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Vizio E0i series review: Cheap local dimming, excellent value

The Vizio E series offers a very good picture for little due to its local-dimming system, but the picture isn't as natural as competing plasmas.

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David Katzmaier Ty Pendlebury
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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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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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7 min read

When Vizio told us many sizes in its mainstream E series would get the benefits of local dimming, I was intrigued. That feature, designed to dim the backlight in discrete sections to enhance black levels and contrast, is rare on today's LCD TVs and positively unheard of at the E series' price level.

Vizio_E0i_series_TV_35508623_05.jpg
7.4

Vizio E0i series

The Good

The <b>Vizio E0i series</b> shows deep black levels, a uniform screen, and commendable bright-room performance, making it a solid midlevel LCD TV. The Smart content selection is excellent. With its thin bezel, the set has a more compact, sleeker look than many competitors.

The Bad

The set's local-dimming system can cause crushing, obscuring shadow detail; the dimming effect can be very obvious on some scenes; the so-called 120Hz refresh rate does nothing to improve picture quality.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio E series offers picture quality nearing the more expensive M series and is a very good choice if you value its Smarts and styling.

It didn't work as promised when we first reviewed it, but the most recent firmware has finally realized the television's potential. The Vizio E0i series is a entry-level LED-dimming TV that performs like a much more expensive model. Its picture quality now rivals the pricier M series, and while that TV does have a touch more refinement in its local-dimming system for a bit better picture, they're now close enough to earn the same picture quality rating from us.

The Vizio E0i series competes well against, or surpasses, the picture quality of other LCD TVs in its price class, while delivering plenty of Smart TV content and sleek minimalist style. Like the 60- and 70-inch E1i-A3 and the E320i-A0, the sizes of "E" reviewed here are among the least expensive Smart TVs available, making them exceedingly good values.

Editors' note: Vizio introduced a firmware update in July 2013 that alleviated some of our earlier concerns with the local dimming system, so we have retested the TVs and rerated them accordingly. Portions of this review have been updated accordingly since its original publication. See the end of the review for more details.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch Vizio E420i-A1 and 50-inch Vizio E500i-A1, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series listed below. All sizes have identical specs (aside from number of HDMI inputs; see below) and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. According to Vizio, there's no difference between the "A1" and "A0" models in the series. Other sizes and models in the E series not listed below have different-enough components that this review doesn't apply to them.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Vizio E390i-A1 39 inches
Vizio E420i-A1 (reviewed) 42 inches
Vizio E420i-A0 42 inches
Vizio E470i-A1 47 inches
Vizio E470i-A0 47 inches
Vizio E500i-A1 (reviewed) 50 inches
Vizio E550i-A0 55 inches

Design
While not as attractive as the 2013 M models, the E is still nice-looking in an unassuming, minimalist way. Its black plastic frame measures just over half an inch thick on the top and sides, although black masking on the panel between the frame and the picture adds another quarter-inch. Vizio's subtle right-offset logo is a welcome change of pace from the prominent center logos on most TVs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"Direct LED" backlighting makes this set about as thick (3.15 inches) as an old-school CCFL-backlit LCD TV, so it doesn't get the "Razor" moniker Vizio applies to its edge-lit LEDs. The generic-looking stand doesn't swivel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike some of Vizio's higher-end Smart TV remotes, the one that comes with the E0i series lacks a flip-side QWERTY keyboard and Wi-Fi communication. The front side is not our favorite among entry-level clickers. It lacks illumination, the Menu, Exit, Guide, and Back keys are too small and there's not enough differentiation between buttons. Its best feature is the inclusion of dedicated keys for Amazon Instant and Netflix; unfortunately, Vizio replaced the Vudu app shortcut key on previous clickers with one for M-Go (see below).

Vizio employs the same menus on this set as it has for every Smart set over the last few years. The menu system resembles an app in appearance, and we liked that the picture settings section is integrated into the main app taskbar. Responses were fast, explanations were complete, and I had no problems finding my way around. We also appreciated the easy guided-setup process.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional Skype camera (XCV100; $70)
Display technology LCD LED backlight Direct with local dimming
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
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
DLNA-compliant No USB Video/Photo/Music

Features
Now that TV makers are starting to ditch CCFL-based backlights altogether, the Vizio E0i's direct LED backlight itself isn't that remarkable. As we mentioned above, it leads to a relatively thick cabinet, and as usual with LED it doesn't mean a better picture. "Direct" simply means that the LEDs are placed behind the screen, as opposed to along the edge. Fewer LEDs are required, which is one reason why direct sets are cheaper than edge-lit ones. What is remarkable, however, is that Vizio is the only purveyor of direct LED TVs we know of to employ local dimming.

