Posted Thu Apr 27, 2017 at 07:40 PM PDT by Steven Cohen
Earlier this week, High-Def Digest was invited to attend VIZIO's Spring 2017 Showcase. Held at the New York Edition Hotel in NYC, the event spotlighted the company's newest P-Series, M-Series, and E-Series SmartCast Ultra HD displays, along with its latest sound bars and speakers.
Building upon the already impressive bang-for-your buck performance found on VIZIO's previous 2016 lineup, these new display models aim to deliver updated features and an improved SmartCast user experience -- all while maintaining advanced picture quality tech like HDR and local dimming at the affordable price points the company is known for. It should be noted, however, that like last year, the new displays do not include TV tuners.
With different gear setup in various rooms, I was treated to a series of demos and head-to-head comparisons, pitting the VIZIO products against key competitors while highlighting some of the notable differences between each set. But just how well did these new models stack up? And can a P-Series display really hold its own against an inky black OLED panel?
Well, let's dig right into it!
Note: VIZIO displays are on the left side and competitors are on the right side in the comparison photos. And my apologies for the quality -- my smartphone camera isn't the best at capturing HDR brightness levels in dark rooms.
First up, VIZIO put the spotlight on its latest entry-level E-Series displays. For demo purposes, the company pitted its E65-E0 65-inch SmartCast Ultra HD Home Theater Display ($900) against Samsung's 65-inch UN65MU7000 Ultra HD TV ($1,680) in a dark room. The E-Series model features full-array local dimming with 12 zones. Meanwhile, the Samsung model uses an edge-lit backlight with no local dimming functionality. Each unit supports the playback of HDR10 content but neither offers support for Dolby Vision.
In the head-to-head, both displays were set to play back the same scene from Alejandro Iñárritu's The Revenant on Ultra HD Blu-ray in HDR through their movie calibration modes. While I'm not sure if further calibration or other setting adjustments could have yielded different results, as presented, the VIZIO model offered some very noticeable improvements over the Samsung. The E-Series provided a relatively deep sense of black thanks to its local dimming zones, but the Samsung's conventional edge-lit panel resulted in a noticeably washed out image with grey blacks and some uneven backlight bleeding visible. More surprising, however, was the difference in color between the two. The VIZIO demonstrated more pop with particularly lush greens in the forest location on-screen. Meanwhile, the Samsung looked quite undersaturated by comparison. Again, it's possible that fiddling with the Samsung's settings might create better results, but as demoed, the VIZIO was clearly superior to the more expensive MU7000.
2017 VIZIO E-Series displays with HDR10 support are currently available in sizes ranging from 55-inches to 80-inches, with prices starting at $550 and capping off at $3,400.
Moving on to the company's step-up Ultra HD display series, VIZIO also demoed its 2017 M-Series. For this head-to-head, the M65 65-inch Ultra HD HDR XLED Plus Display ($1,500) was mounted next to Samsung's 65-inch Class Q7F QLED 4K TV ($3,500). The VIZIO model boasts the company's new XHDR Plus and Xtreme Black Engine Plus tech for improved HDR10 and Dolby Vision support with fullscreen brightness performance of 350 nits, peak brightness of 600 nits, and full-array local dimming with 32 active zones. In addition, the 2017 model now includes Ultra Color Spectrum capabilities for close to 100% coverage of the P3 wide color gamut -- something that was only found on the P-Series last year. Likewise, though not available now, VIZIO stated that a future HDR10+ update could be a possibility once the spec is finalized. Meanwhile, the Samsung model features an edge-lit panel with local dimming, quantum dots, HDR10, and HDR10+ support (but not Dolby Vision).
For this demo, both displays played back a scene from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Ultra HD Blu-ray in HDR10 through their respective movie modes. Though overall color and clarity were quite similar this time around, the VIZIO model once again demonstrated clear benefits with its backlighting. The full-array local dimming zones produced a deep level of black while maintaining solid shadow details and uniformity in Bruce Wayne's gloomy batcave. On the other hand, the Q7's edge-lit dimming introduced very noticeable bright spots in specific vertical columns on the panel where the zones would need to increase their brightness. The more precise dimming on the M-Series also led to superior HDR performance, allowing the set to pin-point highlights better without the uneven brightening and vertical blooming of the Samsung.
VIZIO's 2017 M-Series is now available in sizes ranging from 50-inches to 75-inches, with prices starting at $800 and maxing out at $3,000.
For the final display demo, VIZIO brought out its flagship 2017 P-Series and rather bravely placed its P65 65-inch Ultra HD HDR XLED Pro Display ($2,000) head-to-head against one of LG's highly praised 2016 B6 65-inch OLED models ($3,500). Though the hardware is actually the same as last year's models, the 2017 P-Series does feature some firmware upgrades (also set for the 2016 units) using the company's new XHDR Pro and Xtreme Black Engine Pro tech for an improved full-array local dimming algorithm with 128 zones (126 on the 55-inch), and optimized HDR10 and Dolby Vision playback at 600 nits. In addition, the displays maintain Ultra Color Spectrum capabilities for close to 100% coverage of the P3 wide color gamut. And, as with the M-Series, an HDR10+ update could be a possibility down the road. Meanwhile, the LG B6 uses an OLED panel for superior black levels and includes Ultra HD Premium certification with HDR10, Dolby Vision, a fullscreen brightness performance of around 180 nits, and peak performance at around 700 nits.
