Ultimate Vizio

Last week, I was invited to visit Vizio's offices in Irvine, California, to provide any feedback I might have regarding its upcoming LED-backlit LCD, the 55-inch VF551XVT, which is in the final tweaking stages before its release in early September. This is a very exciting product: an LCD TV with LED local dimming for—get this—$2000!

Why do I care about covering a $2000 TV on UAV? Because LED backlighting with local dimming brings LCD black levels and contrast ratios into plasma territory—potentially even Kuro territory. If consumers can get that kind of performance for only two grand, that's an ultimate value if ever there was one.

The VF551XVT is said to be 240Hz, but it's of the "120Hz with backlight scanning" variety—that is, the panel's refresh rate is 120Hz with frame interpolation, and the LEDs are flashed on and off in a certain pattern during each frame to simulate the effect of 240Hz. Unlike virtually all other LED LCD manufacturers, Vizio revealed that the backlight includes 960 white LEDs in 80 independently controllable groups. With local dimming engaged, the company claims a dynamic peak contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1.

Readers of UAV's CES blog will be happy to learn that the soundbar below the screen is going to be silver, not bright red, in the production units—it was red on the sample at the show in order to stand out among the other flat panels surrounding it in Vizio's demo room. The LCD panel itself uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology, which generally yields higher black levels and wider viewing angles than VA (vertical alignment) panels. If the higher black levels can be compensated for with LED local dimming, it might be possible to have the best of both worlds.

Vizio has a somewhat makeshift testing area in one corner of its offices, which is partially light-isolated with black fabric, though it's hardly a fully light-controlled environment. My first recommendation was to build a real video-testing room with complete control of ambient light and dark gray or black walls, ceiling, and floor.

Stepping inside, I found a pre-production VF551XVT sitting between a 55-inch Samsung LN55A950 local-dimming LCD (on the right in the photo above, next to the 551) and 46-inch LN46B7100 LED edge-lit LCD. Farther off to the sides were Vizio's 50-inch VP505XVT plasma and 47-inch SV470XVT conventionally backlit LCD. All were fed the same signal from a Sony PlayStation 3 using a Gefen HDMI splitter.

To Vizio's considerable credit, the company had hired veteran ISF tech Kevin Miller to perform a full calibration of each set so they could be compared while looking their best. When mounting such a comparison, most companies use the out-of-box condition and claim it to be a fair test, but I disagree completely—Vizio got this one right.

The VF551XVT's LEDs were not yet tweaked to drop to 0 output behind black areas, but that is the goal in the final production units. A full-screen black field looked pretty dark on the 551 and really black on the Samsung A950, but as expected, not as dark on the Samsung B7100 or Vizio 470 LCD or 505 plasma. In addition, the uniformity on the B7100 edge-lit LCD was pretty bad.

I started by measuring the white and color points on the 551 using my trusty Minolta CS200 colorimeter. Kevin did a good job with the white point, which stayed within 1.6 percent of where it was supposed to throughout the brightness range. Red and blue were pretty close to where they should be, but green was quite oversaturated. I recommended that Vizio implement a color-management system to allow this to be corrected. I was unable to measure black level or contrast ratio because of the poor light control.

Vizio had some test materials on hand, but I brought my own, including Stargate: Continuum. The opening shot of a star field in outer space was very revealing—both local-dimming LCDs (and, in fact, all of the LCDs) revealed far fewer stars than the 505 plasma, which piqued the interest of the Vizio engineers. Similarly, the shadow detail at the start of chapter 3 as the Achilles steams across the Atlantic Ocean was much worse on the LCDs than on the plasma. The 551 has a control called Advanced Adaptive Luma that affects the gamma at the low end of the brightness range, and higher values did improve the shadow detail in this scene.

