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Vizio E series (2015) review: The E is for everybody

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.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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13 min read

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.

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Vizio E series (2015)

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.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 backlightFull-array with local dimming
Screen shape FlatResolution1080p
Screen finish MatteRefresh rate120Hz or 60Hz
Smart TV VIA PlusRemoteStandard
3D technology No3D glasses includedN/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

ModelSizeActive dimming zonesPanel typePanel refresh rateEffective refresh rateClear action rateSmoothing optionHDMI inputs
E40-C2* 40-inch5VA60Hz120240No2
E40X-C2 40-inch5VA60Hz120240No2
E43-C2 43-inch5VA and IPS60Hz120240No3
E48-C2 48-inch6VA60Hz120240No3
E50-C1 50-inch12VA60Hz120240No3
E55-C1 55-inch12VA and IPS60Hz120240No3
E55-C2* 55-inch12VA and IPS60Hz120240No3
E60-C3 60-inch12VA60Hz120240No3
E65X-C2 65-inch16VA60Hz120240No3
E65-C3* 65-inch16VA120Hz240480Yes4
E70-C3 70-inch16VA120Hz240480Yes4

*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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: The E series offers plenty of ways to tweak the image. There are six picture modes, all of which can be adjusted, and you can create and rename additional modes as needed. You can also lock modes to prevent accidental erasure.

Advanced tweaks include five gamma presets, a full color-management system and both a 2- and 11-point grayscale control. The "smoothing"-equipped sets get sliders for Reduce Judder and Reduce Motion Blur, while all sizes get a Clear Action option that engages backlight scanning. There's also an option Game Low Latency that reduces input lag.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: As the chart above indicates, various Es get anywhere between two and four HDMI inputs. Most have three, which is plenty for a TV in this price range. All sizes have otherwise identical connectivity, including a single component/composite input for legacy analog-only gear, a USB port for photos, video and music from thumbdrives, and an optical digital and stereo analog outputs. Unlike most TV makers, Vizio actually allows surround sound to pass via its optical jack.

Picture quality

The E series has very good picture quality, and handily beat a more-expensive TV in our comparison, the Samsung UN55H6350 . Its secret is deep black levels and very good overall contrast, with few of the blooming artifacts that plague some local dimming implementations. One tradeoff for the fewer number of dimming zones is a sacrifice in the brightness of highlights, but for the price its picture is still in a league of its own.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TVs picture controls worked during calibration.

Black level: All three of the 2015 E series sets delivered very impressive contrast performance, anchored by deep black levels. Each bested the three non-Vizio sets in the lineup, none of which have true local dimming, at achieving an inky black in the darkest parts of the shadowfest "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For."

The advantage was most evident in areas with large swaths of black screen, for example the opening title sequence, but also apparent in many instances of program material, for example the very early shot where Marv falls amid shards of shattered glass. In this case, the 55-inch and 40-inch E sets evinced the deepest black in the room, followed by the 65-inchers (P and E). That said, the sets with more dimming zones, namely the 65-inchers and the M series, handily beat the smaller sets in terms of the brightness of their highlights. I liked the P series' image best of all for contrast, but the Es were very close, and the 55-incher looked particularly impressive.

Blooming is an artifact on local dimming TVs where bright areas of the screen bleed over into darker ones. It was visible in some scenes on the E series, but it didn't detract from the image enough to make me prefer the non-dimming sets. The 65-incher seemed to show more blooming than the others, probably because it tried to show brighter highlights but has fewer zones than the P or the M.

Shadow detail can often be a problem on improperly implemented dimming systems, but it was solid on the E series. None of the sets crushed detail after proper adjustment; the folds in Marv's leather jacket and the shadows on his craggy face, for example, were preserved nicely.

The 65-inch set did show slightly lighter shadows and black levels overall than the others, and more variation from scene to scene, which seems to indicate its local dimming could use some refinement. I also checked out out again as part of the M series review in mid-July, and noticed more blooming during the difficult dark-scene Chapter 2 from Gravity. Among the three E series sets it was my least favorite overall in this category, but its contrast and black levels were still very good.

Color accuracy: According to the charts, the E series sets were all superb in this category, delivering scores in the major grayscale and gamut accuracy that were well below the nominal threshold of human perception (delta errors less than 3) after calibration. Even prior to calibration they were still excellent in their Calibrated Dark picture settings.

I swapped in "The Tree of Life," and Chapter 5: Innocence looked great, from the depth of the green grass to the blue of the sky and Mr. O'Brien's shirt to the goldfish's orange scales. Skin tones were on the money too, including the baby's and the toddler's delicate faces.

