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Vizio P-Series (2018) review: Great picture with 120Hz but not worth the step-up fee

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If you're looking for the best picture you can afford, and you can't afford an OLED TV, Vizio's P-Series deserves a spot on your list.

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8.1

Vizio P-Series (2018)

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The midpriced Vizio P-Series has excellent overall image quality, with exceedingly deep black levels, plenty of brightness, rich contrast and superb video processing anchored by a true 120Hz panel. It handles both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range sources. It plays well with phones, Alexa and Google Assistant.

The Bad

Its smart TV system is poor. Overall image quality isn't significantly better than less expensive TVs.

The Bottom Line

Yes, it has an excellent picture for the money, but Vizio's P-Series is a worse value than the cheaper TCL and not "luxury" enough to contend with Sony and Samsung.

It's much cheaper than similarly excellent sets such as the Samsung Q8 and Sony X900F, and while it doesn't have their design chops or brand cachet, its image quality is just as good. I don't expect it to match the P-Series Quantum, mind you, but that thing costs as much as those "S" TVs and almost as much as 2017 OLEDs.

The main question is whether the (non-Quantum) P-Series reviewed here is worth the extra money -- currently a couple hundred bucks -- over Vizio's own M series or TCL's 6 series. My answer is no, it's not.

The nicest-looking Vizio yet brings upgraded specs

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In another year, among weaker competitors, the P's superb picture could well have been my favorite among LCD TVs. If you're splitting hairs and squinting for image quality differences, it's a tad better than the M-Series with better black levels and contrast, and less blooming thanks to lots of dimming zones. 

Overall, however, the TCL 6 series is simply better than the P. Between the two, panel design is a toss-up while the remote and smart TV menus are a solid win for TCL, thanks to its Roku TV system. In my direct picture quality comparisons, the P-Series lost more points than it won against the TCL, especially with cutting-edge HDR video. The two were close enough, however, that some viewers, particularly those who value a true 120Hz panel and the superior video processing that goes with it, will prefer the P at 55- and 65 inches (the 75-inch TCL has a 120Hz panel).

The P-Series is still a great choice if you don't want to pay extra for an "S" brand, but it's tough for most viewers to justify the extra cost compared to the M-Series and especially the TCL.

Updated January 17, 2019 to account for the introduction of the 75-inch TCL 6 series.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sleek panel, weak remote and streaming

The P-Series does away with the generic looks of previous Vizios and takes more risk. The bottom edge is a relatively bright silver and the matching, super thin legs have a fetching, rounded look that reminds me of the Samsung Q8 -- a lofty comparison. 

The top and sides are darker, meanwhile, consisting of thin black strips topped with edge-to-edge glass ringed by a silver hairline. The effect is to ground the TV visually along the bottom edge and make the rest seem to float in comparison, and I really liked it. While not quite up to Samsung or LG's standards, the P-Series is the nicest-looking Vizio TV I've ever seen.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately the remote, the same tired wand Vizio has been waving for years, doesn't measure up. It has too many buttons 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.

I'm also disappointed by Vizio's smart TV system. It's less capable, slower and generally inferior to others, including Roku, Samsung, LG and Sony's Android TV. It does offer the ability to stream apps from your phone, if you're into that, with its built-in Chromecast function. Still, if you're getting a P-Series, do yourself a favor and get an external streamer like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus or, if you want Dolby Vision, an Apple TV 4K, and skip Vizio's streaming altogether.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Although it lacks its the built-in voice assistant found on Sony, Samsung and LG TVs, 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.

If you want more gruesome details about the system, check out my review of the 2018 M-Series.

Of dimming zones, bright nits and true Hz

While Sony, Samsung and LG reserve full-array local dimming (FALD) for their highest-end LCD models, Vizio puts it at basically every price. 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.

Key features

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

Two things separate the specifications of the P series from step-down Vizios with FALD, including the M-Series and the E-Series, as well as from the step-up P-Series Quantum (only available in a 65-inch size). Those things are its number of dimmable zones and light output. Zone number is an important spec 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 the 2018 Vizios compare to one another, as well as to TCL's 6 series (Sony and Samsung don't disclose the number of dimming zones on their FALD sets). As you can see, the TCL 6 series has more zones than the Vizio P-Series at 55 and 65 inches -- and more than any Vizio aside from the Quantum -- but the Vizios are available in larger sizes.

