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Vizio E-Series 2016 review: Budget TV with a superior picture, inferior features

The inexpensive Vizio E series delivers a picture that's head and shoulders above the cheap TV crowd, but a not-so-smart feature set could give some buyers pause.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
10 min read

The Vizio E series can be a great buy, but read the fine print.


Vizio E-Series 2016

The Good

The Vizio E series offers the best picture quality available in its price range, thanks to local dimming. The Google Cast system offers more apps and frequent updates than many dedicated smart-TV systems.

The Bad

Many models in the series don't match the image quality of ones we reviewed. Roku TVs and other models with actual onscreen menus are more convenient for streaming apps. No built-in tuner on many models.

The Bottom Line

If you're OK with its missing extras, and make sure to get the right model, Vizio's E series will reward you with the best budget TV picture quality yet.

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).

Vizio E series places picture quality over features

See all photos

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 SizeResolutionDimming zonesClear actionPanel typeTV tuner
E48u-D0 48 inches4K10240VANo
E50-D1 50 inches1080p12240VAYes
E50u-D2 50 inches4K12240VANo
E55-E2 55 inches4K12180VANo
E60-E3 60 inches4K10180VANo
E60u-D3 60 inches4K10240VANo
E65-E0 65 inches4K12180VANo
E65u-D3 65 inches4K12240VANo
E70-E3 70 inches4K12180VANo
E70u-D3 70 inches4K12240VANo

See the Features sections below for an explanation of the terms in the table and how they affect image quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 features

Key TV features
Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Full array with local dimming
Resolution: 4K or 1080p
HDR compatible: No
Screen shape: Flat
Smart TV: Google Cast
Remote: App and standard
3D capable: No

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.

The 4K models in this series lack a built-in TV 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 website 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.

Connectivity: YMMV

Sarah Tew/CNET

E series inputs

Component 11
Ethernet 11
USB 21
TV tuner (RF) 01
Optical digital audio 10
Analog audio 11

Different models in the E series have different connections, so be sure to check. The table above details the number of inputs and outputs of each type are present on the TVs I tested.

Not all of the HDMI inputs on 4K models have the same capabilities. On the E65u-D3 I tested, only Input 1 supports HDMI 2.0; the others are version 1.4. All are compliant with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, however. Even so, according to a Roku Premiere Input 2 was also able to accept 4K resolutions at 60 fps (and worked fine), so the different HDMI versions might not be an issue with your particular source.

The 50-inch set also lacks an optical digital audio output, although HDMI does support ARC (audio return channel. The e series models that lack TV tuners, like the E65u-D3, also lack the requisite screw-type RF antenna input.

Picture quality

The two E series models we tested exhibited very good picture quality, outperforming a couple of more-expensive TVs from Samsung and Sony in many areas. Their local dimming delivered the requisite deep black levels, and while the larger model was dimmer than its peers, it's still plenty bright for most rooms.

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: As expected for a TV with full-array local dimming, the E series was very good in this category. Watching one of my favorite dark scene torture tests, the beginning of Voldemort's assault on Hogwarts in Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," the both E series sets delivered a deeper level of black and looked better in my dark room than any of the others in the lineup aside from the M series, which got equally dark.

The flipside of that deep black was a tendency to obscure details in dark scenes a bit on the 50-inch E. The wizards' black robes and the hilly background, for example, didn't look as well-defined, for example. The larger E series showed more detail, but its bright areas appeared too bright by comparison -- its local dimming fluctuated more and was more aggressive and noticeable. Both the Sony and Samsung looked more balanced than the Es, although I preferred the Es overall for home theater environments because of their darker blacks. The M series provided the best dark room image overall.

I kept an eye out for blooming, where light from one dimming zone can spill over to the next, and it wasn't a major issue on any of the Vizio sets in program material, although I did notice it on some graphical elements on black backgrounds, like credits and screensavers.

