Vizio M-Series (M50-E1) review

Vizio’s M65-EO offers some of the best dollar-for-dollar picture performance on the planet.
Vizio’s M65-EO offers some of the best dollar-for-dollar picture performance on the planet.
Vizio’s M65-EO offers some of the best dollar-for-dollar picture performance on the planet.

Highs

  • Excellent black levels
  • Dazzling HDR color
  • Impressive 4K resolution
  • Chromecast streaming built-in
  • Affordable

Lows

  • SmartCast TV interface is clunky
  • No TV tuner
  • Poor off-axis performance

Vizio’s 2016 M-Series 4K UHD display offered incredible performance for the money, but the company’s updated SmartCast interface — which traded the bulk of its on-board user interface and streaming apps for Chromecast-based streaming via a somewhat glitchy tablet — missed the mark for many (ourselves included). For 2017, Vizio made a concession of sorts, adding a few baked-in streaming apps and a more traditional interface. Meanwhile, as Vizio retooled, brands like TCL have stepped up with an impressive line of Roku-based TVs, making the mid-level budget tier a lot more interesting. For our Vizio M65-EO review, we set out to discover whether Vizio’s latest 4K UHD bargain has what it takes to keep the brand atop the competitive middle rung.

Out of the box

Pulling the massive 65-inch M65-EO from its packaging is — to quote the great Yogi Berra — déjà vu all over again. On its face the TV appears identical to last year’s model, carved into a basic rectangular frame with a half-inch bezel, silver streaks on the side panels for style points, and paper clip-like stands which, while easy to mount, don’t exactly scream premium design. The display’s 57-pound weight (again the same as last year’s model) puts it on the heavier side, so if you want to mount it on your wall you’ll want to make sure you’ve got secure anchors.

Unearthing the accessories from the bottom layer of foam gives the first real indication you’ve landed this year’s model; in place of a tablet is a loaded remote, complete with volume, channel, and even number keys. The remote’s inclusion of multiple quick keys, including even lesser-known services like Xumo, shows Vizio is eager to make the device a central fixture once more, and seeing a key for Amazon Prime Video — which still doesn’t work with iOS for Chromecast streaming — is a sight for sore eyes to iPhone users.

Features and design

(Note: While we reviewed the 65-inch M65-EO model, our review applies to all M-series TVs)

You may have noticed we’ve refrained so far from calling the M-Series a “TV,” and there’s a very specific reason for that. With four HDMI ports, including one at the side and three at the back, as well as two USB inputs and a hybrid Composite/component input, the M65-EO’s back panel is well-equipped to handle all your components. But, like Vizio’s E-Series and P-Series displays, what it doesn’t include is a common coaxial jack. That’s because, as of last year, Vizio displays no longer include TV tuners, and as such, they aren’t technically TVs.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

It’s an interesting proposition that might compare to Apple’s “courageous” decision to drop the headphone jack, which virtually no one besides yours truly seems to mind. As a brand centered around value, however, Vizio’s hardware appeals to cord cutters and cord nevers who often supplement streaming services with an HDTV antenna, pulling in local broadcasts in lieu of cable or satellite packages. If that’s your bag, you’ll need to grab a separate tuner to get your locals. While they’re affordable, you’ll be sacrificing an HDMI slot and in some cases you’ll also be adding one more remote to clutter your coffee table.

Inside, the M65-EO features a full-array LED/LCD panel toting 32-zone backlighting with local dimming, in sharp contrast (pun intended) to the edge-lit panels common in its class. Dubbed Xtreme Black Engine Plus, Vizio’s local dimming has long been a staple of its displays, allowing for better shadow detail and richer black levels than many competitors. The panel offers a 60Hz refresh rate with 120Hz effective refresh rate, though it does not use motion interpolation to achieve the effect, relying instead on backlight motion enhancement, according to Vizio. This allows the panel to avoid the dreaded soap opera effect, in which motion for some content looks cheap and unnatural.

Confused about 4K Ultra HD TVs? We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to get you up to speed on just exactly what 4K Ultra HD is, and what it means for your next TV purchase.
Everything you need to know when buying a TV

High Dynamic Range (HDR) continues to be a worthy buzzword in TV land thanks to its ability to enhance contrast and color shading from supported sources, and the M65-EO’s XHDR Plus technology features both primary formats in Dolby Vision and HDR10 (more on that in the performance section). In addition, Vizio has transplanted its Ultra Color Spectrum tech, a.k.a. wide color gamut, from the pricier P-series, which offers color enhancement for HDR content. (And, spoiler alert, the M65-EO provides dazzling color vibrancy from HDR sources.)

One other point of note on HDR: Vizio (confusingly) labels HDMI 2 and HDMI 4 as “Best,” but HDMI 1 is the only port that supports both 4K UHD at 60fps (frames per second) and HDR content. The other three support 4K only, at 30fps. In other words, if you want HDR, you’ll need to use HDMI 1, which also offers ARC support for connection to receivers and soundbars.

Interface and usability

Vizio’s new baked-in Smartcast TV interface — which confusingly shares the same branding as its mobile-based interface — is a step forward in terms of usability. While last year’s dedicated tablet and wireless magnetic charging pad seemed snazzy on the outset, porting virtually all controls into the digital domain comes with all kinds of concessions, not the least of which are tablet spinouts and constant Android updates. It’s a relief to have a remote with hard keys for functions like volume and navigation, and offering the digital version as a SmartCast app for your phone provides both options.

