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Vizio VOL review: Vizio VOL

Vizio VOL

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
8 min read

Vizio made its name by charging less than all the big brands, but savvy buyers may have noticed that Vizio doesn't really have the price advantage that it used to. While the 32-inch Vizio VO32L sells for a reasonable $650 (as of press time), other entry-level competitors like the Panasonic TC-32LX85 are available for the same or even less at online retailers. The VO32L doesn't need a pricing handicap, however, as it held its own in our image-quality tests, with relatively deep blacks and accurate primary colors. That's not to say it doesn't have issues, as dark areas tended to look greenish and the lack of aspect-ratio control on HD sources was definitely a frustration. Overall, though, due to image quality that rivaled the Sony KDL-32M400 and a fully packed connectivity suite, we were able overlook the missteps. You may not get a huge discount by going with the VO32L, but its performance makes it worthy of consideration against its name-brand competitors.


Vizio VOL

The Good

Relatively deep blacks for an entry-level LCD; generous connectivity suite; conservative matte-finish styling.

The Bad

Darker areas look greenish; some screen uniformity issues; no aspect-ratio control on HD sources.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio VO32L's mostly solid image quality and fully packed connectivity package make it a top choice among small-screen LCDs.

In a world of glossed-up, mirror-like LCD frames, the Vizio VO32L almost looks quaint. Sure, there's a small strip of glossy black plastic surrounding the screen, but the larger part of the bezel actually features a matte finish. That's OK, though, as we actually like the subdued look, and it reflects less light in a sunny room. Right under the screen is the very prominent Vizio logo, which glows bright orange when off and bright white when on. Unfortunately, you can't disable the shining logo, and it stood out (in a bad way) compared with the other LCDs we had set up.

The included clicker has a simple design--which we appreciated--but we were frustrated by some other design snags. The directional pad is centrally located, but it doubles as both channel and volume control; we prefer separate, dedicated button rockers. We were initially thrown off by the center "V" button, which brings up the menu and also doubles as an "OK" button in the menus. The clicker lacks a dedicated button to switch between aspect ratios, so you'll have to dig into the menu to change modes (although this issue is somewhat of a moot point, since the TV can't change aspects with HD sources). On the upside, we liked the individual buttons to access inputs, although it's somewhat confusing that they're lumped in with other functions like "mute" and "last."

The Vizio VO32L has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which is perfectly fine--in fact, a higher resolution such as 1080p is completely wasted at this screen size.

The picture mode may say football, but it won't do anything special to make the big game look any better.

There are nine different picture modes on the VO32L, which is much more than you'll find on other TVs. That's because Vizio offers up custom picture settings for different types of sports, so there are separate picture modes for baseball, football, and golf (hockey fans, as usual, are ignored). As you might expect, the modes don't actually enhance different sports--the settings generally just exaggerate green and adjust the sharpness. And more disappointing is the fact that the picture modes are not independent per input.

Adjustable color temperature is a nice perk, although we couldn't dial in the colors as nicely as we would have liked.

We liked that Vizio included adjustments for all four of the color-temperature presets, allowing you to tweak them to your liking. There's also a range of options that should mostly be left off for high-quality sources. There are three strengths of noise reduction, four Color Enhancement modes (each messes with color decoding; we preferred Off, since it didn't introduce red push), an Advanced Adaptive Luma setting that adjusts gamma in dark areas (again, Off proved best), and an Enhanced Contrast Ratio setting we left off, since it caused black levels to fluctuate according to program content.

Extra features are a mixed bag with the VO32L. Unlike some of its competitors, the VO32L offers picture-in-picture functionality, including pretty granular customization via the setup menu. On the other hand, we were disappointed to learn that the VO32L cannot adjust the aspect ratio on HD sources, so you'll have to rely on your cable/satellite box to change the shape of the picture. For standard-definition sources, there are three aspect ratio options--normal, wide, and panoramic--but, again, you'll have to dig into the setup menu to change them.

The VO32L's connectivity suite is fully packed. The rear panel houses two HDMI inputs, a VGA-style PC input, a component video input, and an A/V input that offers both composite and S-Video. The side panel offers up another HDMI input, along with an additional component and AV input (only composite). It's worth noting that the side component and AV inputs share an audio input, so you'll have to choose one or the other.

The VO32L's relatively solid black levels, accurate primary colors, and natural flesh tones make it a solid performer in the entry-level, small-screen LCD category. The main knocks during our image-quality tests were its tendency to look green in darker areas and some minor uniformity issues. While the VO32L does offer color-temperature controls, we couldn't eliminate the green in darker areas without making the overall grayscale less accurate during our user-menu calibration. See our picture settings at the bottom of this blog post for more details.

We compared the VO32L side-by-side with several other sets, including the Panasonic TC-32LX85, Sony KDL-M4000, and the LG 32LG40.

