If you want to experience high dynamic range TV without spending a bundle, start here.
So you want a good picture but you can't spend the money on something like an OLED TV or a mini-LED-equipped LCD like the TCL 6-Series. The next step down the ladder of picture quality and price is a TV like the Vizio M-Series. It occupies what I'll call the lower end of the midrange TV bracket, and offers as good of a picture as I've seen for this kind of money.
The key to that picture is full-array local dimming, which allows the MQ7 series I reviewed to actually deliver on the brighter highlights and superior contrast of high dynamic range (HDR) TV shows and movies. Numerous TVs in this price bracket and some that cost more, like the Samsung Q60A, lack full-array local dimming and so can't get as bright (or as dark).
The MQ7 doesn't have the gaming chops of higher-end TVs but does work with variable refresh rate, which in my tests helped some games on compatible devices, like the Xbox Series X, indeed look smoother. On the other hand Vizio's smart TV system can't hold a candle to Roku, Google TV or Samsung, but you can always add an affordable 4K streaming device to overcome that issue.
Overall I'd recommend saving up a bit more for something like the TCL 6-Series or Sony X90J, both of which are superior for movies, TV and gaming, but if you'd rather keep that cash or spend it on something else -- like, you know, stuff to watch or games to play -- the MQ7 is a superb value.
Series and size information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Vizio MQ7-J series, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series.
Vizio says that the J03 and J01 suffixes in the model names are "internal and have no useful customer information," but there are some other differences among the different sizes. Larger sizes have more local dimming zones, and the sizes below 65 inches are somewhat dimmer than the larger models. The 65-inch and larger models also have an innovative soundbar-friendly adjustable stand legs. See below for details.
Here's where I mention that Vizio has another, less expensive M-Series for 2021, the MQ6. Compared to the MQ7, it costs less and lacks full-array local dimming, among other differences, so I don't expect its image quality to match the MQ7 reviewed here.
Most TVs today look pretty much the same and the M-Series is no exception. The metallic frame around the screen is thin and black, thicker and more of a dark gray metallic along the bottom, with matching dark gray stand legs. Those legs are set a bit closer to the center than many TVs, which mount them more toward the corners.
To better accommodate Vizio's popular soundbars, you can adjust the stand legs in two positions: standard, which sits very low on a table or credenza, or a couple inches higher, which prevents a soundar set below the TV from obscuring the screen. And when the TV is wall-mounted, the stand legs transform into a bracket that can hold the soundbar. Neat! Unfortunately, that slick two-position stand is only available in 65-inch and larger sizes.
All-new for 2021 is Vizio's voice remote, and it's an improvement from the company's previous clickers. Gone is the numeric keypad that's next-to-useless on a TV remote in the streaming era, making for a simpler layout centered around the prominent voice key. Vizio's voice system worked well enough in my tests, although don't expect the same kind of capabilities you'll get from Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or even Roku's voice system.
When I said "show me comedies" for example, Vizio put up an (irrelevant, to me) app called ConTV, followed by a bunch of thumbnails of movies and TV shows with little context. I preferred Roku's results to that query, which were arranged in rows like "Available in 4K," "New releases," "Free," "Available with your Netflix subscription," and offered a lot more choices. Saying "Switch to PlayStation" worked the same on both for switching inputs, but "Switch to Input 2" failed on Vizio while succeeding on the Roku (Moral: name your inputs).
Beyond voice, Vizio's SmartCast smart TV system still lags Roku (my favorite) and others like Google TV and Samsung, although it's roughly about the same level as LG's new system in my book. Vizio's main issue is cluttering the screen with a bunch of TV shows and movies I don't care about. Pretending otherwise, I clicked through one big banner for NBC's fall lineup, chose the first option (a trailer for the Law & Order: SVU premiere) and was taken (after a long delay loading the NBC app) to a blank page. Not the best experience. Roku's grid of apps is simple and familiar, and if you want your homepage to show more relevant programming, Google TV does a much better job. I'd recommend Vizio owners connect a streamer, like a Roku Express Plus 4K or Chromecast with Google TV, and forget Vizio's system.
In its favor, SmartCast plays well with phones -- you can easily cast video and photos from Android or Apple phones using Chromecast and AirPlay, respectively -- as well as smart speakers like Echo and Nest, which you can use to command the TV hands-free.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
The MQ7 is the least-expensive Vizio TV, and one of the cheapest TVs, period, to offer my favorite picture-enhancing extra for LCD-based TVs: full-array local dimming. That feature improves important contrast and black levels and delivers better HDR by dividing the screen into separate dimming zones. The number of zones controls how precise the dimming can be, and while more zones doesn't necessarily mean better picture quality, it usually helps. As you might expect the MQ7 has fewer zones than more expensive TVs like the TCL 6-Series and Vizio P9Q.
