Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
The first 50-inch Vizio plasma HDTV we reviewed here at CNET, the P50HDM, earned the right to be called "the best value in its class" by virtue of its very good picture quality and rock-bottom--at the time--price of just less than $2,000. In the more than three years since that review, the company has risen to become perhaps the best-known bargain HDTV name, outselling major brands in many screen sizes and forcing down prices across the board. It has also sold some subpar flat-panel TVs during that time, but the VP505XVT isn't one of them. This 50-inch plasma is available for the company's traditionally rock-bottom price, $1,500 or less in this case, yet it poses stiff competition to the Panasonics and Samsungs of the mainstream plasma world. Deep black levels and mostly accurate color are this display's hallmark, bolstered by video processing courtesy of well-known brand HQV ("Hollywood Quality Video.") Sure we could gripe about the minor false contouring and the inaccurate green primary color, but none of those issues spoil this plasma's highly competitive picture quality.
There's little that seems cheap about the external appearance of the VP505XVT. A standard-issue glossy black frame surrounds the screen, bordered by a black strip that looks a lot like the one found on Panasonic's panels, such as the TH-50PF11UK. Below the frame, Vizio chose to break with the black theme, incorporating a recessed, dark bronze speaker bar that runs the width of the panel. We didn't mind the subtle touch of color--to borrow a phrase--although we were annoyed that the bright blue-white illuminated "Vizio" logo lacked an Off switch.
The humdrum, flat black plastic stand is one obvious place where Vizio skimped. With the stand, the VP505XVT measures 48.6 inches wide by 32.4 inches tall by 10.2 inches deep and weighs 95.9 pounds. Discard the stand, for wall-hanging purposes, and the set's dimensions become 48.6 inches wide by 30.4 inches tall by 3.7 inches deep and weighs 88.6.
The company reprised our favorite Vizio remote with this model, a large affair with an oversize chrome-colored cursor pad surrounded by well-spaced, easily differentiated, yellow-backlit keys. Highlights include a section that offers direct access to different input types, "A, B, C, and D" keys for other devices, such as cable boxes, that double as picture-in-picture controls, and the capability to command three other devices. Many of the keys double-up, but the remote handles these well--we appreciate that the oft-used key to control aspect ratio shares the bright red "record" key, for example.
Vizio has also improved the look and feel of its no-nonsense menu system. Items are arranged logically, the menus are just the right size (and shrink as they should during adjustment), and helpful text appears at the bottom to explain the function of every item. Our main complaint about the menu, and it's a big one, is that many items are inexplicably restricted, depending on what input signal you're using or the status of the parental lock. Many of these restrictions, such as the parental locks section itself being disabled on the HDMI inputs, or the noise reduction being disabled for HDTV sources, make no sense and impair functionality.
At the head of the VP505XVT's list of features sit "1080p" and "HQV processing." The former, which represents the highest resolution available today, separates this plasma from even less-expensive models, although in our testing it's really difficult to see the difference between 1080p and 720p plasmas at the 50-inch screen size. The latter is something no other display on the market currently offers. HQV-brand video processing has performed well in our tests of so-equipped Blu-ray and other players, and we'll detail its effects on this TV in Performance section.
The Vizio VP505XVT includes a full complement of picture controls. Each of its five picture modes is both adjustable and independent per input, which provides the ultimate in setup flexibility. You can set Contrast in the Movie mode of HDMI 1 different from the Contrast of Movie mode on HDMI 2, for example, and same goes for the majority of picture parameters.
Advanced picture options include a Custom color temperature setting, complete with both gain and offset controls--an option Panasonic notably lacks--to join the three presets. That's a good thing, because none of those presets comes very close to the broadcast standard. Other advanced controls include something called Color Transient Improvement, a Flesh Tone setting, Adaptive Luma (which automatically adjusts black level depending on program content), and a Film Mode to control, among other things, 2:3 pull-down detection. We were a bit miffed to find that the set's noise reduction circuits were disabled when we watched HD content. Some high-definition content is pretty noisy, so we wish these controls were available with all types of input signals.