Black level: The black levels of the VO32L compared favorably with the other sets in our comparison, looking just a smidgen lighter than the Sony KDL-32M4000. We especially appreciated the Vizio's smooth rise out of black, making shadow detail appear particularly lifelike, especially compared with the KDL-32M4000, where shadow detail was particularly difficult to make out. We used Batman Begins on Blu-ray as our test disc, and we could barely make out the texture of the dark caves outside Wayne Manor on the KDL-32M400. The VO32L did a better job of making those details apparent, while still maintaining relatively deep overall black levels.

Color accuracy: As evidenced by the Geek Box scores, the VO32L's primary colors are very close to the HDTV standard, and grayscale tracking, although not perfect, is acceptable. In our user-menu calibration, we had to sacrifice some of the accuracy in darker areas--which tended toward green--in order to maintain a better color throughout the grayscale. The VO32L's tendency to look green in dark material was particularly evident throughout the shadowy Batman Begins. For instance, at the beginning of the film, when Christian Bale is stuck in jail, the bricks of the prison cell looked greenish gray on the Vizio, while every other set had a more neutral, natural color. On less extreme portions of the grayscale--such as flesh tones--however, the VO32L performed much better, looking more saturated than the TC-32LX85 and pushing red less than the KDL-32M4000.

Video processing: Unlike many HDTVs we've tested, the Vizio properly de-interlaced 1080i film-based sources. Only the Vizio and the LG passed the initial film-resolution test pattern on Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on Blu-ray, and both sets also looked very detailed on the slow pan across Raymond James Stadium. The other sets in our comparison had significant moiré in the grandstands, and an overall loss of detail. Like most HDTVs we test, the VO32L had no problem with video-based de-interlacing tests.

We did find ourselves frustrated that we could not eliminate the overscan on the VO32L. The KDL-32M4000 was the only set in our lineup that did not overscan significantly, but even so, the Vizio obscured more of the screen than any of the other sets. It's not a dealbreaker, but on wide-screen programs you'll be missing some of the picture.

Uniformity: Screen uniformity, overall, was about slightly below average for the VO32L. In very dark scenes, we could see a slightly lighter patch toward the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and also a smaller light area in the upper right-hand corner on a full gray field. While it looked better than the KDL-32M4000, it didn't match up to the TC-32LX85's very even screen. On the other hand, the inconsistencies of the VO32L showed up very rarely in program material. Even with all the dark scenes in Batman Begins, we rarely found ourselves distracted by it, while we noticed unevenness a bit more on the Sony.

The bigger issue for us was the VO32L's less-than-stellar off-angle performance. The VO32L was very sensitive to moving vertically off-axis, with the screen washing out and turning red. The same effect happened when moving horizontally off-axis to a lesser extent, although it was still one of the worse performers in the lineup. The KDL-32M4000 was considerably more resistant to off-angle issues, and while the TC-32LX85 had similar problems, we found its bluish tinge less noticeable.

Bright lighting: We appreciated the matte finish of the Vizio's screen, which reflected significantly less light compared with the Sony, and much less light compared with most plasmas.

Standard-definition: The VO32L's standard-definition performance was average. DVD sources looked sharp, with the VO32L displaying all the lines of a resolution test pattern. Program material was detailed, as well; we could make out fine details on a bridge and marble stairs. Its ability to smooth out jaggies was less impressive, as footage of a waving flag had many jagged edges, as did test patterns with moving white lines. On the upside, noise reduction worked well, and we didn't see any moiré in the grandstands as a racecar drove by, indicating the VO32L has solid 2:3 pull-down processing.

PC: First, we tested the VO32L's ability as a computer display using its HDMI input. We found it wouldn't accept a 1,366x768 signal over HDMI, and the next best alternative was 1,280x720p. In this mode, there was enough overscan that the Windows taskbar was almost completely obscured. In addition, the tests from DisplayMate looked subpar, making the HDMI input generally a poor solution for those looking to use a PC.

We had more luck using the VGA-style PC input. We were able to set the resolution to 1,366x768, and after using the nifty "auto-adjust" feature, the desktop was perfectly aligned on the VO32L. It aced DisplayMate's resolution tests and text looked crisp from our seating distance of about 7 feet.

Before color temp (20/80) 6556/6734 Good
After color temp 6253/6620 Average
Before grayscale variation 168.11 Good
After grayscale variation 111.111 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.637/0.3343 Good
Color of green 0.2891/0.6128 Good
Color of blue 0.1508/0.0623 Good
Overscan 3.0% Average
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

How we test TVs.

  Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 104.9 61.14 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.24 0.14 N/A
Standby (watts) 0 0 N/A
Cost per year $32.47 $18.92 N/A
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

Check out the picture settings we found best for viewing the Vizio VO32L in a completely dark room via the HDMI input with a 1080p, film-based source.


Vizio VOL

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7