Hands-On with VIZIO's 2018 4K HDR Smart TVs & Dolby Atmos Sound Bars

Posted Thu Apr 12, 2018 at 12:05 PM PDT by
vizio p series 2018

Earlier this week, High-Def Digest attended VIZIO's 2018 Spring Showcase. Held at the New York Edition Hotel in NYC, the event spotlighted the company's latest P-Series, M-Series, and E-Series 4K HDR TVs, along with its new Dolby Atmos sound bar systems.

Offering expanded SmartCast options, improved HDR brightness performance, and more refined designs all across the board, these 2018 display models maintain VIZIO's celebrated emphasis on bang-for-your-buck quality, providing features like full array local dimming and Dolby Vision at very competitive prices. And unlike the 2017 lineup which was comprised of "displays" without tuners, all of the 2018 models are now proper "TVs" with integrated TV tuners, allowing users to watch OTA broadcasts with a separate digital antenna.  

Highlighting a couple key picture and smart TV functions, the event featured a few demos revealing some of the differences between each series, along with a head-to-head comparison with a competing TV from another brand, pitting a new P Series Quantum model against one of LG's flagship OLED displays. 

2018 4K HDR TV Lineup 

To kick off the event, VIZIO had its new 65-inch E-Series, M-Series, P-Series, and P-Series Quantum displays all hung up on a wall together in a dim room while various demo clips of bright, colorful HDR imagery played across each screen. And though the repeating reels were fairly brief and the units were not fully calibrated, all of the TVs offered a punchy and eye-catching picture that left a strong first impression.

While the lineup actually starts with the entry-level D-Series, the company did not have any of those units on hand, preferring to instead highlight the other step-up models. The D-Series includes 4K HDR Smart TVs ranging in size from 43-inches to 70-inches and price from $350 to $1,000, along with several standard HDTV models as well. The 4K HDR units all feature direct-lit LED backlights but do not offer any kind of local dimming capabilities. HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats are also supported with an output of about 200 to 300 nits. With that said, the panels do not offer wide color gamut coverage. Units are now available through VIZIO and are set to expand to more retailers soon.

Offering a few key performance upgrades over the D-Series, the new 2018 E-Series features 4K HDR TV models with VA panels (and some IPS for select sizes) ranging in size from 43-inches to 75-inches and price from $350 to $1,600. The displays all feature full array local dimming with the number of zones ranging from 10 to 16 depending on the screen size. HDR10 high dynamic range support is included as well, and new for this year's lineup, the E-Series also provides Dolby Vision and HLG playback. Likewise, brightness performance has also been given a notable improvement over 2017's E-Series, with a new peak brightness capability of 400 nits. Sadly, however, the series still does not offer wide color gamut coverage. In person, the 65-inch model looked rather nice, though the viewing conditions and content being played didn't really allow for any kind of in-depth evaluation. Units are now available through VIZIO and are set to expand to more retailers soon.

Further improving contrast and brightness capabilities along with some added aesthetic design perks, the 2018 M-Series includes 4K HDR models with VA panels ranging in size from 55-inches to 70-inches and price from $700 to $1,500. Full array local dimming specs range from the 32-zone 55-incher to the 40-zone 65-incher to the 48-zone 70-incher. HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG are all supported as well with a peak brightness of 600 nits. Unfortunately, unlike the 2017 M-Series, the new 2018 panels do not provide wide color gamut capabilities. The omission has been made in part to maintain competitive pricing and to make some aesthetic upgrades, including a new 3-sided bezel-less construction. But while the new design does look rather attractive, I would have preferred P3 color support over a fancier border. Still, the display offered a very pleasing picture at the event, though given the lighting conditions in the room, the differences in performance between the E and M-Series were a little less apparent. Units are now available through VIZIO and are set to expand to more retailers soon.

While VIZIO 2016 and 2017 P-Series panels were identical, the company has fully updated the line for 2018, offering some big performance upgrades while actually besting last year's already stellar initial prices. The 2018 P-Series includes 4K HDR TV models with VA panels ranging in size from 55-inches to 75-inches and price from $900 to $2,500. Full array local dimming is featured as well, with the 55-inch offering 56 zones, the 65-inch offering 100 zones, and the 75-inch offering 120 zones. Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG high dynamic range formats are all supported with UltraBright 1,000 for up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness. And unlike the other step-down models, the P-Series uses Ultra Color Spectrum tech to provide nearly 100% coverage of the P3 wide color gamut and about 72% coverage of the Rec. 2020 wide color gamut. Noticeably more intense and vibrant than the E and M-Series, the P-Series looked gorgeous during the demo, displaying very bright highlights while maintaining great detail in light and dark portions of the image throughout the demonstration material. Units will be available for purchase soon.

