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.
Setting up the Vizio VF551XVT for optimal picture quality meant starting in Movie mode, which had a default light output of 50ftl, a slightly dark gamma, and a default color temperature that was also uneven. Unfortunately, adjusting the available user menu controls didn't help much. We dialed in our nominal 40ftl light output, but the resulting gamma was even darker (2.6 versus the 2.2 ideal), and we were unable to smooth out the grayscale much--this set could really use a selection of gamma presets and a more linear grayscale. The lack of a color management system also prevented us from correcting the slightly off primary color of green.
For our comparison we lined up some of the best flat panels we've tested this year. They included the Samsung UNB8500, the Sony KDL-55XBR8, the LG 47LH90, and the Toshiba 46SV670U from the local dimming LED camp, as well as the Samsung LN52B750, the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and the Pioneer PRO-111FD to represent the best of the standard-backlit LCD and plasma camps, respectively. We reverted to an old favorite for our principal image quality tests--"Watchmen" on Blu-ray.
Black level: In dark scenes the Vizio is capable of producing a deeper shade of black than any LCD display we've tested this year aside from the Samsung 8500. Scenes like Chapter 3, when Rorschach investigates The Comedian's apartment, had that realistic, inky quality in black areas, shadows, and the letterbox bars, lending a level of realism that only deep blacks can. In the very darkest scenes, such as the 19:24 mark when Dreiberg enters his darkened apartment, the Vizio went darker than even the Panasonic V10 plasma; it equaled the XBR8 in this scene and surpassed the other displays (aside form the 8500 and the Pioneer plasma). In brighter scenes we noticed much less of a difference, however, and in such scenes the Vizio's letterbox bars in particular got lighter than many of the other sets'.
Adjusting the Vizio for those dark blacks meant sacrificing some contrast and shadow detail, however. In Dreiberg's apartment, for example, the sliver of light in his doorway appeared noticeably dimmer on the Vizio than on any of the other sets. The same goes for bright parts of other dark scenes, like the windows in the bright cityscape at the 12:24 mark. It appears that to achieve its deep black levels, the Vizio dims its entre backlight, which has the effect of reducing contrast. We could have increased the backlight control to compensate, but that would have brightened the Vizio's superb black levels.
We definitely prefer deep blacks and dimmer highlights to bright blacks and bright highlights, but the V10 and the XBR8 seen next to the Vizio looked slightly punchier overall in mixed dark-and-bright scenes, which comprise a large number of moments in the often noirish "Watchmen." That said, the Vizio still looked superb in these scenes.
The Vizio's shadow detail also didn't match that of the other HDTVs in our comparison. When the camera flies from the dark street and up the side of the building at the beginning of Chapter 3, for example, we couldn't discern the sewer grate or the same level of detail in the bloodstain as we could on the other sets. The same went for details in Dreiberg's workshop at the 21:00 mark, before he flips on the lights. If the Vizio allowed a higher gamma setting it could probably alleviate some of these issues; increasing the brightness control did reveal a few more details, but compromised black levels too much for our tastes.
One positive effect of dimming bright areas on the Vizio is an apparent reduction in blooming. In scenes with adjacent black-and-white material, such as the light from Rorschach's flashlight in Chapter 3 when it hits the border of the bottom letterbox bar, the Vizio was nearly as good as the Samsung 8500 at preventing the light from spilling into the bar. We still saw blooming when we looked, especially in the bars or around the white text on a black background (like the menu of our PS3 when we stopped playback), but we never found the effect distracting during program material. The effect did increase when we brightened the backlight, however, and afterward was about on-par with the LG and worse than the XBR8, although still better than the Toshiba.
We did find the Vizio's backlight fluctuations distracting in some scenes. The opening credits, which fade up, in, and out over comic book tableaus, provided the best example. The entire backlight would dim and fade to black, then abruptly turn back on when the image brightened. We saw the same abrupt change around the 1:27:00 mark after Laurie Jupiter KOs the agent. The abrupt changes only occurred during extended fades to black, however, and they weren't as annoying as we saw on the, for example.
Color accuracy: The Vizio's color acquitted itself well for the most part, with solid primary and secondary colors and a grayscale that wasn't too far off. But in midbright areas, as we mentioned, the scale turned bluish to a noticeable degree, which led to less accurate skin tones. In the restaurant scene in Chapter 8, for example, the zoom in to Laurie Jupiter's face as she sees Dreiberg revealed a slightly paler, cooler tone to her face and bare shoulders, as opposed to the warmer, redder tone seen on our reference displays and the other TVs in the room.
