The Vizio E701i-A3 is the best deal going on a huge big-screen TV.
Vizio's E1i-A3 series is the poster child for "TVs are getting bigger and cheaper all the time." The 70-inch behemoth reviewed here costs less than any similarly sized TV I know about, yet delivers quite a bit for the price. Beyond the picture, it packs in Smart TV, complete with a nifty QWERTY remote, as well as sharp styling that does its best to keep a screen this size "understated."
The 70-inch Vizio E701i-A3 does cost twice as much as its 60-inch brother, however, and if you're spending two grand on a TV, it's worth considering the alternatives. Sharp's LC-70LE640U is a better performer, Panasonic's 65-inch TC-P65ST50 is better still in pretty much every way, and both can be had for just a few hundred more than this Vizio. But if you're OK with that and just want a huge, very good LED TV, Vizio E701i-A3 is a spectacular value.
The E1-A3 series, whether 60 or 70 inches, is the nicest-looking Vizio TV I can remember. The frame on the 70-incher is mighty thin albeit a bit thicker than the 60- along the sides -- about an inch. It's less than that along the top and a bit thicker along the bottom.
The result is a gigantic TV that's seemingly almost all screen when seen from the front, and while the 70-incher is about half an inch thicker than the 60 in profile, it's still plenty slim. Those bezel and cabinet dimensions, combined with Vizio's understated glossy black styling, puts Vizio's E701i-A3 into the same styling league as TVs from the better-known brands.
The front face of the remote is not my favorite. The menu/exit/guide/back keys are too small, there's not enough differentiation, and there's no direct button for switching aspect ratio. Its best feature is dedicated keys for Amazon Instant and Netflix; unfortunately, Vizio replaced the Vudu app shortcut key on previous clickers with M-Go (see below). Its worst, shared by the QWERTY side, is lack of any illumination.
To make it easier to enter searches and other information into Smart TV apps, the E1i-A3, uniquely among 2012 TVs, comes with a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard on its flip side. While not up to the standards of a good smartphone keyboard, it's roomy and fine for occasional use -- easily outclassing the tedious onscreen virtual keyboards required by most other smart TVs.
I liked the tactile "click" as I depressed keys, though I was annoyed at constantly having to flip to the front of the remote to enter numbers. It's also worth noting that since the remote uses infrared to signal the TV, you have to keep its front edge facing the screen, which can seem unnatural if you're used to holding the keyboard more perpendicular to your face.
Compared with most major TV makers' smart TV implementations, Vizio's VIA suite of Smart TV apps, which looks exactly the same as it did in its first generation, seems dated. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than it should be since you'll need to scroll through the small ticker at the bottom of the page. Yes, you can rearrange the ticker and weed out the apps you don't want, but it's still a pain for those who want to keep more than a few apps installed. Response times were decent, but not as snappy as those from Samsung's or LG's app suites. That said, I do prefer Vizio's design to Sharp's.
On the other hand, content selection is among the best available today -- and comes close to matching Roku's, trading HBO Go for YouTube. Vizio leaves no major video services off the list, although it still doesn't have sports apps like MLB.TV and NHL. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio there's plenty of musical choice, too. There's no Web browser, but that's no major loss since TV-based browsers are universally inferior to smartphone, tablet, and of course PC browsers.
Vizio lacks an "app store" and any paid-app choices, but the Yahoo Connected TV Store (the VIA engine is based on Yahoo Widgets) has plenty of free, somewhat useful options like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango with ticket purchasing, iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live.
Vizio told us that the 70-inch size improved upon the picture quality of its 60-inch brother, but to our eyes and tests they're basically identical. Both can produce a workmanlike picture, albeit one roughly as good as you see on many LED TVs that cost a lot more. Neither quite matches the level of picture quality seen on its chief LED competitor from Sharp, let alone on Panasonic's excellent plasmas, such as the 65-inch ST50. The Vizio's black levels were relatively unconvincing and it showed some uniformity and off-angle-viewing issues. On the other hand, it still warrants a score of "good" in this category, mainly by virtue of accurate color and solid performance in bright rooms.