Anyone who claims the launch of 3D has gone well is lying. While 3D may be virtually everywhere that doesn't mean consumers have been buying, but that hasn't stopped manufacturers from trying to sell 3D at seemingly every turn. 3D HDTVs are now in their second generation (or possibly third depending on who you ask) and unlike first gen 3D displays, the second coming features a host of - wait for it - passive 3D displays. Yay. Early 3D sets were costly and required a host of specialty equipment to function properly, not to mention they introduced consumers to the world of active shutter glasses. Cumbersome and expensive, active shutter glasses became a punch line during 3D's initial offering.
Well, that was then and this is now and many manufacturers are over active 3D and are trying to make amends with consumers by offering passive 3D displays, complete with 3D glasses, that are not only easier on the eyes but far easier on their wallets as well. Case in point: the 42-inch Vizio E Series Class Theater 3D LCD HDTV (E3D420VX) reviewed here. At $729.99 retail, the 42-inch E Series HDTV is one of, if not the most affordable, 3D HDTV currently available.
The E3D420VX looks decidedly KURO-esq with its shiny, piano black bezel and matte black speakers mounted below. I must say that Vizio has stepped up their industrial design with each product cycle and the E3D420VX is one of the more minimal yet attractive displays out there. Measuring a little over 40-inches wide by 26 inches tall and three inches deep without the stand, the E3D420VX is compact but by no means Kate Moss thin; however for a traditional LCD it's far from bulky. Using the E3D420VX's included tabletop stand adds a little more than an inch to the display's height and a full six inches to its depth. I should point out that the E3D420VX's stand does not allow for any kind of movement or tilt but more on that later. Surprisingly the E3D420VX has an LED-like weight, tipping the scales at a scant 33 pounds.
The E3D420VX is, as its name implies, a 42-inch, passive 3D, 1080p display that uses 3D CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps) back lighting over of the increasingly popular LED back or edge lighting, no doubt a cost saving measure, for Vizio's LED-based 3D sets start at $1,399.99. The E3D420VX is the first of Vizio's newest passive 3D HDTV lineup, featuring Vizio's own Theater 3D technology. The E3D420VX comes with two pairs of polarized glasses. If you need more than two pairs of polarized 3D glasses Vizio sells additional glasses starting at $29.99 (polarized) and topping out at $129.99 (active) on their website. Of course, if you've seen a 3D film in theaters recently you can hang onto those glasses and use them at home for the E3D420VX is RealD compatible. For more on 3D please visit Home Theater Review's, The ABCs of 3D: Key Terms You Need to Know.
Vizio states that the E3D420VX can display 16.7 million colors and has a dynamic contrast ratio of 200,000:1. The E3D420VX is a 120Hz display with a five-millisecond response time and a viewable angle of 178-degrees. The E3D420VX features two internal, 10-Watt loudspeakers with SRS StudioSound, SRS TruSound HD and SRS TruVolume DSP support. In terms of inputs or connection options the E3D420VX does have quite a few including three HDCP and 3D compliant HDMI inputs (two on the back and one on the side); one component input, one composite input, a single RGB computer input, analog audio input, RF input for the internal tuner and a 10/100 Base - TX Ethernet port. The E3D420VX features 802.11 Single Band WiFi capability is built in, meaning if you have a wireless network setup in your home the E3D420VX will be able to access it without any additional dongles or wires. Built in WiFi is not only handy but a benefit when it comes to utilizing the preloaded Internet Apps such as Netflix, Vudu, Blockbuster, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Yahoo, Pandora and more. Surprisingly the E3D420VX does not have any sort of Bluetooth support. E3D420VX has two USB 2.0 inputs with MP3 and JPEG support located along the left side of the display and below the set's hard controls. As far as outputs go the E3D420VX has a single optical digital out and an analog audio out.
Which brings me to the E3D420VX's remote: a small, non-backlit affair that is double sided with one containing all the necessary controls for the HDTV's various functions and the other a small qwerty keyboard for use with the various Internet Apps.
