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Vizio P-Series (2018) review:Great picture that's not quite worth the step-up fee

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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. Unlike the TCL 6 series, it comes in a 75-inch size.

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.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8

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.

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.

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. And unlike the TCL, our favorite non-OLED TV of the year so far, it comes in a wall-busting 75-inch size.

If you want a 55- or 65-inch TV, 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.

The P-Series is still a great step-up choice if you don't want to pay extra for an "S" brand, and at 75 inches it's my favorite TV of 2018. But at other sizes, it's tough for most viewers to justify the extra cost compared to the M-Series and especially the TCL.

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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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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 Model Size Dimming zones
Vizio PQ65-F1 65-inch 192
Vizio P75-F1 75-inch 120
Vizio M70-F3 70-inch 48
TCL 65R617/65R615 65-inch 120
Vizio P65-F1 65-inch 100
Vizio M65-F0 65-inch 40
TCL 55R617/55R615 55-inch 96
Vizio P55-F1 55-inch 56
Vizio M55-F0 55-inch 32

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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  • 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.

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