Vizio’s position as the number two TV brand in the US is built on a foundation of cheap (they’d probably prefer “inexpensive”) TVs that far outperform their price points. In recent years, the company has perfected its techniques to the point where its M-series and P-series models no longer offer great performance for the money, they just offer great performance. Yet, along the way, the brand quizzically eliminated features users like, trading a built-in smart TV interface for Chromecast streaming, and even dropping the TV tuner, still widely used by cord cutters with HD antennas pulling in local HD TV stations.
While Vizio has beefed up its 2017 SmartCast models with on-board streaming, the TV tuner is still missing in action. But when you’ve got a series with a picture that looks as good as the ridiculously affordable E-series — which costs just $800 for the monstrous 65-inch E65-E1 model — those peripherals are more easily excused. While not without its quirks, the Vizio E-series offers a whole lot for a little. And we like that.
Out of the box
You know there are sacrifices to be made with a budget screen, and nothing says budget like the E-series’ aesthetics. The exterior is as plain as black plastic gets, with a sizeable half-inch bezel, and latticed feet so basic, all we can say about them is: Yes, they do indeed hold the TV up. That said, most TVs are utilitarian by nature – when it comes to watching, it is what’s on the screen that matters, not what’s around it. What’s more, even at a bulky 52 pounds (always lift with a friend!), the 65-inch E65-E1 we tested is easy to set up. From the four quick screws needed for the stand legs, to the speedy setup engine, the E-series gets up and online in mere minutes.
At the bottom of the package’s styrofoam skeleton rests a UPS-tan box of accessories, with a manual, batteries, and a relatively basic remote — though not nearly as basic as last year’s model — inside. Unlike Vizio’s 2016 displays, which arrived with a sleek-looking Android tablet that worked … most of the time, the 2017 E-series goes back to basics with an ergonomic wand remote that offers some helpful quick keys and simple control for all basic functions.
Inside and out
Don’t call it a TV, because without a built-in tuner, the E-series technically isn’t one. Vizio is careful to refer to its new SmartCast models as “home theater displays.” Frankly, the phrasing, like the missing feature, is a little awkward. But when it comes to connections, there are plenty on board this budget ride to help make up for its lack of that good old coaxial cable jack, including four HDMI inputs — one with HDMI ARC and HDR compatibility — as well as component video jacks, dual USB ports, and an optical digital audio output.
Even without the tuner, cord cutters with an HD antenna can connect it and pull in local broadcasts by simply adding a separate outboard tuner. While they’re relatively affordable, keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing an HDMI slot and likely adding one more remote to wrangle.
As is the way with Vizio, the LED/LCD panel comes to life via full-array backlighting with local dimming, which gives the SmartCast lineup a distinct advantage over most edge-lit TVs when it comes to creating impressive contrast, black levels, and shadow detail — all attributes that help create a richer picture with more dimension. Unlike the 32-zones used in Vizio’s pricier 65-inch M-series model, the 65-inch E65-E1 uses just 12 dimming zones, and smaller models use just eight (resulting in similar performance to the 65-inch variant). That makes it harder for the display to create the richest black levels behind a planet or starship in space without creating halos of light around them – those milky blotches you may notice behind bright images on black backgrounds.
Despite the fewer dimming zones, Vizio’s Xtreme Black Engine Plus local-dimming processor helps the TV do a pretty good job of reacting to different backlighting demands to provide richer contrast on-screen. You may occasionally catch the process in the act during extreme lighting shifts — something akin to seeing your pupils dilate and constrict in real time, only much faster. Most of the time, though, we found Vizio’s backlight dimming impressive.
When it comes to motion resolution, the panel offers a 60Hz refresh rate with a claimed 120Hz “effective” refresh rate via processing, though, according to Vizio, it doesn’t employ motion interpolation to achieve the effect, relying instead on “backlight motion enhancement.” This allows it to successfully avoid the so-called soap opera effect, in which motion for some content looks like it’s been shot on someone’s aging camcorder.
As mentioned, the Vizio E-series is also HDR-compatible thanks to a firmware update. For those unfamiliar, HDR allows for enhanced contrast and brightness which, when combined with Wide Color Gamut, allows newer 4K TVs to essentially make a Kansas-to-Oz kind of color transformation. The E-series doesn’t include a wide color gamut per se, but its HDR10 and Dolby Vision support do make a visible improvement to non-HDR TVs. In contrast, Vizio’s step up M-series and flagship P-series displays pack both HDR and wide color gamut for even better picture with deeper wider color shading and higher brightness.