Installing the E3D420VX is an easy enough job for a single person unless you're wall mounting it, in which case I would recommend employing the help of a friend. Making the requisite connections between my 3D enabled Sony BDP-S580 was also a breeze thanks to the E3D420VX's well laid out and cleanly labeled back panel. I also connected my Dish Network HD DVR and Apple TV to the E3D420VX, which utilized all of its three HDMI inputs. I connected all my sources using two-meter length, High Speed, 3D compliant HDMI cables from Planet Waves, including one with a 90-degree termination for use on the E3D420VX's side mounted HDMI input.
Because I didn't have a very long evaluation period with the E3D420VX I didn't bother connecting it to the rest of my reference system, which meant I relied on it for both picture and sound.
Calibrating the E3D420VX was a breeze thanks in part to its wonderful menu with controls for virtually every picture parameter one could think of. Out of the box the E3D420VX isn't what I'd call calibrated though it's far from obnoxious. I used two calibration discs to dial in the E3D420VX's image: first Monster/ISF's HDTV Calibration Wizard on DVD and second, Digital Video Essentials on Blu-ray. I used two different discs because I felt that at the E3D420VX's asking price consumers would be willing to pop for the less expensive, less in-depth HDTV Calibration Wizard. However I also wanted to see how zeroed in the E3D420VX could be when using a far more professional disc such as DVE. Surprisingly, the less expensive HDTV Calibration Wizard produced a very pleasing image and one that wasn't far off from the calibration figures obtained using the Digital Video Essentials disc. I say surprisingly because I've owned a number of Vizio HDTVs over the years and the E3D420VX is the first I've encountered that included such a "professional" level of control when it came to calibration. I went ahead and disabled all of the E3D420VX's picture gimmicks such as its Ambient Light Sensor, dynamic contrast modes and motion processing for their presence was detrimental to the image and with regards to the Ambient Light Sensor completely noticeable and distracting. After about 30 minutes futzing around with the various on-screen menus and making my way through two different calibration discs, I had the E3D420VX pretty much dialed in and ready to rock and roll.
Once the image was calibrated I went ahead and connected the E3D420VX to my home wireless network. Connecting the E3D420VX to my wireless network was a breeze and within two minutes of entering my router's password I was changing my facebook status, reading my latest tweets and watching Netflix streaming content all while watching an episode of Fringe on Fox. Pretty cool - but a bit A.D.D.
I began my evaluation of the E3D420VX with some good ol' 2D material by way of the sci-fi cult classic Fringe (Fox) on Fox. Broadcast in HD (1080i), Fringe looked positively cinematic when viewed through the E3D420VX's matte finish screen. I'm a huge fan of matte finish screens on HDTVs for I find images appear more natural, though I know high gloss sells better for it allows for colors to "pop" and brightness to reign supreme. Still, there was plenty to be excited about when watching Fringe via the E3D420VX, for the colors all appeared natural and the black levels were solid and possessed excellent texture and detail. Highlights in the image, especially near the edges of the screen, showcased the E3D420VX's lack of backlight uniformity resulting in a subtle vignette effect. Artifacts were kept to a minimum and largely the result of the compression used in the broadcast and not due to lackluster performance on the E3D420VX's part.
Read more about the E3D420VX passive 3D HDTV's performance on Page 2.
Moving up the food chain I cued up the Oscar winning The King's Speech on Blu-ray (Anchor Bay). The film features two distinct color palettes: a cold steely blue that represents the "outside" world juxtaposed against the warm, lush tones that make up the "royal" world. The E3D420VX presented both palettes faithfully and with distinction. The E3D420VX's ability to showcase detail and texture was also on display, clearly evident in the distressed walls of many of the film's set pieces. As impressive as some of the more dilapidated dwellings were in terms of showcasing the E3D420VX's textural and detail abilities, it was its rendering of fine details such as stitching, thread density and patterns that excited me, for previous Vizio displays were never wholly detail oriented, instead they seemed more focused on bringing the viewer an all-round performance - not the case with the E3D420VX. The E3D420VX's black level performance during The King's Speech was also quite impressive, again possessing a richness that was rife with detail, but ultimately lacking in absolute depth. However at its asking price the E3D420VX is far from the worst I've seen. During the scene in the park the E3D420VX's tendency to vignette along the edges was present, only this time it was more noticeable thanks in part to the blown out highlights of the scene. Still, despite the somewhat "bloomy" nature of the exposure and visual style of the film, the E3D420VX's sharpness and edge fidelity was crisp and natural creating a true sense of dimension without having to rely on 3D gimmicks or glasses.
