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Vizio XVT3SV review: Vizio XVT3SV

Vizio XVT3SV

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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16 min read

A Vizio in your living room might not have impressed your snobby videophile friends in the past, but the company known for budget LCDs is doing its best to change that. The XVT3SV series, Vizio's third attempt at using a full array of local dimming LEDs to compete with the other brands' flagship LCDs, is in our book its most successful. The XVT3 stands among the best LCDs we've tested in the crucial areas of black level and color, and its matte screen--rare among high-end LEDs today--means superior bright-room performance compared with just about anything available. It's not perfect, especially when seen from off-angle with dark material, but for the price it's tough to complain. As for the rest of your living room visitors, they'll be impressed by the Apps, the remote and the oodles of other features, although some might pooh-pooh the styling. If you're in the market for a high-end LED-based LCD, and you don't care about 3D, the Vizio XVT3SV series deserves a serious look.

Vizio XVT473SV
8.0

Vizio XVT3SV

The Good

Less expensive than other local dimming LED-based LCDs; reproduces relatively deep black levels with very good shadow detail; accurate, well-saturated color; excellent bright-room performance; solid uniformity; superb streaming and widget content via well-integrated Apps platform; includes unique Bluetooth remote with slide-out QWERTY keyboard; integrated Wi-Fi.

The Bad

More blooming than some local dimming LEDs; black areas tinged blue; couldn't handle 1080p/24 content properly; poor off-angle viewing; fewer picture controls than some high-end HDTVs; generic looks.

The Bottom Line

The Vizio XVT3SV series' excellent picture quality, thoughtful design, scads of features, and reasonable price combine to make it the best value among high-end LED-based LCD TVs today.

Editors' note: Based on the strength of its performance against the competition, we have awarded the Vizio XVT3SV series our Editors' Choice among LCD TVs for 2010. Also, on February 16, 2011, we lowered the Design score from an 8 to a 7, lowering the overall score from 8.3 to 8.0. We feel the new score more accurately reflects the TV's design in the current marketplace.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Vizio XVT553SV, but this review also applies to the 42- and 47-inch sizes in the series. All three employ full-array LED backlights with local dimming, have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The review does not apply to the smaller screen sizes in the series, namely the 32-inch XVT323SV and the 37-inch XVT373SV, which employ edge-lit LED backlights.

Models in series (details)
Vizio XVT423SV 42 inches
Vizio XVT473SV 47 inches
Vizio XVT553SV (reviewed) 55 inches
Design
VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
The all-black styling of the XVT3SV series won't turn many heads.

Design highlights
Panel depth 3 inches Bezel width 2.2 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand No

After repeatedly failing to impress with its bulky, two-tone 55-inchers from 2009 and earlier this year, Vizio finally updated the looks of its XVT models. The new design ditches the silver speaker bar and goes all-black, and also introduces a few rounded edges on the side of the bezel and between the speakers along the bottom. The overall look is a bit sleeker but still generic, and the stand doesn't swivel, but at least the XVT3SV models will blend unobtrusively enough into most decors.

Vizio also cut the depth from 5 down to 3 inches, in case you care. We don't, but we do care that you can't disable the glowing Vizio logo when the TV's turned on. Firmware update, please?

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
One of the TV's best features is the remote, with its full QWERTY keyboard and Bluetooth functionality.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 6.3 x 2.2 inches Remote screen N/A
Total keys 91 Backlit keys 0
Other IR devices controlled Yes RF control of TV Yes (Bluetooth)
Shortcut menu No Onscreen explanations Yes
Other:Remote has slide-out QWERTY keyboard and integrated control for other IR devices

Vizio's secret weapon, found on no other TV remote we know of, is a full slide-out keyboard with dedicated keys for letters, numbers, and symbols, just like on a smartphone. Best of all, it's included with the TV for free, not as an expensive option like some other Internet-friendly remotes.

