When it comes to HDTVs, bigger and more expensive means a higher profile in the press and a much greater techno-lust factor. Everyone would love to own a 60-inch Pioneer Kuro plasma set but who has $7K to buy one? Enter the real “meat and potatoes” of HDTV Land, sets like the 32-inch Vizio VO32L, one of the current best sellers. This 720P LCD HDTV has a list price of $649 USD and is readily available online or the local Costco and other warehouse clubs for around $599 USD.
This is a good price and one of the reasons Vizio has come out of nowhere to garner serious market share from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Sharp. According to research firm DisplaySearch, Vizio had the strongest year-to-year growth of any top-five flat panel TV brand. Low prices and good distribution will do that for you in today’s tough economic climes. Now is this 32-inch LCD HDTV any good? That’s what we were determined to find out…
Features and Design
The VO32L is hardly a beauty and in fact looks kind of clunky. With its black body this set would look best plugged into the space of your A/V cabinet where the old 36-inch CRT gathered dust rather than as the centerpiece of your living room. The set measures 31.6 x 21.2 x 4.2 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 26 pounds without the supplied stand, 27.6 with. With the stand attached, the HDTV has a fairly utilitarian look—without the sweeping lines you’ll find on other models. Of course you can get rid of the stand and mount it to a wall, if you’d like with optional mounting hardware.
This is a very basic-looking HDTV with more of a PC monitor vibe than television. In fact, the rear connections are just like those on your monitor as you plug them up into frame rather than at a typical 90-degree angle. You can even use this as a monitor since it has an RGB PC input with a max resolution of 1368×768 via VGA and HDMI. The connection issue is just a minor hassle since typically you’ll only be doing this once at the outset.
The front bezel has black basket-weave pattern with insets of gloss black finish. At the far corners at the bottom of the frame are the two stereo speakers with 12 watts of power. That will hardly rock the house but it’s good enough for general TV viewing. A Vizio logo turns on when you power up and turns from white to a dim orange when you turn it off. Too bad you can’t turn it off completely…
On the right side are seven buttons that mirror the main controls on the remote (you won’t use them). More important are connections to quickly connect a camcorder, camera, game system and headphones. There are HDMI, component and A/V inputs here along with a headphone jack. Although not quite as convenient as those found directly on the front of other sets, they’ll do the job.
Speaking on connections, this HDTV has three HDMI ver. 1.3a inputs, two component, RGB, RF, two composite and one S-video. With a trio of HDMI inputs, you should be fine for your HDTV set-top box, Blu-ray player and PS3/Xbox 360.
The Vizio VO32L comes with everything you need for HDTV other than a source. In the carton you’ll find the set attached to the stand (no assembly required), power cords, cleaning cloth, warranty and registration cards as well as a very nicely styled remote with two batteries. As an added bonus, the HDTV comes with an HDMI cable so you don’t have to rush back to the store to pick one up to get the best picture and sound quality.
After easily taking the unit out of the carton and setting it up with minor help from the supplied QuickStart guide, it was time to watch some video.
Image Courtesy of Vizio
Performance and Use
The VO32L is a 32-inch LCD 720p HDTV (1366×768 pixels) but it will handle all sources–even 1080p–but display them at lower resolution. This is not a super fast panel rated at 120 Hertz to cut down on image lag like the high-end sets. It has a response time of 8 milliseconds which is decent but top-quality LCD HDTVs are rated 4 and 6ms. Again we’re talking about an affordable HDTV, not the centerpiece of a home theater in a McMansion. The set has a built-in ATSC/QAM/NTSC tuner to receive in-the-clear broadcasts but most will hook it up to a cable or sat system.
I connected the Vizio to a number of sources to see how it could handle them including a Verizon FiOS HDTV cable box and a Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player. I must state upfront I own—and love–a 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PZ750U 1080p plasma HDTV, purchasing this technology even after being exposed to the best LCDs out there including the Sony XBR6 and Samsung 81 series sets. I just find the color more accurate and lifelike with no screen-door effect or hard edges, a bugaboo for LCD HDTVs. With this built-in skepticism I powered up the Vizio and tuned to ESPN HD and the MHD channels that practically leap off the plasma display.
