The Vizio E series can be a great buy, but read the fine print.
If you get one of the better ones you can expect superb image quality for a budget TV, head and shoulders above Roku TVs and better in many ways than competing midrange sets. Other E series models have picture quality likely no better than budget competitors (don't worry, I'll tell you which is which in the next section).
There's also the matter of its app-based Google Cast operation, and lack of a tuner. The E series is the closest thing you can find today to a "dumb TV," and that's not necessarily a bad thing. To do anything more advanced on this set than turn it on, switch inputs or adjust picture mode, you'll need to use your own phone and Vizio's app. If that sounds appealing to you -- or if you don't plan to do anything more advanced than that -- it's great.
Otherwise we like Roku TVs like the TCL S3750/FP110 series and US5800 series better. They deliver the best built-in smart TV system on the market, so you don't need to connect an external device and can use one remote for everything. They also have actual built-in tuners, complete with the ability to pause live TV, which will appeal to cord cutters especially. Finally, they're usually even cheaper than E series sets.
So should you get an E or a Roku TV? If you want the best picture you can get for a budget price and can't afford an M series, go for one of the E's I specify below, and leave some budget for an external device like a Roku Premiere (especially if you want to stream Amazon video). If you're OK with a "good enough" picture and value convenience and built-in smarts, go Roku.
Update June 30, 2017: For 2017 we have updated weighting system we use to figure the overall ratings in TV reviews. As a result the rating of the 2016 Vizio E series series has been reduced from 7.2 to 7.0. The review has not otherwise been changed.
Not every E is created equal
Vizio's E series is complex and sprawling, comprising a wide range of screen sizes and technologies. I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch E50-D1 and the 65-inch E65u-D3.
Normally I tell readers that the picture quality of the sizes I actually tested is similar to other screen sizes in the series, but that's not the case for the E series. In other words, if you're looking to buy an E series other than those two exact models above, pay attention.
First off, the image quality remarks in this review don't apply to any of the E series TVs under 43 inches since they lack the local dimming that was so effective on the models we tested. They also don't apply to the E50-E3 because it lacks local dimming, the E55-E1, the E43u-D2 or the E55u-Do because they use an IPS-based LCD panel, and the E43-D2, E48-D0 and E55-D0 because Vizio refused to specify whether they have IPS panels. IPS typically delivers inferior image quality.
Here are the only E series TVs this review applies to. They're the ones we're confident perform similarly to two we tested.
Vizio E series models covered in this review
|Model||Size||Resolution||Dimming zones||Clear action||Panel type||TV tuner|
See the Features sections below for an explanation of the terms in the table and how they affect image quality.
Generic glossy-black design with spindly legs
Nothing much to see here when the E series is turned off. The frame around the screen is a glossy black and thin, so from the front it looks like almost all picture, while the cabinet is relatively thick seen from the side.
Rather than a pedestal stand, the E series utilizes the same kind of splayed, spindly legs found on most TVs today. They're a bit different-looking thanks to a pattern of triangle-shaped cutouts.
Your phone (and Vizio's app) required
Unlike the more expensive P series and M series, the E doesn't include a free tablet remote, so you'll have to use your own device (phone or tablet) and Vizio's SmartCast app (for iOS and Android) for setup and advanced control.
The TV lacks a traditional onscreen menu and smart TV system entirely, replacing it with Google Cast, the popular streaming platform exemplified by devices like the $35 Chromecast. If you want to watch Netflix on the E series, for example, you'll have to use the Netflix app on your phone or tablet and "Cast" to the TV. The same goes for any other streaming app -- except the handful that aren't supported by Cast, notably Amazon Video (see the Chromecast column here for a full list). Don't have a phone or tablet handy in the living room all the time? Then either use a device like a Roku or Apple TV, or buy a different TV.
The SmartCast app can control every function of the TV, from power-on to input switching to advanced picture adjustments, audio controls, setting timers and everything else. You'll pair your phone to the TV using it in the initial setup process, and use it to connect the TV to Wi-Fi and receive software updates. The app also offers TV and movie discovery features, but they're not very advanced.
The E also comes with a standard remote control for basic functions, and will work with universal remotes like Harmony.
Vizio's app-based system has grown more stable and reliable in the past year, and worked fine with the iOS and Android phones I tried, but it's still more of a pain than an traditional onscreen menu. Especially one with as superb of a Smart TV system as Roku.
Features: Local dimming FTW
|Key TV features||
|Display technology:||LED LCD|
|LED backlight:||Full array with local dimming|
|Resolution:||4K or 1080p|
|Smart TV:||Google Cast|
|Remote:||App and standard|
The best thing about the E series is local dimming, our favorite image quality improvement in LCD TVs, and rare at this price point. E TVs have anywhere from five to 12 dimming zones. More local dimming zones equals better image quality; the M series, for example, has 64 zones. We don't expect much difference between the models with 10 or 12 zones to which this review applies.
Unlike the M series, the E is not HDR compatible. All of the E series models to which this review applies have 4K resolution, with the exception of the E50-D3 I tested, which is 1080p. In our tests the 4K model didn't exhibit much better image quality than the 1080p one, but since Vizio won't specify whether the 1080p models are IPS or VA, this review doesn't apply to any 1080p E series sets aside from the E50-D3.
In the past I've found that IPS (in-plane switching) has worse image quality than VA (vertical alignment), the panel type used on the other sizes. IPS delivered worse black-level performance and contrast, and although it's slightly better from off-angle, it's still usually worse overall.
We also don't expect much image quality difference at all between the models with Clear Action 180 as opposed to 240, despite Vizio's claim that "when enabled, it offers higher motion clarity performance." None of these sets offer the smoothing Soap Opera Effect, and all have what I suspect are 60Hz native refresh rate panels. Vizio didn't confirm as much and calls them "120Hz effective," a typically fake specification, but the ones I tested behave like 60Hz panels.