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Vizio M-Series (2018) review:An excellent picture you can afford, but competition is tough

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The Good The affordable Vizio M-Series has excellent overall image quality, with deep black levels, plenty of brightness, rich contrast and accurate color. It handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range sources. It plays well with phones, Alexa and Google Assistant devices. Unlike the TCL 6 series, it comes in a 70-inch size.

The Bad The TCL 6 series is a better TV overall for basically the same price.

The Bottom Line Although it's no longer the top midrange TV value, Vizio's M-Series still delivers an impressive level of image quality and features for a relative bargain.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9

Vizio had a good run over the last couple of years as CNET's favorite TV for the money, but this year its domination ends. The TCL 6 series is a better television than the 2018 Vizio M-Series.

Of course there are still reasons to like the M-Series. Its image quality is almost as good as the TCL's, and it's available in a 70-inch size, while the TCL 6 series tops out at 65 inches. If you really like using your phone, Alexa or Google Assistant to control your TV, the M-Series is more compatible with those gadgets than the TCL. And the Vizio is a better value than any TV I've tested from Samsung, Sony or LG.

Ultimately, the TCL 6 series does what the Vizio M-Series has done for the last couple of years, just a little better. Right now the two cost about the same: $600 (TCL) and $700 (Vizio) for the 55-inch size and about a grand (both companies) for the 65-incher. That's ridiculously inexpensive for this level of picture quality, anchored by full-array local dimming, a bright high dynamic range (HDR) image and Dolby Vision support. In my side-by-side comparisons however, the TCL looked a tad more punchy and, well, dynamic than the Vizio. And let's not forget its far superior Roku smart TV system.

Despite the superiority of the TCL, the Vizio M-Series remains an excellent choice if you want premium image quality for the money and don't care as much about brand style or extra features.

Slim frame, skinny legs, sleek TV

Vizio M-Series 2018
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Sarah Tew/CNET

The 2018 M-Series is a style step-up compared to previous Vizios. The border is slimmer around the picture, and the glass of the screen extends almost to the edge for a clean look. The little legs to either side are as thin and spindly as I've seen -- although they still felt stable enough.

I'm not a huge fan of Vizio's many-buttoned remote, and I kept having to glance down rather than operate it by feel. I prefer the simplicity of TCL's Roku TV remote or the evolved clickers of Samsung and LG.

Vizio M-Series 2018
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Cord cutter scorecard: Yay tuner, boo built-in streaming

Vizio has finally addressed a glaring omission in past TVs: All of its 2018 sets include a built-in over-the-air TV tuner, just like those of competitors. The tuner has real value to cord cutters and others who don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

Even more valuable to such folks is built-in streaming, and that's where the M-Series falls short. 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, but it's still a strike in the negative column compared to competitors like TCL, Samsung and LG -- all of which have better Smart TV implementations than Vizio.

Vizio M-Series 2018
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Sarah Tew/CNET

The on-screen home page 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 18 apps appear along the bottom, and while six are heavy hitters (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube and Plex) the rest are minor, and it doesn't have plenty of other big apps like DirecTV Now, HBO, ESPN, CNN or Pandora. 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. And even if you do, you'll need a TV provider sign-in for a lot of them.

Vizio has made a few improvements, for example adding apps for YouTube and YouTube TV and enabling HDR on Amazon, but the system is still pretty weak unless you love using your phone instead of on-screen menus. The TV's Chromecast built-in system lets you go into any supported app on your phone and hit the Cast button to reveal 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 well in general, but I still prefer a real onscreen menu system -- just not Vizio's.

23-vizio-menu-navigation
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Vizio's own free TV streaming service is coming soon.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio says a new as-yet-unnamed streaming service aimed at cord cutters is coming to its TVs soon. The company said it would launch with a similar channel lineup as Pluto TV, and would add more channels in the future -- all accessible via a grid-style guide. For easy access it will be accessible as another "input," much like SmartCast itself.

Although it lacks its own built-in voice assistant, the Vizio is able to be to controlled to some extent by Google Assistant (details here) and Alexa (here) smart speakers. I didn't test that functionality this time around, but Google Home worked relatively well to control the 2017 M-Series.

In the (dimming) zone

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

Bringing full-array local dimming (FALD) to lower price points is Vizio's wheelhouse. This feature is my favorite improvement for LCD picture quality because it improves all-important contrast and black levels, especially with HDR, and has better uniformity than edge-lit dimming. The number of dimmable zones is an important specification because it controls how precise the dimming can be. More zones doesn't necessarily mean better picture quality, but it usually helps. Here's how Vizio and TCL compare.

Vizio M-Series vs. TCL 6 series dimming zones

Brand Model Size Dimming zones
Vizio M70-F3 70-inch 48
TCL 65R617/65R615 65-inch 120
Vizio M65-F0 65-inch 40
TCL 55R617/55R615 55-inch 96
Vizio M55-F0 55-inch 32

While far short of TCL, Vizio's zone count is higher than that of last year's M, with the exception of the 55-inch, which stays the same. The M-Series has more zones then the cheaper E series, but fewer than the step-up P series and P-Series Quantum (details here). With the exception of the TCL 6 series, most other TVs at this price lack dimming entirely, use the edge-lit variety, or cost a lot more, like the Sony X900F and Samsung Q8 (neither Sony or Samsung lists their dimming zone numbers).

The M-Series has a 60Hz refresh rate panel -- Vizio's claim of "120Hz effective" is fake news. It lacks a setting to engage MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), aka the Soap Opera Effect, as found on the more-expensive P-Series. All of the sizes in the M-Series use higher-performance VA panels, not the IPS panel found on some sizes in previous years.

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

Vizio M-Series 2018
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Sarah Tew/CNET
  • 4 HDMI inputs (All version 2.0, with HDCP 2.2)
  • 1 component /composite video input
  • 1 USB port
  • RF antenna tuner input
  • Ethernet port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo analog audio output

Vizio improved its connectivity from last year, enabling all of the inputs to accept all major 4K and HDR sources (with the exception of 120Hz input for gaming, which isn't available on the M series -- but it's still on the P series). Yep, there's even an antenna input. In other words, the M series matches the connectivity of most of its competition.

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