Before the videophiles cry out, I made sure the output signal on the set-top box was 720p and then quickly accessed the set’s custom picture parameters to make adjustments. I was very pleasantly surprised how much picture quality could be tweaked. You can change backlight, brightness, contrast, color, tint and sharpness. In the advanced section you can adjust noise reduction, color enhancement, advanced adaptive luma, enhanced contrast ratio and color temperature. Here you change between cool (9300 degrees Kelvin), 5400K and 6500K (the best for movie viewing). Another bonus: once you set parameters for each source, they’ll remain that way as you switch from HDTV to Blu-ray to games and so on.
If this sort of tweaking has no appeal, the VO32L has eight Picture Modes including Standard, Movie, Game, Vivid, Football, Golf, Baseball and Basketball. Guess they figure sports fans are the key buyers of HDTVs! It is a bit much asking the buyer of a sub $600 HDTV to be a card-carrying member of the Imaging Science Foundation or a denizen of AVS Forums. That said I had a lot of fun adjusting the settings. Be aware the Owner’s Manual is a bit misleading as it shows a variety of numbers for the different picture settings; they are just there as art work not the suggested parameters. As a matter of fact, the manual could use a nice redesign with better photos to enhance the user experience. Using the Monster Cable/ISF disc to calibrate the set, specs to my taste were 51 Brightness, 49 Contrast, Tint zero, Color 39, Sharpness 3 and Lip Sync 2. This last one is a real plus since many HDTV programs have these annoying issues where lips do not match the dialog on screen. It’s a set-and-forget adjustment you’ll want to make.
Image Courtesy of Vizio
Even though the speakers have only 12 watts of power, the VO32L offers a variety of audio adjustments including an equalizer but there’s no way to adjust bass or treble. It does have an ersatz surround mode that’s barely effective—nothing as good as SRS TruSurround or Dolby Virtual Speaker.
Once I had the audio and video settings to my liking it was time to watch some TV. As noted, I quickly turned to ESPN HD and MHD since they have some of the best HDTV signals from the FiOS box. I also watched a variety of SD material as well. The Celtics had just beaten the Lakers in game one of the NBA Finals and I checked out many of the highlights. Even though the Vizio is rated 8ms and is not a 120Hz panel, I saw very little comet-tailing or blur of the ball heading for the hoop. Uniform colors and skin tones were right on. Switching to MHD I enjoyed Amy Winehouse in London, using the Rock audio setting. It was a good experience. Even Transformers on Cinemax showed few problems. Black-and-white classics on Turner Classic Movies did not have rich blacks but that was probably more the fault of the station rather than the display.
Switching to the BD player with X-Men: The Last Stand was a big let down compared to the plasma. This isn’t really a fair comparison since the Panasonic is 1080p not 720p, 50-inches and costs almost five times more. Still once you see a Blu-ray movie the way it’s supposed to appear, it’s hard to appreciate a movie on the smaller screen at lower resolution. However the movie looked decent with no motion lag and fairly decent detail. The Happy Feet BD disc also looked good but again paled in comparison to the bigger plasma.
Where it excelled was reflectivity—at one point I viewed the set with bright overhead incandescent bulbs glaring away and there was barely any reflection off the screen. Plasmas, on the other hand, really should be used in dimly-lit rooms.
The VO32L has PIP and POP with the remote letting you swap quickly between views. The remote has a Freeze button which supposedly will grab a frame in case you need to write down an address or phone number. For whatever reason, it didn’t work with HDMI 1 or 2. According to Vizio it only works with the RF DTV/TV inputs. Another negative: there isn’t quick access to a wide or zoom function on the remote to adjust picture size. Therefore I suggest the company make the Freeze button the Wide/Zoom key—simple, right?
This is a solid 32-inch 720p LCD HDTV that’s worth checking out. Buy it at Costco so you can return it within 90 days, no questions asked, if you’re not happy. As a bedroom set, it’s hard to beat but I wouldn’t choose it as my number one display—I’m still heavily in the plasma camp, even with some reflectivity issues. And 32-inches just doesn’t cut it for 1080p BD movies. Up until about a year ago Vizio enjoyed a big price advantage between itself and Sony. Now Sony has the 32-inch KDL-32L4000 for $699 ($689 in Wal-Mart). This means one thing—Vizio’s prices will continue to drop, making HDTVs more affordable for more rooms in the house—and that’s a good thing.
• Affordable, good quality 32-inch HDTV
• HDMI cable supplied
• Reasonable quality for a second set
• Wide variety of video adjustments
• Blacks really aren’t deep enough vs. plasma
• Owner’s manual, remote and OSD need refinement
• Sorry, I still like the plasma picture overall