For the past few years, the major design trend in flat-panel HDTVs has been "thinner and lighter." LED/LCDs had a huge advantage in this area, thanks to the shift away from full-array LED backlighting to edge arrays that only put the LEDs around the screen's edges. Consumers love the sleek form, and manufacturers love that it's cheaper to produce and ship. There's only one problem with edge LED: the picture quality, at least from a home theater perspective, is often sub-par because edge-lit displays can suffer from a serious lack of screen/brightness uniformity. With darker content, the outer edges of the TV are clearly brighter than the middle, and there are often patches of brightness around the scene that make the picture look "cloudy." Adding some type of local/frame dimming can help to fine-tune the edge lighting system, but it's still not as precise as a well-implemented full-array LED backlight system with local dimming (and certainly not as good as plasma or OLED).
Now (thankfully) we're seeing a shift back toward full-array LED systems in the high-performance arena. Personally, I will happily accept a slightly thicker, heavier cabinet to get better picture quality. With many LED/LCD manufacturers, these full-array designs are only available at the top of the line--i.e., the really expensive TVs. However, Vizio shook up the whole flat-panel category by announcing that most of its 2014 TV line, even the budget series, would use full-array LED backlighting with local dimming. The difference between each series is the number of dimmable zones employed. The more dimmable zones the LED array has, the more precise the backlighting adjustment can be and the less glow (or halo effect) you will see around bright objects against a dark background--which is the potential drawback to local dimming LED displays compared with self-emitting technologies like plasma and OLED in which each pixel creates its own light.
Vizio's M Series is the mid-level offering in the company's lineup, above the budget E Series that features 18 dimmable zones and below the P Series Ultra HD models that use up to 72 zones. The M Series promises up to 36 zones and includes screen sizes of 32, 42, 49, 50, 55, 60, 65, and 70 inches (there's also a new 80-inch M801i-A3, but it uses an edge array). Vizio sent me the 60-inch M602i-B3 for review, which has 32 dimmable zones and a 240Hz "effective refresh rate" with Clear Action 720 technology to reduce motion blur and film judder. On the features side, the M Series includes the full Vizio Internet Apps (V.I.A.) Plus smart TV platform, with built-in WiFi and a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard. None of the 2014 Vizio TV models offers 3D capability. The M602i-B3 carries an MSRP of $1,249.99.
Setup and Features
The M602i-B3 has a simple but stylish design, with about a half inch of black bezel around the screen and a brushed silver accent strip around the cabinet's edge. The matching brushed-silver stand is a simple square with the center cut out; it does not swivel, but the TV felt very stable and secure in it. Despite the full-array LED system, the cabinet size and weight are not unwieldy by any stretch. The 60-inch model weighs 46.36 pounds without the stand and has a cabinet depth of 2.49 inches.
The M602i-B3's connection panel includes four HDMI inputs (three down-facing and one side-facing), one shared component/composite input, one RF input to access the internal tuners, optical and stereo analog audio outputs, an Ethernet port for a wired network connection (again, WiFi is also built-in), and one USB port for media playback. One of the HDMI inputs has support for Audio Return Channel (ARC), but none of them supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL).
The setup menu includes most of the advanced picture adjustments we like to see, even adding two that were absent in previous years: 11-point white balance adjustment and a color management system to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six color points (still no gamma adjustment, though). Six preset picture modes are available, including Calibrated and Calibrated Dark modes that are designed to be the most accurate options out of the box. Once you start tweaking the picture adjustments, the TV automatically creates Custom modes for your new settings (which can be re-named and locked). Backlight brightness can be adjusted via either a manual 100-step backlight control or an automatic brightness tool that adjusts the light output to suit your viewing conditions. You can choose to enable or disable the Active LED Zones (local dimming) function, and two controls--Motion Blur Reduction and Smooth Motion Effect--address the issues of blur and judder. Smooth Motion Effect interpolates new frames in order to reduce both motion blur and film judder, which results in smoother motion with film sources (aka the Soap Opera Effect), and you can choose between low, medium, and high options. Motion Blur Reduction uses black-frame insertion to further reduce blur; MBR reduces light output, but you can always compensate for that by upping the backlight.
On the audio side, the TV uses two rear-firing speakers. There are no preset sound modes, but you do get DTS TruVolume and TruSurround, plus a five-band equalizer to fine-tune the sound. I found the M602i-B3's speakers to offer solid vocal clarity and good dynamic ability; I didn't have to push the volume very high to get the needed dynamics. It's not the most natural-sounding audio, but it's respectable for a set of TV speakers.
The supplied IR remote control is small without being overly so. It puts a lot of black buttons on a black background and lacks backlighting, but at least the layout is intuitive, and some buttons are easily distinguished by their shape. Best of all, you can flip the remote over to access a full QWERTY keyboard to speed up the text-entry process when signing in and searching the various Web apps in the smart TV platform. Thankfully, the keyboard side is backlit. Since Vizio does not offer an iOS/Android control app with a virtual keyboard, I'm happy to see that the company brought back this dual-sided remote design (which was absent last year). I find it to be even more effective than those iOS/Android apps because the keyboard actually worked with every app I tried (including Netflix).
Speaking of apps, the Vizio Internet Apps Plus (V.I.A. Plus) smart TV platform is very straightforward and easy to operate. Just hit the V button in the center of the remote control, and it brings up a banner along the bottom of the screen where you can scroll the Web offerings -- including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, Hulu Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Yahoo Widgets. With the Multimedia icon, you can access music, photo, and video files from a connected DLNA server or USB flash drive. There's also an icon for the Yahoo! Smart TV App Store that launches a full-screen interface where you can browse your existing apps and add new ones to the V.I.A. Plus banner. At this writing, there were over 100 apps to choose from in the Yahoo store, and most of the majors are represented, with the exception of HBO Go and the big sports apps like MLB.TV. Vizio's smart TV service doesn't include all the bells and whistles you get from manufacturers like Samsung and LG, such as voice/motion control, advanced search and content-recommendation tools, advanced integration with your cable/satellite box, a Web browser, and the iOS/Android control app with content sharing and screen mirroring. You can do second-screen sharing specifically with Netflix and YouTube, thanks to the TV's support for the DIAL protocol, which works a lot like Chromecast.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...