We've come to count on Vizio for offering good-performing HDTVs at extremely competitive prices, but when we first heard about the VM60PHDTV we were still surprised. This is a 60-inch plasma that costs as much as many like-size rear-projection HDTVs: $2,999. That information alone is enough to catapult this television to new heights of big-screen plasma popularity, because people who want a really large picture can now afford to go flat too. The closest competitor we can think of in terms of price is Panasonic's 58-inch TH-58PX600U, which costs at least $500 more. Sure, it's a better performer in a lot of ways, but the Vizio still holds its own and offers an excellent feature set to boot, including an unprecedented four HDMI inputs. If you can stomach the bronze coloring and don't demand the ultimate in picture quality, the VM60PHDTV is hands-down the best value in big-screen flat panels today.
The first thing we noticed about the Vizio VM60PHDTV was the color of the frame. Unlike most flat-panel HDTVs, which tend toward black or silver, the brushed metallic frame of this HDTV is bronze (the color looks more like silver in our photos, but trust us). The color isn't particularly unattractive, but at the same time it's much less neutral than many flat panels, and thus may not go with as many decorating schemes. Overall, we'd have preferred black.
One unique styling cue is the clear plastic bar that runs along the bottom of the panel, serving no other purpose but to deflect sound from the down-firing speakers into the room. It provides a simple and elegant solution for people who'd rather not see speakers, but still want to hear them. Of course you can detach the bar if you're using an external audio system or simply dislike its looks. There's a light-up Vizio logo that we wished we could turn off, but otherwise the set's face is free of features. The included, matching pedestal stand has a slick-looking glass top and lifts the panel 2 inches from a TV stand or tabletop.
You'd expect a 60-inch plasma to be physically imposing, and the VM60PHDTV doesn't disappoint. The panel weighs a massive 179 pounds with stand attached, and measures 56.3x37.2x13.4 inches deep. Divested of the stand, the panel itself measures 56.3x34.4x4.9 inches. Vizio sells a variety of wall mounts, including tilt and swing-out versions. With a panel this big, we definitely recommend professional installation if you're going the wall-mount route.
Vizio includes the same remote as ever, although this time it's black instead of silver, and fully backlit. As always, we'll complain about the sheer number of keys and the fact that many serve more than one purpose, and laud the ability to directly select inputs and easily control picture-in-picture. The clicker can command three other devices aside from the TV itself.
The native resolution of the Vizio VM60PHDTV is 1,366x768, the same as many other, much smaller displays. It's worth noting that 1080p would probably lend some extra sharpness at this screen size, depending on your seating distance, but of course it would probably double or triple the Vizio's cost. As with all other fixed-pixel displays, the Vizio VM60PHDTV converts all incoming sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard-def TV, or computer, to fit the native resolution.
We count picture-affecting features among any display's most important, and the Vizio VM60PHDTV has a decent selection, but we were disappointed by a couple of things. While there are four picture presets in addition to a custom mode, you can't adjust any of the preset modes, and the custom mode is not independent per input. As a result, you can't adjust the display differently for different sources. This is especially disappointing in a television that can accommodate so many different sources.
In addition to the standards like contrast, brightness, and the rest, Vizio throws in some additional options. There are three color temperature presets--we found Standard to be the most accurate, although it was still way too red--as well as a Custom mode that lets you adjust the grayscale somewhat, although we wished it provided better control (see Performance). There are also options for Noise Reduction; Fleshtone (we left it off to avoid tinting skin too red); and Dynamic Contrast (again left off to preserve shadow detail). The selection of aspect ratio modes is rather small--you get just two choices with HD sources and four with standard-def.
Vizio throws in the requisite conveniences, starting with a picture-in-picture mode that allows a good number of combinations between the two windows--while you can display any of the HDMI sources next to any other, you can't use picture-in-picture at all with the RGB computer input. The ATSC tuner is on board but, as expected from a TV built to hit a low price point, CableCard is not.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Vizio VM60PHDTV's spec sheet is its connectivity, highlighted by four HDMI inputs. That's more than any display we've tested, regardless of price, and allows the connection of pretty much all the digital gear you could want. The back panel also sprouts two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with composite and S-Video; a VGA input for computers (1,366x768 resolution); one RF-style input for antenna or cable; an optical digital audio output; and a standard analog audio out. The only things missing inputwise are a DVI input for PCs and side or front-panel inputs for temporary connections.
While certainly not the best plasma display on the market from a picture quality standpoint, the Vizio VM60PHDTV holds its own without any major hiccups. We could wish for better black-level performance, more accurate color, or less false contouring, but--considering the price--this display delivers surprisingly good images.
During our normal regimen of adjusting the VM60PHDTV to deliver the best picture in our darkened theater, however, we did notice one very frustrating issue: All of the picture controls actually have more than one "step" within the same number. For example, while setting the brightness control, we noticed that when we pressed the button once, the black level of the image changed, and the little bar graph went up slightly, even though the number readout didn't change at all. As a result there were two brightness settings for some numbers. Worse, the difference between the two settings was often rather large. We eventually got the image the way we wanted it, but, as a result of the inexact and rather course controls, our published picture settings won't be as accurate for the VM60PHDTV as for other sets we've reviewed.
