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Vizio E601i-A3 LED TV review: Best 70-inch LED TV value

Solid picture quality, style and features make the massive Vizio E701i-A3 a great big-screen buy.

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David Katzmaier
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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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6 min read

Vizio's E1i-A3 series is the poster child for "TVs are getting bigger and cheaper all the time." The 70-inch behemoth reviewed here costs less than any similarly sized TV I know about, yet delivers quite a bit for the price. Beyond the picture, it packs in Smart TV, complete with a nifty QWERTY remote, as well as sharp styling that does its best to keep a screen this size "understated."

Vizio_E701i-A3_70inch_35477664_03.jpg
7.6

Vizio E601i-A3 LED TV

The Good

The <b>Vizio E701i-A3</b> is an outstanding value as the least expensive LED TV of its size that also offers Smart TV. Its picture boasts highly accurate color and very good bright-room performance. Plenty of Smart TV content is on hand within a responsive interface, and the QWERTY remote makes searches and other Smart TV actions easier. With its thin bezel, the set has a more compact, sleeker look than many competitors.

The Bad

The E1i-A3's picture can't match the black-level performance of some competing LED TVs, and suffers from some uniformity issues. Its Smart TV interface design seems a bit dated and cumbersome.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio E701i-A3 is the best value yet among 70-inch LED TVs.

The 70-inch Vizio E701i-A3 does cost twice as much as its 60-inch brother, however, and if you're spending two grand on a TV, it's worth considering the alternatives. Sharp's LC-70LE640U is a better performer, Panasonic's 65-inch TC-P65ST50 is better still in pretty much every way, and both can be had for just a few hundred more than this Vizio. But if you're OK with that and just want a huge, very good LED TV, Vizio E701i-A3 is a spectacular value.

Design
The E1-A3 series, whether 60 or 70 inches, is the nicest-looking Vizio TV I can remember. The frame on the 70-incher is mighty thin albeit a bit thicker than the 60- along the sides -- about an inch. It's less than that along the top and a bit thicker along the bottom. The 70-inch Vizio's bezel is about the same size as that of the 60-inch Sharp's LC-60LE640U.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sarah Tew/CNET

The result is a gigantic TV that's seemingly almost all screen when seen from the front, and while the 70-incher is about half an inch thicker than the 60 in profile, it's still plenty slim. Those bezel and cabinet dimensions, combined with Vizio's understated glossy black styling, puts Vizio's E701i-A3 into the same styling league as TVs from the better-known brands. As is common at this price level, the panel doesn't swivel atop the stand.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To make it easier to enter searches and other information into Smart TV apps, the E701i-A3 comes with a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard on its flip side. While not up to the standards of a good smartphone keyboard, it's roomy and fine for occasional use -- easily outclassing the tedious onscreen virtual keyboards required by most other smart TVs. I liked the tactile "click" as I depressed keys, though I was annoyed at constantly having to flip to the front of the remote to enter numbers.

Vizio's gigantic 70-inch bargain (pictures)

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It's also worth noting that since the remote uses infrared to signal the TV, you have to keep its front edge aimed roughly at the screen, which can seem unnatural. If you hold the keyboard more perpendicular to your face, as I demonstrate in the image below, it's likely many of your button presses won't register. That's one reason why Bluetooth or another wireless technology is superior to infrared for living-room keyboards.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The front face of the remote is not my favorite. The menu/exit/guide/back keys are too small and there's not enough differentiation between the keys. The remote's best feature is that it has dedicated keys for Amazon Instant and Netflix; unfortunately, Vizio replaced the Vudu app shortcut key on previous clickers with M-Go (see below). Its worst, shared by the QWERTY side, is lack of any illumination.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio employs the same menus on this set as on its other Smart TVs, and I'm a fan. 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 and unusually complete onscreen manual.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional Skype camera (XCV100; $75)
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Matte Remote QWERTY "flipper"
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology N/A 3D glasses included N/A
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Features
The E701i-A3 sits in the features sweet spot for LED-based LCD TVs. Its edge-lit LED backlight forgoes the local dimming found on models like Vizio's own M3D0KD, but the company does include 120Hz processing. Also left off the list is 3D, although in my book that's no big loss, especially on a TV priced this competitively. If you want a 3D Vizio, your largest screen choice so far is the 65-inch M3D651SV, while Sharp's LC-70LE745U is the closest 70-inch 3D competitor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: Compared with most major TV makers' smart TV implementations, Vizio's VIA suite of Smart TV apps, which looks exactly the same as it did in its first generation, seems dated. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than it should be since you'll need to scroll through the small ticker at the bottom of the page. Yes, you can rearrange the ticker and weed out the apps you don't want, but it's still a pain for those who want to keep more than a few apps installed. Response times were decent, but not as snappy as those from Samsung's or LG's app suites. That said I do prefer Vizio's design to Sharp's.