Vizio and TCL dimming zones compared

Brand ModelSizeDimming zones
Vizio PQ65-F165-inch192
Vizio P75-F175-inch120
Vizio M70-F370-inch48
TCL 65R617/65R61565-inch120
Vizio P65-F165-inch100
Vizio M65-F065-inch40
TCL 55R617/55R61555-inch96
Vizio P55-F155-inch56
Vizio M55-F055-inch32

Vizio's 2018 marketing is also built in part around raw light output, highlighting (so to speak) the number of nits in various series. The company claims the M-Series gets to 600 nits while the P-Series can achieve 1,000 -- that's a big difference. In our testing, however, the two delivered almost identical light output, and both were similar to the TCL 6 series. See the image quality section below for details.

The P-Series does provide one marked improvement over the M-Series and the TCL 6 series: a true 120Hz refresh rate panel, just like Sony and Samsung. It improves video processing to a level almost as good as those competitors, and also allows the option to engage MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), aka the soap opera effect. All of the sizes in the P-Series use higher-performance VA panels, not the IPS panel found on some sizes in previous years.

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

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Sarah Tew/CNET
  • 4x HDMI inputs (version 2.0, with HDCP 2.2)
  • 1x HDMI input (version 1.4, 1080p/120Hz input capable)
  • 1x component/composite video input
  • 1x USB port
  • RF antenna tuner input
  • Ethernet port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo analog audio output

Vizio improved its connectivity from last year, enabling four of the inputs to accept all major 4K and HDR sources. It improves upon the M-Series by adding a fifth HDMI input that's designed to accept neither HDR nor 4K sources -- instead, Input 5 can handle 1080p at 120Hz input, ideal for so-equipped gaming PCs (we didn't test this function). Gamers will also appreciate that input 5 has lower input lag than the others (see below).

Beyond HDMI, the P-Series selection is solid and even, unlike some major TV makers, includes an analog (composite/component) video input. And yes, unlike last year it does include an antenna port for the TV's 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.

Picture quality

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Click the image above for recommended picture settings.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Just like the other four midpriced FALD TVs I've tested in 2018, the Vizio P series delivered an excellent overall picture, enough to earn a score of "8" in this category. It's not good enough to get a "9," however, and compared to the other LCDs in my lineup that scored an 8, I liked it slightly less overall than the Samsung Q8, the TCL and the Sony, but a bit better than the Vizio M series.

Its strength is deep black levels, and in that area it actually beat the other non-OLED sets in my lineup (aside from the super expensive Q9, which I haven't fully reviewed yet), including the TCL by a hair. Like the M-Series its color lagged the others by a bit, however, and while video processing was excellent, its HDR image also showed some minor issues that led me to prefer the others. Yes, it still fully deserves an 8, but money no object? I'd take the TCL, the Sony or the Q8 over the P-Series for overall image quality.

Note that I was unable to compare the 2018 M-Series directly to the 2018 P-Series for this review. That's because the M-Series review sample Vizio sent me developed an image quality issue before I could include it in my P-Series comparisons: the image became dark and discolored, to the point where it was unwatchable. Vizio says the issue would be covered under warranty, but did not supply an official reason yet for why it occurred (that might change in the future, once the company's engineers get a look at the faulty sample). In the meantime I'm confident in my overall comparison between the two -- I like the picture on the P-Series a little better, but not enough to be worth the price difference.

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: A crucial part of my comparisons is pure black level, and I still haven't found a better bit of super dark test footage than Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. In that sequence, the P-Series looked great, beating the black level of the TCL by a hair and the Sony by a touch more, and matching the more expensive Samsungs in the letterbox bars and dark shadows. The P looked positively inky, falling short of only the OLED in this scene for pure contrast -- a good start indeed.

Next I checked out the almost as dark (in another way) suspense thriller A Quiet Place, but the differences, thanks to its more mixed dark and bright scenes, were harder to spot. As the Abbott family tiptoes through the store in the opening sequence, the Vizio P did deliver slightly superior black levels in the bars and the shadowy spaces of the cleaned-out shelves (3:38), but even in a dark room side by side, it was slight enough that I had to measure to be sure of its advantage over the other LCDs (of course the OLED looked and measured darkest). Even during exceedingly dark scenes, such as when Evelyn (Emily Blunt) hides under the stair (47:50), the differences between the P-Series, the TCL and the Samsung Q8 were really tough to discern.

