Vizio Reference RS120-B3 LCD Ultra HDTV

PRICE $130,000

Good blacks
Respectable out-of-box calibration
Clips above white and below black
No 3D

If you want a really big screen that’s more than bright enough for a well-lit room, and you have a bank account that’s flush enough (or a very understanding loan officer), this 120-inch Vizio incorporates all the bells and whistles.

In early October, Vizio invited me to New York City to join other digital-stained A/V scribes in the official launch of the company’s new Reference series Ultra HDTVs. The featured attraction was the RS120B3 ($130,000), loaded up with more than 8 million pixels on its 120-inch-diagonal (10-foot!) screen. The considerably more affordable, 65-inch RS65-B2 ($6,000) joined in the festivities.

Before the introduction, Vizio hosted a briefing for television reviewers to explain the technology and offer tips and tools for evaluating and calibrating high dynamic range (HDR) sets. Later, a handful of reviewers were granted some brief private time with the big RS120-B3 to do our best to wring it out. Although editor-in-chief Rob Sabin and I had only a bit more than 90 minutes with the set, it allowed us to make some observations in anticipation of a full review of the 65-inch version, which we hope to bring to you soon.

The converted factory that functioned as the event venue was likely chosen because the freight elevator was big enough to transport two RS120-B3s (at roughly 350 pounds each) to the third- and fourth-floor exhibit spaces. That open-ceiling elevator, which I’m guessing was at least 20 feet by 10 feet, could probably lift a Humvee without breaking a sweat.

Briefing Day
Both the RS120-B3 and the RS65-B2 are said to include all of the features needed to take full advantage of enhanced Ultra HD content, for which 4K resolution (3840 x 2160) is just the start. Equally or perhaps even more important are deeper, expanded color and HDR. Vizio’s Reference series TVs are the first sets to incorporate the Dolby Vision HDR format in a commercial design, though a few other sets currently on the market can accept Dolby Vision sources and convert them to the HDR format they’re equipped to use. Dolby Vision is one of several HDR formats, and while Dolby arguably initiated the race to HDR, the format that may see the widest commercial use is the less demanding HDR10 standard settled on as a baseline by the CEA. (For more on HDR, see “The New TV Tech,” page 34.)

In LCD TVs, achieving high dynamic range—which offers brighter highlights closer to what we experience in real life—strongly demands full-array backlighting with local dimming. Although manufacturers claim they deliver HDR with edge-lit backlights, the greater degree of control over small areas of the screen afforded by a full-array backlight greatly enhances the execution. Those who do offer full-array local-dimming sets rarely specify how many zones those backlights have. The most zones we’d seen to date were the 336 in the now discontinued Sharp Elite PRO-70X5FD of four years ago. On the other hand, both of the Vizio Reference models boast 384 locally dimmed zones of LED backlighting, which translates to about 21,000 pixels per zone—not bad for a screen with 8.3 million pixels total.

The peak light output of the Reference sets is said to be 800 nits, or about 233 foot-lamberts—roughly 2.5 times as bright as most 1080p, LED-lit LCD HDTVs can manage. But by definition, this peak brightness isn’t used at all times and in all scenes; it’s called into play to produce those brighter, more reallife highlights—the calling cards of HDR. Most current HD sources are produced (graded) for a maximum brightness of about 100 nits, or 29 ft-L, though film and production video is capable of much higher dynamic range. This lower-level grading, which originated in the CRT era, is why I typically calibrate and watch a set at no more than 35 ft-L. Cranking the brightness higher—as most showrooms, home viewers, and even critical viewers do for bright-room viewing—may be pleasing, but it doesn’t accurately mirror the way the source was created.

Our current HDTVs, and virtually all HD programs, also produce far fewer colors than our eyes can see, particularly in the areas of red and green. But the Vizio UHD sets are capable of a wider color gamut, along with conveying 10-bit color from the source to the screen. Assuming they’re fed appropriately mastered UHD program material, this will more closely approach the visible color spectrum. The RS65-B2 employs a quantum dot panel in its backlighting to produce this wider color. The RS120-B3 sticks to more traditional LED backlighting, but is said to use a combination of red and green phosphors with blue LEDs to achieve the wider gamut, with only a small sacrifice in performance; the technology to produce quantum dot backlighting in so large a set is not yet available.

