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Vizio E0i series review: Cheap local dimming, excellent value

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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.

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

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