The Vizio P series is probably the most highly anticipated TV of 2014. Ever since it was introduced at CES 2014 at a starting price of $999 with the heady promise of full-array local dimming combined with 4K resolution, I envisioned an LCD TV that would be close to as recommendable as some of the plasmas of yore. Or at least, the most recommendable LCD TV of the year.
In its current state -- read, with its current software -- the Vizio P series is flawed. Yes, its picture is very good overall, with the same kind of deep black levels I liked on the non-4K E-series and M-series TVs from Vizio. And its price is still hundreds less than that of competing 4K TVs from other makers.
On the other hand, it's also hundreds more than those other Vizios, and its picture quality is worse in many ways, despite the extra resolution of 4K (which, if I may reiterate, is barely visible anyway).
Vizio evidently tried too hard to justify the extra cost for 4K. The P series is saddled with video processing that makes the picture look too sharp, overly-enhanced and even, with some material, plagued by artifacts like unnatural twinkles and twitchy moving lines. To some observers, the "extra sharpness" might provide the illusion of a better picture, but to me, and to most video quality junkies (you know, the people who might want to pay more for a 4K TV) it's a Bad Thing. And right now, you can't turn it off.
Of course, TV software can be updated, and I wouldn't be surprised if Vizio addressed some of these complaints by reducing the aggressiveness of its processing, or better yet, by providing an off switch like other TV makers do, allowing high-quality 1080p and 4K material to be displayed with minimal folderol. Until it does, the P series will remain just "good enough," not the world-beater I expected, and difficult to recommend over more expensive 4K alternatives like the Samsung UNHU8550 or cheaper 1080p models like, you know, other Vizios.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch (P55) and 65-inch (P65) sizes, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. Aside from the differences noted in this review, especially related to the 55-incher's IPS panel (see 'Picture quality,' below), all sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The 2014 Vizio M and P series look almost identical, except that the silver finish on the stand and sides of the P is somewhat darker, which I prefer. There's Vizio's characteristic "tab" logo on the far right, a thin black bezel, the rounded corners and the matching open-base stand, which doesn't swivel. It's a nice, clean look, but certainly not a standout compared to most makers' 4K sets.
From the side, the 2014 P series is thicker than many 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. It's still not exactly chunky.
The topside of Vizio's remote is pretty mediocre. There's no backlighting, little key differentiation, and the arrangement of keys around the cursor always tripped me up. 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.
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 TV features|
|Display technology:||LCD||LED backlight:||Full-array with local dimming|
|Screen shape:||Flat||Resolution:||4K (UHD)|
|Smart TV:||Yes||Remote:||QWERTY Wi-Fi|
|Cable box control:||No||IR blaster:||N/A|
|3D technology:||None||3D glasses included:||N/A|
|Screen finish:||Semi-matte||Refresh rate:||240Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||No||Control via app||No|
Aside from 4K resolution, the headline feature here is full-array local dimming. Every other 4K TV with local dimming, full-array or edge-lit, is significantly more expensive than the P series, and indeed all but four mainstream 2014 4K sets -- the Sony XBR-X950B, the Toshiba L9400, the Panasonic AX900 and Vizio's own R series -- have the typically less-effective edge-lit scheme. Each size in the P series gets 64 dimmable zones, with the exception of the 70-incher, which gets 72. Most sizes in the M-series, by way of comparison, get 32 zones, while the E-series has even fewer.
Vizio's website specifies a "240Hz effective refresh rate," but like all 4K TVs, this year the P series actually has a 120Hz panel. The extra Hz supposedly comes from backlight scanning. Vizio isn't the only company to play these sorts of refresh rate games, and don't be surprised to see an even higher number -- "Clear Action Rate 960" -- quoted at times by the company.
You may also notice the absence of 3D in the chart above. Many of Vizio's previous TVs offered passive 3D compatibility. This year Vizio has dropped the feature entirely, announcing no 3D-compatible televisions, even in the higher-end P and R series. That's a shame, because passive 3D is greatly improved by 4K.
Like most 2014 4K TVs the P series offers built-in HEVC decoding, allowing it to handle Netflix and other 4K streaming services.