We found the thicker, heavier clicker reassuring in the hand. Its standard keys are easy to navigate and thoughtfully laid-out, although we'd appreciate more differentiation by feel. The lack of any kind of illumination didn't help, and we missed having a dedicated key for aspect ratio. The keyboard worked on all of the apps we tried, and although we found it more cramped and somewhat less responsive compared, say, with the keyboard on a typical smartphone, it's perfectly usable and makes Tweets, Facebook status updates, and username/password sign-ins so much easier than the standard remote/onscreen keyboard combo.

Bluetooth means the remote works without needing line-of-sight, and also promises future functionality. Although we didn't test it, Vizio says the TV can pair with other Bluetooth devices like a full-size keyboard or stereo headphones. Vizio is releasing a pair of such headphones soon, but told us that any recent Bluetooth-compatible set should work.

The universal aspect of the remote was also well-thought-out. Onscreen prompts, as opposed to long lists in the instruction manual, guide you through programming control codes for your devices; the volume and mute keys can "punch through" to operate external gear like an AV receiver. It lacks the full task-based functionality of a Harmony, but this TV remote still goes further than any we've tested toward obviating most users' need to buy a universal model in the first place.

Vizio's menu system resembles another App in appearance, and we liked that the picture settings section is actually integrated into the main App taskbar (see below). Responses were fast, explanations complete, and we had no problems finding our way around. In sum, the remote and menus of the XVT3SV series were among the best we've used, and surpass in many ways the efforts of more well-known brands.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
The TV's menus are seamlessly integrated into the Apps system.

Features

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Full-array with local dimming
3D-compatible No 3D glasses included N/A
Screen finish Matte Refresh rate 240Hz
Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes 1080p/24 compatible No
Internet connection Yes (built-in Wi-Fi) Wireless HDMI/AV connection No

Local dimming of the full-array LED backlight, our favorite variety, is the main display-related draw. The 55-inch model boasts 120 "zones" of dimming, whereas the 55-inch 2XVT model had 80 (the 42-inch XVT3 has 120 zones and the 47-incher 160, but we don't think the difference will be visible). Vizio says it has also improved the dimming capability of the zones, allowing them to go all the way to black when appropriate with other bright content onscreen (in similar mixed scenes, the zones on the 2XVT models were limited to a minimum of 5 percent above black). See Performance for details on blooming, as well as on the results of our 1080p/24 testing.

We applaud the integration of Wi-Fi, and in our testing it worked much better than on the 2XVT we tested earlier. With the same setup and test Wi-Fi router, we measured around 6,500Kbps according to the XVT3's internal test, whereas the 2XVT came in at around 2,800Kbps.

Though videos often took a while to load via Wi-Fi on the XVT3--around 90 seconds at times on Netflix, for example--they evinced the quality we expected with no dropouts. We did experience a hiccup or two, for example when an Amazon Video On Demand title played in low quality at first, then improved when we restated the app, so as usual we recommend going with the wired connection when you can. And as with all Wi-Fi setups, your mileage will vary with your router and environment. All of the testing below was performed via the wired connection.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
Vizio's Apps system appears along the bottom of the screen and can even overlay other Apps.

Streaming media
Netflix Yes YouTube No
Amazon Video on Demand Yes Rhapsody Yes
Vudu video Yes Pandora Yes
CinemaNow No DLNA compliant No
Blockbuster No USB No
Other: SyncTV Kids, Web Video

Aside from Hulu Plus, available now on Samsung and coming to Vizio this fall, the XVT3SV series isn't missing anything major, and its Rhapsody subscription music service remains an exclusive (although Samsung has added Napster, for its part).

Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon VOD generally exhibited the picture quality we expected, and we appreciated that many picture controls were available--including picture modes, backlight level, and advanced controls like dejudder, but excluding contrast, brightness, color, etc. Vizio treats these streaming services as a separate input, and unlike other such TVs can run other Apps simultaneously, allowing you to Tweet or check Facebook while watching Netflix, for example. Think of it as TV multitasking, or just think of streaming services as another TV channel.