More annoyingly, the TV's aspect ratio controls also did not function when fed HD sources. Nearly every HDTV nowadays lets you change aspect ratios in high-definition, but the Vizio does not. It does, however, offer the option to choose between four overscan settings, from none to about 5 percent. We like having the overscan option, for example to deal with certain channels that introduce interference along the extreme edges of the picture, and we appreciate that the default overscan setting is Off, which maps 1080i and 1080p sources perfectly to the panel's pixel array. However, we'd like to have easier access to a mode with some overscan--you have to go a couple layers into the menu to change that setting--not to mention the basic capability zoom or crop the image when appropriate. The Vizio does offer four aspect ratio choices with standard-definition material.
While the VP505XVT is Energy Star 3.0 compliant, it lacks a specific energy saver mode to tone down power use, and like any plasma it sucks a lot more juice than a similarly sized LCD (check out the Juice Box). The set also includes one provision to combat burn-in should it occur: a so-called image cleaner that simply fills the screen with a white field.
The Vizio is one of the few models these days to feature full picture-in-picture functionality--although, annoyingly, it's disabled by default. You'll have to enable it in the parental controls menu which, annoyingly, you can only access by choosing an analog or TV tuner input. We did appreciate that the PIP worked to display two HDMI sources simultaneously, although one must originate from the side panel.
Speaking of the side panel, that's where half of the VP505XVT's HDMI inputs reside. Two can be found on the left side (no other side connections, such as analog inputs or a headphone jack, are available) and the other two are in the traditional spot at the back. The downward-facing jack pack includes just one component-video input (two is standard these days), along with an analog PC input (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution), one composite and one S-Video input that share an analog audio input, the RF input for antenna or cable, and one analog audio and one optical digital audio output. For some reason the company also put three separate service-only ports on this TV--two RJ-45 Ethernet-type jacks and a USB-type connection.
Simply put, the Vizio VP505XVT is one of the better-performing plasma TVs we've tested this year from any manufacturer. It delivered deep black levels, relatively accurate color, and solid video processing, thanks in part to HQV.
Even more than many other HDTVs, the Vizio VP505XVT really benefits from having a full suite of color temperature adjustment controls. That's simply because none of its preset color temperature modes came anywhere near the broadcast standard. The usual favorite, Warm, was exceedingly plus-red and plus-green, while Normal was less-so but still significantly off. We ended up using Cool for our precalibration measurement, but we highly recommend you take advantage of our picture settings (see the bottom of this blog post) and go the Custom route.
For our image-quality tests we were able to compare the Vizio directly with a few other 50-inch 1080p plasmas, namely the Panasonic TH-50PF11UK (which performed so much like the VP505XVT that we're pretty sure Vizio is using Panasonic glass), the Samsung PN50A650 and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We also threw in one of our favorite LCDs, the 52-inch Samsung LN52A650, for good measure. Our film of choice this time was the great-looking Sunshine Blu-ray played via the Sony PlayStation3.
Black level: The film constantly plays with light and darkness and features numerous scenes of high contrast, which makes it a great test for black level. The Vizio was superb in this regard, rendering dark areas, like the voids of space, the letter box bars, and the shadowy equipment and corridors of the ship, for example, with as much depth as the Panasonic and more than either of the Samsungs had. Details in shadows, such as the barely illuminated gear in the corridors, for example, or the struts and modules of the ship as it wheeled through space, appeared as natural and well rendered as on any of the nonreference displays. In both areas, we still preferred the look of the Pioneer, naturally, because of its deeper blacks, but the Vizio definitely held its own against the more expensive and still superb Panasonic. Those two were basically identical in terms of subjective black level and according to our gamma measurements the Vizio was a even bit better (2.171 versus. 2.049 after calibration, compared with an ideal of 2.2).
Color accuracy: After the adjustments, the Vizio exhibited as accurate a grayscale as just about any plasma we've tested. Skin tones looked suitably pale under the ship's harsh lighting, with none of the overly reddish tinge seen on displays with inaccurate color decoding. The blasts of white light and floodlit bulkheads also looked as accurate as the Pioneer. Near-dark and black areas remained relatively true, and while some shadows appeared a bit redder than the reference display or the Panasonic, the difference certainly wasn't drastic.
