Clearly we find the styling “challenged.” Yet this isn’t a statue in MOMA, but a big-screen television – and the display is what counts. The 55-inch VF551XVT is a 1080p set featuring full-array LED backlighting – called TruLED – compared to the CCFL system used in most other LCD televisions. This allows for “local dimming” so select portions of the screen are adjusted to match the source material. Vizio uses 960 LEDs broken into 80 blocks or sections. For the record, newer LED TVs such as the breakthrough Toshiba CELL TV (due later this year) have 512 zones. When looking at any LED HDTV, seek more lights and as many zones as possible.
Along with TruLED backlighting, the VF551XVT features 240Hz frame rate to eliminate motion blur, which is really 120Hz combined with the scanning backlight, a 5 ms response time and 2 million: 1 dynamic contrast ratio. This is an absurd number touted by marketing types. Much more important is what you actually can see on the screen, so we connected a FiOS HD box and a BD player to give it a workout.
Before getting into specifics, let’s state that the Vizio is a breeze to set-up with a logical menu system. Tweaking color parameters is also simple, and although you can go wild in the Custom option we found Movie to be a good all-around setting. There was minimal reflection and off-angle viewing was quite good.
We had a chance to watch the NFL Championship on the Vizio as well as a Panasonic plasma. To the former set’s credit, there was no blur during Peyton Manning’s passes while the black and gold of the Saints’ uniforms had a nice pop. That said, the plasma’s performance was better, although if you watched the Vizio by itself, there would be no complaints. Other TV shows reflected the source material—which is good—but we found the 55-inch LG LH90 did a better job overall, as did the Panasonic model.
We also cranked up Watchmen and The Dark Knight to see how they performed on the Vizio set. Again, on their own, it was a solid viewing experience, but without the wow factor of comparable LG, Toshiba or Panasonic HDTVs. A plus was the SRS TruSurround which pumped out a nice, room-filling sound without a 5.1-system; it’s rated 15w x 2 channels.
At less than two grand, the Vizio VF551XVT is an O.K. deal for a 55-inch full-array backlit LED HDTV, but we’d definitely opt for the $2,300 LG LH90 which we liked a lot and cosmetically is much more refined if given the option; it’s just a better television, as is the Toshiba Regza. On the other hand, a quality 54-inch Panasonic plasma like the TC-P54S1 is $1,799, money that could be spent on a BD player. Still, LED HDTVs are much more eco-friendly, sipping far less energy than plasmas.
It’s great seeing the dollar gap narrowing between plasma and LED LCD HDTVs—this is excellent news for all HDTV buyers. We’re still not converts ourselves, but it’s hard to go wrong with this technology, although here we’d opt for another brand. Note: Vizio’s much delayed Internet-enabled set should be available soon. The $2,199 55-inch VF552XVT has the same video specs as the VF551XVT, but accesses Vizio Internet Apps and has built-in 801.11n dual band networking along with a Bluetooth remote with a built-in keyboard (which looked very cool when we saw a preview several months ago). If a Vizio purchase is in your future plans, we recommend waiting to audition this model. Otherwise, go with another manufacturer instead.
- Affordable 55-inch LED HDTV
- 5 HDMI inputs
- Good not great picture quality
- Surprisingly robust sound system
- Quality not as good as competition
- Poor design (lose the silver trim)
- Remote should be better
- No Internet capability