Vizio is known for TVs that provide excellent value--you could call it the Camry of televisions--so the price bracket of the Reference series is a departure of epic proportions. The 120-inch version will cost $129,999 and its 65-inch sibling will demand a cool $5,999.
The TVs are now available to order at Vizio's web site, and the company says they'll ship by the end of 2015.
The Reference Series was first introduced at Vizio's CES 2014 showcase 20 months ago, but the TV never shipped. Vizio's website originally listed a $4,000 price for the 65-inch version, but that was apparently a $2,000 mistake.
So how does Vizio justify the high prices of these TVs? Aside from the sheer size of the 120-incher, part of the appeal is that these will be the first TVs to support Dolby Vision HDR.
HDR video, not to be confused with HDR for photography, promises better picture quality thanks to brighter, more realistic highlights, more realistic color and other improvements. It's widely viewed as the next step beyond 4K, which addresses only resolution, or picture sharpness, and not contrast or color. In our tests of 4K TVs and video, we've found it difficult to appreciate any difference compared to high-definition TV. With the HDR demos we've seen, the improvement is more evident.
Other TVs support other varieties of HDR aside from Dolby Vision, and according to a conversation I had with Dolby's Roland Vlaicu, Vice President of Consumer Imaging, the company is working with other TV makers to implement its technology. For now, however, Dolby is partnering with Vizio exclusively, and will offer the first Dolby Vision movies via the Vudu streaming service. They include "The Lego Movie", "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Man of Steel."
In addition, Vizio says additional Dolby Vision titles will be available soon on the TV via Netflix, naming the series "Marco Polo" as the first Dolby Vision release. Vizio's press release makes no mention of support for Amazon's HDR video, which is available on HDR-capable TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony.
The demos we've seen of Dolby Vision on the Reference series, both at CES 2014 and 15 months later, in spring 2015, have been impressive. So are the TV's other specifications.
It comes in one resolution, 4K, and two names: the 65-inch R65-B2, and the 120-inch RS120-B3. Its HDR is powered by a full-array local dimming backlight with 384 zones and reaches a peak brightness of 800 nits. Vizio touts its wider color gamut but doesn't say exactly how wide, which is a step down of sorts from its initial claim that the set could approach Rec 2020 color. Gamers will appreciate that the set can display 120-frame-per-second content (currently available only from PCs) with ""="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="ab312f35-eea6-11e2-8339-d4ae52e62bcc" slug="game-mode-on-cnet-tests-tvs-for-input-lag" link-text="" section="news" title="Game mode on: CNET tests TVs for input lag">
The 65-inch version will also benefit from a Quantum Dot-equipped LCD panel, an extra that's missing from the 120-inch TV. The dots are said to help improve color rendition and brightness, and appear in TVs like Samsung's SUHD.
Speaking of SUHD, the Samsung JS9500, another HDR-capable TV, is said to hit 1,000 nits peak brightness. It has an undisclosed number of full-array local dimming zones and delivers 93 to 95 percent of the P3 color gamut. It's a curved TV (the R series is flat) and at a current price of $3,500 costs a lot less than the Vizio for the 65-inch size.
It's also worth mentioning that LG's 65-inch OLED models, including the curved EG9600 and flat 65EF9500, also undercut Vizio at a current price of $5,000. In our tests so far, OLED delivers significantly better image quality than the LED LCD technology used by Vizio and Samsung, although maybe the Reference Series will buck that trend.
Beyond its picture, the Reference series has some unique sound features that differ by size. In the 120-inch version, there won't be any speakers at all, because Vizio figures a buyer well-heeled enough to spring for the massive TV will use a dedicated sound system instead. The 65-inch model meanwhile includes a detachable sound bar, a pair of surround speakers and a subwoofer, with audio performance Vizio says will outclass any TV (didja hear that, big-speaker Sonys?).
We look forward to more hands-on time with the Reference Series in the near future.
Editors' note October 6, 2015: A version of this article originally appeared during CNET's CES coverage in January 2014, and again in April 2015. It has been updated to reflect the latest information from Vizio.
Correction: A reference to Dolby Vision TVs being available as early next year was based on conjecture, and has since been removed.