Primary colors were a weak point, however, and green was off significantly. The leaves of the trees during Mace's time in the Earth Room, for example, had that sort of overly yellow, neon-ish tinge we've seen on many plasmas with an inaccurate green primary. Both the Samsung and the Pioneer looked more natural in comparison, although the Vizio was about the same as the Panasonic and wasn't as bad as some greens we've seen.
Video processing: We naturally expected the VP505XVT to ace most of our video processing tests by virtue of its HQV processing. In fact, the deinterlacing tests we use were created by HQV itself. The Vizio passed the video-based test without a hitch and technically passed the film-based test too, but it wasn't as clean as we expected. To pass the test, a display (or Blu-ray player) has to fully resolve a 1080i pattern moving back and forth at 24 frames per second. Most displays that pass deliver that full resolution perfectly, but with the Vizio we saw medium-faint flashes in the most detailed parts of the pattern. Those sections didn't strobe or introduce vertical lines--both sure signs of a failure, according to HQV--and we could still see every other line, so that's why we say the TV "technically" still passed. But we expected those sections to be rock-solid, as they are with most Blu-ray players and with other displays that pass the test, such as the Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas in our comparison.
As far as we could tell, however, that flashing on the test pattern didn't affect the Vizio's performance with program material. The HQV disc's pan around Raymond James Stadium was free of moire, as was the grille of the RV from Ghost Rider and the stairs from Mission Impossible 3. We also noticed no jaggies in the shirt of the cook in Sunshine or the limo pulling up in MI: 3. In all of these scenes, the Samsung plasma, which failed the deinterlacing tests, exhibited these artifacts, whereas the Vizio, along with the Panasonic and Pioneer, did not.
Watching HDTV, we also noticed less-than-ideal behavior from the Auto setting of the Vizio's Film Mode. When in Auto, the ticker on ESPN would seem to drag and become blurrier quite often as it scrolled by, which is the same thing that happened when we manually chose the Film setting. Choosing Video, on the other hand, eliminated the issue. We'd expect Auto to perform better and choose between Film and Video correctly, especially on a display with HQV processing.
Unlike the other displays, the Vizio introduced some false contouring. For example, at the 2:55 mark we saw faint contours in the shadow on Searle's head as the sun brightens, and again at the 11:33 mark in the sky above the ocean. The other displays delivered a smooth progression from light to dark and between colors. We noticed the contouring often enough to consider it one of the major issues in the Vizio's performance, but it's not a deal breaker in our opinion.
As expected of any 1080p plasma, the Vizio resolved every detail of 1080 resolution sources and passed between 800-900 lines on our motion resolution test.
Bright lighting: Under bright ambient light conditions the Vizio is nothing special. It attenuates about as many reflections as the Samsung plasma and doing a bit better than the Panasonic, but still not approaching the Pioneer in this regard, It also failed to preserve as deep a shade of black as any of the other displays, with the exception of the Panasonic.
Standard-definition: As with the deinterlacing tests above, we use HQV's test DVD for standard-definition testing, and as expected, the Vizio performed well. It resolved every line of the DVD format, and on the Detail test, which includes areas like a stone bridge, steps, and grass, its rendition was as sharp as any TV in the room, although not appreciably sharper, and not as good as the upconverting in our reference Oppo DVD player, for example. It smoothed out jaggies from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag extremely well, however--better than the Panasonic. Both versions of noise reduction come in three strengths, and between these options the Vizio cleaned up noisy shots of skies and sunsets as well as any display we've tested. It also snapped into 2:3 pull-down mode quickly and effectively.
PC: We've experienced stellar performance going in via VGA to Vizio displays in the past, so we were a bit surprised when the VP505XVT didn't measure up. While it accepted and displayed a 1,920x1,080-pixel signal, it failed to deliver every line of horizontal resolution, according to DisplayMate, and we detected interference that made text in smaller font sizes difficult to read. Via HDMI, the set's performance was much better, with full resolution and otherwise excellent quality. We cleaned up the hint of edge enhancement by setting sharpness at -1, which worked very well.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7263/7165||Poor|
|After color temp||6584/6492||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 697||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 80||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.661/0.33||Average|
|Color of green||0.268/0.662||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.064||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Poor|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Vizio VP505XVT||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||474.03||383.88||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.44||0.36||N/A|
|Cost per year||$146.72||$118.82||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|