All of the comparison TVs looked good enough in these scenes, although the TCL and the Sharp lagged behind the others. That said the Samsung showed no major advantage over the Vizios, and the E series more than kept up with the M and the P in this arena.

Video processing: Aside from the E65-C3 and the E70-C3, all of the E series sets lack the option to engage smoothing, aka the Soap Opera Effect, so they're fairly simple in terms of video processing. The 40-inch and 55-inch sizes I tested both delivered proper 1080p/24 cadence with film-based sources, and motion resolution (blur reduction) typical of their 60Hz panels: 300 lines, unless I turned on Clear Action, which upped that number to 900 in the case of the 40-incher, and an impressive 1,200 for the 55-inch set. Unfortunately CA also introduced significant flicker in addition to hampering light output, so I left it turned off.

The E65-C3 was a different beast, as you might expect from a TV with a 120Hz panel. Its menu offers slider settings for Reduce Blur and Reduce Judder. Confusingly, Reduce Blur has very little visible effect on blurring compared to the other settings, so I basically left it at the default (5).

Setting Reduce Judder to zero eliminated smoothing and preserved the proper 1080p/24 cadence of film. Going higher progressively introduced more smoothing, and I appreciated that the steps were gradual, allowing a user to dial in just a touch if the judder becomes bothersome, or if he or she wants to reduce blur (maximize motion resolution).

To reduce burring as much as possible, you'll need to implement a Judder setting of 1 or higher -- in other words, you'll have to introduce some smoothing -- and turn on Clear Action. With those settings, the set delivered a respectable 800 lines according to our test, but with Clear Action turned off it barely hit 400, and when we turned both Clear Action and Judder to zero that number dropped to 300. Unlike the others, CA on the 65-inch set didn't flicker as badly, but I left it off anyway because it still cut light output quite a bit

In sum, the 65-inch E series forces the same tradeoff as usual between reducing blur and preserving proper film cadence. I prefer to preserve the look of film and I rarely notice blurring, so for 24-frame content (typically movies and scripted TV shows) I'd keep Clear Action off, Reduce Judder to zero and leave Reduce Motion Blur (which had minimal effect in any setting) at its default of 5.

The E series' Game Low Latency setting had no effect with the 40- and 55-inch sets -- it seems to be basically a placebo -- but it doesn't matter they turned in lag scores of 46ms (the happy end of Average) and 30 (very good) respectively. On the 65-incher, it reduced input lag from a horrendous 130ms to a merely bad 74ms. Suffice to say that serious gamers should stick with the 60Hz Es.

Uniformity: As I'd expect from a direct-lit LCD, the E series was very good in this category, with no major blotchiness or uneven lighting on the screens of any of the three review samples I tested. The Sharp and the Samsung, if you're keeping track, were a good deal worse, but the others were similarly uniform.

With test patterns including bright and mid-bright (gray) full fields, some backlight structure and vignetting (where the edges of the screen are darker than the middle) was visible, but again it was minor for LCD TVs and didn't show up in program material. The vignetting was more visible on th 55- and 65-inch sets, while the 40-incher did show a very slightly brighter bottom area.

From off-angle they were typical of VA panels, evincing some color shift and worse black level fidelity as I moved to either side. None of the other sets had a big advantage or disadvantage in this category. Bright lighting: The matte screens of the E series are ideal for brightly lit rooms, minimizing reflections and doing a very good job preserving black levels. None of the sets in my lineup this time use a glossy screen, and they're all more or less great in this category.

Sound quality: The E series' sound was much more in line with their price: dirt cheap. The E55 sounded "best" but it was still hollow and muddy-sounding. The 40-incher has an annoying scratchiness and the 65-incher distorted at volume, and none could compete with the sound of the P series or the Samsung. They'll be fine for light duty or watching the news, but if you want any aural impact at all you should mate the E with a decent sound bar or speaker system.

Vizio E40-C2 Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.011Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.32Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.798Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.274Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.952Good
Avg. color error 2.364Good
Red error 1.782Good
Green error 1.354Good
Blue error 5.559Poor
Cyan error 2.194Good
Magenta error 2.048Good
Yellow error 1.247Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 900Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 46Average



Vizio E55-C2 Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.007Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.31Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.612Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.804Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.036Good
Avg. color error 2.478Good
Red error 3.82Average
Green error 2.385Good
Blue error 4.323Average
Cyan error 1.247Good
Magenta error 1.045Good
Yellow error 2.05Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 30.3Good

Vizio E65-C3 Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.01Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.33Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.218Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.839Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.952Good
Avg. color error 2.478Good
Red error 3.82Average
Green error 2.385Good
Blue error 4.323Average
Cyan error 1.247Good
Magenta error 1.045Good
Yellow error 2.05Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 800Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 74.03Average

How We Test TVs

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Vizio E series (2015)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Value 10
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