Vizio P-Series 2016 review:

Come for the small tablet, stay for the big picture

Compare These
4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

0.5 stars 1 user review

The Good The Vizio P-Series has outstanding overall picture quality that competes well against the highest-end TVs. It can handle both high-dynamic-range formats. The remote is a fully functional Android tablet. The Google Cast system offers more apps and frequent updates than many dedicated smart-TV systems.

The Bad Using the tablet for settings and streaming apps is often more of a hassle than traditional onscreen menus. No built-in tuner, so you can't watch over-the-air antenna broadcasts unless you attach a separate tuner. No HDR10 compatibility until a promised future software upgrade arrives.

The Bottom Line Forget the "free tablet," the real story with Vizio's excellent P-Series TV is top-notch picture quality and future-ready features at an affordable price.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Value 9.0

Most of the time when I tell someone that a Vizio TV has a better picture than a Samsung, LG or Sony, they're incredulous. "Really?" they ask. "But it's so much cheaper. How is that possible?"

"I honestly don't know," I tell them. "But it's the best TV for the money you can buy."

For 2016, Vizio is delivering two bold changes to its TV line. The first is that these TVs aren't technically TVs. The company has omitted the antenna and tuner, which is why Vizio calls them "tuner-free displays." So if you want free over-the-air broadcasts, you'll need to invest in a third-party tuner box or an over-the-air DVR such as the TiVo Roamio OTA or the Channel Master DVR+.

The second big change this year is the remote: In addition to a basic on/off/input/volume clicker, Vizio includes a 6-inch Android tablet. The idea is to use the tablet to control apps such as Netflix and Hulu on the big screen, as well as access picture control and other settings. It seems like a cool concept, but in practice I found it kludgy and annoying in many cases. I ended up paying attention to the screen in my hand instead of the one across the room...and I can do that with my phone.

If you're as annoyed with the tablet remote as I was, you can get by with a good universal remote or even the included button-based clicker, ignoring the tablet altogether (or giving it to your kids). And as usual, an external device like a Roku or Apple TV works better for streaming, and has those key apps (Amazon, iTunes) that the Vizio lacks.

Thankfully, what's good about this Vizio far outweighs the issues with the tablet remote. The Vizio P-Series is the first 2016 TV I'm reviewing and, simply put, it once again sets a high bar for value. In image quality it beats most major-brand TVs, even those that cost significantly more. It supports all the latest 4K and high-dynamic-range wizardry -- including both Dolby Vision and HDR10 -- and even its styling is nicer than you probably expect.

A "free tablet" might get some people in the door, but a great picture for the price is what makes me like the P-Series so much. In fact, right now, the only real challenge to this P-Series on the value horizon is the company's own less expensive, similarly equipped M series. Once again, the best TV for the money looks like it will be a Vizio.

Update September 19, 2016: Last month Vizio issued the software update allowing the P- and M-series TVs to work with HDR10 sources like 4K Blu-ray players. Since then I've run some tests and watched some video with HDR10 on the P series, but according to the company it's not yet finished optimizing the TV. For that reason, I'm going to wait until at least one more software upgrade before I fully update this review. Vizio has yet to confirm when exactly that upgrade will be available.

In the meantime you can read more about how the P and M compare with HDR10 using current software in the M series review. I've also updated a couple of sections below, including P3 gamut coverage.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Vizio P65-C1, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. Here's how the other sizes differ.

Vizio P-Series 2016 sizes

Model Size Price Dimming zones Refresh rate Panel type
P50-C1 50 inches $999 126 60Hz VA
P55-C1 55 inches $1,299 126 120Hz IPS
P65-C1 65 inches $1,999 128 120Hz VA
P75-C1 75 inches $3,799 128 120Hz VA

The most important difference in the table above is the IPS panel used on the 55-inch model. Because of that difference I expect it to perform worse than the other sizes. See the Features section for additional details.

Your remote control: An included Android tablet

The big headliner for 2016 Vizio TVs is that the company throws in a "free" Android tablet that doubles as a remote control. It's a 6-inch slate, barely bigger than my trusty Galaxy Note 4 phone, but of course it doesn't make calls (or have a camera).

vizio-p-series-2016-01.jpg
View full gallery
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Vizio branding is prominent, the controls are typical with a power/wake button on top, a side-mounted volume and headphone jack, and a Micro-USB port on the bottom. The perforated silver top and bottom hide stereo speakers that diffuse nicely when you watch video in landscape (sideways) mode. Although the tablet requires two hands to use, it feels easy to hold thanks mainly to the rubberized back.

