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Vizio M series (2015) review: An affordable 4K TV with an excellent picture

Only one HDMI input, Input 5, is compatible with both newfangled HDMI connection protocols, namely HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 copy protection. The former allows 4K frame rates up to 60Hz, the fastest currently available. The latter allows the TV to accept copy-protected 4K content over HDMI, from devices like the Sony FMP-X10 media player, the Nvidia Shield playing back certain copy-protected content such as Netflix 4K, and forthcoming 4K Blu-Ray content. 2015 4K TVs from Samsung, Sony and LG offer multiple so-equipped inputs.

The other four are version 1.4, meaning they can handle 1080p sources up to 60Hz and 4K sources up to 30Hz. Of those four, only two support HDCP 2.2.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As expected, when I tried the Shield and the Sony players' HDCP 2.2-protected content on the inputs that didn't handle HDCP 2.2 (Inputs 3 and 4 on the M series), the content didn't play back. That protected content did play back on Inputs 1 and 2, confirming that they do indeed support HDCP 2.2, but when I tried 4K/60Hz on those inputs the signals were "dumbed down" to 4K/30Hz automatically (and otherwise played back fine). Only Input 5 displayed HDCP 2.2/4K/60Hz content natively.

The M series also had one other disadvantage connectivity-wise compared to the higher-end 4K sets from SLG and Samsung: lack of support for 4K 4:4:4 chroma subsampling signals via any of its inputs. This isn't a big deal to us since, once again, the only common 4:4:4 sources come from PCs. Another PC source, 1080p/120Hz, is accepted by Input 5 however.

Beyond HDMI, the Vizio's other physical connections include one each of USB, component-video, composite video, Ethernet and an RF tuner port. There's also an analog audio and optical digital audio output. As with other Vizio TVs, the M series' optical jack passes Dolby Digital.

Picture quality

The M series delivered better overall picture quality than any 4K TV at its price we've tested, with the exception of the P series. Moreover it outperformed other significantly more-expensive 2015 4K sets in our lineup, including two models from Samsung and one from Sony, and also had a demonstrably better picture than Vizio's E series. That advantage stems from deeper black levels, which lend the M series better contrast and pop.

Color accuracy was as good as the competition or better, including Samsung's quantum-dot-equipped JS8500 SUHD, and most other aspects of image quality were very good as well. Video processing isn't quite up to Samsung snuff, but still solid and by no means a deal-breaker.

The P series did evince slightly better black level and blooming performance in side-by-side comparisons, so given a choice between the M and P at the same size and price, I'd probably go with P. That said the M series is still an excellent performer and they both deserve the same 8 in this category. I'm reserving the 9 for TVs that may be better, and the only 10 I've awarded this year belongs to OLED .

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: Creating a deep shade of black is the M series' main picture quality strength. To test its mettle I first queued up my favorite scene for black levels, chapter 2 of "Gravity" where Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone careens off into space. The M series delivered the second-best black levels, trailing the P series by the slimmest of margins. Outside of my side-by-side dark room comparison, it would be impossible to tell the two apart, and in the darkest scenes my light meter couldn't distinguish between them. From the letterbox bars to the void of space to the shadows of the spacesuits, none of the other TVs delivered the depth of darkness seen on the Vizio M and P.

The M showed very slightly better shadow detail than the P, however, with a bit more visible in near-black areas like the jetpack and tops of the astronauts' helmets as they spun. The Samsungs and Sony did a bit better still at handling shadows, and showed more stars against the blackness of space, but their significantly lighter blacks made these areas appear less realistic, and satisfying, overall.

Meanwhile, the E series was relatively good at rendering black -- equal to or very slightly slightly darker than the Samsungs, and well short of the depth of the M and P -- but its wide-area dimming obscured more details than any of these TVs. It also showed more blooming in this scene than the others. As Stone tumbles and her flashlight revolves in and out of the image, dark parts of the image like the letterbox bars and the void brightened from the spillover of light. On the other sets, blooming was more controlled.

