At VIZIO's line show back in April, the company showed off two new series of 4K Ultra HD televisions: the top-shelf Reference Series with Dolby Vision HDR support, available in 65- and 120-inch screen sizes; and the lower-tier M Series, which lacks the HDR support and comes in screen sizes ranging from 43 to 80 inches. Just last week, VIZIO announced official pricing for the Reference Series TVs, which can be special-ordered through the company website: the 65-incher will carry an MSRP of $5,999.99, while the 120-incher will cost a mere $129,999.99. If those prices are slightly beyond your television budget, perhaps you'll want to look at the M Series instead. VIZIO kindly sent us a review sample of the 65-inch M65-C1, which currently sells for $1,499.99. The 70- to 80-inchers range in price from $1,999.99 to $3,999.99.
If you recall from my review of last year's M602i-B3, the M Series used to be a 1080p line, while UHD models fell into the P Series. So far this year, the P Series has not been updated (although last year's models are still available). The new M Series, meanwhile, has been bumped up to an Ultra HD resolution, leaving the entry-level E Series as the only 1080p option in VIZIO's lineup.
All nine of this year's M Series TVs include a full-array LED backlight system with local dimming. With the exception of the 43-inch model, all have 32 dimmable zones (the 43-inch M43-C1 has 28 zones). What does that mean? The more zones the backlighting system has, the more precise the TV's fine shading can be, which means less glow or halo effect around bright objects in dark scenes. (In comparison, the Reference Series will have 384 zones!) The M65-C1 uses a 120Hz panel with backlight scanning to produce an "effective" 240Hz rate, and it features VIZIO's VIA Plus smart TV platform with a V6 six-core processor and built-in dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The M65-C1's $1,500 asking price certainly falls at the low end of the price spectrum for a 65-inch Ultra HD TV. How does this model's performance compare with some of the more expensive offerings, and what features do you give up to get that price? Let's dig in and find out.
Setup and Features
Because the M65-C1 uses full-array LED backlighting, its cabinet is a little thicker (but not necessarily heavier) than comparable models that use edge LED lighting. The M65-C1 measures 57.39 inches high by 32.87 wide by 2.52 deep and weighs 60.72 pounds without the stand. The 65-inch Samsung UN65JS8500 that I recently reviewed measures just 1.2 inches deep but weighs a comparable 60.8 pounds. About a half inch of black bezel surrounds the screen, and a thin, brushed-aluminum border runs around the cabinet. Instead of a center-oriented pedestal stand, the M65-C1 uses two cast-aluminum corner feet. This design is easy to set up, looks nice, and provides very good stability; however, it does require that you have a long TV stand (at least 51 inches) upon which to set the TV. Of course, you could wall-mount the display instead.
The package includes a dual-sided IR remote control. The front side offers the standard assortment of TV buttons arranged in a clean, logical manner. There are also dedicated buttons for Netflix, Amazon, and iHeartRadio along the top to quickly launch those Web apps. Flip the remote over to automatically activate a full QWERTY keyboard that worked in every app I tried, including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and Pandora. The front side isn't backlit, but the QWERTY keyboard is.
The M65-C1's connection panel includes five HDMI inputs: three down-facing and two side-facing. HDMI inputs #1 through #4 are HDMI 1.4b, while HDMI input #5 is HDMI 2.0. That means the first four support a resolution up to 4K/30, but only #5 supports a 4K resolution at 60 frames per second (at 4:2:0 subsampling, not 4:4:4). Input #5 also supports 1080p/120, which gamers might appreciate. HDMI inputs 1, 2, and 5 have HDCP 2.2 copy protection to use with new UHD source devices like the Sony FMP-X10 and NVIDIA SHIELD. One HDMI input supports ARC, but none support MHL.
The connection panel also includes one shared component/composite video input, one RF input to access the internal tuner, optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs, an Ethernet port for a wired network connection, and one USB 2.0 port for media playback only.
In the area of picture adjustments, VIZIO has made a couple of noteworthy additions that I think will please a lot of videophiles. As with previous models, the M65-C1 offers six picture modes, including Calibrated and Calibrated Dark modes designed to offer the most accurate picture quality in bright- and dark-room settings, respectively. Advanced adjustments include: a 100-step backlight control, with a light sensor to automatically adjust the image brightness to suit your lighting conditions; RGB offset and gain controls, as well as a more advanced 11-point white balance control; a color management system with the ability to adjust the hue, saturation, and brightness of all six colors; noise reduction; and the ability to enable or disable the active LED zones--aka local dimming. This UHD TV does not offer multiple color spaces, such as Rec 709 and Wide/Native color spaces.
