Vizio E series (2015) review:

The E is for everybody

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

0.5 stars 1 user review

The Good The Vizio E series TVs with local dimming deliver very good picture quality for an affordable price. The image evinces deep black levels with little blooming, accurate color and great bright-room performance, and it provides for plenty of adjustments. The Smart TV component has plenty of apps and a simple interface, and the TV's exterior is discreet and minimalist.

The Bad Dimmer highlights than some more expensive TVs; archaic software upgrade system; significant variation between models; poor sound quality; cheap-feeling remote.

The Bottom Line If you're looking to maximize your TV dollar and don't care about 4K, it's tough to go wrong with the Vizio E series.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 6.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Value 10.0

Today the main question facing TV buyers is: should I spend more to get 4K? The answer is the same as it was late last year: only if you're worried about future-proofing and you're OK not getting the most bang for your buck.

TVs with 4K resolution are falling fast in price, but they're still significantly more expensive than good old 1080p TVs. Unfortunately TV makers often reserve their best picture-enhancing features, such as local dimming, for the 4K models. Local dimming is my favorite extra for LCD TVs because it improves all-important contrast by making dark areas in the picture darker. Vizio is still the only TV maker that sells TVs with local dimming for cheap, and the E series is the least-expensive of the bunch.

Vizio's E series is a tremendous value, and its picture quality, style and features are robust enough to please just about everybody. This TV doesn't have 4K resolution and the future-proofy feeling that goes along with it, but its price is so low, you'll probably be able to afford a larger size with the savings over a 4K model. The 50-inch M series, for example, currently costs as much as a 60-inch E series ($800), while the difference between a 4K M and a 1080p E at 65- and 70-inches is $700. In our book, assuming good picture quality, screen size is the best use of your TV dollar.

Whether it's the right TV for you depends largely on how much you prioritize value. If the idea of buying a new 1080p TV right when 4K content is beginning to appear makes you hesitate, or you want to sit close to a very large screen, then maybe E isn't for you. But if your main concern is getting as much TV as possible for as little money, the Vizio E series is probably the best TV of the year.

Series information: The Vizio E series encompasses more variation than is usual in a TV series, making it more difficult to apply our hands-on observations throughout the lineup. Different sizes have different features and even panel types, many of which potentially impact picture quality. For that reason we performed hands-on reviews of three different models in the series: the 40-inch E40-C2, the 55-inch E55-C2 and the 65-inch E65-C3.

According to Vizio our observations about the 40-inch size should also apply to the 43-inch and 48-inch models; our observations about the 55-inch size should also apply to the 50-inch, the 60-inch and 65-inch E65x-C3 (a Walmart exclusive); and our observations about the 65-inch E65-C3 (the mainstream version) should also apply to the 70-inch model. The smaller 24-, 28-, and 32-inch sets lack local dimming, so they're not included in this review.

See the Features section for more details.

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Design

Minimalist to the extreme, the all-black E series is characterized by a pleasingly thin frame around the picture, a matte-black accent strip along the bottom and the trademark right-justified Vizio logo, flush against the bottom rather than dangling like a misplaced browser tab as it did last year. Seen from the side these sets are thicker than many LCD TVs, but still slim enough to wall-mount and still look good.

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New for this year Vizio has implemented a two-footed stand design, with feet splayed out under either side, as opposed to a pedestal-style support in the middle. It certainly feels sturdier than last year's, where we complained about wobble, and Vizio even had to recall a couple hundred thousand models. The downside is that you can't set the TV atop furniture that's narrower than the screen itself. It would be nice if Vizio provided an option to install the feet in the center of the TV too, like Sony did , but no dice.

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The E series remote is slightly better than last year and very similar to the M and P series clickers in layout, albeit sans QWERTY and all-black instead of silver-accented. Despite the convenient direct-access keys for Netflix, Amazon and I Heart Radio, it's still not very good. There's no illumination, little key differentiation, and the arrangement of buttons around the cursor always tripped me up. Worst is the main cursor control, which now has a cheap, loose feel and hollow sound.

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I like Vizio's menu system. It's clean and easy to navigate, and I appreciate the helpful on-screen touches, including descriptions of various menu items and access to the full user manual.

Key Features

Display technology LCD (VA and IPS) LED backlight Full-array with local dimming
Screen shape Flat Resolution 1080p
Screen finish Matte Refresh rate 120Hz or 60Hz
Smart TV VIA Plus Remote Standard
3D technology No 3D glasses included N/A

Features

Vizio's lone non-4K series for 2015 so far, the main feature of the E is full-array local dimming, which allows the LED backlight to dim or brighten different areas (known as zones) of the screen. It's the same augmentation found on more-expensive Vizios like the M-series and P-series , as well as crazy-expensive sets like the Samsung JS9500 and Sony XBR-75X940C. Those models have even more LEDs behind the screen and so can achieve superior light output and contrast -- and should provide better picture quality -- but the concept is the same.