Despite the TV's supposed 120Hz refresh rate, the E0i series behaves just like a 60Hz TV. Vizio is the first company we can remember to claim 120Hz on a TV but neglect to include smoothing/dejudder processing. You might not like the so-called Soap Opera Effect such smoothing induces, but with nearly all other 120Hz TVs it's an option you can turn on or off. With the E420i-A it's simply not available.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio actually uses the term "120Hz effective refresh rate" on this and other TVs, including the E601i-A3. But while that set has the smoothing and motion resolution we expect from a 120Hz TV, the E0i series has neither. That's why we're sticking with the "60Hz" specification on the table above, despite what Vizio says.

Unlike the E601i-A3 we tested earlier, the E420i doesn't (yet) handle music, photo, and video streaming over a home network from a DLNA server. It will handle such files via USB, though.

Smart TV: We had no major complaints about the Smart TV feature on the E0i series, and considering the set's price, that's high praise. Its interface is mediocre in design, but content selection was excellent and responsiveness was good enough.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 apps 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 -- 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 $70 camera/speakerphone. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio, there's plenty of musical choices, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio (along with Samsung and LG) is ostensibly supporting M-Go, an on-demand video service with content from most major studios aside from Disney. We learned more about the service at CES 2013, including the fact that it acts as an UltraViolet locker, but there's still no official launch date more than six months later.

We paid special attention to the Wi-Fi connection on the E0i series, and it appeared to work well in my limited testing in the lab -- just as well as a nearby PlayStation 3. As usual with Wi-Fi, your mileage will vary, and if you're a heavy streamer, we'd recommend using a wired connection if possible.

Picture settings: The selection here is good enough for a basic 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. We appreciated that the picture controls are available when watching streaming video. The E0i series also has a Smart Dimming option that enables and disables its local-dimming function.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: On the 42-inch model, three HDMI and a single component-video input (which can be sacrificed to accept composite signals) are on-duty to handle high-def sources, while a single USB slot deals with multimedia. The 50-inch set adds a fourth HDMI input; Vizio claims this is the only other features-related difference between the two sizes. Vizio dropped the VGA-style analog PC input, however.

Picture quality
After the firmware update described below, which improves the performance of the its local-dimming direct LED backlight, the E0i series is able to generally outperform other LCD TVs in its class--and quite a few more expensive models. While there are some obvious dimming effects, and the 42-inch review sample had some issues with uniformity, shadow detail and black levels are very good. On the other hand color accuracy is a bit of a weak point on the Vizio, as is its video processing compared with actual 120Hz TVs.

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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Toshiba 40E220U 40-inch LCD
Samsung LN46E550F 46-inch LCD
Vizio M551d-A2R 55-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 (reference) 55-inch plasma

Black level: In preparing this review what we had is essentially a tale of three TVs: the E500, the E420 (original firmware), and the E420 (latest firmware). As a result of our black levels testing in particular we can say that of the three, the E420 with the latest updates is the "best", followed by the E500. If you have an existing E420 it is well worth your time updating as you will get an appreciable increase in picture quality.

Yes, despite being part of the same series there were differences between the E500 and E420 in terms of black level performance, but both perform better than our original E420 sample did. Shadow detail is now mostly preserved with the added benefit of a deeper shade of black on dark scenes.

During the "hill" sequence of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (45:52), the E-series TVs were able to identify that there were figures on the mound as the camera circles around them, something that the Toshiba 50L2300U couldn't do due to its lack of contrast. Panasonic's own E60 LCD did better though it wasn't able to go as dark.

There are several side-effects of this deeper black level, however. In the case of the E500 some of the darker details in shadows were obscured, and in both E-series TVs iwe noticed an obvious dimming effect. With the very hill sequence the E-series dimmed a little too much and then lightened obviously, which could be a little jarring. As the camera swings around you see a figure approach Voldemort, and on the Vizio M-series and the E420 you can make out the detail on his vest, while on the E500 you can only see a black blob.

A expected the ST60 plasma suffered no obvious fluctuations in brightness and had a more natural picture, with deeper black levels, than any of the LCDs.

Color accuracy: Although not terrible in this department, the E0is still looked less accurate than most of the past Vizios we've tested. The main weakness came in saturation; for example, the green grass and young Lily Potter's red hair looked a bit duller and less vibrant than on most of the other displays. Meanwhile, blues, like the water in Chapter 9 as the friends come up from the lake, had a redder cast than on the other Nets. On some skin tones the E500 could look a little rosier.