Calibrating a set with HDR and wider color capabilities presents new challenges that were covered in Vizio’s technology seminar. Much of the briefing discussed how to set things up to take full advantage of the enhanced resolution, color, and dynamic range. To achieve this, a special Dolby Vision workflow was added recently by SpectraCal to its widely used CalMAN 5 calibration software. We’re told that SpectraCal is working on additional workflows to accommodate the different emerging HDR standards.

Working It Out
Given that our quality time alone with the RS120-B3 was limited to 90 minutes, what you’ll read here is not a full, in-depth review. Rather, it falls somewhere between a canned manufacturer demo and the sort of detailed hands-on evaluation we do for our usual video reviews—and much closer to the former than the latter. A calibration alone, for example, can take me two to four hours—and on some sets longer, particularly if the calibration needs to be done more than once, as is often the case. Consider me either very slow or very thorough! A full calibration was therefore impossible here, as we wanted to divide our limited time between testing the TV and watching familiar material (both UHD and upconverted Blu-ray). So that’s why you don’t see a Test Bench section here, or any of our usual star ratings. These should be considered top-line, off-the-cuff (albeit expert) observations—nothing more. It’s unlikely we’ll ever do a more extensive review of this particular set, given its size and price, but as noted above, we do hope to have a thorough look at its little brother, the RS65-B2, as soon as possible.

Our technical measurements were done with a DVDO 4K generator. Out of the box, in the Calibrated Dark mode, the grayscale (measured by an X-Rite i1Pro color meter) was acceptably close to the 1080p Rec. 709 standard, with grayscale Delta Es mostly under 3.0—which means that further improvement is likely to be invisible to the eye. We had begun in the Standard mode, however, which was alarmingly worse. But any buyer of this $130,000 set has a right to expect that in addition to delivery and setup, his or her dealer (or Vizio technicians) will either perform a thorough calibration or arrange for one to be done as part of the purchase price.

Even in the Calibrated Dark mode, the default brightness was far too high, at about 77 ft-L. I backed off on the backlight setting from 37 to 12, which offered a far more comfortable dark-room viewing experience. The 2.2 gamma setting was also off a bit (a common error in many sets), producing an average gamma of just under 2.0. We changed to a setting of 2.4 for most of our actual viewing, which measured closer to 2.2.

While we didn’t have time to perform a contrast measurement in the room (which was fairly dark but not as “can’t see your hands in front of your face” black as I would prefer), my favorite dark scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 looked very good, if not quite as impressive as on, say, my home reference Panasonic TC-65ZT60 plasma—a hurdle that nothing short of an OLED or a smaller full-array local-dimming set has yet consistently exceeded.

A quick test revealed that the Vizio clips video below black and above white. I’ve complained about this before with other products, and while it has little effect on normal program material, it can make it more difficult to set the black level (the brightness control) correctly and will clip any white program material that goes above the standard video white level (no content is supposed to, but it can happen on bright scenes or highlights, and if it does, you’ll lose detail in the whites). This isn’t a deal-breaker, but offenders in this regard (and Vizio isn’t the only one) might want to take another look at their firmware.

We couldn’t test HDR material on the RS120-B3, as the USB thumb drive that Vizio provided wouldn’t function properly on the set (though it had been working on other samples in Vizio’s demo space; we later learned that a reboot of the TV set things right for the next group of reviewers). Nonetheless, Rob had brought along a Sony server containing downloaded native 4K material, and it worked fine on the Vizio. We sat about 10 to 11 feet away (an up-close cinematic perspective, to be sure), and while a short movie trailer for something called Love Bot may have been close to soft porn, it produced superb fleshtones and remarkable up-close detail on the Vizio—the best and most natural rendition of detail we saw from the set during the two-day event. We briefly viewed other material from the server, but nothing else came close. This proved that if the source has the detail, the Vizio has the resolution to show it. The source is, as ever, a major component of what you’ll see on this or any other set. UHD sources featuring HDR encoding are still in short supply, though Vudu is getting into the game with streaming-quality content, and Netflix is joining soon. But the big banana for me will be UHD on Blu-ray, hopefully coming by early 2016.

