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Vizio M-Series (2017) review: The sweetest spot between image quality and affordability

If raw picture-quality-for-the-dollar is your main criterion in a new TV, look no further than the Vizio M-Series.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
12 min read

Update (June 19, 2018): This is the review of the 2017 Vizio M series. You can find the 2018 Vizio M series review here.

Vizio M-Series 2017

Vizio M-Series (2017)

The Good

The affordable Vizio M-Series has better overall picture quality than anything else at its price, and in some ways outperforms even more expensive TVs. It can handle both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high-dynamic-range formats. The Chromecast built-in system offers more apps and more frequent updates than many dedicated smart TV systems, and can even be controlled by a Google Home speaker.

The Bad

Not as bright as some competitors. No built-in tuner, so you can't watch over-the-air antenna broadcasts unless you attach a separate tuner. Mediocre external design and poor smart TV onscreen menus. Only one HDMI input is compatible with every 4K HDR source.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio M-Series remains the best choice for mainstream budgets that prioritize image quality over everything else.

Late 2017 update

The Vizio M series is our favorite midprice TV for 2017. If you want great picture quality but don't want to step up to an OLED TV at more than twice the price, this is the 2017 television to get.

In my side-by-side comparisons, its picture matched numerous more-expensive LCD TVs, and in some ways it performed better. Vizio improved HDR image quality from last year and maintained a superb picture with Dolby Vision sources, and the M-Series handles regular high-def sources exceedingly well, too. The key to everything is  local dimming , a technology that really boosts LCD image quality, especially in demanding home-theater lighting situations where it matters most.

So why wouldn't you want an M-Series? The biggest reason is probably brand reputation -- some people would rather pay extra for a Sony or Samsung TV of similar image quality, or get one of those brands' "good-enough" TVs at the M-Series' price. Another is styling: Let's face it, the M-Series isn't going to win any beauty contests, and if you spent a fortune on interior decor you might want a set that looks the part.

Vizio M-Series makes midrange TV sense

See all photos

With that in mind, here are some other highly rated 2017 CNET TVs, and why they might be better than the M for you. For even more options, check out our Best TVs lists.

  • TCL P series Roku TV: If you want a 55-inch TV, this is a better choice overall than the Vizio M. It has the same level of image quality, a better Smart TV system and costs less. But it's only available in the 55-inch size.
  • Sony X900E: If you don't mind paying extra for the Sony name and want better Smart TV, better connectivity and better styling than the M, get this TV instead. It scored the same 8 in picture quality as the TCL P and Vizio M.
  • Vizio E series: If you prioritize picture quality but have a tighter budget than the M series allows, this TV, which also includes local dimming at 60 inches and larger, is our pick.
  • TCL S405 / S305 series Roku TV: If you have a tight budget and prioritize ease of use and Smart TV over image quality, get the 405 (49 inches and up) or 305 (43 inches and less).
  • LG B7A OLED TV: If your budget is not tight and you prize picture quality over anything else, get the B7A.

If none of those apply to you and you want a new TV now, go with the 2017 Vizio M series. It remains my go-to recommendation for savvy buyers who want excellent picture quality for an affordable price, and for the second year in a row, earns CNET's Editors' Choice award.

Editors' note December 11, 2017: This review has been updated with an introduction that offers direct buying advice with competing models. Aside from a few minor updates to the smart TV section, it has not otherwise been changed.

Goodbye, free tablet; hello, weak menus

Last year Vizio (and others) made a big deal about including a tablet remote with the M- and P-Series and ditching built-in menus. This year there's no included tablet -- just a regular generic-looking clicker -- and onscreen smart TV menus are back. They're weaksauce, but that's hardly a deal breaker since you can always connect an external streamer like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus or, if you want Dolby Vision, an Apple TV 4K.

Vizio M series 2017
Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio's smart TV system takes too long to load after you press the "V" button on the remote and once it does arrive, there's not much there. Just 13 apps appear along the bottom, and while four are heavy hitters (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Vudu) the rest are minor, and it doesn't have plenty of other big apps like YouTube, HBO and Watch ESPN. You can't remove or reorder apps, or in any way customize the Discover section, which occupies most of the screen with movies and shows you probably don't care about.