The first new addition to the Picture menu is adjustable gamma, something VIZIO has not offered in past TVs. The menu includes five presets, from 1.8 to 2.4, giving you more flexibility to adjust the gamma based on your viewing conditions and preferences.
The other big change is how VIZIO lets you deal with motion blur and judder in this 120Hz set. In the past, all of VIZIO's blur-reduction modes included some degree of frame interpolation, or smoothing. It's often called the Soap Opera Effect, and you can read more about it here. This year, VIZIO has separated its motion blur and judder controls into two 10-step elements, the same way Samsung and LG do. So, you can adjust each one to your liking. If (like me) you strongly dislike any form of smoothing, you can turn the judder control all the way to zero, which creates 5:5 pulldown with 24p film sources--i.e., the 120Hz TV repeats each film frame five times (24 x 5 = 120), producing slightly less juddery motion than the typical 3:2 pulldown but without the artificial smoothing. The Picture menu also includes a separate Clear Action function that adds backlight scanning to reduce motion blur even further (we'll talk performance in the next section).
The M65-C1 has two rear-firing speakers, and the Audio menu includes balance, equalizer, and lip-sync controls. DTS's Studio Sound and TruVolume adjustments are also available. I wasn't particularly impressed with the sound quality of the internal speakers. Compared with other recent UHD TVs I've reviewed like the Samsung UN65JS8500 and Panasonic TC-60CX800U, the VIZIO speakers sounded fairly thin, hollow, and unnatural. The company does have some inexpensive soundbar/subwoofer packages that I'm sure they'd love for you to use in lieu of the TV speakers.
Not much has changed in the layout of the VIZIO Internet Apps Plus (VIA Plus) smart TV platform since last year's review of the M602i-B3. It's a very simple, straightforward platform that provides quick, easy access to a variety of popular apps. VIA Plus doesn't offer all the bells and whistles that some the other smart TV platforms offer--things like voice/motion control, advanced search and content-recommendation tools, advanced integration with your cable/satellite box, a Web browser, and the ability to connect a mobile device via Wi-Fi Direct, Screen Mirroring, or Google Cast. VIZIO does support limited second-screen "casting" ability that lets you send content within YouTube and Netflix from your mobile device to the TV. The company does not offer its own iOS/Android control app.
4K-friendly apps include Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and UltraFlix. This TV lacks the necessary VP9 decoder to display YouTube's 4K content, and M-GO is no longer partnered with VIZIO. Other noteworthy apps include PLEX, Crackle, Flickr, the Yahoo! Suite, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. Missing are HBO Go/Now, Sling TV, sports apps like MLB.TV, TV Everywhere apps offered by companies like Comcast, and gaming apps.
The Multimedia app allows you to play back media from connected USB/DLNA devices. I experimented with both USB and DLNA playback. The Multimedia menu isn't the most attractive that I've used; it's quite computer-like in how it lays out the files, but it gets the job done. With last year's M602i-B3, I consistently had trouble playing back videos stored on my Seagate NAS drive, via DLNA. This year, I had no such trouble; my collection of MPEG-4 movies and home videos played just fine via DLNA and USB. MOV files are not supported. On the audio side, I was able to play MP3 and WAV files, but not AAC or AIFF files.
As usual, I began my official evaluation process by measuring the TV's different picture modes as they come right out of the box, to see which is the closest to reference standards. And, as usual, VIZIO's Calibrated and Calibrated Dark modes were the closest, with the Calibrated Dark mode taking top honors mostly because of its slightly darker gamma average. Out of the box, the Calibrated Dark mode had a generally even color balance, with perhaps a slightly blue emphasis in brighter scenes, and an overall Delta Error of 9.78. (See the Measurements section on page two for more details.) That Delta Error number is a bit high (anything under five is considered good, anything under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye), and that's due primarily to the TV's gamma average of 1.72. What I quickly surmised, however, is that the M65-C1's local dimming function skews the gamma results with the particular test patterns I use; the simple act of turning it off during the measurements process gave me a gamma average right around the 2.2 target that I use for TVs, so I did not need to use those newly added adjustable gamma presets.