Here are the specifications:

  • 1080p resolution
  • Octa-core processor
  • 16GB storage
  • Android Lollipop (5.1)
  • Stereo speakers
  • Headphone jack and microphone
  • No camera or expandable storage
vizio-p-series-2016-01.jpg
View full gallery
Sarah Tew/CNET

In short, this is a (mostly) fully functional Android tablet on which you can play Angry Birds or watch Netflix streaming video. I also love the wireless charging cradle, because it provides a permanent home that helps keep the "remote" from getting lost, and provides a very convenient way to keep the battery topped off.

So what's it like to use a tablet remote?

IMO, kind of annoying.

When it threw in the tablet, Vizio also removed all but the most basic onscreen menus from the TV. The included button-based "basic" remote can control volume/mute, input, aspect ratio, play/pause, picture mode, pairing and power. That's it.

vizio-p-series-2016-01.jpg
View full gallery
Sarah Tew/CNET

To do anything else, you need to use the included tablet, or another tablet or a phone.

Want to watch Netflix or YouTube? You'll need to "Google Cast" from a phone or tablet to the TV -- just like using a $35 Chromecast. That's because the P-Series lacks a traditional smart TV menu system and apps. Want to tweak the backlight setting or set the TV's sleep timer? You'll have to use Vizio's SmartCast app for Android and iOS.

vizio-p-series-2016-01.jpg
View full gallery
Sarah Tew/CNET


Such an arrangement can have some advantages. They include more frequent updates, access to more apps (again, with the exception of Amazon and iTunes), easier entry of text and search terms using a big touchscreen and Bluetooth connectivity so you don't have to aim the clicker.

But personally I found the disadvantages, such as having to futz with the tablet to turn on the TV, shift focus between two screens and rely on the smaller-screen interface, annoying overall. I love being able to use a traditional button-and-TV combination mostly by feel, without taking my eyes off the big screen.

As I mentioned above, if I owned a P-Series I'd mostly ignore the tablet and rely on a good universal remote for basic functions, and an external device for streaming (unless I wanted to watch something in HDR, which isn't yet available in an external streamer). Vizio says the P-Series can receive standard infrared commands from remotes like Harmony and cable box remotes, for example.

I'll have a lot more details on what it's like to use Vizio's system, including more details on the SmartCast app itself, in a follow-up article.

vizio-p-series-2016-01.jpg
View full gallery
Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

The TV itself looks decidedly higher-end than most Vizios, with the same kind of actual metal frame used by recent Samsung TVs like the JU7100, albeit without the aggressive angled edge. A discreet Vizio logo on the lower right, textured sides and a relatively thick body slightly differentiate it from otherwise identical-looking TVs.

Features

Key TV features

Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Full-array with local dimming (128 zones)
Resolution: 4K
HDR-compatible: Dolby Vision and HDR10
Screen shape: Flat
Smart TV: Google Cast
Remote: Tablet and standard
3D capable: No

The P-Series hits all of the image quality high notes I expect from an LED LCD TV. Its full-array local dimming backlight has a prodigious number of zones -- 126 for the 50 and 55-inch sizes, 128 for the 65- and 75-inch sets -- and in general, more zones equal better picture quality.

Best TVs of 2016 See All

  • LG OLEDB6P series

    Starting at: $3,297.00
    4.5 stars

    With LG lowering the price of 4K OLED for the holiday season, our favorite TVs for picture...

  • Vizio M series (2016)

    Starting at: $1,249.99
    4.5 stars

    The Vizio M series has a free tablet remote, support for both HDR formats, and excellent...

  • LG 55EG9100

    Starting at: $1,475.00
    4 stars

    The cheapest OLED TV is no bargain, but at less than $2,000 it's actually affordable for...

  • Sony XBR-X930D

    Starting at: $1,998.00
    4 stars

    Sony's best 65-inch TV for 2016 offers extremely good picture quality for much less money...

 

Discuss: Vizio P65-C1

Conversation powered by Livefyre