With 4K and OLED presumably right around the corner, it may not make a lot of sense for anyone to be too excited for a measly 'ol HDTV - but I am. Just because "better" may be out there doesn't mean our current standard HD is ready to go quietly into that good night; if anything, I think it may have its best days ahead. Case in point: the all-new Vizio E601i-A3 (E601i) 60-inch edge-lit LED HDTV. Retail priced at under $1,000 retail ($999.99 to be exact), this 60-inch display not only puts stalwarts like Sharp and Panasonic on notice, it is a clear shot across 4K's bow. If HD can't beat 4K in the resolution war, then it will take the fight to the consumer where it matters most - the wallet. But is the Vizio good enough to consider buying, knowing 4K is just around the bend? That is what I wanted to find out.
I have to admit, Vizio is among the more exciting brands in the consumer space, if for no other reason than they're never boring. While high-end enthusiasts may shrug at Vizio's Costco brand image and dismiss them as entry-level, I don't. Vizio has changed the game in more ways than one, and whether you like its products or despise them, we should all give credit where credit is due. Without Vizio, companies like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Sharp would have had no reason to compete in the price wars as feverishly as they have in recent years. Moreover, unlike its competitors, Vizio has been actively trying to bolster its brand image by manufacturing increasingly better-performing models, while other companies cut corners and/or features in order to compete on cost.
The E601i is a prime example of where I believe Vizio is headed, for it not only shatters the 60-inch price barrier originally set by Sharp, it looks the part of a higher-end product than nearly any other budget-oriented display I've seen recently. Taking a page out of the Kuro handbook (yes, I went there and it won't be the last time), the E601i looks more tailored than gimmicky, thanks to its narrow (but not edgeless) black bezel. The bezel itself is a mere three quarters of an inch thick on all sides and is finished in gloss black. There's no gaudy silver surround or accent in the style that seems to be going around these days; even the Vizio nameplate is largely hidden from prominence, thanks to its near black-on-black silk screening. I like that. The display itself (without the included stand) measures 54 inches wide by 32 inches tall and just under two inches deep. The E601i, despite its size, is manageable in its weight, tipping the scales at 54 pounds, again, without its stand. With the included stand, the E601i's weight jumps to nearly 62 pounds and the depth increases to 11 inches.
Around back, it's more good news: the inputs are clearly and neatly laid out with enough real estate to accommodate both chunky terminations and aid in proper cable management, something that many edge-lit LED displays lack. Inputs are both side-mounted and bottom-mounted and include four HDMI (two side, two down), one component (side), one composite (side), one VGA (bottom), one RF (bottom), one Ethernet (bottom) and two USB (side). Outputs include an SPDIF digital audio out (bottom) and an analog audio out (bottom).
Behind the scenes, the E601i sports a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. The backlighting comes by way of Vizio's Razor LED system, which is to say it is edge-lit. The E601i is not a 3D-enabled display, but it does pack nearly everything else. Color is said to be 10-bit, with a reported contrast ratio of one million to one (dynamic). The refresh rate is 120Hz, with a response time of four milliseconds. Vizio claims a viewing angle of 176 degrees, which I'll get into later in this review. The E601i has two 10-watt internal speakers with SRS StudioSound, TruSurround HD and SRS TruVolume capability. The E601i boasts Vizio's own VIA Internet App platform that brings Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Hulu Plus and more to the party. The Internet Apps can be accessed via Ethernet or wireless Internet connection. The E601i can also access multimedia content, be it images, music or movies stored on your home network or DLNA-compatible device. No list of compatible file formats is given, though past Vizio displays have been compatible with most major music and movie formats, such as MP3, MP4 and more. The E601i also features Smooth Motion and ambient light sensor technology.
As for the E601i's remote, it is more or less the same as what we've seen from Vizio for the past two or three generations. It features a full QWERTY keyboard, as well as quick access Internet keys for function with Netflix and other services. It isn't backlit and is on the smaller side of average, given that it boasts a full keyboard, but at the same time, it is functional and feels solid in hand.
