Vizio M2i-B series review: Great picture quality and value with very few compromises

Unlike most other major TV names Vizio still doesn't offer a Web browser in its Smart TV system. In our experience that's no major loss since it's usually easier and better to use a laptop, tablet or phone anyway, but it's worth noting that some TV browsers -- namely Samsung and LG -- have improved a lot recently. Vizio's system also lacks the many extras found on some, including cable-box control, universal search, voice command, and more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: For 2014 Vizio has made a lot of changes in this department, but the M and E series share largely the same settings. Vizio offers a number of preset picture modes that don't allow any adjustment; changing a parameter like Brightness on one of these modes immediately changes the picture mode to Custom.

Normally I don't like that kind of arrangement since it's a bit confusing and can lead to inadvertent changes of your custom settings, but Vizio has a cool solution. Not only can you lock the Custom modes, preventing any changes, but you can also create and even name entirely new modes.

Beyond modes Vizio has added some additional controls, namely a full color management system and a ten-point grayscale control. There's a "Motion Blur Reduction" that engages backlight scanning to improve motion resolution, but only in conjunction with the "Smooth Motion Effect" setting, which turns on the Soap Opera Effect. (See Video processing below for details.)

Sarah Tew

Connectivity: The M series offers ample connectivity, with each size getting four HDMI inputs, one USB, one combination component/composite input, an Ethernet port, as well as stereo analog and digital audio.

Picture quality

As I mentioned in the intro, the E and M have very similar picture quality among the sizes I reviewed -- I compared a 60-inch M to a 55-inch E for this review, and in the E review I also reviewed a 42-incher.

Click here for picture settings

Deep black levels, thanks to well-implemented local dimming and a full-array backlight, are the main highlights for both series. Despite the M's extra dimming zones it doesn't achieve a deeper black, although in rare scenes it produces brighter highlights and thus more contrast. Its color is also a tad better, but again the difference is subtle. The M's motion handling advantage is also apparent, but only if you elect to engage the smoothing controls.

In my E series review I described vacillating between a 7 and an 8 for picture quality and eventually going with the 7. Now that I've reviewed the M, I think that was a mistake. Both deserve an 8, "Excellent" on CNET's scale, and I've updated the E accordingly. If you discount price entirely, the M's minor picture quality advantages make it a slightly better performer however.

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.

Black level: Like its brother in the E-Series, the 2014 M-Series can deliver an very deep black level, coming close in many scenes to the best TVs in the lineup. On the other hand the M didn't really beat the E in this department; the two essentially tied.

During the darkest sequences of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," for example, the two 2014 Vizio's looked very similar in terms of black level. As Bilbo and the dwarves nosh around the campfire in Chapter 12 (57:16) for example, the letterbox bars and the silhouettes of the trees were equally dark on both, roughly matching the Sony W900A and as well. Only the Samsung plasma maintained a consistently deeper black, while the Samsung F8000, Sony X850B, the Sharp and the 2013 Vizio M series were lighter, lagging behind to varying degrees.

Shadow detail was superb on the M-Series, matching or even outclassing the best sets in the lineup. As Bilbo explores Gollum's cave by the light of Sting (1:58:34), the rocks in the background showed a bit more detail than a few of the other sets, including both Samsungs and the E-Series. Again, however, these differences were slight.

The M showed an advantage in maintaining highlights compared to the E. Bright graphical elements like the icons on my PS3 were the most obvious difference-makers, showing up significantly brighter on the M than on the E, and thus increasing the sense of contrast and pop. The M's extra pop over the E was visible in some high-contrast areas of the film as well, for example the highlights on Gollum's body as he looms over Bilbo in the cave (1:59:57). That said, the E still looked plenty "poppy" in the vast majority of scenes; seeing evidence of this advantage of the M's was rare, and much more noticeable side-by-side than it would be in isolation.

Blooming, or stray backlight illumination, wasn't a major issue on the M-Series. Yes, it appeared on occasion, most obviously with a very bright object (like a logo) surrounded by darkness, but it was vanishingly infrequent in program material. If you're keeping careful track the E showed very slightly less blooming, the Samsung and Sony about the same amount, and the 2013 M-Series much, much more.