Netflix and Vudu support both 4K and Dolby Vision HDR but I was miffed to discover that the Amazon app doesn't support HDR, even on shows labeled "HDR". Meanwhile the only way to get YouTube is via your phone, and even then it's in 4K, not HDR.

By "via your phone" I mean the "Chromecast built-in" function. Going into any supported app on your phone and hitting the Cast button reveals the Vizio TV as an option; select it and video from the app will play back on the TV. There are thousands of supported apps, and the system works very well in general, but I still prefer a real onscreen menu system -- just not Vizio's. But if you're a phone-centric kinda person, you can always use Vizio's SmartCast app to control the TV.

Vizio M series 2017
Sarah Tew/CNET

A Google Home Mini ($50) lets you control the M-Series with voice commands.

Chris Monroe/CNET

One cool trick you can do with a Chromecast TV, however, is control it with a Google Home speaker. It worked very well in my tests on the M, although unlike Alexa commands of Sony TVs, for example, power on/off isn't supported.

As of December 2017 Netflix, YouTube, YouTube TV, HBO Now, Viki, Crackle and the CBS All Access and CW apps are supported by voice on Home. As a YouTube TV user, I appreciated being able to say, "OK, Google, play NBC," or, "OK, Google, play the Knicks," and have the Vizio play the live channel or my recording of last night's basketball game on ESPN, for example. 

"OK, Google, play 'Game of Thrones,'" and, "OK, Google, play 'Star Trek: Discovery,'" worked as well. Subsequent commands, such as, "Skip forward 30 minutes," and, "Next episode," worked in some apps but not in others. YouTube also worked as promised.

Vizio M series 2017
Sarah Tew/CNET

Heavy on features, not style

Vizio isn't investing heavily in its external design department. The M looks just like last year's M: slate-gray frame from the front, silver edges and thickish profile from the side. The stand legs consist of chrome rods bent into rounded supports, and while distinctive, they risk looking a tad cheap to my eye.

Key TV features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR-compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV SmartCast
Remote Standard

The focus is on picture-enhancing features, starting with full-array local dimming (FALD), which Vizio is branding "XLED Plus" this year. It improves the all-important contrast and black levels, and has better uniformity than edge-lit dimming. The number of dimmable zones (32) is actually half that of last year's M and one-quarter that of the P-Series, and in general, more zones equal better picture quality. With the exception of the TCL P series, most other TVs at this price lack dimming entirely, use the edge-lit variety as seen on models like Samsung MU9000 or cost a lot more, like the Sony X900E.

The M-Series has a 60Hz refresh rate panel -- Vizio's claim of "120Hz effective" is basically bunk. It lacks a setting to engage MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), aka the Soap Opera Effect, as found on the more expensive Vizio P-Series. For 2017 all of the sizes in the M-Series use higher-performance VA panels, not the IPS panel found on the 55-inch version of the 2017 P-Series and the 60-inch version of the 2016 M-Series. 

Like LG, TCL and (eventually) Sony, Vizio supports both major types of HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, in the M-Series.

The M-Series lacks a built-in TV tuner, so it can't receive local TV stations available via antenna and over-the-air broadcasts.

Vizio M series 2017
Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity caveats and complexities

  • 4 HDMI inputs (1x version 2.0, 3x version 1.4, all with HDCP 2.2)
  • 1 component video input
  • 1 USB port
  • Ethernet port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo analog audio output

Here's another difference between the M-Series and P-Series. Of the M-Series' four HDMI ports only one, Input 1, supports HDMI 2.0a. The other three, inputs 2 through 4, support HDMI 1.4.

In practice, however, you can still connect many of today's highest-quality sources to any of the Vizio's HDMI inputs. The "1.4-only" inputs will work with 4K Blu-ray players from Samsung and Oppo and, according to Vizio, as long as you send standard 4K/24 signals, but not with the Xbox One S (you'll need to connect that to HDMI 1, and engage the "Full UHD color" feature in the Vizio menu).

I tested the Amazon Fire TV and it worked fine on Input 4, but the Roku Streaming Stick Plus needed to be connected to HDMI 1 (with a port saver for the tight quarters back there) to pass 4K and HDR. I also tested the Sony UBP-X800 and it worked fine on Input 4 with standard 4K/24fps movies like "Wonder Woman," but not "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," the only disc I know of that sends a 4K/60fps signal. "Billy" via the Sony didn't deliver HDR on Input 4, but did work properly on Input 1.