On the other hand, content selection 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. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio there's plenty of musical choice, too. There's no Web browser, but that's no major loss since TV-based browsers are universally inferior to smartphone, tablet, and of course PC browsers.

Vizio tells me the Skype app isn't yet active on the 60- and 70-inch versions of this TV, and did not say when it would be: "We're working actively working with Skype to get these models certified." When it finally gets turned on, you'll still need to purchase the $70 camera/speakerphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio lacks an "app store" and any paid-app choices, but the Yahoo Connected TV Store (the VIA engine is based on Yahoo Widgets) has plenty of free, somewhat useful options like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango (with ticket purchasing), iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live. The remainder of the more than 150 other apps are inevitably less useful, including umpteen apps devoted to local news channels.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: The E701i-A3 has Vizio's trademark list of picture modes named after sports -- Football, Golf, Baseball, and Basketball -- that have little to do with improving image quality when watching those sports. Advanced settings include two-point color temperature and a couple of dejudder settings, along with the option to adjust the ambient light sensor and global dimming on the backlight.

It doesn't have a color management system, gamma presets, or more-involved grayscale controls, so the set isn't as friendly to picture-tweakers as sets from LG and Samsung. It's about as tweakable as Sharp's sets, and is more so than Panasonic's.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: The back presents a strength for the E701i-A3, with four HDMI ports, one component-video port (shared with the single composite video port), a PC input, and two USB ports.

Picture quality
Vizio told us that the 70-inch size improved upon the picture quality of its 60-inch brother, but to our eyes and tests they're basically identical. Both can produce a workmanlike picture, albeit one roughly as good as you see on many LED TVs that cost a lot more. Neither quite matches the level of picture quality seen on its chief LED competitor from Sharp, let alone on Panasonic's excellent plasmas, such as the 65-inch ST50. The Vizio's black levels were relatively unconvincing and it showed some uniformity and off-angle-viewing issues. On the other hand, it still warrants a score of "good" in this category, mainly by virtue of accurate color and solid performance in bright rooms.

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)
Sharp LC-60LE640U 60-inch edge-lit LED
Vizio E601i-A3 60-inch edge-lit LED
Vizio M3D651SV 65-inch edge-lit LED
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch edge-lit LED
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma

Black level: Both 60- and 70-inch Vizios tied for the least impressive sets in our lineup at reproducing a deep shade of black. Between the two the 70-incher appeared very slightly darker in its letterbox bars, but the 60-incher measured very slightly darker to my meter. No matter; any difference would be almost impossible to discern outside a side-by-side comparison on calibrated TVs in a completely dark room.

Viewed next to the Sharp, its natural competitor, the E701i-A3 showed more washed-out and less punchy dark areas, like the nighttime ship scenes in chapter 5 of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." The letterbox bars and dark objects, like Will's shirt as he approaches Elizabeth (29:39), were lighter in our dark room, robbing them of some impact. The 65-inch Vizio wasn't much better in terms of black level, but the 55-inch Vizio along with the Panasonic plasma were both superior in this area.