Color accuracy: As the charts below illustrate, this category was another strength for the M-Series. In dark scenes and light, it held its own well versus the reference Samsungs and evinced slightly more accurate whites and grays than the E-Series, which tended a bit toward blue at times. The depth of black on the M also helped it avoid the kind of bluer-looking letterboxing I saw on the Sharp and, to a lesser extent, the Sony X850B and 2013 M-Series.

In a side-by-side comparison, however, I did notice a slightly more reddish tinge to skin tones, particularly in dimmer scenes like the faces of the dwarves and Gandalf around the dinner table (30:50). The Sonys and Samsungs had the advantage over the M in this and a few other areas, but really, the difference was very slight. Outdoor scenes, for example when Bilbo pelts off after the group a bit later, looked as vibrant as any of the other TVs. The lush greens of the trees and fields of the Shire, along with the flowers and vegetable in the morning sun came across with plenty of punch.

Video processing: The M-Series behaves like a modern, typical 120Hz TV in most ways, and its processing is decent, if not up to the level of Samsung, for example. It did outperform the E-Series, but only when I engaged smoothing.

Like its less-expensive 2014 brother the M correctly handled 1080p/24 film cadence, something older Vizios have not. On the other hand, it couldn't do so and simultaneously preserve full motion resolution, something Samsung sets excel at. To get correct film cadence on the Vizio M you must turn the Smooth Motion Effect control to Off; any other setting introduces the smoothing Soap Opera Effect.

All three of the smoothing levels, Low, Medium and High, look pretty much the same, and all are exceedingly smooth -- there's no slightly juddery "compromise" mode similar to Sony's Standard MotionFlow setting, for example.

In terms of maximum motion resolution the M outperformed the E-Series only if smoothing is engaged. Doing so, and toggling on the Motion Blur Reduction (MBR) switch, achieved excellent motion resolution (1080 lines); toggling MBR off cut that number down to 600 lines. Disabling smoothing cut it down even further, to 300 lines. As usual blurring was tough to detect in program material, and personally I'd rather have poor motion resolution than smoothing.

Unlike on the E-Series, I didn't detect any flicker when I engaged MBR on the M-Series. Unfortunately, this setting alone didn't improve motion resolution at all. With smoothing off and MBR on, the TV still registered 300 lines and blur-intense test footage I had on hand, for example the ropes of a moving hammock or the stripes on the shirt of a swinging girl, didn't look any different. For my calibration I elected to turn off MBR because it truncated light output significantly.

The M-Series showed the same kind of minor instability as the E in the test pattern I use for 1080i de-interlacing, but it did technically pass the test.

Uniformity: Once again a full-array backlight proves its mettle, providing the M-Series with exceedingly even lighting across its screen. From the darkest to the brightest flat fields, my review sample showed fewer variations in brightness than any TVs in the lineup, save the plasma. From off-angle the 2014 M maintained fidelity at a similar level to the others in the lineup, with the the exception of the 2013 M-Series, which washed out sooner yet kept color more consistent.

Bright lighting: The M and both E-Series models share the same matte finish, which results in excellent reflection reduction in bright rooms. They also maintained black levels very well when the lights were up, albeit not as well as the glossier Sony W900A or Samsung F8000.

Sound quality: Although marginally better than the E-Series, the 2014 M still lagged behind the sound quality of most of the others in the lineup, in particular the Samsungs and Sonys. Listening to Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," the vocals lacked clarity, bass was puny and the high end sounded a bit distorted. Unlike some of the sets, the sound was also distant and disconnected. Turning to movies, the impact of the explosions during bridge scene from "Mission: Impossible III" was again blunted and relatively thin, although in general it sounded better than music.

2014 Vizio M2i-B series

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.001 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.21 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.332 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.627 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.744 Good
Avg. color error 1.761 Good
Red error 2.418 Good
Green error 1.23 Good
Blue error 2.846 Good
Cyan error 1.203 Good
Magenta error 0.945 Good
Yellow error 1.924 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1080 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 41.73 Average

Vizio M602i-B3 CNET review calibration results

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