Vizio M2i-B series review: Great picture quality and value with very few compromises

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.2
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Value: 9.0
Review Date:

The Good The Vizio M-Series delivers superb picture quality for the money thanks to its local dimming LED backlight. The picture provides deep black levels with little to no blooming, great bright-room performance and plenty of adjustments. The Smart TV component features ample content with a simple design. The remote's flipside QWERTY keyboard is a nice touch, and the styling adds a bit of class -- as long as you don't mind silver.

The Bad Picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series; color accuracy and video processing not quite as good as some competitors; below-average sound quality.

The Bottom Line Excellent picture quality, well thought-out features and distinctive design make the Vizio M-Series seem like a much more expensive TV than it really is.

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When I published a glowing review of Vizio's E-Series a couple weeks ago, I conducted what I called "an informal, non-binding and thoroughly unscientific poll" in the comments section and on Twitter, asking what TV I should review next: this M-Series Vizio or any one of four flagship 4K TVs from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic or LG.

Pretty much everybody who responded asked for the M-Series. Ask, dear commenters and Twitterati, and thou shalt receive.

Nope, it's not 4K, and no, it's not quite as good a value as the E-Series, but it's still pretty friggin' sweet. Vizio touts the additional local dimming zones of the M-Series as its main picture quality advantage, but in my testing the real differences between the two were slight. Both create an excellent picture, and since the E is cheaper, it's a better value overall.

But unlike some TV makers, Vizio offers step-up extras that might be worthwhile to a lot of buyers. Foremost is better styling than the E, as long as you like silver. Then there's the better remote, including a full QWERTY keyboard on the back that (gasp!) actually works with the Netflix app. And better motion performance, as long as you engage the Soap Opera Effect.

So while I don't recommend the M as highly as the E overall, both represent tremendous values, and will likely set the pace at or near the top of CNET's Best TVs list for a good chunk of 2014. They also heighten my expectations for the P series and R series of 4K TVs, both due sometime later this year--Vizio still hasn't said exactly when.

Series information: The M-Series isn't as sprawling as the E-Series, but it still has a lot of members and Vizio's patented, confusing nomenclature. I reviewed the 60-inch model here, but according to Vizio, the 42- through 70-inch models are similar enough for the comments in this review to apply to them all. The 32-inch is different enough that this review doesn't apply to that size, and while the 42-incher offers fewer dimming zones, Vizio says it is similar enough to include here as well. The 80-inch M801i-A3, meanwhile, is an edge-lit model and so is also not included here.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

The 2014 M series looks almost exactly the same as the 2013 version from the front, albeit with an even slimmer bezel. The company kept the silver color along the edges of the frame, the rounded corners and the matching open-base stand, which doesn't swivel. It's a nice look, easily more distinctive and classier than the staid E, but the profusion of non-black might make it a tougher sell to some decor-conscious buyers.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

From the side the 2014 M looks thicker than its predecessor, but who watches TV from the side? That's a minor disadvantage, if that. It's still not exactly chunky.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio's remote is the same on the topside as last year's M-Series, and while it's better than the one from the E models, it's still pretty mediocre. There's no backlighting, little key differentiation, and the arrangement of keys around the cursor always tripped me up.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

On the flip side is a full QWERTY keyboard. It's fully backlit and includes nice touches like directional keys and a dedicated ".com" button to ease logins.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The menu system has the same arrangement found on the 2013 M-Series last year. It's a cleaner-looking than the old menus, 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 TV features
Display technology: LCD LED backlight: Full-array with local dimming
Screen shape: Flat Resolution: 1080p
Smart TV: Yes Remote: QWERTY
Cable box control: No IR blaster: N/A
3D capable: No 3D glasses included: N/A
Screen finish: Matte Refresh rate: 240Hz
DLNA-compliant: Photo/Music/Video USB media: Photo/Music/Video
Screen mirroring: YouTube and Netflix (via DIAL) Control via official app: No

Features

In describing the local dimming on all its lines, from the entry-level E-Series on up, Vizio is using the term "full-array" this year, instead of the term "direct" it employed last year. Whatever it's called, the arrangement of the LEDs behind the screen, as opposed to along the edges, generally improves picture quality, particularly uniformity and dimming performance.

But not all full-array local dimming LED-based LCD TVs are created equal. Many of the extremely expensive full-array sets that have defined the breed in the last few years, like the Sharp Elite and Sony XBR-HX950, let alone today's examples like the Sony XBR-X950B or Vizio's own 2014 P-Series and Reference Series, have more LEDs behind their screens and more zones of dimming than the M-Series being reviewed here. More LEDs and zones should result in better precision control over dimming and, ultimately, better picture quality.

Vizio is the only maker of full-array sets that will divulge about the number of dimming zones it uses. And yes, I nonetheless almost always ask, only to watch the engineer in question nod sadly while he tells me he can't tell me. The 60-inch M-Series I'm reviewing here has 32 zones, roughly double the number found on E-Series models. Most of the other sizes have the same number, with the exception of the 42-inch with 14 zones. According to Vizio, that doesn't make much of a difference in picture quality, and notably the 42-inch E-Series has 6 zones.

Another improvement over the E-Series is motion handling. Vizio is careful to say the M-Series has a "up to 240Hz effective refresh rate," but like many TV makers, clouds the issue further by using a higher, faker number, in this case "Clear Action 720." Check out Video Processing below for details on how it compared to the E-Series and other LED LCDs. Unlike the E, the M-Series gives you the option to engage the Soap Opera Effect if you like that kind of smoothing.

You may also notice the absence of 3D in the chart above. Many of Vizio's previous TVs, including in 2013 the M series and a few "E" series models, offered passive 3D compatibility. This year Vizio has dropped the feature entirely, announcing no 3D-compatible televisions so far in its 2014 E, M, or P or even the high-end R series.

On the off chance you care, the screen-mirroring functionality found on many TVs goes missing, and there's no official app to allow remote control from a phone and other sundries. You do get the limited screen mirroring of DIAL compatibility, however, which allows you to control the YouTube and Netflix apps Chromecast-style with your phone or tablet. I tried it with both iOS and Android phones and it worked fine.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: As I mentioned in a recent Samsung review, that company, along with LG, has now adopted a quick-access band of icons overlaid atop the bottom of the screen as the primary gateway to its Smart TV interface. Vizio's engineers must be snickering into their sleeves, because the company has been using the same design -- and we've been lauding its simplicity -- since 2009.

The 2014 M-Series gets the same basic Smart TV interface as last year's M, dubbed "VIA Plus" in Viz-speak. That means seven app icons visible at a time in the band instead of four, minimizing the scrolling necessary to locate the app you want. Like many systems you also get some multitasking -- while watching Netflix I was able to call up my Twitter or Facebook feed to overlay the video, for example.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

If you prefer a full-screen interface, a second tap on the "V" button brings that up, along with the ability to add, remove and reorder apps within the band. I appreciated the excellent categorization, especially the ability to shunt away the numerous "local TV" apps.

Vizio's content selection is very good. HBO Go isn't available (it's still a Samsung exclusive among TVs) 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. The meta-app "Web video" itself contains numerous sub-apps of specialized videos.

I also spotted a couple of differences between the 2014 E and M series' apps. Spotify subscribers will appreciate that that app is available on the M (but not the E) in addition to iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Rhapsody. More importantly, the Amazon app available on the M series is the newer, full-screen version found on devices like Samsung TVs and PS3 consoles, not the old overlay version found on the E-Series.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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Vizio M502i-B1

Part Number: M502i-B1
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