Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
The first 50-inch Vizio plasma HDTV we reviewed here at CNET, the P50HDM, earned the right to be called "the best value in its class" by virtue of its very good picture quality and rock-bottom--at the time--price of just less than $2,000. In the more than three years since that review, the company has risen to become perhaps the best-known bargain HDTV name, outselling major brands in many screen sizes and forcing down prices across the board. It has also sold some subpar flat-panel TVs during that time, but the VP505XVT isn't one of them. This 50-inch plasma is available for the company's traditionally rock-bottom price, $1,500 or less in this case, yet it poses stiff competition to the Panasonics and Samsungs of the mainstream plasma world. Deep black levels and mostly accurate color are this display's hallmark, bolstered by video processing courtesy of well-known brand HQV ("Hollywood Quality Video.") Sure we could gripe about the minor false contouring and the inaccurate green primary color, but none of those issues spoil this plasma's highly competitive picture quality.
There's little that seems cheap about the external appearance of the VP505XVT. A standard-issue glossy black frame surrounds the screen, bordered by a black strip that looks a lot like the one found on Panasonic's panels, such as the TH-50PF11UK. Below the frame, Vizio chose to break with the black theme, incorporating a recessed, dark bronze speaker bar that runs the width of the panel. We didn't mind the subtle touch of color--to borrow a phrase--although we were annoyed that the bright blue-white illuminated "Vizio" logo lacked an Off switch.
The humdrum, flat black plastic stand is one obvious place where Vizio skimped. With the stand, the VP505XVT measures 48.6 inches wide by 32.4 inches tall by 10.2 inches deep and weighs 95.9 pounds. Discard the stand, for wall-hanging purposes, and the set's dimensions become 48.6 inches wide by 30.4 inches tall by 3.7 inches deep and weighs 88.6.
The company reprised our favorite Vizio remote with this model, a large affair with an 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.
Vizio has also improved the look and feel of its no-nonsense menu system. Items are arranged logically, the menus are just the right size (and shrink as they should during adjustment), and helpful text appears at the bottom to explain the function of every item. Our main complaint about the menu, and it's a big one, is that many items are inexplicably restricted, depending on what input signal you're using or the status of the parental lock. Many of these restrictions, such as the parental locks section itself being disabled on the HDMI inputs, or the noise reduction being disabled for HDTV sources, make no sense and impair functionality.
At the head of the VP505XVT's list of features sit "1080p" and "HQV processing." The former, which represents the highest resolution available today, separates this plasma from even less-expensive models, although in our testing it's really difficult to see the difference between 1080p and 720p plasmas at the 50-inch screen size. The latter is something no other display on the market currently offers. HQV-brand video processing has performed well in our tests of so-equipped Blu-ray and other players, and we'll detail its effects on this TV in Performance section.
The Vizio VP505XVT includes a full complement of picture controls. Each of its five picture modes is both adjustable and independent per input, which provides the ultimate in setup flexibility. You can set Contrast in the Movie mode of HDMI 1 different from the Contrast of Movie mode on HDMI 2, for example, and same goes for the majority of picture parameters.
Advanced picture options include a Custom color temperature setting, complete with both gain and offset controls--an option Panasonic notably lacks--to join the three presets. That's a good thing, because none of those presets comes very close to the broadcast standard. Other advanced controls include something called Color Transient Improvement, a Flesh Tone setting, Adaptive Luma (which automatically adjusts black level depending on program content), and a Film Mode to control, among other things, 2:3 pull-down detection. We were a bit miffed to find that the set's noise reduction circuits were disabled when we watched HD content. Some high-definition content is pretty noisy, so we wish these controls were available with all types of input signals.
More annoyingly, the TV's aspect ratio controls also did not function when fed HD sources. Nearly every HDTV nowadays lets you change aspect ratios in high-definition, but the Vizio does not. It does, however, offer the option to choose between four overscan settings, from none to about 5 percent. We like having the overscan option, for example to deal with certain channels that introduce interference along the extreme edges of the picture, and we appreciate that the default overscan setting is Off, which maps 1080i and 1080p sources perfectly to the panel's pixel array. However, we'd like to have easier access to a mode with some overscan--you have to go a couple layers into the menu to change that setting--not to mention the basic capability zoom or crop the image when appropriate. The Vizio does offer four aspect ratio choices with standard-definition material.
While the VP505XVT is Energy Star 3.0 compliant, it lacks a specific energy saver mode to tone down power use, and like any plasma it sucks a lot more juice than a similarly sized LCD (check out the ). The set also includes one provision to combat burn-in should it occur: a so-called image cleaner that simply fills the screen with a white field.
The Vizio is one of the few models these days to feature full picture-in-picture functionality--although, annoyingly, it's disabled by default. You'll have to enable it in the parental controls menu which, annoyingly, you can only access by choosing an analog or TV tuner input. We did appreciate that the PIP worked to display two HDMI sources simultaneously, although one must originate from the side panel.
Speaking of the side panel, that's where half of the VP505XVT's HDMI inputs reside. Two can be found on the left side (no other side connections, such as analog inputs or a headphone jack, are available) and the other two are in the traditional spot at the back. The downward-facing jack pack includes just one component-video input (two is standard these days), along with an analog PC input (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution), one composite and one S-Video input that share an analog audio input, the RF input for antenna or cable, and one analog audio and one optical digital audio output. For some reason the company also put three separate service-only ports on this TV--two RJ-45 Ethernet-type jacks and a USB-type connection.