Vizio is well-known for its budget TVs, but in the last couple of years the company has put out a few televisions that aim higher than the bargain basement. These midrange Vizios, like the M series last year and the P series from earlier in 2016, have scored some of the highest review ratings we've given. That's because they combine excellent image quality with an affordable price, a combination we value.
The 2016 version of the M series is Vizio's best value yet. Its picture quality beats that of any TV at this price, even sets from Samsung, Sony and LG that cost more, making it a superb choice for TV shoppers who prize image quality over brand cachet, design or smart TV extras.
So is there a catch? Well, this TV depends on an included Android tablet for streaming app access and even basic settings, something I found less convenient than the traditional big-screen method. It also lacks a built-in TV tuner, so you can't hook up an antenna. To watch free over-the-air TV you'll need a third-party tuner box or an DVR such as the TiVo Roamio OTA or the Channel Master DVR+.
The M series has a great picture but it's not as good as the more expensive P series. Choosing between the two boils down to a how much extra you're willing to pay for that image quality improvement. If you can afford the P, I think it's money well-spent, but I won't blame you for opting for the M instead and saving the dough. Its value proposition is the best I've ever seen on a TV this high-performance and well-equipped, period.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch M65-D0, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. Here's how the other sizes differ (prices current at Vizio's site as of September 15, 2016. And yes, the 55-incher is currently cheaper than the 50).
Vizio M-series 2016 sizes
|Model||Size||Price||Dimming zones||Refresh rate||Panel type|
The most important difference in the table above is the IPS panel used on the 60-inch model. Because of that difference I expect it to perform worse than the other sizes. See the Features section for additional details on this and other differences.
Editors' note: I actually used three different M65-D0 during the course of this review. Two were bought new from Best Buy and the third was supplied by the manufacturer (as most of my TV review samples are). The third came late in my review process and I used it primarily for HDR testing.
The first one I bought showed a defect -- a vertical line of stuck pixels -- so I returned it to the store and replaced it with a second one, which didn't show the defect. Vizio says the issue is covered under warranty, and adds: "Vizio displays have a very low malfunction rate, but with the units that do malfunction, vertical line issues are not that uncommon with any LCD display."
I did note some performance differences between the two purchased samples, but they were minor. See the picture quality section for details.
Get a free tablet, lose some convenience
Just like the P series, the M includes a 6-inch Android tablet that's supposed to be the main "remote," as well as the gateway to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. If I bought one of these TVs, however, I'd I'd mostly ignore the tablet and rely on a good universal remote for basic functions like power and input switching, and on an external device for streaming.
But let's back up for a sec. Here are the M series tablet's specifications.
- 720p resolution
- Quad-core processor
- 8GB storage
- Android Lollipop (5.1)
- Stereo speakers
- Headphone jack and microphone
- No camera or expandable storage
The P series' tablet has a higher-res screen, better processor and more storage but is otherwise identical. Between the two I didn't notice any differences in performance, although the 720p screen of the M series' slate showed chunkier icons and text when I looked closely. Both worked mostly fine as standalone tablets, whether playing a game, checking email or watching video. One exception came with the second M series tablet I tested, which seemed to have connection issues with a couple of my 5GHz networks. Switching to the 2.4GHz network fixed the problem.
What worked less fine was using the tablet as a TV remote. I didn't like having to futz with the tablet to turn on the TV, shift focus between two screens and rely on the smaller-screen interface for everything. I prefer to use a traditional button-and-TV combination mostly by feel, without taking my eyes off the big screen. Fortunately Vizio does include a small, traditional remote that can control volume/mute, input, aspect ratio, play/pause, picture mode, pairing and power, and most of those settings can also be controlled by universal remotes like Harmony.
For every other TV setting you'll need to use Vizio's SmartCast app, preinstalled on the included tablet and also available for any iOS or Android device. Although it has improved since I originally tested it -- including the much-needed addition of up/down buttons as an alternative to sliders for adjusting numeric settings -- the app still occasionally lost connection and wasn't as bulletproof or convenient as a standard remote.
You can also use the SmartCast app to browse movies, TV shows and other content, whether from streaming services or you cable TV, but it lacks Netflix, HBO and Showtime app integration, among many others, and can't control your cable box, so the browse function isn't very useful.