Finally, serving as the brand's flagship premium model for 2018, the P-Series Quantum offers some truly impressive specs, especially for its price. Available in a 65-inch model for $2,200, the 4K HDR VA panel features full array local dimming with 192 zones. HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG are all supported with UltraBright 2,000 for up to 2,000 nits of peak brightness. In addition, the display uses advanced Quantum Color Spectrum technology with a quantum dot film to offer close to 100% P3 wide color gamut coverage and about 82% coverage for the Rec. 2020 gamut. Essentially stealing the show, the P-Series Quantum looked rather stunning at the showcase. Side-by-side with the already impressive standard P-Series, the Quantum version offered even more robust specular highlight performance and sumptuous colors. Units are set to start shipping later this summer.

Though E and M-Series models will likely be strong contenders among other budget offerings, the P and especially P-Series Quantum displays are really poised to give some other much more expensive flagship LCD and OLED models a run for their money. On the downside, however, while VIZIO is open to offering support for the new dynamic HDR10+ format in future generation models, none of the company's 2018 TVs will be able to provide HDR10+ playback. 

Full Array Local Dimming Demo

Given VIZIO's long-standing support of FALD, which is often limited to flagship models for other brands, it should come as no surprise they decided to specifically highlight its display collection's full-array local dimming capabilities. For the demo, VIZIO had E-Series, M-Series, P-Series, and P-Series Quantum panels all hung up side-by-side with their optical stacks and diffusers removed, allowing the raw LEDs to be clearly visible. This offered a great demonstration of how each model's dimming worked and how the gradual increase in zones across each series improved performance.

Using video clips of exploding fireworks and a goldfish swimming across an otherwise all black screen, the demo enabled viewers to see the actual LED zones dim, brighten, or turn off to coincide with the content being played. As one might expect, the 65-inch E-Series TV's relatively limited number of 12 zones caused large sections of the screen to illuminate even though the fireworks only filled the center of the TV. Likewise, the pause icon in the top left corner of the screen made the whole top left quadrant of the panel brighten, even though the pause symbol was very small. In contrast, the step-up 65-inch M-Series and its greater number of 40 active zones was able to provide more concentrated backlighting around the fireworks and pause symbol, allowing more of the screen to remain dark. But since the zones were still quite a bit larger than the images, extended portions of the panel still had to be lit up.

(M-Series on left, P-Series on right)

Meanwhile, the 65-inch P-Series and its 100 zones offered a noticeably greater level of backlight accuracy, condensing the illuminated sections even further while also increasing luminance behind the highlights. Finally, the 65-inch P-Series Quantum and its 192 zones demonstrated the most precise local dimming, allowing just the small areas behind the fireworks and pause symbol to light up while the rest of the screen was able to remain black. Likewise, the LEDs themselves appeared to shine even brighter than the standard P-Series behind the specular highlights.

VIZIO P-Series Quantum vs LG OLED

For the next demo, VIZIO bravely pitted its new 65-inch P-Series Quantum LCD side-by-side against one of LG's 2017 OLED TVs. The company offered a similar head-to-head during last year's showcase with a 2017 P-Series, but the results this year were even more impressive. Both TVs played back a reel of bright, colorful Dolby Vision imagery including swirling neon lights and glowing flowers. Likewise, both TVs were placed in their default Dynamic or Vivid modes allowing them to ostensibly demonstrate their maximum brightness and contrast levels. It should be noted, however, that the below pictures cannot accurately convey HDR imagery or show how the comparison actually looked in person, and are included only to offer a very rough idea of some of the panels' differences.

(VIZIO P-Series Quantum left, LG 2017 OLED right)

Though VIZIO readily admits that the OLED panel's black levels are superior to the P-Series' local dimming, the differences between the two were fairly small and, in some cases, barely perceivable. The OLED still offered an inkier look and I have seen some other 2018 LCD's with even more impressive dimming (namely, Samsung's new Q9F QLED), but the P-Series Quantum really did hold its own, allowing the panel's blacks to nearly disappear into the dark of the room. Even more eye-opening, however, was the set's incredible brightness performance.

(VIZIO P-Series Quantum left, LG 2017 OLED right)

When the 2017 P-Series was pitted against an LG OLED during last year's demo, VIZIO's LCD was able to reveal some slight brightness advantages in a few shots but, for the most part, the OLED had better overall luminance. This time, however, the P-Series Quantum and its whopping 2,000 nit peak brightness easily bested the OLED's max light output. In fact, it really wasn't even close. Throughout all of the demo material, the P-Series Quantum provided noticeably brighter highlights while the OLED looked a little dull by comparison. Don't get me wrong, the OLED still offered a punchy image, but the VIZIO's greater nit performance created a more intense picture while still maintaining strong black levels thanks to its local dimming. Colors also looked a bit more vibrant on the LCD, with the OLED demonstrating a faintly cooler cast -- but, since the sets were not calibrated, it's hard to really say how they would compare with more accurate color settings. 

SmartCast Features 

Outside of picture quality demos, VIZIO also demonstrated some new SmartCast features for its 2018 lineup, including voice control functions through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. With that in mind, the rep actually kicked off the segment by asking Alexa to start the demo via a connected Echo device, causing the TV to turn on. Other voice control functions like channel navigation with the integrated OTA tuner, and input switching were also demonstrated.