Dimmer highlights were also an issue on the E series, but not the M and P series. The bright areas like the sun peeking over the Earth, or the albedo off the white spacesuits, appeared plenty bright and natural. The Samsungs (particularly the JS8500) and the Sony were very slightly brighter in highlights, but the M and P looked much punchier overall nonetheless due to their superior contrast.

There were some tradeoffs for those black levels in the form of dimming-related artifacts. During Stone's spin, for example, a large swath of the upper letterbox bar got darker than the rest (16:35) and as she approaches the camera, the entire bottom bar snapped a shade darker, suddenly and noticeably. I also saw the blooming around graphical elements like white-on-black words during credits, or the pause sign displayed in the lower-left by my PlayStation 3. This bloom around that white icon wasn't as bright on the M as on the P series, but the P's blooming was smaller and more localized. In general I prefered the P's treatment, and I suspect it has to do with its superior number of dimming zones.

The Samsungs and the E series (all of which have local dimming from fewer zones than the M and P) showed similar issues albeit with even wider areas, which were in general less distracting than the M and P's more localized blooming, depending on the content. None of these blooming artifacts were particularly bothersome in the vast majority of program material, however, and as usual I'll take a bit of blooming at times for the big benefits to contrast and ovrall picture quality imparted by local dimming.

Beyond "Gravity" and other very dark material, the benefits of deep black levels are less obvious, but still evident. The extreme contrast of "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" still looked best on the M and P series, but the difference wasn't as extreme even in my dark room.

Color accuracy: The measurements after calibration put the M series in the same highly accurate section of the ballpark as the best TVs I've tested, with a superb grayscale and gamma result and excellent color scores. The basic metrics for color all fell below a Delta error of 3, the threshold for perception.

In my side-by-side comparison of program material those measurements held true. The black-and-white "Sin City: A Dame to Kill" For showed off the M's excellent grayscale with an exceedingly neutral palette, matching the best TVs in the room. I switched over to the lush "Samsara" and it was equally impressive, from the green of the African bush to the red and pink of the various uniforms. If I had to pick something to complain about it would be the slightly oversaturated look to greens, for example in the fields around the temples. Certain areas, like the face of the baby being baptized and the gold of the dancers' costumes, also seemed a tad more colorful than on the other displays.

Side-by-side is the only way I'd notice this issue, however -- that, and the fact that green, cyan and yellow measured slightly more saturated than they needed to be. Advanced measurements showed a saturation error slightly above Delta 3 after calibration (3.55), and similarly for the color checker (3.04) These errors are still quite small, however, and I doubt their effects would be visible outside of a side-by-side comparison. Luminance color error was also negligible.

Thanks to Chris Heinonen of Reference Home Theater and The Wirecutter for letting me use his CalMan workflow, which made those advanced measurements possible.

Video processing: The M series performed admirably in this area, almost as well as the P series (after its software update) in fact. Neither quite equal the Samsung displays, but are still very good.

Even the 60Hz members of the M series offer adjustable MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), aka smoothing or the Soap Opera Effect. Vizio now offers a 10-position slider to control said smoothing, much like LG and Samsung, and the M series delivered true 1080p/24 cadence as long as I kept the Reduce Judder setting at zero. Increasing it stepped up the smoothing in satisfyingly small increments; the 1 and the 2 settings on the slider were still quite juddery, and may look better than zero (even to hardcore film buffs) in some scenes, for example slow pans over large areas.

I did run into some inconsistent behaviour with smoothing, however. When I switched from one input to the next and back the image seemed to revert to overly-smoothed, even though I was in the zero setting for Reduce Judder. If you notice this kind of issue, you may want to try a Reduce Judder setting of 1, which seemed to be more consistent in my testing.

Since I didn't test one of the 60Hz refresh panels I can't be sure how it does for motion resolution, but I expect the number to range between 900 and 1,200 lines because that's what I measured on Vizio's 60Hz E series sets. Getting those relatively lofty numbers meant engaging Clear Action, however, which introduced too much flicker to be worthwhile. So their real numbers sat at 300 lines.