Nearly every Rhapsody function is included in the app, turning the Vizio into a celestial jukebox for subscribers (starting at $10 per month; the TV doesn't count as a "device" against your total) and begging for connection to an external audio system (analog and digital audio output is supported). Searches for artists, songs, etc., came up quickly, and autocomplete kicked in as we typed the first few letters. We assembled a playback queue, called up Rhapsody's channels and our own custom playlists, and enjoyed cover art on the big screen. All was not perfect--we experienced some delays and freezes, such as when loading a large My Library list, and once or twice between songs--but in general this ambitious app is a winner.

The free Pandora service also worked well in our testing, syncing custom stations with our online account. Neither audio app lets you run other apps or sources simultaneously, and neither does video from SyncTV Kids, which features full episodes of animated titles like "Babar" and "Class of the Titans."

In the last couple of months Vizio has added a few new apps, including a streaming service titled simply "Web Video." It offers access to video content in a neatly organized list of "channels" like CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS, in addition to lesser-known names like World Poker Tour, NASA 360, G4, and GeekBrief. Full TV episodes are rare to nonexistent on the major networks, with the exception of the well-stocked PBS feed, but as expected for video that originates online, video quality is pretty bad in general, even from sites like PBS that have higher-quality content online. Vizio says it will add Blockbuster and CinemaNow soon, for what it's worth.

Unlike most other Internet-enabled TVs, the XVT3 series currently does not offer streaming of your music, photos, and video via a home network (DLNA) or USB stick. Vizio says it will add such functionality in time for the 2010 holiday season.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
A new App allows access to select Web video, but don't expect the same kind of selection, or video quality, as Hulu Plus or Netflix, for example.

Internet apps
Yahoo widgets Yes Skype No
Vudu apps No Weather Yes
Facebook Yes News Yes
Twitter Yes Sports Yes
Photos Flickr/Picasa Stocks Yes
Other: At press time there were 30 total non-streaming widgets, including 13 Yahoo widgets with three games, eBay and more; MediaBox allows access to Picasa accounts

Although Samsung has also appropriated the popular "apps" title for TVs, Vizio arrived at the Apple iPhone nomenclature imitation party first. It calls its platform VIA, for "Vizio Interactve Apps," although in our book the "I" could stand for "integrated." VIA is the most tightly woven Internet TV experience we've tested yet, and acts like Yahoo Widgets should have all along (see that writeup for basic information).

All of the applications, from Amazon VOD to Netflix to Yahoo Weather, can be found in the Widget Gallery, which conjures up a notification graphic when new apps are available. When downloaded they appear after a few seconds in the taskbar along the bottom of the screen. Load times were entirely tolerable, and navigation was snappy both within apps and between them on the bar itself, even when we filled it with apps.

Notable nonstreaming apps include eBay, Facebook, iMemories (a pay home movie upload and sharing service), a Wikipedia search, and three different weather services. A few questionable widgets are also available, such as an information service for the United Way of Greater St. Louis, and the local news, sports, and weather for Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Numerous games and the usual Yahoo Widgets suspects (reviewed separately here) round out the selection.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
The Wiki app enables Wikipedia searches right on the screen.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 9 Independent memories per input Yes
Dejudder presets 3 Fine dejudder control No
Aspect ratio modes -- HD 4 Aspect ratio modes -- SD 4
Color temperature presets 4 Fine color temperature control 2 point
Gamma presets 0 Color management system No

The selection here is fairly standard, aside from the ridiculous number of picture modes Vizio offers. All are adjustable per input, so viewers who like to create different settings for all kinds of material and sources will have a lot to like. We'd like to see gamma presets and especially the ability to adjust dejudder processing beyond the three presets, but neither is in the offing.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
Advanced picture settings include dejudder presets and a 2-point grayscale control.

Other features
Power saver mode No Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture Yes On-screen user manual No
Other: Help section includes Guided Setup

Vizio lacks that trendy "Eco" subsection in its menu, although power consumption is quite efficient without it (see below) and the company did add an ambient light sensor to the XVT3 series. Picture-in-picture is becoming rarer these days, so that's nice to see. Onscreen help consists mainly of step-by-step setup guides for the remote, network, and more, and though the paper manual and accompanying Quick Start Guide are, as usual for Vizio, clear and well-written, we'd love to see better onscreen help options within individual apps, too.