And not content to leave Google out of the fun, the rep was also able to use voice commands through a connected Google Home device, pulling up a weather update on the screen with a simple spoken command. Likewise, users can also control the display using the included click button remote or through the iOS or Android SmartCast app, giving customers several options for how they want to interact with the TV.

The SmartCast OS looked very similar to the 2017 interface with an on-screen selection of popular apps and support for more via casting from a mobile device. In addition, users can now choose to browse through separate sections for movies and TV shows, with an aggregated selection of titles from several different apps. And though HDR playback was limited to a small selection like Netflix and VUDU on 2017 models, VIZIO said that more SmartCast apps, like Amazon, will also be supporting high dynamic range streaming now.

Finally, VIZIO also showed off a new input currently dubbed "Free TV" (the final name is still pending). This input will offer access to live internet TV services through a navigation system designed to mimic OTA or cable interfaces, allowing users to channel surf up and down or pull up a guide. At launch, the feature will work with Pluto TV but support for other live streaming platforms will also be added, allowing the TV to aggregate live channels from the internet and a connected OTA antenna all together under one input and interface.

Sound Bar Systems

Shifting gears to audio, VIZIO also showed off several new sound bar systems, including two Dolby Atmos models (unfortunately, DTS:X is not supported on either system). The first unit demoed was a new 36" 2.1 channel all-in-one Sound Bar with integrated Dual Subwoofers. The compact system is designed to complement TV screens 40 inches and larger, offering deep performance without the need for a separate subwoofer. In addition, the device includes DTS Virtual:X tech for simulated immersive audio. To demonstrate the device's sound quality, VIZIO played back a WAV music track of Holly Cole's "I Can See Clearly Now" from an OPPO Blu-ray player connected via an Optical cable. The song featured a steady rhythm of full-bodied bass guitar notes that came through with a nice thud. Vocal tones were warm and there was an overall spacious quality to the system that sounded very pleasing. Likewise, lower frequencies did come through with some noticeable kick thanks to the system's built-in subs, but I found the low-end to be a bit too aggressive for the space, resulting in some unwanted vibrations. Some level adjustments would likely help alleviate this.

Moving on to the Atmos systems, VIZIO first demoed its new 36-inch 5.1.2 sound bar. This system features standard left, center, and right channels, along with up-firing front left and right channels in the sound bar unit itself. In addition, a separate wireless 6-inch subwoofer and two rear satellite speakers are included as well. For the demonstration, the company played back a Dolby Atmos demo called "Amaze" with lots of nature effects as a thunderstorm breaks out in a rainforest. The system created an enveloping sense of atmosphere, with smooth imaging between the front, back, and height. Upfiring effects for the falling rain and thunder were pretty convincing and on par with similar sound bars, though one mostly got a sense of "higher" sound rather than true overhead audio. With that said, I once again found the bass output to be a little too high for the room, offering very robust but slightly unbalanced LFE output. 

Expanding the soundfield even further, the final demo highlighted the company's new flagship 46-inch 5.1.4 system. In addition to the larger sound bar unit, the package also includes a larger 10-inch wireless subwoofer and upfiring drivers on the rear left and right satellites. Once again, the "Amaze" clip was played. Though similar in performance to the 36-inch 5.1.2 system, the larger size and added rear height channels created an even more convincing sense of 360-degree sound with beefier presence and even more nuance to the Atmos effects. I just wish the sub sounded a little more honed in -- though, again, some changes in the settings would likely be able to smooth this out.

Pricing has not been announced for the new Dolby Atmos sound bar systems yet, but VIZIO is promising competitive value. Units will start shipping mid to late summer.  

Final Thoughts

Furthering the company's trademark balance between performance and value, VIZIO's latest home theater products are poised to offer consumers a lot of bang for their buck. As always, we'll need more time with the units to make a firm judgement, but we left the demo impressed by what we saw and heard.

The E-Series provides a solid entry-level option at a very affordable price point while upping its brightness performance over last year's model and adding Dolby Vision support. Meanwhile, the new M-Series provides more dimming zones and a refined design over its 2017 version, but the removal of wide color support is a definite disappointment. On that note, the new P-Series and P-Series Quantum are the clear showstoppers for 2018, offering advanced specs at highly competitive prices. Likewise, the new Atmos sound bars show a lot of promise.

Bottom Line: Based on my demo time, the E-Series will likely be a top performer for its price range but, while still solid, the 2018 M-Series might be beat by similar, if not less expensive, models from TCL that are set to offer more dimming zones and a wider color gamut. Meanwhile, the P-Series and P-Series Quantum both look like they could end up offering the most impressive performance-to-price ratio of any new TV models for 2018, offering similar specs to many competing flagship sets for about $1,000 less.    

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Tags: Vizio, Dolby Vision, HDR, Quantum Dots, 4K, Ultra HD, Dolby Atmos, DTS Virtual:X (all tags)