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This year I've seen plenty of LED-based LCD TVs with disappointing picture quality, but the Vizio M3D0KD series isn't one of them. It boasts black levels and color accuracy that surpass competitors costing hundreds more, making it one of the elite values in its class. No, the series doesn't quite match the price-to-picture ratio of some of our favorite plasmas this year, but at least it comes in a screen size smaller than 50 inches. For TV buyers who don't want a plasma TV or are sold on another aspect of this Vizio's spec sheet, like passive 3D or its QWERTY remote, the Vizio M3D0KD belongs high on the list of candidates.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Vizio M3D550KD, but this review also applies to the 47-inch member of the series. The two have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. Update 8/21/2012: There's also a significant difference in Features between the two that was not noted in the initial publication of this review: the 47-inch model comes with a more basic, infrared QWERTY remote as opposed to the 55-incher's Bluetooth remote. See below for details.
|Vizio M3D470KD||47 inches|
|Vizio M3D550KD (reviewed)||55 inches|
Vizio won't win any awards for innovative styling with the M3D0KD, but it tends toward pedestrian rather than unpleasant. The glossy black, rounded-off frame around the screen is admirably narrow and the panel sits low atop the fixed stand. Two brighter elements annoy me, though: the lighter strip adjacent to the screen along the bottom (material right next to the screen should ideally be black and the same on every side) and the silver pedestal.
As I'd expect from an LED TV, the M3D0KD is quite thin in profile. The panels of both sizes measure a mere 1.5 inches deep.
The remote you get depends on which size you choose. The 55-inch M3D550KD has a Bluetooth QWERTY slider (pictured above) while the 47-incher has an Infrared "flipper" remote: standard keys on the front and a QWERTY keyboard on the back. My description below applies to the slider included with the 55-inch version; check out this previous Vizio TV review for more on the flipper included with the 47-incher.
More than two years after its debut the design of Vizio's slide-open remote seems dated, although it still offers great functionality. It's Bluetooth so you don't need line-of-sight to the TV; it can control other devices; and it has a slide-open QWERTY keyboard for easier typing of searches, passwords, and other Smart TV data. Unfortunately the slider feels cheap, the buttons aren't very responsive, and the unit felt more like a plastic brick than a svelte, modern controller in my hand. I'll take function over form faster than the next guy, but Vizio takes it too far in the wrong direction.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
Tops on the list in my book is Vizio's Smart Dimming feature, which makes the M3D0KD a member of the increasingly select tribe of LED TVs with local dimming. Yes, those edge-lit areas of the screen dim in large, imprecise swaths compared with the dimmers that have full-array backlights, but some local dimming is better than none in my experience since it usually improves black-level performance.
Like many passive 3D TVs this year, the M3D0KD includes a four-pack of glasses. Vizio charges $16 for a 2-pack if you want more, and most third-party circular polarized glasses, such as those used at movie theaters, should work too. No maker of active-3D TVs this year, aside from Samsung which throws in at least two pairs with every 3D set, includes glasses. Check out our 3D TV Buying guide and comparison of active and passive 3D for more.
The Vizio lacks 2D-to-3D conversion, if that matters to you -- it doesn't to me since such conversion is usually quite poor.
Unlike most TVs that can play back photo, music, and video files from an attached USB stick, the Vizio cannot play such files from a home networked source via DLNA.
The M3D0KD can control your other gear using the included remote. That's a nice feature in theory and the guided setup worked well, but I found it frustrating when I tested an LG Blu-ray player, for example. Switching away from the player's input didn't turn it off automatically and some commands, for example "Back," didn't work. I still think even the cheapest Harmony remotes are better.
Smart TV: If Vizio's remote seems dated, then its VIA Smart TV suite, which looks exactly the same as it did during its first generation, deserves the same adjective. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than any of the other major competitors' do 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 from Samsung's or LG's app suites.
At the time of this review Vizio's M3D0KD offered more than 150 apps. Vizio's app selection is devoid of sports-streaming apps like MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter Live, but otherwise excellent -- in fact, it's the only Smart TV purveyor aside from Panasonic to include Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. 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 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 others like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango (with ticket purchasing), iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live. The remainder of that 150 are inevitably less useful, including umpteen apps devoted to local news channels.
Picture settings: The M3D0KD 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 enable or disable the local dimming and ambient light sensor. Missing are a color management system, gamma presets, and more-involved grayscale controls, so the M3D0KD isn't as friendly to tweakers as sets from LG and Samsung, for example.
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.
Connectivity: The back presents a strength for the M3D0KD, with four HDMI ports, one component-video (shared with the single composite video port), a PC input, and two USB ports.