Connectivity
HDMI inputs 4 back, 1 side Component video inputs 1 back
Composite video input(s) 1 back S-video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 back RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) 1 stereo audio Digital audio output 1 optical
USB ports 3 side (inactive) Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

The XVT3's five HDMI inputs trump the competition, for what it's worth. An additional component-video input would be nice, as would another composite connection on the side--and fans of S-Video will be sad to hear that Vizio has joined most other makers in ditching that input type. We wish the company would activate the three USB ports for media streaming, but that feature is still "coming soon" according to the company, so for now they're useless.

VIZIO XVT3SV SERIES
Between the back and side panels, the XVT3SV proffers a healthy five HDMI inputs.

Performance
The image quality of the Vizio XVTSV series is excellent overall, comparing well against significantly more-expensive LED-based TVs and plasmas in crucial areas like black-level performance and color accuracy--the latter is a particular strength. Its main weaknesses are blooming and off-angle performance, and we also miss the ability to properly handle 1080p/24 sources. All told, however, the Vizio XVT3SV is one of the best-performing LCDs we've tested this year.

TV settings: Vizio XVT553SV

The initial Movie preset on the XVT3SV series delivered an extremely accurate grayscale, but was about twice as bright as we prefer for a dim room (it maxed out at 80 ftl) with a relatively bright gamma (averaging 1.8). For our calibration we reduced that light output to our preferred 40 and were able to achieve a much better gamma (2.3 versus our target of 2.2 average) while maintaining the excellent, linear grayscale. Perhaps a more-advanced 10-point system, found on LG and Samsung sets, could have allowed an even more accurate calibration, but that's a quibble given the superb results we achieved using the available controls.

For our principal image quality tests we fired up old favorite "Star Trek" on Blu-ray and set the XVT3 up against the following HDTVs.

Comparison models (details)
Vizio VF552XVT 55-inch full-array local dimming LED
Sony XBR-52HX909 52-inch full-array local dimming LED
LG 47LH8500 47-inch full-array local dimming LED
Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Samsung PN50C7000 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50VT25 50-inch plasma
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: As we expect from an LED TV with full-array local dimming, the XVT3 performed well in this department, surpassing the Vizio 2XVT and both of the Samsung models. Though it couldn't best the LG LH8500, the Sony HX909, or the Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas--all of which cost significantly more--in depth of black delivered, it's otherwise among the best we've tested.

Those deep blacks were mainly visible in darker scenes, as usual, such as the beginning of Chapter 4, which starts with a shot of a star field that darkens as a Romulan ship sweeps in front of the camera. They also lent plenty of punch to mixes scenes, like the shots of young Spock among the formulas in Chapter 2; they showed plenty of contrast without evincing the dimmer highlights we noticed on the Vizio 2XVT.

The one area where the XVT3 came up short compared with its predecessor, as well as to the C8000 and LH8500, was blooming, which appears as stray illumination in dark areas adjacent to bright ones. We noticed more blooming on the newer Vizio in areas like credits, graphics, and the icons of our PS3, where very bright objects appeared on dark backgrounds. The blooming was also significantly more-visible from off-angle.

On the other hand during most scenes in the film, including very dark and mixed scenes where it would show up best, no blooming was visible. Compared with the other local dimmers, the XVT3's blooming wasn't as apparent, or as blue-tinged, as on the HX909 (where the darker blacks also contribute the visibility of blooming). In the scene in Chapter 2 where the car drives across the field at night, the XVT3 also lacked the subtle flashing in the backlight we saw on the LH8500.

Shadow detail on the XVT3 was excellent. When the hostage Federation captain faces the Romulan captain in Chapter 1, the folds on the Romulan's sleeve and robe were well-detailed without being too bright and the fade along his cheek from bright to dark looked as accurate as on our reference and the VT25. Most of the other LED models, including the C8000 and the HX909, obscured these details slightly in comparison, a symptom of darker gamma in deep shadows.

