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Back in April I wrote that "Cheap and often necessary external boxes render smart-TV suites redundant and of little value." I was thinking of devices like the $59 Roku and $99 Apple TV, as well as game consoles and Blu-ray players, that can add most of the apps anybody cares about on TVs -- services like Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Pandora -- to any television. I was also thinking of TVs that charge $100 or more extra for their smart-TV options.
I definitely was not thinking of the Vizio E320i-A0. This 32-inch LED-based LCD, which Vizio says will cost about $300 at Wal-Mart and Costco when it goes on sale in October, is the cheapest smart TV I know about (at press time the online price shows as $370 from Vizio directly). That's about $50 more than the Toshiba 32C120U, but once you add a Roku or other device that price advantage evaporates. And in a bedroom setting where a TV this size is most at home, there's usually less room for external boxes, and less budget to add the universal remotes that make using such boxes just as easy as an integrated smart TV.
Beyond its brains and price this little powerhouse follows though with a thin, attractive frame and relatively good picture quality -- better, for example, than the similar, albeit 3D, Vizio E3D320VX from last year. Add it all up and the Vizio E320i-A0 is our highest-rated 32-incher so far this year, and a great choice for buyers seeking streaming video in a small, affordable TV.
During the last few 32-inch TV reviews we've held up the Samsung EH4000 as a paragon of cheap TV design, by virtue of its thin bezel. The Vizio's frame is (fractionally) even thinner, and its overall design just as sleek. Seen from the side, both sets are chunkier than traditional LED TVs, but I doubt that matters much to buyers at this price level. Vizio's stand doesn't swivel.
Unlike Vizio's higher-end Smart TV remotes, the one that comes with the E320i-A0 lacks a flipside QWERTY keyboard (hey, you can't have everything for $300, can you?). The front side is not my favorite among entry-level clickers. It lacks illumination, the menu/exit/guide/back keys are too small, there's not enough differentiation, and there's no direct button to switch 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).
Vizio employs the same menus on this set as on its higher-end models like the "="" rel="follow">M3D0KD series, and they easily outclass those of comparably priced TVs. The menu system resembles an app in appearance, and I liked that the picture settings section is integrated into the main App taskbar (see below). Responses were fast, explanations were complete, and I had no problems finding my way around. I also appreciated the easy guided-setup process.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
The Vizio further differentiates itself from the 32-inch herd by using LEDs, not traditional CCFLs, to illuminate its LCD panel. Unlike edge-lit LED TVs with their skinny profiles, the Vizio is a direct-lit model with a cabinet that's thicker because the LEDs are mounted behind the screen, not along the edge.
Smart TV: I had no major complaints about the Smart TV feature on the E320i-A0, and considering the set's price that's high praise. Its interface is mediocre in design, but content selection was excellent and responsiveness was very good.
Vizio hasn't changed the design of its Smart TV since it debuted three years ago, so it's not as slick as most other TV makers' brainy portals. Its main interface, based on the original Yahoo Widgets, consists of a strip along the bottom of the screen. It shows just four widgets at a time, so finding the one you want is a tedious scrolling chore if you have more than 10 or so installed. Vizio doesn't make finding new widgets any easier, with a Yahoo Connected TV Store that's crowded with entirely too much chaff, including way too many "apps" devoted to local TV stations.
Content selection, however, 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. Skype is now active, although to use it you'll need to purchase a camera/speakerphone that's about one-quarter the price of the TV itself. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio there's plenty of musical choice too.
As we mentioned above, Vizio (along with Samsung and Intel) is also supporting M-Go, a "multiscreen entertainment app that elegantly streamlines all of your media together in one place, including movies, music, [and] TV...and allows you to enjoy the content you want, when you want it, either at home or on the go." Sounds intriguing (PDF), but it hasn't launched yet.
I paid special attention to the Wi-Fi connection on the E320i-A0 and it appeared to work well in my limited testing in the lab. At one point a nearby PlayStation 3 did a better job streaming a wireless movie, but later they performed about the same. As usual with Wi-Fi your mileage will vary, and if you're a heavy streamer I'd recommend using a wired connection if possible.
