VIZIO's current TV lineup features a whole lotta TVs at a whole lotta price points, and it can be tricky to keep them all straight. So, I'm going to start this review with a quick summary. The TV lineup consists of five series: from highest to lowest priced, there's the R (Reference) Series, P Series, M Series, E Series, and D Series. The R, P, and M Series consist entirely of 4K TVs, but things aren't quite so straightforward in the E and D Series. Both of these lower-priced series include a mix of 1080p and 4K displays at a variety of screen sizes (the D Series even throws in a few 720p options at the smaller screen sizes).
All of VIZIO's displays use full-array LED backlighting, and most of the larger HD and UHD models have local dimming. The major difference between each series is in the number of independent, dimmable zones you get. The more zones, the better and more precise the black level will be. The lower-end D and E Series TVs generally range between 10 and 16 active zones, the M Series jumps up to 64 zones for most models, the P Series to 126 or 128, and the R Series to 384.
There are so many similarities between the D and E Series (in both groups, the exact features vary depending on screen size) that it's probably easier for me to highlight the one major difference: the D Series uses VIZIO's older V.I.A. Plus smart TV platform, while the E Series uses the new SmartCast system built around Chromecast/Google Cast.
The subject of this review is the 65-inch E65u-D3 from the E Series. This is a 4K LED/LCD display, but it does not have the HDR and Wide Color Gamut support that you'll find in the higher-priced 4K lines. This is also a monitor, meaning that it lacks an internal over-the-air TV tuner. The LED backlight has 12 active zones, and the monitor has a 120Hz effective refresh rate and a V8 Octa-core processor, with built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The value-oriented E65u-D3 currently sells for $849.99.
Setup and Features
The E65u-D3 has a simple but nice design. There's about a half inch of glossy black bezel around the screen, while the outer edge of the side panels features subtle diamond-shaped etchings. In lieu of the common center-oriented pedestal stand, VIZIO uses two V-shaped feet out at the edges of the monitor. They're very easy to install and help the display feel stable; but, on this 65-inch monitor, they're spaced 48 inches apart--which means that, unless you plan to wall- or stand-mount the monitor, you'll need a long, flat stand upon which to set it. The monitor measures about 2.8 inches deep and weighs 49.6 pounds without the feet.
The E65u-D3's connection panel sports four HDMI inputs (three down-facing and one side-facing); only HDMI 1 is 2.0 with ARC support, while the other three are 1.4. However, all four support HDCP 2.2 copy protection. Other connections include one component video/analog audio input set, two USB ports, optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. There's no RF input, since there's no internal tuners. My source devices included the Philips BDP7501 and Samsung UHD-K9500 UHD Blu-ray players, an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, and a Dish Network Hopper 3 UHD DVR, all connected via HDMI.
The IR remote that comes with the monitor is a small, light device that feels pretty cheap and plasticky. It offers only 11 buttons, for volume up/down, channel up/down, mute, power, input, picture mode, aspect ratio, pairing, and enter/play/pause. Most of these buttons are teeny little round black buttons, placed on a black background--and all of them are crowded together at the top of the remote, while the bottom half remains completely empty. It's a strangely unintuitive design ... well, strange until you come to a very important realization. VIZIO does not want you to use this remote control ... like, ever.
Why do I say this? Because VIZIO's new SmartCast system is built around the use of a mobile device like tablet or smartphone to control the TV and the streaming content you want to watch on it. From the M Series on up, VIZIO actually includes a full-fledged Android tablet to use as the remote control. But E Series owners don't get that tablet/remote; you're expected to download the SmartCast app to your own iOS or Android device if you want to perform any advanced setup or enjoy any smart TV features on the E65u-D3.
Consequently, the first thing you're asked to do when you power up the TV is download the app and pair your mobile device with the display. You can skip this step if you don't have a mobile device, but I had my iPhone 6 on hand...and it already had the SmartCast app on it from when I recently reviewed the SmartCast-enabled SB4551 soundbar. I connected the E65u to my network via Ethernet and paired it with my iPhone via Wi-Fi. (Bluetooth pairing is also an option, but it did not work for me.)