Color accuracy: The XVT3 was among the best TVs in our lineup in this category, thanks to its linear grayscale and balanced color. The results were evident in skin tones, such as the faces of Kirk and Spock in the auditorium in Chapter 4, which appeared natural and well-balanced without the ruddiness or paleness we saw on some of the other LEDs. The red of the cadets' uniforms, the green of the grass in the quad, and the blue sky all looked accurate as well, and colors were saturated without looking garish.

One traditional color-related weakness of LED-based LCDs, namely too-blue black and near-black areas, was in evidence on the Vizio, but the blue didn't stray too much into shadows, and as a result was less prevalent than on some of the competitors. It still represents the XVT3's biggest problem in this category, however, especially compared with the plasmas.

Video processing: The XVT3 series performed almost the same as the 2XVT in this category. Vizio equips the TV with a pair of controls related to dejudder, which it calls Smooth Motion Effect--with Low, Medium, and High settings--and Real Cinema Mode--with settings called Precision and Smooth. As with most such processing, we prefer to leave it off for film-based movies, where smoothing can make it look too much like video. The Low setting, when we did engage the control, produced the fewest artifacts and least-objectionable effect and even preserved some judder (more so than on the 2XVT models, which is an improvement in our book), whereas higher settings piled on the processing. As with previous Vizio, we couldn't see much difference between either of the Real Cinema Mode settings on the XVT3.

Our motion resolution test pegged the XVT3 lower than other 240Hz models we've tested, maxing out at between 600 and 700 lines in any setting with dejudder engaged (and the standard 300-400 with it turned off). Real Cinema had no effect on these numbers, and as usual we weren't able to tell the difference in motion resolution with real program material, as opposed to test patterns.

The XVT3 did not properly handle 1080p/24 material in our testing. Disabling dejudder processing on a 240Hz TV should cause it to implement proper film cadence, but that didn't work in this case. Instead, during the helicopter flyover from "I Am Legend," the Vizio introduced the characteristic hitching pan of 2:3 pull-down. None of the other settings we tried could handle 1080p/24 correctly, either; they all introduced smoothing.

Uniformity: Blooming aside, the XVT3SV maintained brightness and color consistency across its screen better than any of the other LCDs in our lineup, and nearly as well as the plasmas. The banding we saw on the LH8500 and C8000 was nowhere to be found, and the edges of the screen were neither darker (as on the HX909) nor lighter (as on the C8000) than the middle.

From off-angle, however, the Vizio was among the worst in our lineup. Blooming intensified significantly, becoming a sort of blue cloud spreading from light into dark areas. Black-level performance fell off even more than on the other LEDs, although color shift was minimal.

Bright lighting: The XVT3 has the same screen as the 2XVT, and it also performed very well in this category. Its matte finish proved a big asset in well-lit environments, cutting down on reflections from light sources and bright objects more effectively than any of the other displays. It also preserved black levels better than the LG and the plasmas, albeit not quite as well as the Samsung or Sony LEDs.

Standard-definition: The set did relatively well on our standard-def tests, delivering the full resolution of DVD but looking a tad soft on the detail shot of the grass and stone bridge. Jaggies on moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag were kept to a happy minimum, and noise reduction functioned well to clean up the low-quality shots of skies and sunsets. The set engaged film mode, detecting 2:3 pull-down, properly.

PC: Via HDMI the XVT3 performed as well as any 1080p display should, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel source with crisp details and no overscan. Via its VGA-style PC input, the image was acceptable but less perfect, with edge enhancement we couldn't completely remove without softening the image, and some subtle flashing in high-res areas.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6426/6409 Good
After color temp 6484/6511 Good
Before grayscale variation 26.9 Good
After grayscale variation 34.8 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.644/0.331 Good
Color of green 0.303/0.605 Good
Color of blue 0.154/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Vizio XVT3SV series, but we did test the 55-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Vizio XVT553SV.

How we test TVs

Vizio XVT473SV
8.0

Vizio XVT3SV

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8
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