Shadow detail on the P-Series was excellent, although it showed no clear advantage over the others in exposing near-dark details. And in terms of blooming, or control of stray illumination, it beat the Sony and matched the TCL and the Q8, falling short of only the Q9 and the OLED in dark scenes.

Overall with SDR material calibrated for a dark room, the Vizio P-Series is as good as any of the LCDs I've tested this year, but again not significantly better.  

Bright lighting: As I mentioned above, the P-Series and M-Series samples I tested came very close to one another in terms of sheer light output, despite Vizio's claims that the P is significantly brighter. Both fell short of the more expensive Sony and Samsung sets, and surpassed the light output of the TCL.

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR)10% window (SDR)Full screen (SDR)Mode (HDR)10% window (HDR)
Samsung QN65Q8FN Dynamic2348638Dynamic2388
Sony XBR-65X900F Vivid1183696Vivid1203
Vizio M65-F0 Vivid1035477Vivid1005
Vizio P65-F1 Vivid997462Vivid1101
TCL 65R617 Brighter/Vivid653480Brighter/Dark HDR824
Vizio P65-E1 (2017) Vivid459575Vivid498
LG OLED65C8P Vivid419141Cinema Home792

As usual the brightest Vivid modes were woefully inaccurate; the most-accurate SDR mode, Calibrated, topped out at 706 nits (about double the same mode on the M-Series). With HDR, where light output matters even more, both of the P-Series' most accurate picture modes (Calibrated and Calibrated Dark) measured about 860 nits -- and I'd definitely recommend using them instead of Vivid. By way of comparison, the TCL's most accurate HDR setting hit 824 nits, so the two are close.

The P's semimatte screen finish reduced reflections as well as any TV in my lineup, with the exception of the Samsung Q8 and the LG OLED, and beat the TCL in this area. It also preserved black levels well, albeit not particularly better than the TCL or the Sony.
Color accuracy: The P-Series delivered superb accuracy with SDR sources after calibration, according to my measurements, but compared to a couple of the other sets it looked slightly off in some dim scenes. As Lee and Evelyn dance in the darkened basement in Chapter 4 of A Quiet Place, for example, their skin tones looked slightly redder and more flushed than the others. The difference wouldn't have been visible outside a side-by-side comparison, and doesn't show up in the measurements I took, but still worth noting as a minor disadvantage. In brighter scenes, for example when Lee lectures Regan about avoiding the basement (28:39), the difference wasn't visible, and the Vizio again looked as lush and vibrant -- and accurate -- as any of the other LCDs.
Video processing: The P-Series' true 120Hz panel leads to superior performance in this category compared to 60Hz panels such as the M-Series and the TCL. In fact it brings the P-Series to nearly the same video processing level as the Samsung Q8 and the Sony X900F, for much less money.

The P-Series achieved the maximum 1,200 lines of motion resolution in my test, and was able to do so while maintaining correct 1080p/24 film cadence. To get that result I set Reduce Judder to zero and Reduce Motion Blur to 10 while engaging Clear Action black frame insertion. The latter setting cuts light output significantly, as usual, but unlike on some TVs it doesn't cause massive flicker (as long as Reduce Motion Blur is higher than zero). I still noticed some flicker in the brightest HDR images, however, so I kept it turned off for my tests. With Clear Action disabled, the P-Series still managed an acceptable 600 lines of motion resolution as long as Reduce Motion Blur was engaged.

I'm no fan of the soap opera effect, but people who want a little smoothing might appreciate that the P-Series' Reduce Judder slider is pleasantly gradual, with barely any smoothing at 1 and slightly more at 2 and 3 before getting into buttery territory at 4 and above.

Unlike most TVs that have a single Game mode to reduce input lag for gaming, the Vizio has a Game Low Latency (GLL) setting that can be applied to any picture mode -- including Game. With 1080p/HD sources, the P-Series' lag was slightly worse than the M-Series, but still respectable when I used the Gaming Low Latency setting in Calibrated mode (26.1 milliseconds). Using Game mode (with GLL on) actually measured slightly worse (33.4 ms), perhaps because that mode is quite dim.

Those numbers were measured on Input 1, but the Input 5 was even better, topping out at a very impressive 14.77 ms (Calibrated, GLL on). As I mentioned above, however, that input is only for 1080p sources, but if you're a twitch gamer going 1080p, Input 5 on the P series is the second lowest lag I've measured this year, losing out by a few tenths of a millisecond to the Samsung Q8 -- which measured 14.1 and 14.33 ms with 1080p and 4K HDR, respectively.

