Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
At CES this year, Vizio caused a stir by announcing the VF551XVT, a 55-inch HDTV with local dimming LED backlighting and 240Hz processing for the rock-bottom price of $1,999. If you look carefully at the model number of this review, you'll notice it says VF550XVT. One digit makes a lot of difference in this case; the model reviewed here had neither of those features, although it still costs around $1,999 in stores.
Still reading? Good. The VF550XVT is among the least expensive 55-inch LCDs on the market, but it has become less-appealing at this point in its lifespan. First off, attentive readers will realize that if they just wait till June, when the company will ship the VF551XVT, they'll get a lot more TV (judging from the spec sheet) for roughly the same money. We expect Vizio to drop the price on this model at that point, or discontinue it completely. Second, the overall performance of the VF550XVT is nothing special. We liked its accurate color but found its black level performance and dejudder processing disappointing compared to other LCD sets. That said, if you're on a budget, want a really big screen--say, if 52 inches is just too small--and have your heart set on LCD instead of plasma, the Vizio VF550XVT makes a tempting target.
This big-screen LCD looks unassuming for the most part, with the standard glossy black frame surrounding the picture area. But the nondetachable speaker bar along the bottom, with its silver coloring, reflective supports, bulbous shape, and see-through panel exposing the wall behind the TV, assumes a bit too much, and we predict you'll either love it or hate it. We fall into the latter camp.
The 55-inch VF550XVT measures 51.5 inches wide by 36 inches tall by 13.5 inches deep and weighs a svelte 86 pounds with stand attached. Remove the nonswiveling stand and its dimensions become 51.5 by 33.9 by 5 inches and its weight just 73.8 pounds.
We liked Vizio's large remote, with its oversize chrome-colored cursor pad surrounded by well-spaced, easily differentiated, yellow-backlit keys. Highlights include a section that offers direct access to different input types, "A, B, C, and D" keys for other devices, such as cable boxes, that double as picture-in-picture controls, and the capability to command three other devices. Many of the keys double up, but the remote handles these well--we appreciate that the oft-used key to control aspect ratio shares the bright red "record" key, for example.
The company has revamped its menu system for the XVT models, squeezing it onto the left side of the screen and improving the graphics. The menus' usability has taken a step backward, however. We found ourselves annoyed at the fact that you can only see one parameter at a time and that too much scrolling is required to access all of the settings.
Vizio equipped the VF550XVT with a 120Hz refresh rate and the accompanying dejudder processing. The processing can smooth out judder inherent in moving video, especially film, and can also help alleviate blurring in motion (see Performance for more details).
A good selection of picture adjustments is on hand, including a whopping nine fully adjustable picture modes. Four of these modes, Golf, Baseball, Basketball, and Football, serve to perpetuate the mistaken notion that picture settings can be optimized for particular sports. In case you're wondering, we detected no discernable benefit to watching a Football game in said mode as opposed to, say, Golf mode, but it's nice to have the extra adjustability afforded by four additional picture modes, regardless of their names. Unfortunately, none of the picture modes are independent per input.
We liked that Vizio included adjustments for all four of the color temperature presets, allowing you to tweak them to your liking. There's also a range of options that should mostly be left off for high-quality sources. There are three strengths of noise reduction, four Color Enhancement modes (each messes with color decoding; we preferred Off since it didn't introduce red push), and an Advanced Adaptive Luma setting that adjusts the picture according to program content (again, Off proved best).
Aspect ratio control on the VF550XVT is about average, with only three options available for HD sources and four for standard-def. In Vizio's favor, the default HD mode, labeled "Wide," does not scale 1080i and 1080p sources or introduce overscan, but we wish there was another mode that at least provided some overscan for those channels with interference along the extreme edges of the image.
The VF550XVT is the first Vizio HDTV we've tested to include the home/retail option common to Energy Star 3.0 TVs on initial setup; selecting home automatically sets the more energy-efficient (darker) Custom picture mode as the default, while retail keeps the TV on Vivid by default. There's no dedicated power saver picture mode, but there is a backlight mode called Optimum Power Control (OPC) that's designed to "reduce power consumption while maintaining the same picture brightness" according to the manual. Since this isn't a true power saver mode--engaging it actually consumed more power than the default setting--we didn't include it in the Juice Box below.
We did appreciate the inclusion of a versatile picture-in-picture option, which goes missing on many HDTVs these days. For whatever reason, PIP comes disabled by default; you must turn off the parental control function to enable PIP.
A whopping five total HDMI inputs highlight the excellent connectivity of the Vizio VF550XT. The company located four on the back panel and placed a fifth on the side, for as many HDMI inputs as we've seen on any HDTV. The side panel also sports one of the two component-video inputs, along with an AV input with composite video. The back gets the second component input, a PC input (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution), an AV input with composite and S-Video, an RF input for antenna and cable, an optical digital audio output, and an analog stereo output.