In the color realm, red, green, magenta, and yellow all had a Delta Error lower than three right out of the box, which is excellent. Only blue and cyan were slightly above the DE3 target--at 3.74 and 4.02, respectively. Overall, these are very good pre-calibration numbers, which is important since, at this price point, people are less likely to pay for a professional calibration.
For those who chose to do so, however, a professional calibration can yield even better results. I was able to lower the overall gray-scale Delta Error to just 1.76 with a 2.22 gamma average and a more even color balance. Also, I was able to further lower the Delta Error of all six color points, but it's worth mentioning that--just like with last year's M602i-B3--the M65-C1's color management system doesn't work as well as others I've tested. I had no trouble adjusting a particular color's luminance (brightness), but the saturation and hue controls usually did more harm than good. The blue color point, in particular, gave me trouble. I was able to lower the Delta Error during calibration; however, when I then watched the Cowboys-Giants Sunday Night Football game on NBC, the various shades of blue in both teams' jerseys looked inaccurate in saturation and hue, compared with the highly accurate Samsung UN65JS8500. When I went back into the color management system and undid the adjustments I had made that, on paper, improved the Delta Error, the real-world blues looked more accurate. For the record, the other five colors looked quite good.
The M65-C1 is capable of a lot of light output--even more than the HDR-capable Samsung UN65JS8500 and on par with the Panasonic TC-60CX800U. In the brightest but least accurate Vivid picture mode, this TV cranked out over 150 foot-lamberts. In the more accurate Calibrated picture mode, I measured 113 ft-L in a 100 percent full-white test pattern, so this mode is perfect if you plan to use this TV in a very bright viewing environment. The screen is reflective to help reject ambient light and improve contrast in a bright room, but it's a little more diffuse than the other two TVs I mentioned above. You still want to be mindful about where you place lamps and other light sources in relation to the screen. The M65-C1's viewing angle is very good; with both bright and dark content, image saturation held up better than that of the Samsung TV at wider viewing angles.
Next, it was time to evaluate the M65-C1's black level, using demo scenes from Gravity, The Bourne Supremacy, Flags of Our Fathers, and Casino Royale. The TV's full-array LED backlighting system and local dimming function helped to produce a wonderfully deep black level while allowing bright elements to remain bright, resulting in rich, wonderfully saturated film images in a dark room. In a head-to-head comparison with the edge-lit Samsung UN65JS8500, it was really no contest--the VIZIO consistently outperformed the Samsung in rendering the deepest shades of black while doing an equally good job rendering the finest black details in the image. Furthermore, the use of the full-array backlight gives the M65-C1 much better brightness uniformity than an edge-lit display. The 2.35:1 black bars in Blu-ray films were always nice and dark.
In the past couple of years, my primary concern with VIZIO TVs was that the local dimming function was a little slow and imprecise, so I often saw shifting light levels and a fair amount glow around bright objects in dark scenes. Chapter one of The Bourne Supremacy was especially problematic. This year, I'm happy to report that the M65-C1 had no trouble with the Bourne scene or any others I demoed--yes, I did see a little bit of glow around bright objects like white text on a black background, but it was nothing that significantly hindered overall performance, and I saw no unnatural brightness fluctuations within dark scenes.
On the video processing side, the M65-C1 serves up a nicely detailed image, whether the source is DVD, HD, or UHD. The picture is clean, with little to no digital noise. The M65-C1 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.
When setting up the motion blur and judder controls, I went with maximum blur reduction and zero judder reduction, and the result in my FPD Benchmark motion-resolution test pattern was clean, visible lines to an HD1080 resolution. Turning on the Clear Action function made those HD1080 lines even more clear, but this will limit the TV's overall brightness--then again, given how bright the TV can be, you can easily compensate for this by turning up the backlight. I did not see as much flicker with the VIZIO Clear Action mode as I have with other black-frame and backlight-scanning modes I've tested.
Finally, I cued up some 4K sources--in the form of Netflix and Amazon streaming and the Sony FMP-X10 4K media player. The streaming services worked as expected and looked as good as they can, given the compression that must be used. The FIFA 2014 World Cup film, shot at 4K/60 and downloaded to the Sony server, looked gorgeous--excellent detail, rich color, outstanding contrast, and smooth, clean motion.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...