For the side-by-side demonstration both displays played back a scene from Lucy on Ultra HD Blu-ray in HDR10 in their calibrated modes. And while VIZIO humbly acknowledged that the more expensive OLED did have them beat in certain picture quality aspects, the P-Series held its own surprisingly well. In fact, certain HDR elements actually performed slightly better on the P65. Due to its fullscreen 600 nits performance, the VIZIO was able to handle specular highlights better in brighter scenes, even bringing out a bit more detail in Scarlett Johansson's pores in a close-up shot. In contrast, the LG was able to bring more intensity to smaller highlights in darker scenes, including stars in a black sky. Black levels were also quite similar from a direct angle, though the LG still had an inkier appearance. Likewise, off-angle performance gave the OLED a clear win, as the B6 was able to maintain color and contrast from a side view while the VIZIO washed out significantly. Still, even though the B6 presented an overall superior picture, the difference between the two was relatively small considering the massive price difference.
The 2017 VIZIO P-Series is now available in 55-inch ($1,300), 65-inch (2,000), and 75-inch screen sizes (3,500) -- losing the 50-inch model from last year. It should be noted, however, that just like the 2016 models, the 55-inch set uses an IPS panel (known for weaker blacks) and the 65-inch and 75-inch use VA panels. Likewise, since the 2016 P-Series units are set to receive the same picture quality firmware updates as the 2017 versions, the current price difference between them is a little perplexing.
In other words, I'd recommend snagging a cheaper 2016 P-Series model while you can.
In addition to highlighting the new lineup's picture quality performance, VIZIO also demoed some of its new SmartCast features. First implemented in the company's 2016 lineup, the SmartCast platform features Chromecast built-in, allowing users to cast content to and control their displays through the SmartCast app on Android and iOS mobile devices from any room in the home -- delivering an entirely different method for smart display streaming compared to other manufacturers. SmartCast users can also search and browse content by genre across multiple apps at once.
For 2017, however, VIZIO has done away with the included Android tablet remotes found with the 2016 M-Series and P-Series. Instead, the displays now feature standard IR remotes, leaving the touch screen control option to a customer's separate mobile device. With that said, a firmware update set for release this summer will actually allow all 2017 SmartCast owners and all 2016 Ultra HD SmartCast owners to browse curated streaming apps directly on the big screen with the standard remote. The direct on-screen interface resembles the mobile experience and offers an emphasis on convenient content discovery. Likewise, users can easily transition from mobile to big-screen navigation and streaming, picking up right where they left off.
Finally, VIZIO also demoed the SmartCast platform's support for voice controls through Google Home or other Google Assistant devices. To this end, we were able to start playing an episode of the Netflix series Chef's Table by simply speaking the command to a Google Home speaker.
Capping off the showcase, VIZIO presented a few demonstrations for its new audio products as well, starting with the latest addition to the Crave Audio collection. The SmartCast Crave Go Multi-Room Wireless Speaker ($200) features a sleek metal grill, rubberized back for an enhanced grip, and built-in folding kickstand. Likewise, the device offers a built-in rechargeable battery for up to six hours of on-the-go use. Under the hood, the Crave Go uses custom-crafted 2-inch stereo drivers and a shared passive radiator for up to 88dB with bass as low as 75Hz. SmartCast capabilities with Chromecast built-in and multi-room Wi-Fi streaming are integrated as well, along with Bluetooth connectivity. For the demo, I sampled a music track streaming from Google Play, and though overall performance was solid with ample power during my limited listen, the audio did sound a little muddy, lacking the crisp highs found in more robust speakers.
Next, the company turned its attention to two new sound bar models. First up, was the SB3621n 36-inch 2.1 Sound Bar System ($150). Though this 2017 model does away with the ultra-slim subwoofer found with some of the 2016 units (which will carry over to 2017), the new wireless sub is still relatively space-saving and the sound bar itself features a lower height so it doesn't block your TV. For demo purposes, VIZIO played the scene from Jurassic World where the kids get attacked by the Indominus rex in their sphere. 2-channel imaging was quite impressive with a surprisingly wide soundfield for a 36-inch bar. Likewise, the woofer balanced well with the main unit, offering solid kick behind each stomp and roar with just a tiny hint of distortion during one loud effect.
Lastly, the final demo showed off the new SB3651 SmartCast 36-inch 5.1 Wireless Sound Bar System ($250). This model features the same subwoofer as the 2.1-channel version, along with a 3-channel sound bar unit, and two separate rear satellite speakers to create a compact surround sound system. For the demo, VIZIO played an action scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and similar to previous 5.1 models I've heard from the company, the results were very impressive. Swooping X-Wings and TIE Fighters moved about the soundstage with surprising precision, naturally transitioning from the left, right, and rear as laser blasts filled the room. Bass was ample as well and speech was properly centralized and nicely balanced. Though it can't quite compete with beefier full surround sound or Dolby Atmos/DTS:X systems, considering its size and price, performance was fantastic.
As my demo time came to a close, I was once again impressed by VIZIO's penchant for balancing performance and affordability. With some strong new sound bars and an updated M-Series with wide color gamut support starting at just $800, these 2017 models look like very enticing options.
With that said, while the 2017 P-Series remains very impressive, its identical picture quality performance to the 2016 models makes me wonder why new 2017 branding was necessary at all -- especially since this year's models currently feature higher price points and no Android tablets. Still, it's actually quite commendable that the company is willing to keep 2016 models up to date, making last year's P-Series an even greater value.
For now, what do you think about VIZIO's 2017 display and audio lineup? Will you be picking up any of the new models? Let us know your thoughts in the forums, and be sure to check back at High-Def Digest for more new gear demos, reviews, guides, and news!
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