Bright lighting: While both E series sets are perfectly bright for just about every lighting situation, the 65-inch model I tested is dimmer than some competitors and thus may not be the best choice for the most windowed, floodlit rooms. Its light output peaked at about 63 footlamberts (in Vivid mode), roughly half of what the Samsung, Sony and M series are capable of. The 50-incher was much brighter at 115 fL in Vivid.

The matte screens of the E models were very good at deadening reflections, particularly the 50-inch set, and both were slightly better than the others (aside from the M, which was just as good).

Color accuracy: Both E series sets delivered punchy, accurate color overall, especially after calibration, and the more-expensive sets in the lineup didn't really show an advantage here. Watching "Samsara," the brilliant shades of gold, red and green during the initial Balinese Legong dance looked great, as did the red and gold lava of the volcano in the following scene. Skin tones of the various African, Asian and Caucasian faces in the film also looked very good.

Video processing: The E did OK in this category but not as well overall as the Sony and the M series. It delivered the expected 300 lines of motion resolution for a 60Hz display and lacks the a Soap Opera Effect setting that could improve that number (and reduce blurring).

The Clear Action option did bump motion resolution to 800 and 1200 lines in the 65-inch and 50-inch models, respectively. Unfortunately it caused flicker and, on the 65-inch model only, a significant reduction in light output, so I left it turned off. If you're highly sensitive to blurring, I'd recommend another TV.

Unlike the Samsung both Vizios are capable of delivering true 1080p/24 film cadence.

In terms of input lag for gaming, the two sizes were very similar, with both scoring around 37ms with the Game Low Latency setting toggled on. That's good, albeit not as impressive as the Roku TV or the Samsung. It's also interesting (at least to me) that the toggle made no difference on the 50-inch set, but improved the 65-inch set's lag significantly (from around 80ms with GLL mode off).

Uniformity: Good but not as good as the M series. I saw some brightness variations across the screen of both E series sets in program material and test patterns, especially the 65-inch. As usual they were more apparent with camera movement and pans, where the screen's stationary vertical bands and other minor irregularities stood out most. They definitely weren't bad for a TV at this price, however.

From off-angle the Vizios maintained fidelity about as well as the others aside from the Sony, which handled color shifts better from the sides.

4K video: The 65-inch set I tested, like more than half of the 2016 E series in total, handles 4K sources too. As usual watching 4K Netflix and Amazon from a Roku Premiere, I didn't notice much difference in picture quality on account of that increased resolution. When I checked out a 4K Blu-ray from the Samsung UBD-K8500 ("Sicario"), the E sries' image shared similar characteristics with the 1080p material discussed above. Compared to the HDR-enabled sets from Sony and Samsung, as well as the M series, the non-HDR-E was a step behind, with worse contrast and punch, but that's not surprising. HDR almost always beats non-HDR.

The E65 delivered the full 4K resolution of YouTube via casting from both iOS and Android, and played through a series of 4K test patterns with no issues.

Vizio E50-D1 Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.013Average
Peak white luminance (100%) 115Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.19Poor
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.986Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.235Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.068Good
Avg. color error 2.759Good
Red error 1.03Good
Green error 2.802Good
Blue error 5.988Poor
Cyan error 2.011Good
Magenta error 2.768Good
Yellow error 1.956Good
Avg. saturations error 1.92Good
Avg. luminance error 3.24Average
Avg. color checker error 3.03Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 37.7Good

Vizio E65u-D3 Geek Box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.027Poor
Peak white luminance (100%) 63Poor
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.3Average
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.365Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.867Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.312Good
Avg. color error 3.201Average
Red error 4.864Average
Green error 2.673Good
Blue error 5.655Poor
Cyan error 1.526Good
Magenta error 1.96Good
Yellow error 2.526Good
Avg. saturations error 1.59Good
Avg. luminance error 2.21Good
Avg. color checker error 1.59Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 800Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 36.7Good

How we test TVs


Vizio E-Series 2016

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 7Value 8