with the E series, where I felt compelled to review three different sizes to get a handle on their differences. See the Features section for details on those differences.

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Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 2007 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

Design

The M series is handsome enough but lacks the flair of most 4K TVs from Samsung, Sony and LG. Vizio differentiates it from the cheaper E series with a silver edging, whisper-thin when seen from the front and dominant from the side. The bezel is otherwise standard: black and exceedingly slim.

Unlike the P series, the M lacks the protruding "Vizio" tab on the lower right; the unobtrusive logo is tattooed on the bezel without further ado. The M's silver color is brighter than that of the P as well. With the two sitting side-by-side in my lab, I liked the darker P a bit better, and in some rooms the M's silver might stand out too much.

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Sarah Tew / CNET. Screen image copyright 2007 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

The other big change from last year's models is the design of the stand, er, stands. The TV rests on a pair of detachable, cast aluminum legs splayed far to the edges. The design is more stable than the central pedestal of yore, especially when you press down from the top on either side, but mandates a piece of furniture at least as wide as the TV itself. Unless you wall-mount, which is safer still.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

From the side, the 2014 M series is thicker than some 4K LCD TVs, thanks in part to a direct LED backlight. That's a minor disadvantage in our book, not least because nobody watches TV from the side. More makers today are using direct, as opposed to edge-lit, designs anyway. The Sony XBR-65X850C and the Samsung UN65JU7100 are both direct-lit, for example, and both are thicker than the 65-inch Vizio M.

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Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 2007 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

The M and P series remotes are identical, and I'm not a fan. The topside is particularly mediocre, with no backlighting, little key differentiation, and a somewhat confusing arrangement of keys around the cursor.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On the flip side is a full QWERTY keyboard that I liked a lot better. It's fully backlit and includes touches like directional keys and a dedicated ".com" button to ease log-ins. It was still kind of a pain to use, however, because it has to be aimed carefully and often required multiple button presses to register.

The menu system has the same arrangement as other recent Vizio sets. It's basic, easy to navigate, and I appreciate the helpful on-screen touches, including descriptions of various menu items and access to the full user manual.

Key Features

Display technology: LCD
LED backlight: Full-array with local dimming
Resolution: 4K
Refresh rate: 120Hz or 60Hz
Screen shape: Flat
Screen finish: Matte
Smart TV: VIA Plus
Remote: QWERTY
3D technology: None

Features

The headline is 4K resolution, of course, but it's not the most important feature in my book. Vizio is still the only TV maker that sells affordable TVs with full-array local dimming, my favorite LCD TV picture quality enhancement. Every other 4K TV with local dimming, full-array or edge-lit, is significantly more expensive than the M series. The only exception I know about is Vizio's own P series from last year.

Each size in the M series gets 32 dimmable zones, meaning the screen can dim or brighten independently in 32 separate areas (the exception is the 43-inch size at 28 zones). More zones generally equates to better image quality in the form of less blooming (where the bright zones "leak" into the darker ones) and other benefits. The P series gets twice as many zones in most sizes at 64, and in our testing that did seem to make a difference, albeit small (see Picture Quality below for details). No other TV maker divulges the number of its dimming zones.

The E series specifications for "effective" refresh rate and Clear Motion Rate also vary for different sizes, and both numbers are basically fake. Like in past years, Vizio's "effective" number is double that of the true panel refresh rate. In the M series the 60-inch and larger sets have 120Hz panels, while the 55-inch and smaller TVs use 60Hz panels. Higher Hz numbers generally equate to improved motion resolution (less blurring). All of the M series models, even the 60Hz ones, offer optional smoothing, otherwise known as the Soap Opera Effect.

Unlike many higher-end 4K TVs, the M lacks fancy add-ons like HDR support, wide color gamut and even 3D. None are anywhere near essential in my book, especially at this price point. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Vizio's 2015 P series (which hasn't yet been announced, but I suspect is coming this fall) ends up supporting HDR and/or wide color.

VA or IPS (updated July 22, 2015): Most LCD TVs sold today use one of two kinds of panels: VA (Vertical Alignment) or IPS (In-Plane Switching). In our experience VA panels deliver superior black level performance and overall picture quality, and the 65-inch M series I used for this hands-on review has a VA panel.