We also spent some time looking at a few of the clips on FPD Benchmark, a Japanese test Blu-ray that is very revealing of LCD motion blur. As expected, enabling frame interpolation improved the 551's performance in this regard immensely, but it also imparted a "video" look to the image that some folks object to, though I'm not one of them. We did see some interpolation artifacts and judder in a couple of scenes from The Dark Knight. Interestingly, I was told that the MEMC (motion estimation/motion compensation) function, which is implemented on a next-gen processor chip from MediaTek, is disabled if a fast-moving object is deemed to be large.

I was gratified that Vizio wanted my feedback on this set, and the engineers paid close attention to my comments. I look forward to seeing the final product, which should offer great performance for a fraction of what it would cost from just about anyone else. As I said at the outset, that's what I call an ultimate value.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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LATE SEPTEMBER!!'s picture

I hope this was a missprint. Is the set coming out late Jun e or early Sep tember????

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Sorry, it's not a misprint. I spoke with a Vizio product manager yesterday, and he said the 551 will be available in stores by early Sep tember. The CES intro put the release in Jun e, but these things are often delayed, so I never take initial announcements of release dates seriously.

Jarod's picture

Great article! Its really cool that Vizio invited you for feedback on ther local-dimming LED LCD. More companies should obtain feedback this way from sharp eyed reviewers such as yourself. I'm really excited to see a 55in local-dimming set for $2000! Thats just nuts. I can't wait till it comes out to see how it goes up against other local-dimming LCDs that are double its price. Great article once again!

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jarod, thanks for the kind words! I agree that more manufacturers should solicit feedback from independent reviewers, and I applaud Vizio for doing so.

STUDSTER's picture

I would have to say, silver should never be implemented on a TV, too distracting. I do wish the set would look more like the Samsung and not have any mitered corners. Just go with the plain flat black and all will be well....

Jason Blair's picture

When you said "which peaked the interest of the Vizio engineers," I believe you meant "which PIQUED the interest of the Vizio engineers."

Scott Wilkinson's picture

By golly, you're right, Jason! Thanks for the correction!

Craig Anderson's picture

As it always happens, I heard your comments on Leo's show after I ordered a Pioneer Kuro 500M. It now sits in our living room as I wonder whether I should send it back for the Vizio. You said in your initial review that it approaches Kuro levels, which would tell me the Pioneer is still better even without the speakers or the extra 5 inches. B&H has the 500M for $1950 so the prices are about a wash. In this situation, what would you do? Keep the Kuro or send it back and wait for the Vizio?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

I'd keep the Kuro, definitely. I prefer plasma over LCD, even with LED local dimming, especially in a dark room. Plasma has no problem with off-axis image degradation, and it generally produces better shadow detail. And as any outer-space shot will clearly demonstrate, plasma reveals many more stars than any LCD I've seen so far. The Vizio is an incredible value for a local-dimming LCD, costing less than half of what any other such set would be today. This is why I'm excited about it. But it still can't beat a good plasma, especially a Kuro. On the other hand, if you often watch the TV in a well-lit room, a good LCD will often look better than plasma in that environment, at least as long as you're on-axis.

John St. Thomas's picture

Appreciated your review of the Vizio VF551XVT. Do you know if the '551 XVT will have the same depth measurement of 5" as the "550XVT or will it be thinner. Also, my 12 year old 36" Sony died yesterday. Waiting 'til early Sep t.for '551XVT may be a problem in our household (retirees). Any suggestion for a next choice around $2K or less? A 50" Vizio VP504F plasma may work but I'm not sure about the current state of the art of plasma technology, i.e. good stories - bad stories. By the way, what would be a recommended max screen size for a viewing distance of 14 - 15". Enjoy listening to you and Leo. Interesting, informative, and fun, say I. Thank you.

Dustin's picture

Thanks for the great article. I'm glad they got rid of the red speakers... but to go to silver --- that was a dumb move on their part. Silver is horrible, distracting, and easily scratched... and why put silver speakers on a black tv? I agree with Studster above. A flat black would be nice.

Don's picture

Are the speakers removable? They are such an eyesore.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Sadly, the speaker cannot be removed. I agree that a big silver bar below the screen isn't a great idea.

