Test Report: Vizio E601i-A3 LCD HDTV Page 2

Setup

The Vizio has a sizeable selection of picture presets, including sports-themed options like Football, Golf, Basketball, and Baseball. Not surprisingly, one named Movie provided the most accurate out-of-box picture, so that’s where I started my adjustments. An advanced picture menu contains high and low settings to adjust color temperature (grayscale). There’s also a backlight control with two settings that supposedly dim the set’s LED backlight for improved contrast, though only one (OPC) made any real, measurable difference when I carried out contrast ratio tests. One other setting of note was Smooth Motion Effect. This activates motion interpolation to remove the visual “judder” that’s an artifact of camera pans in film-based programs. While enabling this feature helped to remove judder, it also added a degree of motion smoothing that made movies look unnatural, so I left if off.

Performance

Adjustments made, I put away test patterns and sat back to watch something real. First, the good. After I calibrated the Vizio’s grayscale in Movie mode, its color was for the most part accurate. In a scene from Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire on Blu-ray where Agent Van Alden (Michael Shannon) takes his wife for an outing on a sunny Atlantic City afternoon, their faces looked natural and I could make out subtle differences in both characters’ respective skin tones. Reds looked a bit rich in the occasional flashes of bright color in the boardwalk attractions in the background, but the effect was not overwhelming. Overall, the Vizio’s picture was bright and vibrant, with impressive clarity.

Movies with dark scenes — especially letterboxed ones —fared less well. Like some other LCD TVs with an edge-lit backlight that we’ve tested, the Vizio had sub-par picture uniformity, with certain areas of the screen looking brighter than others. In the scene where the crew first explores the alien structure in Prometheus, for example, there was good contrast between the bright flashlights they carried and the dark, cavernous tunnels in the background. But uneven brightness levels across the screen gave the background a mottled, “cloudy” look that killed any illusion of depth. And it wasn’t just dark movies that suffered from the Vizio’s screen-uniformity issue; I also saw evidence of it in dim scenes from Boardwalk Empire, as well as in regular network HDTV shows like CSI.

Screen clouding aside, when I engaged the TV’s Backlight Control feature, especially the OPC setting, it helped to increase black depth on dark movie scenes, which in turn gave the picture a greater sense of “pop.” But even with its Backlight Control switched off, the Vizio’s native contrast was quite good. It even bested that of the last plasma TV I tested on this parameter, though its contrast ratio measurements fell well short of the last edge-lit LCD TV I tested, the Sony KDL-55HX850.

The E601i proved to be a better performer on more regular fare like HD sports or news. So if that’s the kind of programming that you normally watch, you will likely to have less to complain about. The set’s video processing of both 1080i and standard-def content is without fault; it also has decent noise reduction, although that adjustment did tend to soften pictures somewhat when jacked up to a high setting. Off-axis picture uniformity was below average: When I moved 10° or more off from a center seat, picture contrast faded and colors started to look less rich.

Bottom Line

At $999, Vizio’s E601i-A3 represents a great value for a 60-inch LCD HDTV. This set’s big screen can deliver a satisfying sense of visual immersion when you watch TV or play games, and its impressive brightness and contrast make it a good option for viewing in well-lit rooms. I also appreciated the Vizio E601i-A3’s generous selection of A/V streaming apps, as well as its well-organized App Deck for browsing them.

That said, the E601i’s sub-par picture uniformity makes it tough to recommend for movie, and even some TV, viewing: On-axis screen clouding and off-axis picture fade are both just too much in evidence to overlook. The Vizio’s $999 price is undoubtedly a strong draw, but you may want to consider spending a bit more on a set that doesn’t suffer from the above-mentioned issues.

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