The 65-inch M series I tested has a 120Hz panel, however, and it behaved as well as I expect for such a TV. With Clear Action engaged it hit 1080 lines of motion resolution, an excellent result. That setting didn't introduce flicker that bothered me, but it did truncate the light output quite a bit, so I kept it off. Without Clear Action, and with the Reduce Blurring slider maxed out at 10, the 65-inch hit around 900 lines, which is still very good. Interestingly the P series has was a bit better in this department, scoring 1200 lines without Clear Action and delivering a bit less blur on my test pattern.

It's also worth noting that the M series didn't suffer from the kind of over-sharpening I saw on the early version of the P series; upconversion from 1080p to 4K, and its rendering of native 4K material, looked as clean and natural as on the other TVs. To be fair, Vizio's software update also fixed that issue on the P series.

Just like the P series, input lag on the M series was among the best I've ever measured, a mere 20.73ms when I turned on the Game Low Latency and used HDMI input 5. Using any of the other inputs with GLL engaged lag was a modest, but still very respectable, 47.37ms. Turning it off increased lag significantly.

PC gamers, it's worth remembering that my input lag tests were conducted only at 1080p/60Hz. Higher resolutions and/or refresh rates might yield different results.

4K sources: 4K material is still scarce enough that I didn't spend nearly as much time testing it as I did 1080p, but it's getting more common. I enjoyed a variety of 4K clips from numerous sources, including 4K demo boxes and files (primarily supplied by TV makers) and streaming (see above).

I used a 4K distribution amplifier to compare the M series directly against other 4K sets in the lineup, and the main image quality differences I saw were the same as in 1080p: almost all to do with contrast and color, as opposed to resolution. The best 4K content looked spectacular on all of the TVs, as I've come to expect.

I also checked out a variety of 4K test patterns from both my DVDo test pattern generator and from Florian Friedrich (Mr. Friedrich drives an independent test laboratory in Munich, runs Quality.TV along with renowned video expert Joe Kane, and among other activities consults for numerous companies, including Samsung). The M series looked as good as or better than the other sets in our lineup in most areas. In a couple of Florian's most challenging tests I did notice some differences, for example in the pixel phase, phase modulation and zone plate tests on a couple of the TVs, but the M series passed these tests with no issues. It also looked great in the moving text test, unlike the LG 65EG9600 .

Uniformity: The M series performed well in this category, with the most obvious issues being the result of blooming. Beyond that I didn't notice any major irregularities in the backlight during program material. Specialized test patterns did reveal very slightly darker edges compared to the middle, and the upper corners were very slightly brighter than the rest with black fields, but the difference was invisible with any actual programs I watched.

From off-angle the M series behaved typically for a VA panel: black levels lightened, impairing contrast, while colors shifted toward blue and red and became desaturated. None of the other TVs in my lineup behaved appreciably better or worse from off-angle, although it's worth noting that blooming and stray illumination became more obvious the further I moved away from the sweet spot directly in front of the screen.

Bright lighting: The screen finish on the M and P series is an identical semi-matte that does an excellent job controlling reflections -- better than any glossy screen. On the other hand it fails to preserve black levels as well as the glossier finish of the Samsungs, robbing the image of some contrast.

That said I find bright reflections more annoying than lack of contrast in bright rooms, so overall I consider the Vizios (and the matte Sony) superior to the Samsungs in this category. I also like the M and P slightly better in bright rooms than the E, on account of their superior light output and slightly better black level preservation.

Sound quality: The M65 I reviewed didn't sound terrible by TV standards, but there's no way its audio can begin to compete with even the cheapest external soundbar or home theater system. Listening to music, Nick Cave's Red Right Hand, its bass was decent, a bit more powerful than the Sony or the P series, equal to the Samsung JU71000's bass but not as tight. The Sony has the most balanced and pleasing (for a TV) sound, however, without the kind of overly bright sound as the others. You can live with the M65 sans external speakers if you don't care much about audio quality, but it's definitely worth investing in something better if you do.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.007 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.25 Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.673 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.848 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.634 Good
Avg. color error 1.882 Good
Red error 1.884 Good
Green error 2.615 Good
Blue error 2.56 Good
Cyan error 1.867 Good
Magenta error 1.606 Good
Yellow error 0.759 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 900 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 20.73 Good

Vizio M65-C1 CNET review calibration results

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