Perhaps due to the somewhat dimmer highlights, saturation in that and other midbright scenes suffered a bit in side-by-side comparisons, although it improved as the image brightened. We also appreciated that darker areas of the picture remained relatively neutral. Yes, blacks and shadows were somewhat redder than we saw on the plasmas and the 8500, but they lacked the green tinge of the XBR8 and looked truer than most of the other sets.
Video processing: First off we checked out the Vizio's motion resolution and were surprised that it didn't score as well as other 240Hz displays. On our test pattern we counted between 600-700 lines of resolution, just a bit more than we'd expect from a 120Hz model, as opposed to the 900-1000 lines we've seen on other 240Hz models with scanning backlights (namely, the LG and the Toshiba). Turning off dejudder dropped the Vizio down to between 300-400 lines, which is standard for any LCD. As usual, however, it was impossible for us to discern any blurring or other visible effect of this difference in program material, as opposed to test patterns. The Vizio also correctly deinterlaced both film- and video-based material.
The dejudder processing used by Vizio, found under the Smooth Motion Effect menu, performed relatively well, with fewer artifacts than many such modes we've seen in the past, and better performance than we saw on the VF550XVT. Low was the most acceptable setting to our eyes, while in Medium and High modes the incidence of artifacts increased. In Laurie's interrogation in Chapter 22, for example, we noticed some breakup and interference in the birch tree wallpaper during the initial zoom toward the room, and some breakup of the shaking heads of the scientist and subsequently Nixon a bit later, but such effects were rare in Low mode. As usual our biggest objection to such modes was the artificial, videolike look they all imposed on the film, smoothing out motion too much. Notably, we couldn't see much difference when we engaged either of the Real Cinema settings.
We much preferred leaving dejudder turned off and allowing the Vizio to handle 1080p/24 sources without too much smoothing, something it did well. We checked out our favorite test, the helicopter shot over the deck of the aircraft carrier from "I Am Legend," and saw the proper cadence of film, without any of the hitching stutter of 2:3 pulldown. Again that's an improvement over the VF550XVT.
Uniformity: The Vizio exhibited the same poor off-angle performance we've seen on other LED-based LCDs--its excellent black levels washed out to a large extent when seen from seats other than the sweet spot directly in front of the screen. Moving one seat cushion in either direction on the couch caused the opposite edge of the screen to lighten noticeably, and of course moving further off-angle worsened the picture. The effect was as pronounced or more so than we saw on any of the other LED sets in our test, and we suspect the Vizio's off-angle washout appeared more evident because it had more depth of black to lose than most of the other displays. The non-LED Samsung B750 fared better, and of course the plasmas were basically perfect from off-angle.
The Vizio's screen delivered commendably even brightness across its surface, equaling the XBR8 and the plasmas in this arena. It didn't show the slightly brighter sides we saw on the Samsung LCDs, and the corners were basically as bright as the middle on our review sample.
Bright lighting: Under bright lights the matte screen of the VF551XVT strutted its stuff, attenuating reflections better than the glossy-screened Samsung and Toshiba LCDs as well as the plasmas. As usual there was a trade-off in black-level performance under bright lights, where the glossy screens came out ahead, but it was minimal in our opinion. The VF551XVT still showed lots of contrast under lights, and handily outperformed the plasmas in this regard.
Standard-definition: With lower-resolution standard-def sources, the VF551XVT performed quite well. It delivered every line of the DVD format, and on our test disc's bridge and grass the details looked as sharp as we'd expect. The set was as good as the LG and the Samsung at squelching jaggies in moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag, and better than the Panasonic and the Sony. Noise reduction functioned well, and the Strong setting should please people who simply want the cleanest look possible with lower-quality sources--it knocked out motes and noise almost completely, without sacrificing too much sharpness. Finally the Vizio handled 2:3 pulldown detection with no problems, eliminating moire from the grandstands behind the test disc's racing car.
PC: As with most Vizios we've tested in the past, the VF551XVT made a superb big-screen PC monitor. When connected with either HDMI or VGA, it displayed the full resolution of 1,920x1,080 sources with no overscan and crisp text. The only flaw was visible edge enhancement via VGA that we couldn't remove using the standard controls.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6800/6244||Good|
|After color temp||6512/6499||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||187||Good|
|After grayscale variation||276||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.646/0.326||Good|
|Color of green||0.286/0.642||Average|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.056||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
Power consumption: Thanks to its aggressive backlight variation and LED technology, the Vizio VF551XVT is one of the most efficient HDTVs we've ever tested. Its post-calibration number surpassed that of the Samsung UN55B8500 handily, although its default picture setting consumed about 30 watts more. In either case it's a power sipper of the highest order.
|Vizio VF551XVT||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||161.95||99.53||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.13||0.08||N/A|
|Cost per year||$35.14||$21.70||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Good|