The Vizio has a difficult time with color because its grayscale is not linear. In all of the color temperature presets, the bottom end of the scale (the darker areas) was skewed toward red while the top end (brighter areas) was skewed toward blue (see the Geek Box for details). Because the settings for Custom color temperature only adjust the high end of the scale, and because of the general imprecision of the controls, it was impossible for us to properly optimize the grayscale to 6,500K. We ended up just adjusting the darker areas to be more accurate and letting the lighter areas veer into blueness, because, to our eyes, this was less-objectionable than having incredibly red dark areas. Nonetheless, after our adjustments, the color temperature did improve quite a bit.
After setup we were able to compare the Vizio VM60PHDTV directly to a pair of 50-inch plasmas we had on hand, the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK and the Pioneer PRO-FHD1. Both outperformed it in most ways, but again, the Vizio wasn't bad.
The numerous dark scenes in the Hulk HD DVD showed off the Vizio's strictly OK black-level performance. The star field as Hulk is flown beyond the stratosphere, along with the night sky and shadowy rocks in the final lakeside fight between Hulk and his father, appeared a couple of shades lighter than on the other plasmas. We also noticed that details in the shadows, for example, the cracks between the rocks and their highlights in the moonlight, weren't as distinct on the Vizio as they were on the others.
As we mentioned, the Vizio's nonlinear grayscale did adversely affect color accuracy. Skin tones in midlight areas, like the close-up of Jennifer Connelly, for example, as she serves Bruce Banner lunch and spars with her father, appeared a bit too red. We attempted to compensate by backing off the color (Saturation) control, but that made colors appear too dull and unsaturated, so we settled for the reddish skin tones. We did appreciate the set's accurate color decoding, although primary colors, especially the somewhat yellowish green, could be improved.
The grayscale's fluctuations also showed up in gradations from light to dark, like the pop-up menu on the disc, the sides of the sand dunes during Hulk's escape into the desert, and the edge of a flashlight beam when Connelly searches outside her cabin. We saw distinct bands, otherwise known as false contouring, in these areas that should show as smooth transitions. The bands were more severe than on either of the other plasmas, and as noticeable as any we've seen on HDTVs we've reviewed recently.
With an HDTV this large, it pays to keep a close eye on seating distance, and we'd recommend sitting no closer than about 10 feet from the Vizio VM60PHDTV. When we sat closer, we started to notice the telltale roiling motes of low-level noise, especially in dark areas; noise that wasn't visible on either of the other two plasmas. From 10 feet or farther, the noise wasn't nearly as noticeable.
In terms of detail, the Vizio VM60PHDTV looked plenty sharp, and all of the fine areas of the excellent HD DVD came through well. The texture of the desert sand, Connelly's eyebrow hair, the pinpoints of stars in the sky; all looked as sharp as we expected. We appreciated the lack of edge enhancement with Sharpness reduced to zero, and, according to our tests, the Vizio deinterlaced 1080i sources properly for display on the big screen. The Vizio handled 1080i and 720p sources equally well.
We noticed one other unusual issue that's somewhat worrisome, although we weren't able to test it fully. Even after 60 or so hours of use, the set seemed more prone to temporary image retention than other plasmas we've reviewed. In other words, still items on the screen, such as the progress bar that appeared when we scanned forward on the HD DVD, would remain as after-images that were noticeable in dark areas. Of course, the after-images disappeared when we played bright moving content for a few minutes, but with most other plasmas they're less noticeable and disappear more quickly. We don't consider this kind of temporary image retention an issue unless it's still prevalent after a couple hundred hours of use, and we'll update this section accordingly. (Update 05-24-07) After about 400 hours of use the set seemed to settle down, and didn't evince any worse temporary image retention than we've seen is typical in plasmas.
When faced with lower-resolution material, specifically 480i delivered via component-video from the HQV test disc, the Vizio VM60PHDTV presented a mixed bag. While it delivered all of the vertical resolution of the DVD, horizontal resolution was quite soft, and we could see the softness in highly detailed areas like the stone bridge (increasing the sharpness control didn't help). Diagonal filtering, on the other hand, was superb; the set smoothed out jagged edges in moving lines, such as the waving American flag, as well as any HDTV we've tested. The noise reduction did a mediocre job; we saw more snowy motes of noise than in the other plasmas, even when it was fully engaged. We did appreciate that 2:3 pull-down was quick and effective.
Despite the fact that the manual suggests using 1,024x768 resolution when connecting a PC via the VGA input, we were able to go up to the panel's native resolution of 1,366x768 and the results were great. DisplayMate indicated that the panel fully resolved that setting on both horizontal and vertical axes, and 10-point Arial was perfectly legible.
|Before color temp (20/80)||4644/6294||Poor|
|After color temp||6725/8648||Poor|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 785K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 1147||Poor|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.657/0.326||Average|
|Color of green||0.261/0.666||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.150/0.056||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|