In short: When in doubt, use Input 1. If you have a bunch of "picky" 4K HDR devices or ones you aren't sure about, maybe an HDMI 2.0 switch will work. Or maybe the M isn't for you. Input 1 is also capable of accepting 1080p at 120Hz, a frequency typically reserved for computers.

Since there's no tuner, the standard RF-style antenna input is conspicuously absent. Otherwise connectivity is standard.

Picture quality


Simply put, it's really tough to see any difference between the M-Series and the more expensive TVs with which I compared it. Its black levels and contrast were excellent, laying the foundation for an accurate, punchy picture in demanding home theater environments. It can't get as bright as many others, and so isn't the best choice for ultrabright rooms, but it's plenty bright enough for the vast majority of indoor situations -- and its light output with HDR, where it really counts, is solid. Speaking of high dynamic range, the M-Series was also excellent with both Dolby Vision and, unlike last year, the more common HDR10 sources.

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.

Dim lighting: Of the 65-inch sets in my lineup the M-Series is the cheapest, but  most scenes looked just as good, if not better, than on the others. I watched "Jason Bourne" in my dark home theater and the opening scene, where Bourne (Matt Damon) one-punches his opponent to the ground in a match in Greece, looked great on the M, with superb saturation and, er, punchiness. It did on the others too, and telling them apart was tough.

Things started to separate in dark scenes, when the M's deep black levels could strut their stuff. During the Reykjavik hack in Chapter 2, the letterbox bars and deep shadows looked a bit darker and more realistic on the M than on the Sony and the Samsung. Meanwhile the P-Series sets (both TCL and Vizio) looked darker still and the best overall, while the 2016 M-Series looked essentially identical to the new one, despite the difference in their number of dimming zones. The M also handled shadow details very well in this scene, keeping up with the best sets in the lineup.

During my favorite very dark scenes, like Chapter 2 of "Gravity" when Ryan tumbles against a backdrop of stars, or in Chapter 12 of " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" when Voldemort attacks Hogwarts, the M's black levels actually started a bit brighter (worse) than the Sony and the Samsung at times. But as the scenes brightened the M quickly pulled ahead of those sets by maintaining deeper letterbox bars and black areas. I chalk this up to more precise zones on the M than on the other two, causing less reaction (black-level rise) from mixed scenes -- which are much more common than exceedingly dark ones. It's a subtle difference, but it makes the M (and the two P's) look closer to the ideal of pure OLED black and less like LCD.

Bright lighting: Although it's still plenty bright for just about every lighting situation, the M-Series was still among the dimmer sets in my lineup with SDR (non-HDR) content, which you'll be watching most of the time. Its numbers were comparable to those of cheaper sets like the TCL S-Series and Vizio's own E-Series.On the bright side for Vizio, full-screen light output was actually pretty decent, and the M's highly accurate Calibrated mode isn't much dimmer than Vivid at 274 nits with a window pattern.

Light output in nits

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR)10% window (SDR)Full screen (SDR)Mode (HDR)10% window (HDR)
Samsung UN65MU9000 Dynamic1410509Dynamic1435
Samsung QN65Q7F Dynamic923588Dynamic1781
Sony XBR-65X900E Vivid908524Vivid902
Vizio P65-E1 Vivid459575Vivid498
TCL 55P607 Vivid/dimming off438431Brighter/Dark HDR448
LG OLED55C7P Vivid433145Vivid715
Vizio M65-E0 Vivid288339Vivid880

With HDR, light output was substantially higher, outpacing every comparable TV aside from the Samsungs and the Sony, and in Calibrated mode it was also great at 788 nits. Maybe Vizio should adjust its brightest SDR presets to take more advantage of the M's capabilities.

The M and P share a similar semimatte screen finish, which beat the others (with the exception of the Samsungs) at reducing reflections. Preservation of black-level fidelity was solid, about as good as the others.

