Vizio M-Series review: Not just a pretty face

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MSRP: $1,199.99

The Good The Vizio M-Series M1d-A2R is an excellent value with great design and a snappy picture; it has excellent shadow detail, fairly deep black levels, and excellent processing; and its Smart TV access has been improved.

The Bad It doesn't have as deep a black level as a plasma; it suffers from a slight red push; it has a reflective screen; Yahoo apps aren't very slick; and the remote sensor isn't very responsive.

The Bottom Line The Vizio M-Series offers a potent combination of excellent design, decent picture quality, and a pocket-friendly price.

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8.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Value 9

Vizio has been around a while now, and though it started as a budget brand it has been making some small steps toward improving its image, and with the new M-Series the improvement is literal. The M-Series is inarguably the best-looking TV the company has produced, with a barely there bezel and subtle design elements.

The picture the TV can produce is also impressive for its price, with excellent shadow detail and fairly deep blacks, and is worth the extra money over Vizio's entry-level E-Series for more-natural image quality. Local dimming for the price of a nondimming set is nothing to scoff at. Meanwhile, color performance offers up a little bit too much red, but otherwise the Vizio displays a full, rich color palette. As an LED-backlit TV it certainly performs well for the money, but it's worth repeating that it doesn't hold a candle to our value kings, the Panasonic ST60 series of plasmas.

With its new M-Series, Vizio has shown that it is determined to deliver a good-looking TV with unexpected performance for the price. If you need a large screen with design and picture smarts, the Vizio M551d-A2R and M501d-A2R offer compelling combinations.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the M551d-A2R, but this review also applies to the 50-inch screen size in the series. Not all sizes in the M-Series have identical specs, but according to the manufacturer these two models should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Vizio M501d-A2R 50 inches
Vizio M551d-A2R (reviewed) 55 inches

For the last few years, Vizio's television designs have lagged behind its competitors, whether looking simply fuddy-duddy, or at their worst, quite cheap. But the company has amended that this year with both the E- and M-Series looking up-to-the-minute and much more expensive than they really are. The M551d-A2R is particularly striking, with a bezel as thin as a smartphone. The ends are finished in a brushed-aluminum cap and the effect is very tasty -- it rivals LG's designs at a fraction of the price. I particularly like the subtle Vizio logo tab on the right side; it looks like it's straight out of your browser's window.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The computer comparisons continue; with its monitorlike, nonswiveling stand, this television looks more like a computer than one of the company's own all-in-one PCs. This design focus could be the make-or-break point for the TVs given that living-room or home theater PCs never took off; do people want a TV that reminds them of a PC?

Sarah Tew/CNET

The TV comes with an updated remote control, which now features backlighting. However, the only way to activate this is to press any button, blindly, in the dark -- there is no dedicated "light" button. In addition, I found the remote sensor to be slow and highly directional as well; you have to point it directly at the sensor for it to work. If you end up mashing the keys several times in frustration after it freezes for a few seconds, you could find that it then completes all the commands with unexpected results.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you ever used the Yahoo apps on previous Vizio TVs, you'll know what the company is going for with its new menu system with its drop-down boxes and smartphonelike notifications. The TV now offers some helpful wizards, but they are confined to a left-hand window in most cases and often feature very small text. You should probably keep your glasses handy during setup.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Passive 3D glasses included Eight pairs
Refresh rate(s) 240Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: None

The M551d-A2R is an affordable TV and it dispenses with many of the features (read: gimmicks) that you'll find its competitors sporting. There are no cameras or MHL ports, and most of the functions are in the service of the picture. The television has an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming (16 zones). It features a passive 3D system, and includes eight pairs of passive 3D glasses in the box.

Vizio says its remote will gain wireless connectivity and learning functions with a forthcoming firmware update that will let users program their devices into the remote through an onscreen wizard.

Smart TV: Vizio has made some tweaks to its Smart TV platform, now named Vizio Internet Apps Plus. Most notably, you can now see more apps on the screen at once; the ribbon that appears at the bottom when you tap the V button now holds seven apps instead of four. Tap it a second time and you now get the new All Apps view. The company has also added a swath of new apps to its "store" -- mostly local news stations, but most notably it now includes Crackle video, 3D video-streaming service 3DGo, and music-streaming app iHeartRadio.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not a big fan of the platform that Vizio's smart TV service is built on: Yahoo Apps. It squashes most of the information into a small rectangle on the side and still has the "widget" smell about it. As such, this makes a lot of apps, such as 3DGo, look and behave in a homogenized fashion, and it's not as intuitive as using native apps like Netflix.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Interestingly, the HDTV settings and USB player are also available as apps, which means you don't have to press the menu button (though this is easier in the case of settings).

For a comparison of the smart TV features of 2012 and 2013 TVs, check here.

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