Like most local dimming TVs, the zone count on the MQ7 varies by size, but unusually Vizio also provides a lower brightness spec, which it calls UltraBright, for the smaller sizes. Here's how the differences break down.
|Model||Size||Local dimming zones||UltraBright spec|
The rest of the M-Series specifications are the same on all models. Quantum dots allow the TV to achieve better HDR color, which was borne out in my measurements.
Vizio supports both major types of HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, in the M-Series. So does every other major TV maker except Samsung, which lacks Dolby Vision support. The M-Series has a 60Hz refresh-rate panel -- Vizio's "Clear Action 360" is bunk -- so it doesn't have the same motion performance or input capabilities as true 120Hz TVs.
As a 60Hz TV, the M-Series can't accept 4K/120 FPS signals from Xbox Series X, PS5 and high-end PC gaming cards, but it is one of the most affordable TVs to support variable refresh rate and AMD FreeSync (up to 60Hz). The MQ7's complement of inputs is also very good for the price.
In my side-by-side lineup the MQ7 competed well against a pair of more-expensive TVs. It couldn't get as bright so HDR didn't pop quite as much, but black levels and blooming weren't an issue, and color and video processing, for movies and games, were all excellent for the price.
Dim lighting: For a dark room comparison I started with the Snyder Cut of Justice League on standard dynamic range Blu-ray, With brightness equalized the M kept up very well with the two more-expensive TVs. In dark scenes like the graveyard visit in chapter 2 (14:00) the black sky and shadows were just as dark and realistic on the M-series as the others.
Unlike most films, the Snyder Cut has a narrow aspect ratio (1.33:1) that places black bars to either side of the image, which also happens to make an excellent torture test for local dimming TVs. To their credit, all three TVs delivered with a roughly equally dark and excellent shade of black. When bright areas approached the bars, for example an airplane window at 38:54, the M controlled stray illumination (blooming) just as well as the other two, despite its much fewer local dimming zones. Yes, extremely high contrast scenes like the white titles on a black background looked a bit less impactful and more washed out on the M-series than the others, but for most scenes in the film it looked just as good with SDR.
Bright lighting: Vizio describes the 65-inch MQ7 as UltraBright 700, a refreshingly clear reference to its light output in nits, and according to my tests, the number is legit. In a bright room, that light output will allow the Vizio's image to look better than most other TVs at this price, like the Samsung Q60A, which maxed out at 461 nits with HDR on the 55-inch size. On the other hand the 65-inch MQ7 is still dimmer than the more-expensive models in the table below.
|TV||Brightest (SDR)||Accurate color (SDR)||Brightest (HDR)||Accurate color (HDR)|
Vizio's Calibrated picture mode delivered the most-accurate bright-room picture, which is well worth the loss of nits compared to the exceedingly inaccurate Vivid mode (the brightest) in my opinion. The M's semi-matte screen finish reduced reflections better than the TCL 6-Series but was worse at preserving black-level fidelity.
Color accuracy: Before my calibration for this review the most-accurate modes, Calibrated and Calibrated Dark, were quite good if somewhat bluish. Afterward it was excellent, as expected, and watching the muted palette of Justice League the M-series matched the others. Wonder Woman standing atop the building (20:14) looked close enough between the three in her skin tone and red, blue and gold metallic costume that it was tough to tell them apart.
Video processing: The Vizio M-Series behaved like I'd expect from a 60Hz TV in my motion tests, meaning it didn't reduce blur as well as higher-end sets with a 120Hz refresh rate. I'm not particularly sensitive to motion blur, but if you are, a true 120Hz TV like the TCL 6-Series or Vizio's P-Series might be worth a look.
The M registered proper 1080p/24 cadence but exhibited motion resolution of 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. Unlike some 60Hz TVs, and most 120Hz models including the P-Series, there's no option to turn on smoothing, aka the Soap Opera Effect.
Uniformity: The M-Series had no major issues in this category, with a nicely uniform image across the screen and little or no variation at different light levels with full-field test patterns. From off-angle -- seats to either side of the sweet spot in front of the screen -- the MQ7 maintained black level and color fidelity roughly as well as the other two.
Gaming: The MQ7 is a solid gaming TV despite missing the 4K/120Hz input capability found on step models or the fancy status displays and extra settings found on competitors like LG and Samsung, or even something like TCL's THX Enhanced game mode. Its compatibility with variable refresh rate sets it apart from other budget-conscious TVs, however.
The MQ7 successfully registered as VRR-capable according to my Xbox Series X, and playing Assassin's Creed: Valhalla saw evidence of VRR working. With the feature turned on I saw less tearing and jitter in high-detail backgrounds as I moved the camera quickly -- and recommend leaving it on for any gaming system that supports it.
