Mostly on the strength of aggressive pricing, Vizio in the last several years has taken the flat-panel HDTV market--both LCD and plasma--by storm, rocketing past better-known brands and becoming one of the best-selling names in the country. The company has also introduced some unique products, among them the VP322, which is currently the smallest plasma screen size available at 32 inches. The VP322 is not a particularly good performer, evincing inaccurate color and lighter black levels, although it does avoid the uniformity and off-angle problems of similar-size LCDs. With that said, at just more than $500, I find it hard to complain too much about its picture quality. It still produces a watchable picture for noncritical viewing applications like a bedroom, and for now it's one of the least expensive HDTVs at its size, period.
The VP322 sports a glossy black finish on most of the panel's frame, augmented by a flat black finish on the lower speaker grilles and on the sides and top of the outside bezel. As with its 42-inch plasma sibling, the VP422, the VP322 has a bright Vizio logo located just below the center of the screen that glows orange when in standby, and changes to white when powered up. The overall look is nothing to write home about, but attractive enough for an entry-level HDTV.
As you'd expect, this little Vizio plasma has about the same dimensions as a 32-inch LCD. It measures 32.5 inches wide by 22.6 inches high by 8 inches deep including the stand, and 32.5 by 21.1 by 3.5 inches without it. At 39.1 pounds it is substantially heavier than most 32-inch LCDs however, such as the company's own VO32L, which weighs 27.6 pounds. Chalk most of that difference up to the plasma's glass screen.
The remote is exactly the same as the one included with the VP422. On the small side and a bit chubby or squat, it is oddly shaped yet fits comfortably in the hand. Black keys with white lettering are easy enough to read with the lights on, but unfortunately the keys do not glow, which would be a help in a darkened environment. The remote is also universal and capable of controlling a wide variety of other AV components.
Unlike most budget 32-inch LCDs, which have a 1,366x768 native resolution, the Vizio VP322 plasma has 1,024x720 pixels. The difference will be invisible to just about everyone, however, and the set still has enough pixels to qualify as an HDTV.
I appreciated the relatively wide range of picture controls on this budget panel. Picture modes include Standard, Movie, Game, and Custom, and as usual you can adjust Custom independently per input. Selectable color temperatures are Warm, Cool, Normal, and unlike with most budget sets there's another Custom setting to allow adjustment of the grayscale. That's a good thing because as with the VP422, the 322's Warm color temperature was way too red (minus blue) to use. I opted to start with the Normal color temperature, which was a bit closer to the broadcast standard, although still quite warm on the top and bottom of the spectrum.
With one exception, all of the features in the Advanced menu are best turned off for optimum picture quality. They include: DNR, Black Level Extender, CTI, Fleshtone, and Adaptive Luma. The Peak White Limiter can be left on, as it will theoretically limit the peak light output, which is desirable considering the excessive brightness of this panel.
The Vizio VP322 offers ample connections, all of which reside on a vertical column on the rear panel. There are a generous three HDMI inputs, one set of component video inputs, one A/V input with a choice of either S-Video or composite video, one 15-pin VGA input for computers (1,366x768 maximum resolution), one RF input, an optical digital audio output, and a set of stereo analog audio outputs. We'd like to see a set of front- or side-panel inputs for easy access to temporary hookups, but none is available.
Objectively speaking, the performance of the VP322 leaves a lot to be desired. Color in particular is quite inaccurate, due mainly to the very poor choice of the green primary color, and black levels were a bit disappointing especially for a plasma. The superior uniformity of plasma was refreshing at this screen size, however.
During the user-menu calibration I was able to make a significant improvement in the grayscale using the red, green, and blue controls in the Custom color temperature menu. Still, flesh tones had an odd orange/brown cast to them, which is also an observation I also made with its bigger sibling, the VP422. Gamma is way off the mark, and consequently grayscale tracking is very choppy both before and after calibration. Check out the Geek Box below for specifics, and my full picture settings here. For my comparison I looked at the Vizio next to the Panasonic TC-32LX85 and the Sony KDL-32M4000, both more expensive LCDs, as well as the Insignia NS-LCD32-09, a less-expensive LCD.
Black level: The black level performance of the VP322 is not great by any means; blacks are basically a dark gray. Watching Chapter 6 of 2001: A Space Odyssey provided one example, with the contrast of the bright white spacecraft against the black background of space. This scene looked a bit muddy on the 322. By way of comparison, all three of the other LCDs had better blacks, in varying degrees, than the VP322, although I have definitely seen worse than the Vizio. Another worthwhile test comes at Chapter 12, where a small spacecraft is traveling just above the surface of a planet; the Vizio displayed relatively good shadow detail here.
Color accuracy: An incorrect choice of primary colors, particularly green, is the downfall of many a flat-panel display today, and the VP322 suffers worse than most from this issue. The company should consider filtering the red, green, and blue to make them all more accurate, but as it stands all of the three LCDs produced more accurate color. In Chapter 6 of I, Robot for example, where Will Smith visits US Robotics, I could see that skin tones simply looked incorrect, although color saturation was OK. The Panasonic LC-32LX85 and even the Insignia to a lesser extent were superior in color fidelity, because the primary colors are a lot closer to the HD spec, and the gamma and grayscale tracking were much better as well.
Video processing: The little Vizio plasma was far from perfect in this regard, failing both the Film Resolution and Video Resolution Loss tests, so the TV may introduce artifacts in 1080i material from film and video. To its credit, however, the VP322 did accept and display 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 from the PS3 Blu-ray player, so if you have a 1080p source, you can avoid this issue. The subjective sharpness of the picture didn't suffer from the set's lower resolution, however. Chapter 2 of I, Robot starts with a close-up shot of Will Smith as he wakes up, and the detail in his face was just as impressive on the Vizio as on the LCDs.
Uniformity: White field uniformity is quite good, as I would expect from any plasma panel. The very beginning of Chapter 5 of The Italian Job, where the crew is celebrating its successful heist in the Austrian alps, gives you a slow pan of the snow-covered mountains, and the Vizio reproduced them with little or no color splotching. Off-angle performance was also better than any of the LCDs; dark areas and colors were not significantly altered when I moved to seating positions other than the sweet spot.
Bright lighting: Since the Vizio's glass screen reflected ambient light, and most of the LCDs have matte plastic screens, the VP322 suffered somewhat in bright lighting. It collected more and brighter reflections from the windows and lights, which as usual became more apparent when the set displayed darker scenes.
Standard-definition: The VP322 is an above-average performer with standard-def material. While the set did resolve every detail of the DVD format and details were as sharp as we'd expect, there was some flicker in the highest-frequency pattern from the HQV DVD test disc. The Vizio smoothed out jaggies from moving diagonal lines, such as the stripes on a waving American flag, better than many displays including the Panasonic LCD. The Vizio's three-step noise reduction cleaned up the messiest shots quite well, and its 2:3 pulldown detection kicked in quickly and effectively.
PC: As a small, relatively low-resolution monitor, the Vizio performed very well, displaying the full resolution of a 1,024x720 signal via both VGA and HDMI with little if any visible difference between the two.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5970/6340||Average|
|After color temp||6600/6760||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 381||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 189||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.644/0.345||Average|
|Color of green||0.265/0.662||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.061||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Fail||Poor|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Vizio VP322||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||122.97||115.35||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.28||0.26||N/A|
|Cost per year||$39.40||$37.04||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Good|