Color accuracy: According to my measurements and program material, the M is as accurate as any TV available. When the CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) lands in Las Vegas in Chapter 14 of "Jason Bourne," for example, colors from the skyline to the desert hills to his craggy skin tone appeared well-balanced and saturated, and very similar to on the other sets. Outside of a side-by-side comparison, it's tough to tell the difference between them after calibration.

Video processing: The M lacks the blur and judder reduction of the P-Series, and it didn't perform as well in terms of reducing blur. I'm not particularly sensitive to motion blur, but if you are, the P-Series or a Samsung might be worth the extra money.

The M registered proper 1080p/24 cadence but exhibited the motion resolution characteristics of a 60Hz TV at just 300 lines. Vizio does offer a Clear Action control that improves that number to a respectable 900, but as usual it introduced flicker and dimmed the image, so most viewers will want to avoid it.

Input lag for gaming was decent at around 45ms, whether or not I used the Gaming Low Latency setting. That's better than the P-Series but a bit worse than the cheaper E-Series and the Sony X900E.

Uniformity: Brightness across the M's screen was quite uniform, better overall than on the Samsung and TCL and similar to the others. With full-field test patterns there were no bands or bright spots, and only near the edges were there slight variations in brightness -- and those were impossible to discern with real video.

From off-angle the image maintained black-level fidelity and color well, if not quite as well as on the Samsung or the Vizio P. All of the sets in my lineup were in the same ballpark, however.

HDR and 4K video: The M-Series was actually among the best TVs in my lineup at high dynamic range, whether with an HDR10 or a Dolby Vision source. Only the Sony looked consistently better, and it was quite close between the two.

I flipped back to the HDR10 4K Blu-ray of "Jason Bourne" and put all the sets in their best default settings for HDR, since I don't calibrate for high dynamic range. The Sony and Vizio M looked a bit better than the others in brighter outdoor scenes like the Greece fight, with the brightest highlights and more saturated colors. Between the two I'd give the slight edge to the Sony with its more balanced color. 

In the dim hacking scene from Chapter 2 the M's deep blacks again outdid the Sony and Samsung, and combined with bright highlights to again provide more pop than the others, including the Vizio P. That set had a slightly more muted color palette, however, without the deep saturation I saw on the M and the Sony. The difference was most obvious in reds, for example a London city bus in Chapter 12. It really popped on the Sony and M-Series, not so much on the Samsung and the P.

I was particularly surprised at the P-Series' HDR10 lagging behind the M, but my measurements bore that out: It was dimmer and had a slightly narrower color gamut (91% on the M, 90% on the P). When I presented the company's engineers with my findings they basically confirmed what I found: "Yes, your measurements are similar to Vizio's expectations. While the specs for the two displays are similar, the M-Series panel and filters are slightly different, including more red in the gamut, which increases its overall coverage."

Sticking with "Bourne," I compared Dolby Vision from the Apple TV 4K (on the Vizios and TCL) to the HDR10 4K Blu-ray. It didn't make a huge difference, nor were the images identical to what I saw with HDR10. The Sony still looked best overall, and the M-Series still looked great, but the P-Series sets (both TCL and Vizio) looked better than before, and closer to the M. The M still delivered brighter highlights and the P darker blacks, but the M's color looked less saturated.

Of course, different films have different characteristics, especially in HDR. I also watched "Wonder Woman" as part of the comparison lineup in the MU9000 review and the results were similar. The TCL and Vizios looked better overall, like they did with HDR10, but then again so did the Sony, which wasn't playing Dolby Vision. Once again, the TV seems to have a larger effect on what you see than the HDR format. For more comparisons involving the M-Series, check out our MU9000 review.

Geek box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.014Good
Peak white luminance (100%) 288Poor
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.32Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.503Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.379Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.441Good
Avg. color error 2.103Good
Red error 1.654Good
Green error 2.486Good
Blue error 2.094Good
Cyan error 2.55Good
Magenta error 2.24Good
Yellow error 1.593Good
Avg. saturations error 1.68Good
Avg. luminance error 2.58Good
Avg. color checker error 1.39Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 900Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 45.13Average

HDR default

Black luminance 0.003Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 880Average
Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976) 91Average
Avg. saturations error 3.3Average
Avg. color checker error 2.5Good

How We Test TVs

Vizio M-Series 2017

Vizio M-Series (2017)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Value 10