Speaking of 3D, I cued up Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony) on Blu-ray 3D next. Resident Evil is a favorite guilty pleasure of mine and the fourth installment, Afterlife, didn't disappoint. When viewing a 3D disc, the E3D420VX will ask if you wish to view said content in 3D; by selecting yes the 3D portion of the Blu-ray disc will automatically play. You can toggle between the 3D and 2D layer by simply hitting the 3D button on the E3D420VX's remote, should you wish to compare and contrast. Within seconds of the film's beginning I sensed something was off with my calibration.
I pulled up the E3D420VX's image controls and discovered that not only were my calibration settings different, they had disappeared all together. When viewing 3D content the E3D420VX automatically switches the image setting to one of two presets, Standard or Movie - both of which peg the brightness and contrast in order to combat 3D's duller image. A nice feature but also one that is difficult to adjust or calibrate for there are no 3D calibration discs, not to mention you can't access the 3D picture modes unless you're watching 3D source material. I decided not to adjust the E3D420VX's 3D presets and carried on with my viewing.
I hate 3D, as I don't believe it adds anything to the story or the experience of watching a good film on a big screen. In my opinion 3D is a gimmick used largely to distract audiences from poor storytelling as well as sucker them out of a few extra bucks for the "privilege." Furthermore, I believe 3D in the home is even worse and less relevant, for the effect has been lackluster at best and the experience underwhelming, no doubt the result of smaller screen sizes and a complete lack of a uniform standard.
That being said, I don't despise the E3D420VX's 3D performance, for if I have to watch content in 3D, the E3D420VX's use of the technology is the most pleasing I've encountered outside of a movie theater - no doubt the result of the two taking the same passive approach. While I found the E3D420VX's 42-inch screen to be a bit underwhelming when viewing 3D content, the 3D effects contained within were rendered flicker free (to me) and with crispness I haven't seen in previous, active, 3D designs. Absent from the E3D420VX's 3D image were the rainbow-like effects or ghosting that plagued early 3D displays. Despite 3D's tendency to dull colors and reduce clarity, the E3D420VX's 3D image remained punchy and vibrant but still natural. Black level did lose a bit in terms of depth and some finer details and texture were lost to 3D but nothing that was too distracting from the overall enjoyment. I was pleasantly surprised by the E3D420VX's viewing angle when it came to 3D for it was far from being a head-in-a-vice experience, in fact I sat in four separate locations within a fairly wide arc and was still able to retain much of the 3D effect throughout. Of course if I tilted my head towards my shoulders or laid down on my couch, the 3D effect diminished a bit.
I ended my evaluation of the E3D420VX by messing around a bit with the various included Internet apps. The E3D420VX comes with a Vudu credit good for one download so I went ahead and downloaded The King's Speech in order to compare the image quality to that of the Blu-ray disc. Vudu compresses its content using HDX, which unlike the MPEG compression found on Blu-ray discs, is said to be superior for streaming applications and optimized for larger HDTVs such as the E3D420VX. Not sure when 42-inches constituted a "larger" size but nevertheless there you have it. The act of using Vudu (or any of the various Internet Apps for that matter) via the E3D420VX is straightforward and intuitive - actually it was easier via the E3D420VX than it was to use Vudu via their own website on my computer. Then again, selecting a film on Vudu via the E3D420VX doesn't require one to use the Qwerty keyboard on the back of the remote. The time it takes to start watching your chosen film will depend largely on your home Internet connection. Once started, the film played without incident and with surprisingly good image quality - though it was nowhere near as good as the Blu-ray. Still, compared to many of Netflix's streaming content Vudu was superior in everyway.
About the only complaint I had with regards to using any of the Internet apps pre-loaded on the E3D420VX was that they were all controlled via the borderline useless remote. I even took the time to change my Facebook status via the remote's Qwerty keyboard and wanted to hurt myself after doing so for I had to practically stand on the keys in order for them to respond. While I realize I'm a generation removed from understanding the value of texting my life away, that doesn't mean I'm unable to tell the difference between a good remote and a bad one, the E3D420VX's remote being the latter.
