If OLED TVs are still too rich for your blood, especially in bigger screen sizes, the new Vizio P series might be the best midpriced alternative in 2016. And that's not just because they include a free Android tablet in the box.
Last year, Vizio TVs were the highest-rated overall on CNET thanks to a combination of very good picture quality and affordable price. LG's OLED televisions delivered better images but they cost a mint, especially in sizes over 55 inches.
This year OLED shows no signs of reaching pocketbook range for normal humans, leaving LCD-based TVs to dominate the market. And the LCD TV that so far seems best positioned to score a high rating at CNET is, once again, a Vizio. I'll have to wait to see how it performs, of course, but on paper the P series is a beast.
It includes four sizes ranging from 50 inches for $1,000 up to 75 inches for $3,800, which is significantly cheaper than the competition. The series starts shipping on March 27.
P hits picture high points
I got a formal introduction to the new P series at a press event in New York and came away impressed. The TVs include all of the high-end picture-quality specifications I look for in a 2016 LCD TV, including full-array local dimming and compatibility with high dynamic range (HDR) content.
Those items promise an excellent overall picture, especially since Vizio specifies a big helping of dimming zones (at least 126), and more zones -- which allow sections of the image to brighten or dim independently -- often equate to a superior picture. And unlike the difficult-to-discern resolution increase of 4K, HDR expands the range of both contrast and color significantly, for a visible improvement in many cases. Although it lacks the quantum dot technology found on Vizio's more expensive 65-inch Reference Series TV, as well as Samsung's high-end TVs, the P series still covers a respectable 96 percent of the P3 color space.
Like the Reference Series, the P series will be compatible with the Dolby Vision HDR system. A software update will arrive "hopefully" within 90 days of launch that also allows the TV to handle the competing HDR10 system. That means Vizio's TVs will support both HDR formats, much like LG's. The 2016 HDR TVs from Samsung and Sony, meanwhile, only support HDR10 and not Dolby Vision.
At launch, the P series will have access to the more then 30 Dolby Vision movies by Warner available to stream from Vudu, including "Mad Max: Fury Road," "Black Mass" and "In the Heart of the Sea." Netflix and Amazon will also launch Dolby Vision streaming this year.
As for 4K Blu-ray, the P series won't display the HDR versions of current discs playable on the Samsung UBD-K8500 player until its HDR10 software upgrade rolls out. And if you've been paying attention recently, you're probably not surprised to learn that the P series is not UHD Alliance Premium Certified, and that like all recent Vizio TVs (and most new TVs in general), it lacks 3D capability.
Get a free Google Cast tablet, but lose Amazon
Confirming reports, the P series will do away with Vizio's antiquated Smart TV system in favor of one that relies solely on Google Cast, the software giant's popular TV streaming platform. But Vizio's reps assured me its system, dubbed Vizio SmartCast, is more robust than just dangling a $35 Chromecast from the back of the TV.
First off, the P series includes a full-function 6-inch Android tablet. It has 1080p resolution, Android Lollipop, a V8 octa-core processor, stereo speakers, 16GB of storage and complete access to the Google Play store, allowing it to function as a standard tablet independently of the TV. An included docking station charges the tablet wirelessly when it's not in use.
The TVs lack an onscreen Smart TV interface, so you'll need to use the built-in Cast capability to watch TV apps like Netflix and Vudu. Here's where I mention that Amazon, which has an Instant Video app on current Vizio TVs like the 2015 M series, doesn't work natively with Google Cast. If you want to watch Amazon on this TV you'll need to use screen mirroring (which has worse quality than native Casting) or connect another device like a Roku or Fire TV stick. And none of those devices can access Amazon's HDR content.
Unlike Chromecast, Vizio SmartCast will support 4K streams from certain providers, including Netflix, YouTube, Vudu and UltraFlix. It will also support Vudu's Dolby Vision HDR, as well as Netflix's when it becomes available.
If you're not familiar with Google Cast, it's a system that allows content from a phone, tablet or PC to display on the TV. It typically delivers excellent performance, all of the features and frequent updates of the mobile app. The main downside is that you can't choose videos or initiate playback with a standard remote, or a universal model like Harmony.
The included tablet also ships with an app specifically for Vizio's TVs that allows direct control of volume, picture settings and other parameters, just like a regular remote. It also links directly to TV, Movies and other content from streaming apps, much like Google's own Chromecast app. The P series TVs will accept Cast sessions from other phones and tablets, including iOS devices, just like standard Chromecast. Vizio also includes a separate standard remote.
Here's how the models break down.
Vizio P series 2016 TVs
|Model||Size||Price||Dimming zones||Refresh rate||Panel type|
Those prices are significantly cheaper than other 2016 HDR TVs announced so far, including LG's OLEDs and Super UHD TVs, and Sony's 4K/HDR models. Samsung has yet to officially announce pricing, but I expect its new higher-end TVs, dubbed SUHD, to cost quite a bit more than the P series, too.
The table above deserves a bit of explanation. I don't expect the slightly different number of dimming zones to affect picture quality whatsoever. The 50-inch size's lower refresh rate might cause a bit more blurring with some material, but I doubt it will be a deal-breaker for anybody (Vizio itself quotes a higher "effective refresh rate"; the numbers above are the actual panel refresh rates). The biggest difference is likely to be the IPS panel type used on the 55-inch size; in past reviews we've found that IPS delivers worse image quality in many ways compared to VA.
We expect to review Vizio's new P series TVs soon.
Update March 23: Vizio has confirmed that these TVs lack a built-in tuner, so they can't receive local TV stations available via antenna/over-the-air broadcasts. In fact, lack of a tuner means they're not technically "TVs" anymore, which is why Vizio's web site calls them "Tuner-Free Displays." If you're someone who watches a lot of TV via antenna, rather than cable, satellite or streaming service, Vizio recommends you purchase a third-party tuner.
VIZIO'S 2016 4K TV LINEUP
|Series||Price for 65-inch||Availability||Dimming zones||HDR with Dolby Vision||Wide color gamut||Free Tablet remote|