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.
Smart TV: The same basic Smart TV interface, dubbed "VIA Plus," is used throughout Vizio's 2014 line. A row of app icons appear along the bottom of the screen, an arrangement aped this year by Samsung and LG. You can re-arrange the seven icons within the "dock" and scroll to access more. If you prefer a full-screen interface, a second tap on the "V" button brings it up. I appreciated the excellent categorization, especially the ability to disregard the numerous "local TV" apps.
The P series naturally gets the version of Netflix that allows 4K streaming, and Vizio tells me the app update for Amazon Instant that allows 4K is coming soon along with UltraFlix, a new 4K streaming service said to include lesser-known films.
Although it's no Roku, Vizio's app 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 here. The meta-app "Web video" itself contains numerous sub-apps of specialized videos. Audio support is also extensive: you get iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Spotify, although Rhapsody is no longer available.
The remote's backside QWERTY keyboard is a real boon, particularly for log-ins and searches. Not every app supports it, but I was happy to see Netflix and Amazon do.
Unlike most other major TV names, Vizio still doesn't offer a Web browser in its Smart TV system. That's no major loss since a laptop, tablet, or phone works much better anyway. Still, it's worth noting that some TV browsers -- namely Samsung and LG -- have improved a lot recently. Vizio's system also lacks the many extras found elsewhere, including cable-box control, universal search, voice command and more.
Picture settings: The P series has the most comprehensive range of picture controls of any Vizio TV, finally bringing it into line with the Samsungs and LGs of the world. In addition to the 2- and 10-point grayscale controls and CMS we appreciated from the M series, the P adds an actual gamma preset. You get an on/off toggle for local dimming and a Game Low Latency setting that cuts input lag on any picture mode.
The "Motion Blur Reduction" option engages backlight scanning to supposedly improve motion resolution, but in our tests it was ineffective. The "Smooth Motion Effect" setting offers three levels of Soap Opera Effect.
Another improvement over the M series is in the treatment of picture modes. Gone is the confusing switch back to a single custom mode after every adjustment. Instead, the mode you're adjusting is simply marked with an asterisk to indicate its settings are no longer in the default positions. If you like those settings you can save them in a custom picture mode (or more than one), which you can name anything you want and even lock, preventing inadvertent adjustment.
Connectivity: Of the five HDMI, four are version 1.4, meaning they can handle 1080p and 4K sources up to 30Hz. The fifth is HDMI 2.0 compatible, meaning it can also handle 4K sources up to 60Hz. In addition, this fifth input can accept 1080p signals up to 120Hz, although currently the only sources capable of outputting such signals are PCs.
I didn't test 1080p/120Hz, but I did check all 10 HDMI inputs on both review samples with 4K sources. They all behaved as expected, except for HDMI 1 on the P65. For whatever reason, I couldn't get it to properly display 4K/30 signal.
Like most 4K sets, the Vizio P series can't accept 4:4:4 chroma subsampling signals via any of its inputs. The company claims that's because three of the ports are compatible with HDCP 2.2, which doesn't allow 4:4:4 signals. This isn't a big deal to us since, once again, the only common 4:4:4 sources come from PCs.
Beyond HDMI, the Vizio's other physical connections include one each of USB, component-video, composite video, Ethernet and an RF tuner port. There's also an analog audio and optical digital audio output. As with other Vizio TVs, the P series' optical jack passes Dolby Digital.
As we mentioned at the top, the best thing about the P series picture is its contrast -- at least on every size but the 55-incher. We tested two sizes for this review, the 55-inch (P55) and the 65-inch (P65). The 65-inch set, as well as the 50-, 60- and 70-inch sizes in the series, use an LCD panel type known as VA. Only the 55-inch set uses a different panel type, known as IPS. Check out our Monitor Buying Guide for more on the differences between VA and IPS.
In side-by-side testing, the P55's black levels and contrast were clearly inferior to the P65's. It showed other differences as noted below, including better fidelity from off-angle and less over-accentuation of bright areas, for what might charitably be called a more balanced picture. All told, I preferred the P65's picture, and I assume the other sizes in the series will perform similarly.