Vizio is still the only TV maker to divulge the number of dimming zones on its so-equipped TVs. It varies according to size between 5 and 16 zones. The M series has 32 dimmable zones, and the P series 64. More zones generally equates to more precise control of dimming, and again, superior picture quality.

Like most LCD TVs these days, the LEDs that comprise the backlight are located behind the screen on the E series, rather than along the edge. In our experience those so-called edge-lit LED TVs, while certainly thinner, generally exhibit worse screen uniformity -- among other issues, they tend to be brighter along the edges of the picture.

The E series' specifications for "effective" refresh rate and Clear Motion Rate also vary for different sizes, and both numbers are basically fake. Like in past years, Vizio's "effective" number is double that of the true panel refresh rate. In other words, only the E65-C3 and the E70-C3 have true 120Hz panels, while the rest use 60Hz panels. Higher Hz numbers generally equate to improved motion resolution (less blurring). Also, only the 120Hz sets offer optional smoothing, otherwise known as the Soap Opera Effect. See our video processing section below for details.

Here's a table summarizing the main specification differences between the various sizes in the E series:

Vizio E series 2015 features

Model Size Active dimming zones Panel type Panel refresh rate Effective refresh rate Clear action rate Smoothing option HDMI inputs
E40-C2* 40-inch 5 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 2
E40X-C2 40-inch 5 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 2
E43-C2 43-inch 5 VA and IPS 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E48-C2 48-inch 6 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E50-C1 50-inch 12 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E55-C1 55-inch 12 VA and IPS 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E55-C2* 55-inch 12 VA and IPS 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E60-C3 60-inch 12 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E65X-C2 65-inch 16 VA 60Hz 120 240 No 3
E65-C3* 65-inch 16 VA 120Hz 240 480 Yes 4
E70-C3 70-inch 16 VA 120Hz 240 480 Yes 4

*Indicates a model CNET tested hands-on

According to Vizio, the E65X-C2 is exclusive to Walmart. The E65-C3 is sold everywhere else aside from Walmart. The E40x-C2, meanwhile, is exclusive to Target, while the E40-C2 is sold everywhere else. I wasn't given a reason for the existence of two different 55-inch sizes. The only differences between the two 40-inch models and the two 55-inch models is slightly different bezel widths; they otherwise have the same features and picture quality, according to Vizio. The company's rep also said that the number after the C doesn't signify anything important.

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VA or IPS: As you may have noticed in the chart above, Vizio is also mixing in two different types of LCD panels. Most of the E series, including all three we tested for this review, use VA (Vertical Alignment) panels, which in our experience deliver superior black level performance and overall picture quality compared to IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels.

In the 43-inch and 55-inch sizes, the TVs will start shipping with VA panels and then move to IPS panel technology later in the year. The reason for this unusual step, according to Vizio? "Since our volume in E-Series is so large, panel suppliers cannot keep up with the demand for certain sizes."

Vizio's rep added that it's difficult to say exactly when the IPS panels will cut in, but you can tell from the serial numbers. "If the 4th digit of the serial number is a J or 7, that unit uses an IPS panel. For example, LWZJSEARxxxxxxx or LTM7SHARxxxxxxx. All other serial numbers for 2015 E-Series will be units using VA panels."

In short, IPS panels will only be used in the 43- and 55-inch sizes, and the only way to tell one from another is via the serial number. Given past experience, I recommend avoiding buying a Vizio E series equipped with an IPS panel. See the P series review , where I performed hands-on reviews of both panel types, for details.

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Smart TV: Pretty much identical to last year, the 2015 Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) Plus smart TV suite doesn't try to do too much--no fancy Tizen, WebOS or Android-powered voice commands, universal search or Web browsers here. That's fine with me, because I think the best Smart TV experience is provided by an external device like a Roku anyway.

If you decide to use Vizio for your apps instead of a streaming box or stick, you'll be greeted by a simple line of seven icons along the bottom when you hit the remote's central "V" key. Scrolling to the right brings up more, or you can hit "V" again for a full-screen interface. There you'll find all of the available apps neatly categorized, along with the ability to add, remove and reorder apps within the band.

Vizio's content selection is very good. HBO Go isn't available, and there are no major sports apps like MLB TV, NHL GameCenter, or NBA League Pass, but most of the other heavy-hitters for video are here, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu and Plex. Audio support is also solid, with iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Spotify.

It's worth noting here that Vizio still uses the same involuntary software update system, and it's a drag. You can't simply check for updates manually -- you have to wait for them to be rolled out, and there's no way to opt out of receiving them (aside from disconnecting the TV from the network). I prefer the system used by most other TV makers, where you can manually check and opt out of automatic updates if you want.

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