When I published a glowing review of Vizio's E-Series a couple weeks ago, I conducted what I called "an informal, non-binding and thoroughly unscientific poll" in the comments section and on Twitter, asking what TV I should review next: this M-Series Vizio or any one of four flagship 4K TVs from Samsung, Sony, Panasonic or LG.
Pretty much everybody who responded asked for the M-Series. Ask, dear commenters and Twitterati, and thou shalt receive.
Nope, it's not 4K, and no, it's not quite as good a value as the E-Series, but it's still pretty friggin' sweet. Vizio touts the additional local dimming zones of the M-Series as its main picture quality advantage, but in my testing the real differences between the two were slight. Both create an excellent picture, and since the E is cheaper, it's a better value overall.
But unlike some TV makers, Vizio offers step-up extras that might be worthwhile to a lot of buyers. Foremost is better styling than the E, as long as you like silver. Then there's the better remote, including a full QWERTY keyboard on the back that (gasp!) actually works with the Netflix app. And better motion performance, as long as you engage the Soap Opera Effect.
So while I don't recommend the M as highly as the E overall, both represent tremendous values, and will likely set the pace at or near the top of CNET's Best TVs list for a good chunk of 2014. They also heighten my expectations for the P series and R series of 4K TVs, both due sometime later this year--Vizio still hasn't said exactly when.
Series information: The M-Series isn't as sprawling as the E-Series, but it still has a lot of members and Vizio's patented, confusing nomenclature. I reviewed the 60-inch model here, but according to Vizio, the 42- through 70-inch models are similar enough for the comments in this review to apply to them all. The 32-inch is different enough that this review doesn't apply to that size, and while the 42-incher offers fewer dimming zones, Vizio says it is similar enough to include here as well. The 80-inch M801i-A3, meanwhile, is an edge-lit model and so is also not included here.
The 2014 M series looks almost exactly the same as the 2013 version from the front, albeit with an even slimmer bezel. The company kept the silver color along the edges of the frame, the rounded corners and the matching open-base stand, which doesn't swivel. It's a nice look, easily more distinctive and classier than the staid E, but the profusion of non-black might make it a tougher sell to some decor-conscious buyers.
From the side the 2014 M looks thicker than its predecessor, but who watches TV from the side? That's a minor disadvantage, if that. It's still not exactly chunky.
Vizio's remote is the same on the topside as last year's M-Series, and while it's better than the one from the E models, it's still pretty mediocre. There's no backlighting, little key differentiation, and the arrangement of keys around the cursor always tripped me up.
On the flip side is a full QWERTY keyboard. It's fully backlit and includes nice touches like directional keys and a dedicated ".com" button to ease logins.
The menu system has the same arrangement found on the 2013 M-Series last year. It's a cleaner-looking than the old menus, easy to navigate, and I appreciate the helpful on-screen touches, including descriptions of various menu items and access to the full user manual.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology:||LCD||LED backlight:||Full-array with local dimming|
|Cable box control:||No||IR blaster:||N/A|
|3D capable:||No||3D glasses included:||N/A|
|Screen finish:||Matte||Refresh rate:||240Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||YouTube and Netflix (via DIAL)||Control via official app:||No|
In describing the local dimming on all its lines, from the entry-level E-Series on up, Vizio is using the term "full-array" this year, instead of the term "direct" it employed last year . Whatever it's called, the arrangement of the LEDs behind the screen, as opposed to along the edges, generally improves picture quality, particularly uniformity and dimming performance.
But not all full-array local dimming LED-based LCD TVs are created equal. Many of the extremely expensive full-array sets that have defined the breed in the last few years, like the Sharp Elite and Sony XBR-HX950 , let alone today's examples like the Sony XBR-X950B or Vizio's own 2014 P-Series and Reference Series, have more LEDs behind their screens and more zones of dimming than the M-Series being reviewed here. More LEDs and zones should result in better precision control over dimming and, ultimately, better picture quality.
Vizio is the only maker of full-array sets that will divulge about the number of dimming zones it uses. And yes, I nonetheless almost always ask, only to watch the engineer in question nod sadly while he tells me he can't tell me. The 60-inch M-Series I'm reviewing here has 32 zones, roughly double the number found on E-Series models. Most of the other sizes have the same number, with the exception of the 42-inch with 14 zones. According to Vizio, that doesn't make much of a difference in picture quality, and notably the 42-inch E-Series has 6 zones.
Another improvement over the E-Series is motion handling. Vizio is careful to say the M-Series has a "up to 240Hz effective refresh rate," but like many TV makers, clouds the issue further by using a higher, faker number, in this case "Clear Action 720." Check out Video Processing below for details on how it compared to the E-Series and other LED LCDs. Unlike the E, the M-Series gives you the option to engage the Soap Opera Effect if you like that kind of smoothing.
You may also notice the absence of 3D in the chart above. Many of Vizio's previous TVs, including in 2013 the M series and a few "E" series models, offered passive 3D compatibility. This year Vizio has dropped the feature entirely, announcing no 3D-compatible televisions so far in its 2014 E, M, or P or even the high-end R series.
On the off chance you care, the screen-mirroring functionality found on many TVs goes missing, and there's no official app to allow remote control from a phone and other sundries. You do get the limited screen mirroring of DIAL compatibility, however, which allows you to control the YouTube and Netflix apps Chromecast -style with your phone or tablet. I tried it with both iOS and Android phones and it worked fine.
Smart TV: As I mentioned in a recent Samsung review , that company, along with LG, has now adopted a quick-access band of icons overlaid atop the bottom of the screen as the primary gateway to its Smart TV interface. Vizio's engineers must be snickering into their sleeves, because the company has been using the same design -- and we've been lauding its simplicity -- since 2009 .
The 2014 M-Series gets the same basic Smart TV interface as last year's M, dubbed "VIA Plus" in Viz-speak. That means seven app icons visible at a time in the band instead of four, minimizing the scrolling necessary to locate the app you want. Like many systems you also get some multitasking -- while watching Netflix I was able to call up my Twitter or Facebook feed to overlay the video, for example.
If you prefer a full-screen interface, a second tap on the "V" button brings that up, along with the ability to add, remove and reorder apps within the band. I appreciated the excellent categorization, especially the ability to shunt away the numerous "local TV" apps.
Vizio's content selection is very good. HBO Go isn't available (it's still a Samsung exclusive among TVs) and there are no major sports apps like MLB TV, NHL GameCenter or NBA League Pass, but most of the other heavy-hitters for video are. The meta-app "Web video" itself contains numerous sub-apps of specialized videos.
I also spotted a couple of differences between the 2014 E and M series' apps. Spotify subscribers will appreciate that that app is available on the M (but not the E) in addition to iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Rhapsody. More importantly, the Amazon app available on the M series is the newer, full-screen version found on devices like Samsung TVs and PS3 consoles, not the old overlay version found on the E-Series.
As noted above, the other big difference on this year's M and higher Vizios is the company's QWERTY "flipper" remote. It works by infrared, so sometimes the signal doesn't reach the TV, but with apps that support it the physical keyboard is a real boon, particularly for logins and searches. I was happy to see Netflix is among the supported apps, but for now Amazon is not.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
|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|
|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|