The E601i arrived on my doorstep before its official public unveiling, though it was not a pre-production unit. The box itself is surprisingly thin for a display as large as the E601i, but it is well-packed and everything arrived safely. Unboxing the E601i is easy enough for a single person; while I was able to move it solo, that's not recommended. The included table base attaches to E601i via three small screws, which are located in a small bag alongside the display's other accessories, including the remote and power cord. Within a few minutes, I had the E601i placed and ready for calibration atop my Omni+ Vent equipment rack.
Upon power-up, the E601i will prompt you with a series of setup procedures, the most important of these being the initial option, which is whether or not to put the display into "store" or "home" mode. Whatever you do, do not put the E601i into its "store" mode if you plan on a) viewing it in a home and b) wish to perform any higher-level image adjustment and/or calibration to the display. The "store" mode is selected by default (why, I have no idea), so you must select "home" before proceeding. You've been warned.
I arranged for my friend and THX-certified calibrator Ray Coronado of SoCalHT to come over to help me with the E601i's calibration. Out of the box, we measured the E601i's default picture setting, which was "standard." In standard mode, the E601i's panel measured at a staggering 52 foot lamberts. Grey-scale was good, with a measured gamma of 2.0. Colorimetry was average, with the biggest shift being red, which pulled towards yellow, resulting in a slight orange hue. The light output was a little shy of the SMPTE standard in Movie mode, but this can easily be rectified by raising the Backlight setting a few clicks. The standard picture mode is an offset of the Movie mode. The higher gamma in Movie mode is desirable approaching the newly established reference for video mastering of 2.4 set by the ITU (International Broadcast Union) one of the industry's leading standards setting committees. So for complete light controlled environments the Movie mode is best, and for viewing conditions that require slightly brighter pictures the Standard mode is recommended.
Thankfully, the E601i provides you with a "custom" option. As a side note, the E601i has more image presets than any display I've seen in recent memory; it even goes so far as to separate all of the major professional sports into their own image presets. Post-THX calibration, we measured the E601i at a solid 40 foot-lamberts, with improved grey-scale tracking (average Delta E error of 1.6) and gamma measuring at 2.15. Since the E601i does not have any sort of CMS functionality, the only thing we were able to set definitively was the display's white point; when it was properly set, it did improve the E601i's colorimetry a bit. We were able to better tweak the color by manipulating the E601i's basic color and tint controls, but should you need (or demand) absolute color accuracy, you'd have to rely on an outboard device, such as a DVDO Duo or the like. It should be noted that there are a number of budget displays that lack CMS control, so while this is a knock against the E601i, it is not exclusive to it. It should also be noted that many so-called high-end displays, such as Sony's VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector, also lack CMS controls. Still, post-calibration, the E601i's color accuracy was above average and, in practical viewing, it proved to be largely a non-issue, as test patterns, test images and the like looked natural and even textbook.
Before I move to the E601i's performance, I want to talk briefly about its edge lighting system. Out of the box, and in any of its preconfigured image modes, there is some visible edge light leak when viewing low light or dark images. It's not as bad as many of today's edgeless designs, but the light leak is still present. We were able to minimize and in some instances effectively eliminate its edge light deficiencies by balancing the display's overall brightness through the use of backlighting and brightness. Keeping both adjustments more or less around the halfway point (50s for brightness and low 60s for backlighting) proved ideal. Additionally, thanks to the E601i's contrast capabilities, we were able to further augment brightness, without sacrificing contrast, by bumping up the contrast. This three-way dance, when done correctly, resulted in little to no edge light leaks and some of the richest black levels I've seen in an edge-lit LED display.
I kicked my evaluation off with James Cameron's Avatar on Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox). I didn't chapter ahead; instead, I opted to let the film play from the beginning, since there are a myriad of bright and dark scenes in rapid succession. The shots of the transport ship steaming through the blackness of space were jaw-dropping. The E601i's edge lighting system did not betray the image in any way as the deep, dark blackness of outer space was rendered brilliantly. Truthfully, there's only one LED HDTV that I've seen in recent memory with the same black level fidelity I witnessed through the E601i, and that is the Elite from Sharp at five or six times the E601i's price. Part of the reason for this discrepancy, I believe, is the E601i's matte finish screen, as opposed to most LEDs' high-gloss screens.
Read more about the performance of the Vizio E601i-A3 on Page 2.