Picture settings: The selection here is very good for an entry-level TV, including a two-point grayscale control and plenty of picture presets -- nine in all, a few with names like "football" and "basketball" that don't really make such footage look any better. The only missing item is a selection of gamma presets, which might have helped the TV's performance a bit. I appreciated that the picture controls are available when watching streaming video.
Connectivity: Aside from the presence of an Ethernet jack and the absence of an analog VGA-style computer input, the E320i-A0's back panel is standard for the breed: two HDMI ports, one USB port, one combination component/composite video input.
While not quite as good overall as the picture quality of the Toshiba 32C120U or the Samsung UN32EH4000, the Vizio deserves the same 6 that they got in this category, and is third-best among the 32-inch sets we've tested. Strengths include the second-deepest black levels of the bunch and highly accurate color in bright areas. Its picture takes a turn for the worse when dark scenes appear, however, caused by somewhat murky shadow detail and bluish color.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
|LG 32CS460||32-inch LCD|
|Samsung UN32EH4000||32-inch LED|
|Sony KDL-32BX330||32-inch LCD|
|Toshiba 32C120U||32-inch LCD|
|TCL L40FHDP60||40-inch LCD|
|Samsung LN46D630||46-inch LCD|
|Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference)||65-inch plasma|
Black level: The ability to produce a relatively deep shade of black is a strength for the Vizio, although it's not without its issues. In chapter 11 of "The Hunger Games," the bad guys camped under Katniss' tree were surrounded by darker shadows and letterbox bars than on any of the other 32-inch sets aside from the Toshiba.
On the other hand, the Vizio's shadow detail was among the worst in the comparison; the face of Peeta as he stares up the tree (1:22:20) and the bark of the tree itself looked more obscured than on the Samsung EH4000 and Toshiba especially. That said, the Vizio wasn't too bad, and I'll take some loss in shadow detail to avoid the kind of washed-out dark areas seen on the LG and Sony 32-inchers, for example.
Color accuracy: In bright scenes the color of the Vizio looked closer to our reference than any of the other LCDs, including even the Samsung D630. When dawn breaks over the tree the next day the tones in Katniss' face looked great (1:25:05), without the rosier look of the Toshiba 32C120U or the slightly less saturated appearance of the Samsung EH4000. I also appreciated the accuracy of the green behind her head.
During darker shots, however, the Vizio's color fell visibly short of many of its competitors'. At 18:23, Katniss' face looked a bit too blue and unnatural compared with how it looked on the Samsung and even the Toshiba. Even darker areas, like the radiator and even her shirt, were worse, with the blue tinge being even more obvious.
Video processing: Like the other 32-inch sets in my lineup the E320i-A0 failed to properly handle 1080p/24 material -- not surprising since it's a 60Hz TV. Instead the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend" chugged along haltingly without the film-correct smoothness of, for example, the D630. Also as you'd expect from a 60Hz TV, according to test patterns the Panasonic failed to deliver much in the motion-resolution department, although as usual I found blurring difficult to detect in program material.
Uniformity: The Vizio outperformed the other 32-inchers in our lineup at maintaining black-level fidelity and preventing wash-out when seen from off-angle. It did show some color shift toward blue, which was more noticeable than on the LG or the Samsung, for example. I also appreciated the lack of blotchy, brighter areas on the screen; the set maintained its brightness consistency well from edge to edge.
Bright lighting: As I'd expect from a matte TV the Vizio was a very good performer in bright rooms, although not quite the equal of most of the others. Its screen showed slightly brighter reflections than the rest of the LCDs, even the Samsung EH4000 -- it appears Vizio used a less matte finish. On the other hand it maintained black levels just as well as any of them, and better than some.
|Geek box: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0079||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.2594/0.264||Poor|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3126/0.3314||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3119/0.3276||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6946||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6511||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||0.729||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||2.0224||Average|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||3.2799||Poor|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2325/0.3329||Average|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3044/0.1356||Poor|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4246/0.514||Average|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Fail||Poor|
|1080i Deinterlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||300||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|