Once the pairing process is complete, you can use the SmartCast app as your remote control, with no line-of-sight needed between controller and display. The app's Home page features controls for power, input, aspect ratio, volume up/down, mute, and picture mode. There's also a little icon that takes you to the advanced Settings area. Yes, all settings must be adjusted via the app; the monitor lacks any type of onscreen menu system.
Within that Settings menu, the E65u features the standard arsenal of advanced picture adjustments. You get: six picture modes (Calibrated, Calibrated Dark, Standard, Vivid, Game, and Computer); three color temperature presets and both 2-point and 11-point white balance controls; a color management system with hue, saturation, and brightness controls for all six color points; five gamma presets; a 100-step adjustable backlight and an auto brightness feature that adjusts the image based on room lighting; noise reduction; and a low-latency mode for gaming. You have the choice to enable or disable the local dimming via a setting called Active LED Zones (I recommend you leave it enabled all the time). Finally, VIZIO offers a Clear Action on/off control that enables backlight scanning to improve motion resolution.
In the sound department, the E65u has two down-firing 10-watt speakers. The Audio menu includes generic surround sound and volume leveling tools, as well as balance and lip sync adjustment. If you're planning to connect the display to a non-HDMI-equipped soundbar, you can configure the digital audio output for auto, PCM, Dolby Digital, or bitstream. The quality of the internal speakers is adequate at best. The overall dynamic ability is decent, but everything sounds a little tinny and hollow.
We've discussed how the SmartCast app functions as a remote control. Now let's discuss its other role--as the backbone of the smart TV experience. VIZIO's previous V.I.A. Plus platform was built into the TV, as is the case with most smart TV offerings. You would use the remote to launch the onscreen V.I.A. Plus interface, choose your desired app, open it, and find content to stream. The company has basically thrown this proprietary platform out the window and embraced Chromecast instead.
As I mentioned above, there's no onscreen menu system at all; your mobile device serves as the central launching point for all streamed content. Just open a Chromeast-compatible app on your tablet or phone, pick something to watch, and hit the Cast button--the content is then handed off to the E65u to stream. You can see a full list of Chromecast-compatible apps here, but it includes Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, VUDU, Google Play, FandangoNOW, HBO Now/Go, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and many, many more. One notable service that is still not Cast-compatible is Amazon Video. However, you can cast Amazon Video content (and lots of other content) to the TV from the Chrome Web browser on your computer--although I must stress that casting video from the Chrome browser is not the most reliable or highest quality way to view video content.
The SmartCast app serves as a browsing hub. On the Home page, you can view content options listed under TV Shows, Movies, Music, Live TV, and more. Select any given title, and the app will show you which services offer that title. For instance, if I go to Movies and select Jurassic World, the app tells me that it's available to buy from FandangoNOW and VUDU. If I select VUDU, I'm redirected to the VUDU app to initiate playback and cast it to the TV.
Currently, these cross-platform search results appear to be limited to VUDU, FandangoNOW, Hulu, and I saw Crackle appear once. For the Live TV section, you can input your cable/satellite provider info, and SmartCast will add an "On Now" option where you can see if a certain TV show or movie is now playing or coming soon in your channel lineup. The Music section includes direct access to iHeartRadio stations, so you can launch a channel directly within SmartCast without being redirected to the iHeartMusic app.
In general, the Google Cast experience worked well for me. I had no trouble casting content from iOS apps like YouTube, Pandora, VUDU, and Google Play, and I was successfully able to cast 4K/UHD content from the likes of YouTube and VUDU. The big plus is that you can browse content on your phone without interrupting whatever is currently playing on the TV screen.
The SmartCast app is a nice browsing tool, but it definitely has some kinks. For instance, if I return to my example above in which I selected Jurassic World and was taken to the VUDU app, I was informed that I could not buy the movie through the app. I had to go to VUDU.com through a Web browser to purchase the movie, then come back to the app to play it. I would classify that as "less intuitive" than simply launching a VUDU app through an integrated smart TV platform. Granted, that's an issue with VUDU, not SmartCast--but that's the risk VIZIO has chosen to take by going the Google Cast route. Your smart TV experience is now at the mercy of other people's apps.