Still, for the next year or two, the bulk of what you’ll watch on this or any other UHD set will be upconverted 1080p. For that, I had brought along Blu-rays of not only Harry Potter but also Microcosmos and the new live-action Cinderella. Both of the latter discs have remarkable resolution and color when seen on any good HDTV, and as upconverted on the Vizio, they were impressive. We did note a little softness compared with what these discs offer on a smaller screen, but how much of this was due to the Vizio’s upconversion and how much simply to the size of the screen was impossible to determine in the absence of any external upconversion with which to compare the Vizio’s (the older Blu-ray player we used didn’t have 4K upconversion).

In the ball scene from Cinderella, I noticed what appeared to be some artifacts on the crystal chandeliers as they moved past the camera. But when I viewed this later on a smaller UHD set I had in house for a review, it merely looked like the shimmer you’d usually see as crystal reflects the ambient lighting. A shot of the king’s red jacket, however, did show what appeared to be some false contouring in the folds of the jacket’s sleeve, which wasn’t visible on that smaller UHD set. But this was minor and, again, may have been due to something outside of the set itself.

Soundbars and More
On the first day, we also toured a showcase of Vizio’s other products, with of course an emphasis on UHD and HDR. The smaller Reference RS65-B2 set comes with its own cosmetically matching soundbar-and-subwoofer system, and the soundbar itself may be attached to the set or located elsewhere. While it can’t duplicate what a full surround sound system can give you, it sounded very good (for a soundbar, anyway), though the “subwoofer” didn’t seem to go much below what I’d call midbass.

I attended a closed-room demo of the soundbar, and I must say that (apart from the native 4K Love Bot short on the RS120-B3) the picture on the RS65-B2 used for that audio demo was the most impressive I saw in the two days. The source that time was The Art of Flight, a beautifully shot snowboarding documentary played from a 1080p Blu-ray upconverted by the set to 4K. Of course, that disc looks spectacular wherever I’ve seen it, but the bright sunlight slopes and cast shadows had particularly strong impact on the RS65-B2.

Several other RS65-B2 sets were also on display, showing Dolby Vision HDR material. While they were very impressive, I would have toned down both the brightness and color (likely the default settings) for a more natural look. But the color in some of the program material—from Man of Steel, The Great Gatsby, and Mad Max: Fury Road—was most certainly over the top by design (at least for the latter two). Only the cinematographers and directors of those movies could tell us if this was the look they were after. I did notice, however, that some of the CGI work (such as the flamethrowers in Mad Max) looked patently like…well…lower-res CGI. I can’t blame the sets for calling it like it is!

We didn’t address some of the RS120-B3’s features here, including its Internet capabilities. But be assured, they’re as extensive as those in any modern UHD set.

If I had $130,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I would definitely consider the RS120-B3. It makes a statement like no set since members of the press (and a few very well-to-do customers) were treated a few years back to a limited-edition, 150-inch plasma from Panasonic, which cost $200,000. This Vizio has an appetite that’s likely more friendly to your power bills than the plasma was (though not that friendly). Can you get a picture this size or larger for even less? Sure, with a projector and screen. But 4K home projectors are still thin on the ground, and while they do exist, they won’t produce as extreme a dynamic range as a flat-screen set can with HDR material. Nor will they be as watchable in a well-lit room. So if you want a big, bright, UHD picture with HDR, and price is no object, this Vizio may be the best game in town—for now.

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jnemesh's picture

If I were shopping for a set like this, I would expect near perfection from the picture! I don't care if it is the only 120" out there, having it clip blacks and whites is a total non-starter. I would wait for the 110" Samsung is working on. It will probably be a fully active backlit model with their "Nanocrystal Color" technology and HDR.

Also, why throw in a sub-performing soundbar with this? Doesn't Vizio realize that anyone spending this kind of cash would want a top performing sound system to go with it? STUPID!

This whole review just screams "mediocrity"! I would never recommend this POS to anyone!