Vizio’s gambit to pull the guts out of its 2016 SmartCast models and replace them with a slick Android tablet and built-in Chromecast support may have more-or-less flopped, but that doesn’t mean the company has given up on Chromecast altogether. Instead, SmartCast is now a hybrid, offering a limited number of essential streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu built in, as well as a near-unlimited selection available for download on your smartphone for “casting” to the TV.
The system works relatively well, the boon of the on-board apps being that you can actually watch shows and movies from Amazon Video (still barred from Chromecast). While it’s a pretty pared down interface, the display is simple to setup and use. If you’re not into the Chromecast method, the remote has pretty much everything you need, though switching between sources is slightly awkward for some reason — we wish the display was able to automatically identify source devices like gaming consoles, though it can identify some Blu-ray players. That said, the E-series’ price point helps ease the fallout from those minor shortcomings.
While the E-series’ performance may not excel under extreme scrutiny by the pickiest cinephiles, its performance is extremely impressive when you consider what you could get with the same amount of cash even a few short years ago. Boasting a crystal-clear picture, impressive shadow detail and black levels, and rich color shading, this display will be a breath of fresh air for those looking to trade in their aging HDTV and step up to the next level.
This picture will be a breath of fresh air for those looking to trade in their aging HDTV.
It used to take a lot of tooling with the settings to get accurate colors and proper shadow detail, but thanks to Vizio’s new Calibrated picture mode, it takes only a few tweaks (if that) to lock in a rich and dimensional picture. For gaming, the Standard mode offers a bit more punch, raising the backlight to 75 on the 100-point scale, which is helpful seeing that this display doesn’t get as bright as the higher tiers in Vizio’s lineup, or TVs from other brands like Samsung and Sony.
Still, scenes from well-produced series like Marco Polo (which, we have to admit, is growing on us just because it’s so beautiful), offer a deep canvas of colors, and impressive detail down to each strand of hair or knotted bit of gold embroidery. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t quite pop off the screen as readily here as with Vizio’s M-series, it’s still a great viewing experience thanks to the display’s impressive contrast and screen uniformity, revealing no notable artifacts even in the brightest scenes.
When it comes to HDR, while again you won’t get the kind of contrast or bursting color shades of pricier displays, you will get more for your money when you pop in HDR content. One of our favorite 4K HDR Blu-ray test sources, The Last Reef, reveals stark differences between SDR and HDR content in certain scenes, exposing more shades of color with HDR in play. Vizio tells us this likely stems from the fact that SDR content is created for TVs with much lower brightness levels than even today’s cheapest screens. As such, HDR10 support allows the E-series to better recreate what the director or cinematographer originally envisioned, resulting in more colors, better contrast, and thus, more realistic images.
Of course, apart from its HDR limitations, there are some other compromises to be made for the E-series’ budget price. As we touched on above, that includes haloing made more visible with the lights in the room turned off than Vizio’s M-series display, as well as poorer off-axis performance. Colors dull and blacks turn grey quickly when you move off center. That said, poor off-axis performance is a problem with the vast majority of LED TVs we see, save those which use IPS (aka LG) LCD panels, which usually provide less impressive black levels in general. Frankly, if you want a killer picture from every angle, right now you have to step up your budget significantly to purchase an OLED TV.
Vizio offers a one-year warranty from the date of purchase in the United States and Canada from any authorized dealer.Our Take
While Vizio’s SmartCast interface still has some catching up to do, the E-series offers impressive picture performance across a massive screen at a killer price.
Is there a better alternative?
Those on a tight budget who want a bit more intellect from their “smart” TV may want to check out TCL’s P-Series TVs (yes, it’s annoying both brands have a P-series), which comes with Roku’s excellent interface built in, higher picture quality, and support for both HDR and Dolby Vision, but doesn’t come in any screen sizes other than 55-inches. If you want a big-boy display, and a bit better performance, Vizio’s M-series is also well worth considering.
How long will it last?
The E-series is a budget model, and the build quality leaves something to be desired, but if you’re not too hard on your gear, it should last for years. When it comes to future proofing, it’s somewhere in the middle thanks to basic HDR support and 4K resolution, but TV design improves at a lightning pace, so if you’re looking for top-tier performance and the latest and greatest features in TV land, you’ll need to step up you’re budget significantly.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re looking for a monstrous screen with impressive performance on a budget — and you don’t mind sacrificing some smarts and a tuner — Vizio’s E-series is a great choice at a very nice price.