TV setup is speedy and intuitive, and the display asks all the right questions to get you rolling in no time, from picture preference to network connection. You can even set up the display to turn on when you connect from Chromecast-compatible apps on your phone, though we’d advise against this if you have more than one Chromecast set up in your household — otherwise you’ll inevitably turn the M65-EO on accidentally. The system won’t allow you to adjust settings across inputs, but we appreciate the M65-EO’s inclusion of great picture presets, including Calibrated Dark and Calibrated. Both settings automatically turn off features like motion enhancement, and the Calibrated preset needed only minor adjustments for an optimal picture.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Compared to other modern TV interfaces, though, SmartCast TV is limited in functionality and clunky in daily use. Unlike Roku TVs, there’s no good way to search for content across services, and while basics like Netflix and Hulu are there, the on-board app selection is pretty limited. Perhaps the most useful addition is Amazon Prime Video, which offers a sizable 4K library that can’t be accessed via Chromecast from iOS devices. But basic services like HBO, Showtime, and a host of others are Chromecast only, and clicking on the app store icon invokes an almost comical suggestion to download them from your smartphone. In other words, for better or worse, you’ll still likely need to use your phone or tablet with the M65-EO.

The interface’s inability to read an input source when you connect a hot component also makes the system seem outdated. Even selecting an input is a bit awkward, as the display has a tendency to connect to the first input you scroll by. We’re glad the remote is back, and Chromecast streaming is a great perk, but SmartCast TV itself still needs work.

Performance

For those who can get past the limits of the interface, though, Vizio’s M-series rewards buyers once again this year with some of the best dollar-for-dollar picture performance on the planet. We weren’t surprised to discover the TV offers excellent black levels and shadow detail, as that’s kind of Vizio’s thing. But we were delighted to find there’s a lot more to the M65-EO than what’s lurking in the dark.

For one thing, the massive screen offers impressive uniformity from corner to corner in any lighting. Wide, blazing blue skies and fluffy clouds are revealed with virtually no visible artifacts across the screen, while general color accuracy is also quite impressive for the money.

Vizio’s SmartCast TV interface is limited in functionality and clunky in usability.

But it’s the magic of HDR that makes this set worth owning for those looking to be dazzled by the latest and greatest film and TV content. Our first introduction to just how impactful HDR can be on the M65-EO came when we compared the SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) version of The Last Reef to its HDR counterpart.

Switching from SDR to HDR revealed an array of colors and vibrancy that was, quite literally, jaw dropping in comparison. The panning across the dead reef at the film’s intro went from a blanket of bland brown calcium to an intricate collection of reds, oranges, browns, and purples, while scenes like the helicopter shot of the reef from above exploded with color, revealing electric blue, sapphire, and dazzling aquamarine. A nudibranch (sea slug) sliding around on a bit of mossy rock transformed from a monochromatic lump into an ethereal white being accented with rusty maroon and brown alongside the black.

Watching Transformers 5 with the sound off (because, seriously), we realized that even terrible movies look fantastic in HDR, as the film’s sunlit skies and hurling fireballs lit up the background in crystalline, white-hot bursts, while colors like the magenta Chevy and the rainbow-colored autobot behind it in the first scene in Cuba look almost hyper realistic in their saturation, making for a good match to the film’s overall aesthetic tone.

Maxing out at 600 nits, the M65-EO isn’t as strikingly bright as top-tier LED TVs from the likes of Samsung or Sony (which almost double the peak brightness), or as dazzling in contrast as LG’s OLED displays (which get a boost from perfect black levels), but those TVs will also cost you at least double, so it’s a pretty fair value quotient.

As for quirks, while we could nitpick here and there — the screen can occasionally look just a tiny bit hazy when contrasting dark scenes with natural light — the M65-EO’s only real performance issue is one we see with virtually every LCD/LED TV that employs a VA panel: Poor off-axis performance. The M65-EO is a particularly notable offender, though, and getting even a bit outside the central zone saps the luster from colors, worsens black level performance, and creates more notable “haloing” around lighted areas set against black scenes. In contrast, TCL’s P-series TV offers a wider sweet spot. That said, the issue is a very common one, even with premium priced LED/LCD displays with VA panels.

For most viewers, especially those new to 4K HDR sets, the M65-E0’s dazzling colors and impressive black-levels will be more than enough to make up for any shortcomings, offering striking performance to spice up almost everything that graces its screen, 4K or otherwise.

Warranty

Vizio offers a one-year warranty from the date of original purchase for all consumer purchases. For more info, check out the warranty page.

Our Take

For those who don’t mind a bit of clunk in the interface trunk, Vizio’s M65-EO offers dazzling picture performance for the money, ranking among the very best in its class.

Is there a better alternative?

Those who value a more balanced mix of usability and performance may want to check out the TCL P-series mentioned above. However, that TV doesn’t come in a 65-inch model, topping out at 55 inches. if you want a giant screen you may be better off simply grabbing the M-series and adding a 4K streamer like a Roku Ultra, Apple TV 4K, or Fire TV.

How long will it last?

While we’ve encountered a few software issues here and there, there’s a reason Vizio’s TVs are among the most popular you can buy. Boasting the latest in resolution and HDR support, the TV is well future-proofed and should last for years to come.

Should you buy it?

For those who value excellent picture performance first and foremost, absolutely. Vizio’s M-series is an affordable way to jump into stunning 4K HDR resolution in style.

Update: Updated to clarify that the M65-EO panel is a 60Hz panel with motion enhancement to achieve a 120Hz “effective” refresh rate.