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

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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.

8.6 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Value 10

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

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.

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.