Susan's picture

Have these ever come out. We were waiting, on your recommendation, to try one for our bedroom. (Will they come in anything smaller than 55"?)

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Susan, I just returned from Vizio today, where I saw a production unit, but it's still not ready for prime time. I was expecting to take one with me for review, but given the problems seen by all in attendance—which were worse than the pre-production unit I saw in May —they decided not to lay one on me just yet. There will be a 47-inch version, which will also have Internet access, but not until the end of the year.

Mike's picture

Did Visio give you any insight on the timeline to fix the production issues or their best case/worst case leadtimes on shipping out the final product?

John's picture

I was at Costco yesterday, and they said their units would be coming on Sep tember 16. I would hope they fixed any issues you saw on your Sep tember visit.

Lee Wigglesworth's picture

Scott, Thank you for the great article, I have always enjoyed listening to you on Leo's show. I just jumped into the market looking for a LCD TV and almost purchased the VF550 at my local Sam's club. My wife said get it and I said no I needed to see what you said about it. I saw your review on the VF550 and was ready to buy it when I stumbled onto the VF551. WOW! I am glad I stumbled! From the article above it sounds like the VF551 has everything the VF550 has and more. On Monday(9/21/09)I went to Vizio's website and they were selling them online. I called Vizio and asked when they were shipping them out to retail stores and they could not give me a date. The following day I went back to Vizio's site and they were sold out of the VF551's. Do you know if they have solved all there problems and are shipping them to retails stores? When I get one I will be emailing you because I want to hook it up to the net to watch stuff online and to everything else. Do you have a setup guide for d

Gris's picture

Thanks for this article. The only thing that stops me from considering this tv further is the silver sound bar. If there must be a sound bar at least make it visually match the rest of the tv! And why, oh why, not also make it removable for those who object to its appearance and feed their sound through a separate system???

drs's picture

Scott...any chance of a review now that the new Vizio 55 is shipping and available at my local Costco?

RMW's picture

Such silence on this unit. I haven't found a review anywhere. Quite odd. It's now the middle of Oct ober and this unit's been out since late Sep tember and no review. Not even a hint of one. Usually displays are reviewed BEFORE they are released. Is the Vizio marketing department on vacation?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Actually, I just got one into my studio and did the calibration yesterday. The low end calibrated quite well, but the high end was a bit problematic...had to make some compromises, but eventually got it within a reasonable range. Initial impressions: colors look good, detail is great, blacks are excellent in most cases (though the LEDs dropped to zero in a couple of instances when they shouldn't have), shadow detail not so great. More in the full review, which will appear in Home Theater's Jan uary issue. I'll try to post it here before then.

RMW's picture

Thanks, Scott. I'm looking forward to reading your full review.

Steve M's picture

Scott, Any comments on the LG LH90 LED LCD series. It seems to have all the features of the vizio you've mentioned. I'm interested in the 47" which has full LED backlighting, 240HZ, 2,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio. It's retail is down to $1169.

Michael D's picture

Scott, Would it be possible for you to post the calibrated settings you used for your full review?

Paul Davis's picture

Scott, thanks for the great information. I am considering buying a VF551 at Sam's Club but have heard about the VF552 and would like the internet connectivity. Any ideas on when the VF552 will be available?

Adam G's picture

Hi Scott: Enjoy you on the radio and in ultimate. Bottom line it for me. The Vizio SV472XVT: Is there a better 46-47" led set for the money or MY money to purchase right now? Thanks in advance!

Bob Peck's picture

I purchased a vizio 550xvt in Oct . It has started to do some strange things like outline different things on the screen with green dots. Costco wil exchange it form me. They have the newer 55 vf551xvt Here is my question? The price swing is around $ 600.00 dollars Do you feel I should upgrade or just replace the one I Have? Thanks Bob Peck

Lynne M.'s picture

I just received the 552XVT (through Vizio's VIP program). Have you had a chance to look at that set yet? I believe it may be basically the 551XVT with the internet connectivity. [NOTE: this set currently is "out of stock" per Vizio's website].

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