Going back to Input 1 to measure the Vizio P's 4K HDR input lag, it measured basically the same as 1080p on that input: 26.6 ms with GLL on in both Calibrated and Game modes.

Uniformity: Just like I saw on the M-Series, brightness across the 2018 P's screen was quite uniform, albeit 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. So was any major difference between the sets in my lineup to exhibit "dirty screen effect," where differences in screen uniformity appear in pans and other camera movement.

From off-angle the Vizio P-Series was better in comparison than the M-Series. The P lost black level and color fidelity about as quickly as the TCL, and maintained black levels better than the Sony and the Q8. Only the Samsung Q9 and the OLED (of course) were better than the P from off-angle.

HDR and 4K video: While the 4K Blu-ray of A Quiet Place has Dolby Vision HDR, I chose to watch it in HDR10 first so I could include the Samsung TVs in the comparison with all of the others. And HDR is where the differences come through much more obviously than with standard dynamic range material.

The super expensive Samsung Q9 was in a league by itself in terms of highlight brightness and overall HDR brilliance, and the LG OLED did its share of trouncing the other LCDs with deep black levels and overall contrast.

Between the remaining four midpriced models, the default (Calibrated Dark mode) HDR image of the Vizio P-Series was the least pleasing. The bright sunlight in the opening sequence looked duller than the TCL and the Q8, and similar to the relatively muted Sony but without its extreme color accuracy. HDR still looked superb on the P-Series, in particular the depth of its black levels, but it didn't have the same pop and brilliance of the Q8 or the TCL.

I typically evaluate HDR in the best default setting -- I don't calibrate for HDR -- but Vizio's rep suggested a sort of "enhanced" mode to check out too: Calibrated mode (not Calibrated Dark) with Backlight to 100, Color at 55, Black Detail on High and Xtreme Black Engine on Medium (though that should be the default). In those settings the P-Series indeed looked more brilliant and "HDR-ified" than before, but still seemed worse than the TCL and Q8. Near-black shadows, like the edges of Evelyn's face under the stair (47:50), were too bright in these settings, blooming was worse, black levels didn't get as inky and colors were over-saturated.

One of the issues in both settings was color accuracy, where the P-Series rendered scenes with a bluish-reddish tint that robbed colors of some lushness. It was subtle, and maybe tough to see outside a side-by-side comparison, but as a result the set didn't quite look as good as I expected from its measurements -- which showed excellent DCI-P3 HDR gamut coverage.

At this point it's probably worth mentioning that a good HDR calibration could well elevate the P-Series image quality to meet or exceed the other TVs. But that would add a few hundred dollars to the price, at least.

For my streaming test this time around I watched Netflix' The Defenders in Dolby Vision played from an Apple TV 4K. I excluded the Samsung, Sony and LG from this test and concentrated on just the TCL and Vizio, in part because the Sony and LG didn't play nice with the Apple TV's DV output and my 4K HDR distribution amplifier. I used the best default picture settings for each (Calibrated Dark on the Vizio; Dolby Vision Dark mode and Brighter TV Brightness on the TCL).

In this dark series the P-Series looked close to the TCL in most scenes, with the latter showing no advantage in brilliance or highlights. A lamp on Jessica Jones' desk (episode 4, 27:44), for example, looked and measured similarly on both sets in terms of brightness. I still preferred the TCL overall, however, because the Vizio's color veered into bluish, in particular in near-black areas like the shadows and the black of a martial arts uniform in episode 5 (7:30). Near-black areas were also too bright and showed less natural shadows on the P-Series compared to the TCL. Once again the P-Series image was excellent, but if I had to choose between it and the TCL for HDR, I would take the TCL.

Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.002Good
Peak white luminance (SDR) 997Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.38Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.56Good
Dark gray error (30%) 0.31Good
Bright gray error (80%) 0.32Good
Avg. color checker error 1.40Good
Avg. color error 2.76Good
Red error 2.26Good
Green error 2.64Good
Blue error 4.61Average
Cyan error 2.82Good
Magenta error 2.30Good
Yellow error 1.96Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200Good
Input lag (Game mode) 14.77Good



HDR10

Black luminance (0%) 0.004Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 1005Good
Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976) 94Average
Avg. color checker error 3.22Average
Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR) 26.60Good

How we test TVs

002-vizio-p-series-2018
8.1

Vizio P-Series (2018)

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8Value 8