Details in shadows, such as the clothing of the crew (30:52), looked good, with few traces of murkiness or too-bright transitions from dark to light areas. The 65-inch Vizio looked significantly worse, with plenty of crushed, detail-free shadows.

Color accuracy: Again both sizes of E1i-A3 Vizio looked largely identical, and color accuracy in all but the darkest areas was a major strength. The face of Elizabeth in the moonlight came closer to the excellent ST50 than on any of the other TVs, and in particular I appreciated the lack of bluish tinge seen on the other LCD sets. The Sharp was also quite close, however. Later on the beach under bright sunlight (40:18) Elizabeth's skin tone again looked better than on the other sets. For what it's worth the 70-incher also showed less greenish tint in the sky behind Jack (40:37) then did the 60-incher, but that's an extremely minor advantage.

More obvious was the E1i-A3 series' discoloration, specifically bluish tinge, in black areas like the letterbox bars. It was more obvious than on the Sharp or the Vizio 55-incher, and as usual the plasma didn't have this problem. That said, both the 65-inch Vizio showed even more discolored blacks.

Video processing: The E701i-A3 acquitted itself well and even managed to outperform the M3D0KD in this category, primarily because it rendered 1080p/24 sources with the proper film cadence. When I watched the helicopter flyover from chapter 7 of "I Am Legend," for example, the E701i-A3 delivered the smooth but not soap-opera-like look of film, while the Sharps, for example, evinced the stuttering cadence indicative of 3:2 pull-down.

The Vizio has two settings that affect cadence/smoothness, named Smooth Motion Effect (SME) and Real Cinema Mode (RCM), and each has three positions. Among the possible combinations, the only one that rendered behavior as described above was Off/Off for both.

The other SME settings introduce some level of artificial-looking smoothing/dejudder to film-based sources. As usual the Low/Medium/High options got progressively smoother. Meanwhile Real Cinema Mode (RCM) -- disabled when you turn off SME -- has Precision, Smooth, and Off settings of its own. Off introduced the least smoothing while Precision and Smooth, which introduced excessive smoothing again, looked basically the same to my eyes.

As usual, there's a trade-off: if you minimize smoothing by using Off/Off, the E701i-A3 scores basically the same as a 60Hz TV on our motion resolution test. Engaging any of the smoothing modes causes that score to improve. I'll personally take a smoothing-free image over a better motion resolution score any day because for me it's quite difficult to see any blurring in program material, even when the E701i-A3 is set to Off/Off.

Uniformity: The screen of my 70-inch review sample was indeed a bit more uniform, with fewer bright spots in dark areas, the the 60-inch sample (these issues can vary widely from sample to sample). That said it wasn't great. The most obvious issue was a "flashlight" in the bottom right corner that was visible in the letterbox bars of movies; the edges were slightly brighter too, but a lot less visible. Aside from the 60-inch Vizio, all of the other sets had superior uniformity.

The E701i-A3 also lost black-level fidelity when seen from off-angle faster than the M3D0KD or the Sharp. I did appreciate that its color stayed relatively true, however, instead of dipping into blue or red as I saw on a few of the other sets. As usual both sizes performed the same from off-angle.

Bright lighting: Although not quite as aggressively matte as the Sharp's screen, the Vizio E701i-A3's screen did a similarly superb job under the lights. It outdid the Panasonic, the M3D550KD and of course the mirrorlike M3D651SV at deadening reflections, and preserved black level well.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0104 Average
Avg. gamma 2.31 Average
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.292/0.2959 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3117/0.3261 Average
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3126/0.3292 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6280 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6576 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 1.4549 Good
Green lum. error (de94_L) 0.4211 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 0.097 Good
Cyan hue x/y 0.2213/0.3313 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3165/0.1574 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4231/0.5136 Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 300 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 600 Average

Vizio E701i-A3 CNET review calibration results

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7.6

Vizio E601i-A3 LED TV

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Value 9
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