Simply put, the Vizio is the second-best-performing LED TV we've tested so far this year, falling short of the superb Sony KDL-HX850 and beating the other contenders by a greater or lesser margin.
Its strengths include black-level performance and color accuracy, as well as solid screen uniformity, 3D picture quality, and bright-room performance. Variable black levels, blooming, and an inability to properly handle 1080p/24 sources are flies in the ointment, but not enough to seriously contaminate the Vizio's overall picture.
|Sony KDL-55HX850||55-inch edge-lit LED|
|Samsung UN46EH6000||46-inch full-array LED|
|Toshiba 50L5200||50-inch edge-lit LED|
|Sharp LC-60LE640U||60-inch edge-lit LED|
|Panasonic TC-P50UT50||50-inch plasma|
|Vizio M3D550SR||55-inch edge-lit LED|
|Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference)||65-inch plasma|
Black level: The Vizio M3D0KD delivered very good overall black-level performance for an LED/LCD TV, generally outperforming the Samsung and Toshiba we tested as well as its predecessor, the Vizio M3D0SR. Its depth of black was the most highly variable in the lineup, however, and I saw significant blooming, where bright areas spilled over into adjacent ones, like the letterbox bars. These issues, a result of aggressive edge-lit local dimming, make it a worse overall black-level performer than the Sony or the two Panasonics we compared it with, although I'd still give it the black-level nod over the Sharp for videophiles who can stomach those variations.
The Room of Requirement from Chapter 14 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" provided examples of the Vizio KD's strengths and weaknesses. The very dark establishing shot over the cluttered chamber (57:26) looked better on the Vizio than any of the other TVs in the room aside from the VT50 and the Sony, with inky blacks and lots of contrast. Most of the following scenes showed more bright areas, though, and in these the UT50 also looked better, and in some, for example the frame in the foreground as Dobby watches Harry (58:02), the Sharp was darker.
The basic rule was that the more bright elements were shown in the scene, the lighter the Vizio's blacks became. In other words, its dimming did a worse job of maintaining steadily dark black levels throughout than the Sony's dimming did.
In brighter scenes the Vizio KD didn't keep its letterbox bars any darker than the Sharp's, and in some cases they were lighter. Harry's exploration of Snape's memory in Chapter 19 for example (1:16:05) brightened the Vizio's bars considerably, making the Sharp (as well as the better sets, namely the Sony and the Panasonics) appear slightly punchier at times with better contrast. That said, the Vizio still looked very good in bright scenes, and still outperformed its predecessor as well as the Samsung and the Toshiba.
Throughout this dark movie I also noticed minor blooming that was nonetheless more obvious than on the Sony or Vizio SR (the only other local-dimmers in the lineup). In the memory scene, for example, the upper corner of the letterbox bar brightened and darkened when a shot of the tree came and went (1:16:40). As usual, bright onscreen elements on dark backgrounds, for example the PS3 icons in the letterbox bars or the credits against the black screen, showed the most blooming.
In the worst cases blooming was quite distracting. As the camera moves up over a section of wall at Hogwarts (1:13:01), the black areas flashed brighter as the sections of backlight turned on and off. In one of my favorite fade-to-black tests, the opening credits from "Watchmen," the black screen seethed with brighter areas between fade-ups. These instances were rare, but again the Sony handled them much better than the Vizio.
Color accuracy: My charts pointed to a superb showing in this area and the Vizio M3D0KD didn't disappoint with program material. In the memory scene the faces of young Snape and Lily looked as accurate as on our reference VT50 and better than on any of the others. Primary and secondary colors also looked great, from the sky to the grass to Lily's fiery hair. Saturation, owing to the Vizio's solid black levels, was punchy yet well-balanced.
Like many LEDs, the Vizio KD can get quite blue near black, which turned out to be its main color weakness. In Dumbledore's talk with Snape for example (1:17:56), the entire scene looked too blue, particularly the robes and the mist in the background. I suspect this issue is made more visible because of the dimming backlight in semidark areas, although conversely those deep blacks also helped mask the slight blue tinge at and near black.
Video processing: The M3D0KD didn't perform as well as many sets in this category, mainly because it failed to render proper film cadence with 1080p/24 sources. When I disabled smoothing via the Smooth Motion Effect (SME) setting, the image looked choppier than on sets with proper cadence, like the Sony and the Samsung LEDs or the Panasonic plasmas.
