Vizio VF551XVT Review

vizio vf551xvt review

Vizio VF551XVT

“Vizio’s VF551XVT offers full-array LED backlighting on a budget, if you can stomach the dingy industrial design.”
  • 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

Vizio-VF551XVT-e1

Introduction

All of the top-line 2010 buzz in television land may be about 3D, but until those sets arrive later this year, LED backlit flat panels remain the technology to watch, since these models deliver mouth-watering picture quality. As long-time plasma fans—the tech still remains our benchmark—we’ve marveled at the way backlit LED LCD HDTVs have closed the quality gap with plasma over the past 18 months. Finally, we’re seeing LCD HDTVs with deep blacks and excellent contrast. Our main squawk with LED is cost, however, since typically these sets are far more expensive than similarly-sized plasma flat panels. Happily, now Vizio has entered the scene to shrink the dollar gap. Vizio came out of nowhere to be the number-two TV seller in the U.S. by offering decent sets at good prices. And following on this success, the manufacturer is moving from low-priced 37-inchers to loaded displays that compete with the best from Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sony. Let’s see if these upstarts can match up with the big boys.

Vizio-VF551XVT-e3Features and Design

Vizio is not known for its cutting-edge styling. Utilitarian best describes it, but even bearing this in mind, the VF551XVT is one of ugliest flat panels we’ve ever seen. Please guys, give up the silver speaker grille and accents, then lose the color-coding on the side/rear jack packs – the set reeks of a ‘70s GM clunker. By contrast, Samsung, Sony and LG have no concerns whatsoever on the design front. Here’s a suggestion. Given that the company made a big deal about signing Beyonce at CES 2010 as a spokesperson and consultant to help develop future products, the diva should spend some time with the company’s designers and help the poor souls out. After all, this is a $2,000 television, not a $99 Blu-ray player.

Moving along though, it’s a tad thicker than competing sets, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. It measures 51.5” wide, 36” high and 4.9” deep (13.5” with the supplied stand). The set tips the scales at 90lbs with stand, 78 without, so have a friend handy when you put it in position.

Along with the ugly speaker grille, there’s not much on the front other than a lighted logo and a remote sensor. On the left side is a colored jack pack that matches illustrations in the owner’s manual. We understand the theory behind this, but it’s ugly as are the colors on the main jack pack on the back. You really won’t see this mess once it’s in position, but it shows the company’s PC monitor roots. More important is the fact there are five HDMI inputs (four rear-positioned, one side-mounted) which should handle all of your HD devices. There’s no card reader, but the set does accept USB drives with .AVI and .MP4 files among others.

Vizio-VF551XVT-e7What’s In the Very Big Box

Of course there’s the TV and stand. There’s also a 76-page owner’s manual, quick start guide, AC cord, cleaning cloth and candy bar-style learning remote. The control has a nice heft and is backlit, but there’s no LCD readout. We still strongly feel manufacturers should supply better remotes for their top-of-the-line models. Of note is a supplied wire cable so you can anchor it to the wall for safety. Speaking of cables, no HDMI cables are supplied, so make sure you have several on hand.

Vizio-VF551XVT-e4Performance and Use

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.

Conclusion

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.

Pros:

  • Affordable 55-inch LED HDTV
  • 5 HDMI inputs
  • Good not great picture quality
  • Surprisingly robust sound system

Cons:

  • Quality not as good as competition
  • Poor design (lose the silver trim)
  • Remote should be better
  • No Internet capability