Smart TV via the small screen
Speaking of apps, one big advantage is access to more apps than any other smart TV system not named Roku. Vizio's tablet has just as many choices to "cast" to the TV as Google's own Chromecast device, including apps for rarities like PlayStation Vue, Twitch and Pluto TV. The selection is truly vast, and casting works exactly the same way as Chromecast. See my review for details.
The big exception is Amazon Video, whose Android app doesn't allow native casting to the TV. That means you'll miss out on Amazon's large selection of video, including a few 4K and HDR movies and TV shows, unless you use an external Amazon-capable device (none of which currently do HDR, although that might change soon) or cast Amazon from a Chrome browser. The Amazon Video app isn't natively available on the Google Play store used by Vizio's tablet, and you can't buy Vizio SmartCast TVs (or Chromecasts) at Amazon.
Another minor issue? Vizio's tablets are currently incompatible (according to the Google Play app) with the CBS All Access and NFL Mobile apps, and perhaps a few others I didn't test. Those apps worked on my phone, however, which Cast them to the TV with no issues. Nonetheless, it seems Vizio's TV/tablet system is already a victim of Android fragmentation.
In the end people comfortable using their phones for everything might prefer Vizio's cast-based method, but I like having TV-based menus and a button remote. I also prefer the big-screen interfaces of well-developed apps like Netflix, Hulu and YouTube to their smaller-screen versions. And if you really like Casting, you can get it by connecting a $35 Chromecast, or other Cast device, to any TV.
Distinctive legs, convenient cradle
The M series' relatively generic looks -- slate-gray frame from the front, silver edges and thickish profile from the side -- get some pizzazz from its unusual stand legs. They consist of chrome rods bent into rounded supports, and while distinctive, they risk looking a tad cheap to my eye. I also wish they could be move toward the center, like Samsung allows on the KS8000. One cure? Wall-mount.
I love Vizio's included wireless charging cradle because it provides a permanent home that helps keep the tablet "remote" from getting lost, and provides a very convenient way to keep the battery topped off. Wireless charging is one of my favorite features on any mobile device, and Vizio deserves major credit for including it in such an elegant way with its throw-in tablet.
Key TV features
|Display technology:||LED LCD|
|LED backlight:||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible:||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
|Smart TV:||Google Cast|
|Remotes:||Tablet and standard|
The best feature is full-array local dimming ("FALD"), which improves all-important contrast and black levels, and has better uniformity than edge-lit dimming. The number of dimmable zones is roughly half that of the step-up P series -- the 50-inch M gets 32 zones, while the 55-inch and larger get 64 -- and in general, more zones equal better picture quality. Here's where I remind you that most other TVs at this price lack dimming entirely or use the edge-lit variety as seen on models like Samsung KS8000 and Sony X930D, and that FALD TVs from Samsung and Sony cost thousands more.
The 50- and 55-inch M series have a 60Hz refresh rate panel compared with 120Hz on the larger models (Vizio claims higher numbers like "240Hz effective" and "720 clear action" but that's basically bunk). I don't think the difference between the two will be visible to most people who aren't extremely sensitive to blurring. The 60Hz sets also lack a setting to engage MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), a.k.a. The Soap Opera Effect.
More visible, however, might be the effect of the IPS (in-plane switching) LCD panel used on the 60-inch size. In the past I've found IPS has worse image quality than VA (vertical alignment), the panel type used on the other sizes. IPS delivered worse black-level performance and contrast, and although it's slightly better from off-angle, it's still usually worse overall. I didn't test the 60-inch size for this review, but based on past experience I'd recommend avoiding it.
One other difference on paper between the M and P series is the P's somewhat wider color gamut, called Ultra Color Spectrum by Vizio. The difference isn't major in our tests however (see below) and in any case is only applicable to HDR content.
LG and Vizio are the only TV makers this year to support for both types of HDR video: Dolby Vision and HDR10, the latter thanks to a recent software update. Today at least, that means TVs like the M series can access more HDR TV shows and movies than other devices.
As mentioned above, the M-Series lacks a built-in TV tuner, so it can't receive local TV stations available via antenna/over-the-air broadcasts.