I did prefer that choppy look to any of the Vizio's other SME settings, however, which all introduce some level of smoothing/dejudder. As usual the Low/Medium/High options got progressively smoother. There's also a Real Cinema Mode (RCM) -- disabled when you turn off smoothing -- that has Precision, Smooth, and Off settings of its own. Despite Vizio's explanation that RCM is designed for film, none of those options seemed to have any effect I could discern in program material.
As usual engaging SME did improve motion resolution, although to my eye it wasn't worth the trade-off of having to watch the smoothed image. In any of the settings aside from Off I recorded maximum motion resolution in my tests, although engaging the Precision setting in RCM also dropped motion resolution to the 300-line minimum for some reason.
Uniformity: Aside from the blooming mentioned above, the Vizio showed little variation across its screen, even when I disabled local dimming to look for hot spots, making it one of the more uniform LED screens I've seen this year.
From off-angle it was a mediocre performer, losing contrast in muddy shadow details and brighter blacks, and exposing blooming more obviously than ever. That said it did keep its black levels better than the other LEDs aside from the Sony, it bested the Sony at off-angle color fidelity, and from normal angles it still had some punch. As expected the plasmas were universally better in this category.
Bright lighting: The screen finish of the Vizio M3D0KD is unusual in that it appears glossy at first glance, but reflections still have the chief characteristic of a matte screen: fuzzy edges instead of the sharp, mirrorlike look of most glossy displays. It didn't dim or disperse reflections as well as the true matte sets in the lineup -- the Samsung, Toshiba, Sharp, and Vizio SR -- but it did a better job of handling them than either the Sony or especially the Panasonic. It also preserved black levels relatively well, making it one of the better screens for bright rooms we've tested.
3D: The Vizio performed quite well in my 3D tests. Unfortunately I didn't have any LG passive 3D sets on hand anymore to compare it directly against, but based on what I remember the M3D0KD didn't reveal the typical artifacts associated with passive 3D as noticeably as the 55LM6700. I saw fewer jagged edges and moving lines this time around when watching "Hugo," my favorite 3D reference material.
Seating at a distance of 8 feet from the 55-inch screen, I found line structure in the most noticeable areas -- the edge of Hugo's face (13:33) and of Isabel's (17:06) -- was visible but difficult to discern. More noticeable were the rare instances of moving lines, typically when the camera moved over a scene that contained a horizontal edge at a shallow angle, like the bowler hat of Uncle Claude (22:41) and the edge of a low wall outside the station (22:09). I found these artifacts less distracting than I remember from the LG review, perhaps because (from what I remember) the Vizio had a dimmer 3D image in its default mode.
As with the LG, the Vizio's 3D strength was lack of crosstalk. Those ghostly double images, my least favorite artifact of 3D, were less obvious than on any of the active 3D sets in my comparison, including the Samsung UNES8000 (which I subbed into the lineup for 3D testing). Hugo's hand as it reached for the mouse (5:01) and the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49) provided the best examples early in the movie; the Vizio's 3D image was clean and crosstalk was basically invisible, whereas the active sets all showed some level of ghosting. I did see faint crosstalk on the Vizio in the most challenging of scenes, like the word "Films" from the GK Films logo before the movie starts, and Hugo's face at 13:16 and 21:32, but again it wasn't distracting or nearly as bad as on the active sets.
In other areas the Vizio's 3D image was also good. Its black levels appeared about equal to those of the Sony and the Samsung. That's no small feat since active sets have a large advantage in apparent black level because you're basically wearing sunglasses. The Samsung was markedly brighter however, which made its 3D image overall punchier and higher-contrast. As usual both plasmas were exceedingly dim in comparison, so while the VT50's 3D black levels were superb (unlike the UT50's), the LEDs had much better contrast overall.
As in 2D, the Vizio's color was among the best in the lineup. Skin tones were neutral and not too blue, and while the UNES8000 had better saturation, the Vizio's appeared more neutral and accurate. Note that all of these sets can be calibrated for 3D (an effort I don't make in my TV reviews) so color and perhaps other characteristics can be improved.
I prefer LG's aviator-style passive glasses over the generic-looking ones Vizio includes, which didn't fit as well over my prescription lenses. Both were plenty comfortable, although I wish they'd shut out ambient light better, like Panasonic's active glasses do. Overall Vizio's glasses are fine, especially for the price, and you can always buy other passive glasses for cheap if you don't like the fit.
|Geek box: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0095||Average|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.2724/0.2629||Poor|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3135/0.3294||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3119/0.3278||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6284||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6469||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||1.3908||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||2.7405||Average|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||0.2314||Good|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.223/0.3174||Average|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3293/0.1579||Average|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4206/0.5136||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|