Speaking of settings, when set to Game mode with a non-VRR source, both the MQ7 and PQ9 turn on Clear Action by default, which, as mentioned above, improves motion resolution at the expense of dimness and some flicker. When VRR is detected, Clear Action turns off (it grays out and is disabled). Vizio says an upcoming firmware update will default Clear Action to off for Game mode for all signals. In the meantime I'd recommend turning it off manually (in the settings menu that's Picture > Advanced Picture > Motion Control > Clear Action > Off) unless you're really sensitive to blur.
After disabling Clear Action, I hooked up all three TVs simultaneously to test general gaming image quality in their (otherwise) default Game Mode settings. The first thing I noticed was the less-natural, more saturated color on the MQ7 compared to the other two, which was obvious on a realistic-looking game like Valhalla but would be less-so on some other games. HDR effects looked good with nice pop in brighter scenes but in darker ones they dimmed quite a bit in comparison to the other two, although as I saw with HDR video, the MQ7 showed very good black levels and minimal blooming. Overall I liked the TCL best followed by the Vizio P, but again the less expensive M was very good.
Input lag for gaming was excellent in both 1080p and 4K HDR, and better than last year, measuring 11ms with 1080p and 4K HDR sources in Game mode. That's the third-best result I've ever measured, trailing only high-end 2021 LG OLED and Samsung Q90A QLED TVs, and also beat the Vizio PQ7 by a few milliseconds. Note that lag is input-dependent; I measured those results on Input 4, while Input 1 measured 17ms for both sources.
One more note: With the Xbox hooked up to HDMI 4, the MQ7 would occasionally turn off. Turning off HDMI-CEC in the Vizio's menu (System > CEC > Disabled) fixed the issue.
HDR and 4K video: The MQ7 is a very good performer with HDR video, delivering that sweet combination of deep black levels and bright highlights for powerful contrast. It couldn't quite match the quality of the other two, but still came surprisingly close given its lower specifications.
Watching the demo montage from Spears and Munsil's 4K HDR benchmark, for example, the M-Series showed admirable pop and very good color in the shots of nature, animals and objects, although bright skies and highlights looked and measured slightly dimmer side-by-side. In an early shot of a white sky above a mountain (0:23), for example, the MQ7 scored 423 nits in my spot measurement, visibly dimmer than the TCL (644) and Vizio P-Series (606). Black levels were similarly very deep, as seen in the black background behind the honey dipper (2:47), but in my dark room both of the other TVs got slightly darker.
The TCL and PQ9 also controlled blooming better with HDR, while the MQ7 showed some bright spots especially along the edges. Both Vizios showed bright colors, for example the green grass of Yellowstone and the red-orange of the sunset (2:18), with a bit more saturation and depth than the TCL, but the difference was subtle and likely impossible to discern without a side-by-side comparison.
Moving to the Snyder Cut on 4K HDR Blu-ray revealed, as usual, more differences than the SDR version. The dimmer highlights of the MQ7, for example the reflections and lights in the graveyard scene on disc 2 (1:11) caused its image to pop a bit less, but contrast was still very good. In mixed scenes, for example as Batman looks over the city (4:26) or Louis Lane pads around her apartment (10:29), the M-series delivered deeper letterbox bars than the other two, but overall it looked more muted, with less of an impression of contrast and HDR impact. Both Vizios also showed slightly brighter, less-impactful near-black shadows than the TCL, which brought out some detail at the expense of perceived contrast -- perhaps a result of their less-accurate EOTF.
CNET is no longer publishing advanced picture settings for any TVs we review. Instead, we'll give more general recommendations to get the best picture without listing the detailed white balance or color management system settings we may have used to calibrate the TV. As always, the settings provided are a guidepost, and if you want the most accurate picture you should get a professional calibration.
Before my calibration for this review, the Calibrated and Calibrated Dark settings presets were the most accurate, although both showed a somewhat blue color temperature. I chose Calibrated Dark for my dark room comparisons. During calibration I removed the blue from the grayscale using the two-point system and afterward it was excellent. The 2.1 gamma setting was actually closer to my 2.2 target than the actual 2.2 settings, so I used 2.1 instead, and I chose the Low local dimming setting because Medium and High showed a less-consistent gamma.Color was already quite accurate so I didn't make any adjustments to the color management system.
Dark room settings:
Advanced Picture menu:
HDR Notes: None of the Vizio M65Q7-J01's HDR modes were particularly accurate, but Calibrated Dark was the best. Even so, it didn't follow the EOTF as closely as most TVs I've reviewed, and grayscale was relatively blue, particularly at the brighter end -- issues that also contributed to its less-than-stellar color measurements. Brightness was significantly higher than the M series last year, however, and it covered the P3 color gamut well.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.002||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||791||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.19||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.60||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.56||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||0.84||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||0.90||Good|
|Avg. saturation sweeps error||0.85||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.80||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||900||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||16.07||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.003||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||764||Average|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||97.04||Good|
|ColorMatch HDR error||6.02||Poor|
|Avg. color checker error||6.16||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||13.73||Good|