As you can see by reading user opinions on CNET, most people who buy an HDTV, any HDTV, are thrilled with their purchase. They cite numerous reasons, but one of the most common, at least for buyers of Vizio TVs and other bargain brands, is value. The VP50HDTV, for example, is a 50-inch plasma that costs hundreds of dollars less than many like-size flat-panel sets, and as with this TV's 60-inch cousin, you get a lot of screen for your dollar. Of course, there's always a trade-off, and in the VP50HDTV's case, you'll sacrifice a good deal of picture quality, both black-level performance and color accuracy, for that sense of having scored a good deal. But like most buyers of new HDTVs, the majority of people who pick up a VP50HDTV will probably be perfectly happy with its price-to-picture quality proposition.
Vizio's standard silver-and-black gloss styling is in full effect with the VP50HDTV. The silver base and speakers below the screen do make the set look a little less modern to our eyes than the current crop of all-black flat-screen HDTVs, but overall, the set is attractive enough. The lone accent consists of a clear plastic block that protrudes somewhat from the middle of the silver speaker, which clearly (ahem) identifies the VP50HDTV as a "PLASMA HDTV." The panel measures 48.8 inches tall by 34.3 inches wide by 12.2 inches deep and weighs 115 pounds when you include the stand, and 48.8 inches tall by 33.5 inches wide by 3.9 inches deep and 102 pounds when you don't.
More so than many HDTVs we've tested, the Vizio was frequently unresponsive to remote control commands. We'd often have to press a remote key two or three times before the television responded. Otherwise the remote is the same as previous Vizio clickers. The VP50HDTV does get the fully backlit, silver-topped version, and as we noted in the past, we found it too cluttered with similar buttons, especially in the lower half. We did appreciate the dedicated keys for input types and PIP controls, but we wished for more differentiation. Vizio's internal menu system is simple and relatively straightforward to navigate.
With a native resolution of 1,366x768, the same as most other 50-inch plasmas, the Vizio can resolve every detail of 720p HDTV material. All sources, whether they're HDTV, standard-def TV or DVD, are scaled to fit the pixels.
The range of picture-affecting features on the VP50HDTV is about average for a current plasma HDTV. It has four picture presets that cannot be adjusted and a fifth "Custom" mode that allows the full range of adjustments and is independent for each input. Among those adjustments is the ability to individually adjust red, green, and blue to arrive at a custom color temperature, but the VP50HDTV is missing the usual color temperature presets. Controls in the advanced menu include Noise Reduction, Flesh Tone (which intensified red, making it look less-realistic) and Dynamic Contrast (which changes the picture on the fly), and we left them all turned off for critical viewing.
Vizio never skimps on conveniences, so the VP50HDTV gets a fully functional PIP with both side-by-side and inset modes as well as a wider-than-usual range of possible input sources for the secondary window. If you don't have a DVR to pause, you might get some use out of the freeze-frame feature. There are three choices of aspect ratio mode for both high-def sources and standard-def sources. We also appreciated the "Image Cleaner," which scrolls a white-and-gray pattern across the screen to remove any temporary burn-in that may occur.
The connectivity of the VP50HDTV begins with two HDMI ports--one fewer than many name-brand 2007 HDTVs. We appreciate the completeness of the rest of the rear-panel jack-pack, which includes two component-video inputs; two AV inputs with S-video and composite video; a VGA-style PC input (recommended resolution 1,360x768), and an RF input for a direct cable connection or for use with an antenna to take advantage of the ATSC tuner. Fans of easy-access side- or front-panel inputs will be disappointed in the VP50HDTV's lack thereof.
Overall, the Vizio VP50HDTV offers decent picture quality, especially considering its price, but compared to most plasmas we've reviewed recently, it falls somewhat short of video Nirvana. Our biggest complaint has to do with its light color of black, but in most other areas it could also stand some improvement. Notable exceptions include its standard-def and PC performance, both of which were above average.
Before staring too intently at the VP50HDTV, we sat down to adjust its picture for optimum performance in a darkened home theater. That meant, as usual, reducing its light output to a comfortable 40 FTL. Since the Vizio lacks color temperature presets, we went straight to correcting its overly blue color temperature (see the Geek Box below) by using the custom controls. The result was a big improvement but still not entirely accurate--the biggest problem was the tendency of the set's grayscale to become warmer (redder) in darker areas. For our complete user-menu picture settings, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above. Unfortunately, when we made adjustments, the slider itself would move, but the actual number would not change until it slid three "clicks." As a result, our picture settings are more approximate than usual.