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 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.
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.