On the E series Vizio used both VA and IPS LCD panels in a variety of sizes, but the M series is more consistent. The only size that uses IPS is the 49-inch version, model M49-C1 . I didn't include it in this review, and I recommend getting the 50-inch M series over the 49-inch version for this reason alone. See the P series review, where I performed hands-on reviews of both panel types, for details.

Vizio originally told me that it would also be using IPS panels on the 55-inch version of the M series, but after this review published it changed its tune. It now says all 55-inch M series TVs will exclusively use VA panels, leaving the 49-inch size as the only 2015 M series with IPS. I have modified this review accordingly.

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Sarah Tew / CNET. Screen image copyright 2007 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

Smart TV: Pretty much identical to last year, and to the E series, the 2015 M series' Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) Plus smart TV suite doesn't try to do too much. No pretty-boy Tizen, WebOS or Android-powered voice commands, universal search or Web browsers here. That's fine with me, because I think the best Smart TV experience is provided by an external device like a Roku anyway. Or by, you know, a Roku TV .

If you decide to use Vizio for your apps instead of a streaming box or stick, you'll be greeted by a simple line of seven icons along the bottom when you hit the remote's central "V" key. Scrolling to the right brings up more, or you can hit "V" again for a full-screen interface. There you'll find all of the available apps neatly categorized, along with the ability to add, remove and reorder apps within the band.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio's content selection is very good. HBO Go isn't available, and there are no major sports apps like MLB TV, NHL GameCenter, or NBA League Pass, but most of the other heavy-hitters for video are here, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and Plex. Audio support is also solid, with iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Spotify.

It's worth noting here that Vizio still uses the same involuntary software update system, and it's a drag. You can't simply check for updates manually -- you have to wait for them to be rolled out, and there's no way to opt out of receiving them (aside from disconnecting the TV from the network). I prefer the system used by most other TV makers, where you can manually check and opt out of automatic updates if you want.

4K streaming: I checked out 4K streaming on the built-in Netflix and Amazon apps and they worked as expected, although as I've seen in the past, consistent 4K streams from Amazon (as opposed to "HD" and 1080p HD") are more sporadic than they are on Netflix.

As usual I didn't see a massive image quality improvement over those services' HD streams, and in previous tests I've performed, neither 4K streaming services' image quality could quite match the best 1080p Blu-rays. And of course content is scarce, although Netflix in particular deserves credit for continuing to release many of its original series, such as "Daredevil," in 4K.

Unlike Samsung's 2015 4K TVs for now, Vizio also has a working UltraFlix app. I fired it up and plunked down $10 for a 48-hour rental of the marquis title, "Interstellar" in 4K (otherwise the selection was mostly Kung-Fu, concerts, flotsam and older films like "Fargo" and "Robocop"). In the app's favor, it looked great, visibly sharper than the Vudu HDX stream I compared side-by-side. I didn't have the chance to compare it to the Blu-ray, but I plan to soon. If UltraFlix can somehow get more worthwhile content, it may grow into a viable 4K streaming competitor to the likes of Amazon and Netflix.

Unlike many 2015 4K TVs, the M series lacks the VP9 decoding necessary to play 4K YouTube videos, so its YouTube app won't deliver 4K resolution. This is a hardware limitation so it can't be fixed via a software upgrade. I don't consider this omission a big deal, especially since YouTube's 4K content hasn't proved the sharpest in our tests, but it's still a knock worth noting.

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Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 2007 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

Picture settings: The M series offers plenty of ways to tweak the image. There are six picture modes, all of which can be adjusted, and you can create and rename additional modes as needed. You can also lock modes to prevent accidental erasure.

Advanced tweaks include five gamma presets, a full color-management system and both a 2- and 11-point grayscale control. There are sliders for Reduce Judder and Reduce Motion Blur, and a Clear Action option that engages backlight scanning. There's also an option Game Low Latency that reduces input lag.

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Sarah Tew / CNET

Connectivity: The M and P series are identical in this area, and equally complex and quirky.

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