In 2010, Philips announced the first native Cinemascope television, the Cinema 21:9 screen, and while other parts of the world were lucky enough to be able to buy it shortly thereafter the US is still waiting. But at CES 2011 there was a glimmer of hope, Vizio announced it would bring its own 21:9 screen to the market, and then... nothing. Until now.
Unlike the sensibly named Philips Cinema 21:9 though, the Vizio uses the alphabet soup approach with its XVT3D580CM model name. Ok, it's also called the "CinemaWide", but name aside, this is actually quite an elegant television. The styling might be a little old-hat, but turn it on and you can't help but be swept away by movies on this uniquely-shaped screen.
With a screen this unusual there is bound to be some kind of markup, and based on my testing the TV performs at the same level as a TV half the price (Sharp LE640 series), but yet still better than Samsung's ES8000. Due to its ability to squeeze out the black bars the apparent contrast is higher, and its local dimming system is able to provide good levels of contrast without sacrificing shadow detail.
The Vizio's biggest issue is with its main feature: the TV doesn't have a dedicated "wide" mode and changes the screen size by auto-detection, and it doesn't always work properly. If the TV had a a dedicated 21:9 mode it would make this a serious consideration for video enthusiasts, but it's on-the-fly changes don't always work with some shunting between fullscreen and the much smaller 16:9 mode.
If you're looking for a statement piece this TV is quite unusual, and movies are a lot of fun...when they work. But if picture quality is a concern then the Panasonic 65-inch VT50 will give you a bigger picture with CinemaScope movies for the same price and a better one at that.
The Vizio offers some smart dimming, which helps elevate it above the contrast-deficient ES8000, but in reality it only performs to the standard of a midlevel television -- or in other words, an LCD TV about half the price. The 21:9 scaler is a unique feature, but it doesn't always work as it should, and it's not possible to freeze the screen at a 21:9 aspect ratio. Black levels are pretty good, with juicy bursts of contrast when compared against the dim Samsung E8000 and the Vizio is ladled with spoonfuls of shadow detail on top.
Color accuracy is really good, but compared against plasmas the TV isn't able to present colors as eye-poppingly saturated, though reds do have a fair amount of oomph.
Off-axis viewing is pretty standard with purple blacks and blooming off axis, but due to the wide nature of this TV it's possible to still be in front of it and slightly off-axis.
3D quality is really good -- for passive, that is -- with no ghosting or exaggerated depth problems. Of course, if you don't like the interlacing that's endemic to passive technology, you're better off going for the Samsung ES8000.