Like the other LCDs, the Vizio E420 occasionally showed a bluish tinge in dark and black areas although it was not as bad as the Samsung E550 or the TCL. This wasn't an issue with the larger 50-inch Vizio. Skin tones were a strength on the E series; the faces of Ron and Hermione in the cave (50:01) looked realistic enough, although still not as true as on the plasmas or the other Vizio.

Video processing: As I mentioned above, the E0i claims a 120Hz "effective" refresh rate, but it behaves in all respects that I tested like a 60Hz TV. It's unable to reproduce the correct film cadence of a 1080p/24 source, introducing the characteristic halting stutter I associate with 60Hz sets using 2:3 pull-down. It also measured the 300-odd lines of motion resolution I expect from a 60Hz set, not the 600 or so I've seen on nearly every 120Hz model.

Uniformity: To its credit, the screen of our E420i-A1 review sample showed no obvious flashlighting (bright corners or spots during dark scenes), and so outdid the Toshiba and TCL in this category. With the new dimming enabled there were some occasional blue uniformity issues/blooming in the bottom right corner which wasn't visible on the others in the lineup. From off-angle the Vizio lost black-level and color fidelity about as quickly as most of the other LCDs.

On the other hand the larger E500i-A1 had more stable uniformity with almost no blue-black issues and off-axis the black levels and colors were much more consistent.

Bright lighting: The matte screen of the Vizio reduced the intensity of glare from reflections nicely, and also did a solid job of retaining black-level depth. It was no better or worse under the lights than the other matte LCDs in our comparison lineup, but as expected it outdid the Samsung plasma handily in this area.

Sound quality: For a TV at this price level the sound was decipherable but nothing special, with a distinct lack of bass. Dialog was clear though there was a lack of low frequency response. In our action movie test ("Mission Impossible III," Chapter 11), the female actor's voice sounded restrained and a little muffled as she unveiled who she thought "the rat" was, but there was only a little bit of compression on the explosion that cuts her voice off.

Music wasn't very crisp and there was also no bass response to speak of -- changing the mode to rock introduced some richness to Nick Cave's voice but didn't help bass reproduction.

Editor's note: CNET originally reviewed the 42-inch E420 in February 2013. One of the criticisms was that the local dimming system led to degraded picture quality, and hence reviewer David Katzmaier left it off. Then Vizio notified us that it had upgraded the local dimming system in a new firmware release. As a result we requested a new set and the company sent us a 50-inch model, the E500 reviewed here. At the time of review its firmware version is 2.04.3PR1.

We also asked Vizio how to upgrade the firmware of the 42-inch model we had originally reviewed. The company originally informed us that the TV would receive its firmware automatically "over the air" via WiFi.

After waiting several weeks with no update, we were told we had an older version of the set and now needed two firmware upgrades. After waiting a couple more days we connected an Ethernet cable and turned the TV off, and lo! the firmware had arrived once we turned it back on.

Vizio said that unlike us, users in the field will receive the updated firmware, version 3.12.6. on the 42-inch TV, automatically while the TV is off. Unfortunately, Vizio was unable to give us the number of TVs out in the field and how many were still awaiting firmware. If you're unsure you have the latest firmware, you should call 888-849-4623 (888-VIZIO-CE) to check with the company.

As a part of our testing we compared the old E420 to the already upgraded E500, and then compared the two models again with the new E420 firmware. Also, despite the differences we noted in the review, Vizio assured us that the 42- and 50-inch samples have the same type of LCD panel and the same number of dimmable backlight zones.

GEEK BOX: E420i-A1 Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0072 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.28 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.51 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.16 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.27 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.67 Good
Avg. color error 4.10 Average
Red error 4.29 Average
Green error 7.29 Poor
Blue error 4.20 Average
Cyan error 3.45 Average
Magenta error 1.92 Good
Yellow error 3.46 Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 300 Poor
GEEK BOX: E500i-A1 Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.33 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.1 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.526 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.197 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 3.203 Average
Avg. color error 3.71633333333333 Average
Red error 1.568 Good
Green error 3.046 Average
Blue error 6.897 Poor
Cyan error 4.97 Average
Magenta error 3.464 Average
Yellow error 2.353 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 300 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor

Vizio E420i-A1 CNET review calibration results by David Katzmaier

Vizio_E0i_series_TV_35508623_05.jpg
7.4

Vizio E0i series

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7Value 8
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