As always, the first step in my official evaluation is to measure the different picture modes to see which one is the most accurate right out of the box. As with previous VIZIO models, the Calibrated Dark mode proved to be closest to reference standards for HD content (D65 color temp, Rec 709 color, 2.2 gamma average). The Calibrated picture mode was a very close second. Both modes are quite similar; but, as the name suggests, the Dark mode is better suited for a dark room, while the basic Calibrated mode is better for a bright room.
The Calibrated Dark mode's out-of-the-box numbers were decent but not quite as good as some previous VIZIO TVs I've measured (like last year's M65-C1). The maximum gray-scale Delta Error was 12.05 (anything under five is considered good, and anything under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye), and the color temperature was overly cool or blue. (In fact, all the picture modes were too blue in the color-temp department.) In terms of color accuracy, green, magenta, and yellow had a Delta Error under three, red was close at 3.2, while blue and cyan fell in 6-8 range. (Check out the measurement charts on page two for more details.)
It's fair to assume that most shoppers in this price range aren't going to pony up several hundred dollars to have their TV professionally calibrated; however, if you were to do so, you'd see a definite improvement, at least in the gray-scale department. By adjusting the RGB gain/offset controls and selecting the 2.4 gamma preset, I was able to lower the gray-scale Delta Error to just 2.55, tighten up the white balance to remove the excess blue, and obtain a gamma average right at the 2.2 target. It's worth noting that any changes you make to the RGB gain/offset controls applies to both the Calibrated and Calibrated Dark modes, so my single set of adjustments actually improved two picture modes at once.
The color department was another story. The color management system did not work at all in this TV. VIZIO says that it should, but it didn't. When I used the CMS in the iOS app to make adjustments to the hue, saturation, and brightness of each color, the TV registered that I was changing the numbers (it shows the slider bar changing on the screen), but nothing actually changed in the color itself. So, the only changes that occurred in the color points happened as a by-product of the other aspects of calibration.
In the brightness department, the E65u offers a solid amount of light output, although it's not as bright as last year's M65-C1 or the new crop of high-end HDR-capable TVs I've reviewed. The brightest but least accurate modes are Vivid and Standard, which measured about 120 foot-lamberts with a full-white field test pattern. The Calibrated mode measured 87 ft-L, while the Calibrated Dark mode measured 46 ft-L. The Calibrated mode was an excellent choice for bright-room viewing of sports and HDTV content; it had ample brightness for my room and served up a clean, detailed, vibrant image. The E65u's screen is reflective to help reject ambient light and improve contrast in a bright room, so you will be able to see some reflections of objects and people in the screen.
Now let's talk black-level performance. I ran through my standard arsenal of black-level demo scenes from Gravity, The Martian, The Bourne Supremacy, Flags of Our Fathers, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. I confess, I've been spoiled these past months, having an OLED TV as my reference display. It shouldn't come as a surprise that this $900 TV did not hold its own against the OLED when it comes to reproducing the darkest scenes and the finest black details, but the E65u did perform admirably. The full-array backlight allows for good screen uniformity in dark scenes; there's no light bleed from the corners or uneven patches of light around the screen, as you often get with edge-lit LED panels. The black bars in 2.35:1 movies were nice and dark, and overall the black level was deep enough to provide a nice level of image saturation in a darkened room. However, since the monitor only has 12 active zones in the backlight grid, it's not terribly precise in handling scenes where light and dark elements are mixed together. You'll definitely see some halos around bright objects, and I sometimes saw a subtle shifting of the black level as the local dimming function made its adjustments.
The E65u-D3 serves up a nicely detailed image, whether the source is DVD, HD, or UHD. This monitor passed the film, video, and assorted cadence tests (both 480i and 1080i) on my HQV and Spears & Munsil test discs; it was a little slow to detect the 3:2 cadence in DVDs, so I occasionally saw some moire and other artifacts in DVD demo scenes, but otherwise I saw no major issues.
Finally, in the area of motion resolution, enabling the Clear Acton mode produced a definite improvement in the motion-resolution test patterns and demo scenes on the FPD Benchmark BD test disc. Because it achieves this through backlight scanning, you do lose some light output in the process, but you may find that to be a worthy sacrifice if you're especially sensitive to motion blur. Higher-end VIZIO TVs include the option to engage a frame interpolation/smoothing tool to reduce film judder, but this model does not offer that feature.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...