Comparisons & Competition
Vizio is among the first to the party with passive 3D technology but they aren't the only ones. LG has a new line of passive 3D displays available, though they are a bit more in terms of cost and don't do as good of a job as the E3D420VX when viewing 3D content - at least in this reviewer's experience. However, I should mention that all of LG's passive 3D sets are LED based LCDs versus CCFL based LCDs and come in larger screen sizes than those found in the E Series from Vizio.
In fact LG's latest passive 3D displays feature what some of us here at Home Theater Review are referring to as the "jail bar" effect. Like screen door effect on LCD projectors, LG's latest crop of passive 3D displays feature faint vertical or horizontal lines (depending on the model) when watching 3D content, something the E3D420VX doesn't suffer from. The staff and I were introduced to the jail bar effect when we first set eyes upon Toshiba and Sony's glasses-free 3D sets at CES this past January and thought it was an anomaly exclusive to the glasses-free tech - but it appears it can also be present on passive 3D displays.
There are going to be a number of new displays in the coming months that feature passive 3D technology. For more information on passive 3D HDTVs or 3D HDTVs in general please visit Home Theater Review's 3D HDTV Review page.
For its asking price the E3D420VX is more than just an affordable 3D display; it's a nice HDTV overall. That being said, there are a few things that caught my attention and keep the E3D420VX from being a true giant killer. For starters the E3D420VX's warm up and signal acquisition time is horrendous. You can press power and wait upwards of 10 seconds before seeing the Vizio "V" appear on screen letting you know that the display itself is actually on. From there it is often another few seconds before an image is displayed. Switching between source components is equally frustrating.
The fact that the E3D420VX only has three HDMI inputs is a bit of a joke. My first generation 120Hz Samsung HDTV has three HDMI inputs, but that was four years ago. The idea that today's modern consumer can get away with only three is a bit asinine. I was unable to plug in my PS3 without first disconnecting either my AppleTV or Sony Blu-ray player.
The E3D420VX's remote sucks. Sorry, but it does. You have to mash on the buttons with everything you've got in order to get a response from the E3D420VX. The buttons are far too small and because they have zero backlighting they're impossible to see in the dark and thanks to their layout and shape virtually impossible to memorize by touch. The qwerty keyboard on the back is a nice touch for those who insist on overloading their brains by watching the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars while tweeting but even it is cumbersome and difficult to use. Get yourself a nice universal remote and you should be good to go.
The E3D420VX's internal speakers aren't that great and have a sort of hollow, tinny sound that is both distant and underwhelming. The SRS modes help in certain areas such as focus and presence but don't completely save the E3D420VX's internal speakers either.
The E3D420VX's back lighting isn't what I'd call uniform in that it's brightest towards the center of the screen and gradually becomes more dim as you approach the corners, resulting in a subtle vignette effect. This is most noticeable during brightly lit scenes or when presented with a large white background or graphic.
Lastly, at 42-inches diagonal, there is nothing immersive about the E3D420VX's 3D performance. While its 3D performance was good, displaying solid depth and 2D like focus that was free of nauseating flicker, it's not going to trick you into believing you're part of the experience. If anything the E3D420VX's already smallish screen appears smaller when viewing 3D content, especially when watching 2:35:1 content such as Resident Evil: Afterlife on Blu-ray.
At $729.99 retail the Vizio E3D420VX is a bargain among 3D HDTVs and among the first to feature passive 3D technology. The E3D420VX image both in 2D and 3D is surprisingly good, thanks in part to its copious picture controls and smooth, matte finish screen. For 3D viewing the E3D420VX is the first 3D display that I've been able to view an entire 3D film through without feeling the need to look away or worse vomit, which I know sounds gross but I assure you it's the highest praise I can bestow on a display such as the E3D420VX. While the E3D420VX's isn't without its quirks it's far and away a better HDTV than I was expecting and one of my new budget favorites. In fact, I'd be a fan of the E3D420VX at its asking price even if it didn't feature 3D display capability. If you're looking to get into the 3D game but want to bypass all the nonsense that surrounded first generation sets or are looking for a HDTV with Internet connectivity that doesn't break the bank, then look no further than Vizio's E3D420VX.