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..
We're willing to bet that when Vizio announced the VF551XVT back in January, plenty of savvy HDTV bargain hunters marked down "June" as the time they'd buy this 55-inch LED-based LCD. Then the company pushed its release back to September. Then it announced that the "Via" VF552XVT--basically the same as this model with one of the most compelling feature packages we've ever seen, including a Bluetooth remote and Wi-Fi connectivity to complement a robust suite of interactive services--would be shipping in January 2010 for the same price. Suddenly the much-anticipated VF551XVT seemed a bit less impressive.
For the sub-$2,000 price, however, this Vizio still delivers impressive picture quality to big-screen shoppers who can't wait for its successor or don't care about interactive doodads (and no, there's no way to upgrade a 551 to get Via functionality). Its black levels are among the deepest we've tested this year, and while the fluctuating backlight may give videophiles pause, it's not a deal-breaker. The VF551XVT also succeeds on most other performance fronts, although we can't say the same about its styling. Like all big-screen LCDs, the Vizio's main competition comes from similar-size plasmas that cost even less, but if you have your heart set on LCD, the Vizio VF551XVT is currently the over-50-inch bargain of the year.
[Editors' note: Many of the Design and features elements are identical between the VF551XVT and the VF550XVT we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.]
Vizio's 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 only external difference between the VF551XVT and the VF550XVT is the former's addition of an illuminated row of "tech logos" on the left-hand side. There's a menu item that promises to disable the illumination, but it didn't work on our review sample.
The 55-inch VF551XVT measures 51.5 inches wide by 36 inches tall by 13.5 inches deep and weighs a svelte 90.2 pounds with stand attached. Remove the nonswiveling stand and its dimensions become 51.5 by 33.9 by 5 inches and its weight 78 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 menu system for the XVT models squeezes onto the left side of the screen, and it's hard to mistake the bare-bones graphics for a Samsung or Sony menu. 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. On the plus side we liked the text explanations of various menu items.
LED backlighting with local dimming highlights the Vizio's feature set. Local dimming, which Vizio calls Smart Dimming, means the array of LED zones behind the screen can be individually dimmed or brightened according to program content, which allows the TV to produce deeper black levels than would otherwise be possible (more info).
Vizio also claims a 240Hz refresh rate, which is designed to combat blurring in motion. There are two species of 240Hz and Vizio employs the "scanning backlight" variety, which augments the usual 120Hz technique of doubling the standard 60-frame signal with a backlight that flashes very rapidly on and off (much faster than humans can perceive) to help reduce motion blur. In our tests the other 240Hz technique, which actually quadruples the standard signal and is used by Sony and Samsung, produced better results than Vizio's method, which is also employed by Toshiba and LG. See performance for details.
Vizio's implementation of dejudder processing is similar to past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. 2009 models from Samsung and Toshiba, on the other hand, allow you to separate the two functions, an option we really prefer to have. The VF551XVT has offers three strengths of dejudder and also offers a separate "Real Cinema" function, although the latter had no effect we could discern.
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 each of two varieties of noise reduction, four Color Enhancement modes, and an Advanced Adaptive Luma setting that adjusts the picture according to program content.
Aspect ratio control on the VF551XVT 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 at least that provided some overscan, for those channels with interference along the extreme edges of the image.
Regarding other features, we did appreciate the inclusion of a versatile picture-in-picture option, which goes missing on many HDTVs these days. The USB input on the side allows the TV to display videos, photos and music on the big screen. On the other hand the Vizio is missing a dedicated power-saving mode.
A whopping five total HDMI inputs highlight the excellent connectivity of the Vizio VF551XT. 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 and the USB port. 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.
The Vizio VF550XVT's picture competes well against the better LCDs and plasmas we've reviewed this year, enough to score an "8" in this category. Deep blacks are its strong suit, and while they come at the expense of some contrast and a variable backlight, the tradeoffs are not too severe for most viewers. Meanwhile the set gets most of the other picture quality categories right, aside from that constant LCD bugaboo: viewing angle. That said, it still can't beat the better Panasonic plasmas we've reviewed this year, such as the similar-size Panasonic TC-P54G10.