2D Performance
3D Performance
Price: $2,000 At A Glance: Wide, wide image on wide, wide movies • Outstanding detail and good color • Bright, punchy 3D • Minor issues need sorting out

It was just a year or so ago when I first noticed that most of the movies I looked forward to experiencing on my home theater projection system were ’Scope films—productions with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or 2.40:1. Comedies, documentaries, art-house fare, and virtually all HD broadcasts are mainly limited to 1.85:1, 1.78:1 (16:9), or 1.66:1 (European widescreen). Classic films, of course, are 4:3.

There have been outliers to these widely used aspect ratios, beginning with Abel Gance’s three-projector, 4.00:1, silent-era Napoleon from 1927 to today’s IMAX. For the most part, however, 2.35:1 and 2.40:1 remain the aspect ratios of choice for actioners and wannabe epics.

Unfortunately, when we display these films on our 16:9 HDTV flat-panel sets, the only alternative up till now, apart from cropping off some of the picture (thank you, HBO, for your efforts over the years in this regard) has been to live with black bars at the top and bottom of the image. For front-projection setups, a 2.35:1 screen has become an increasingly popular solution, but in the direct-view, flat-panel world, those black bars appeared to be here to stay.

Or maybe not. With the 58inch XVT3D580CM CinemaWide (and its smaller brother, the 50-inch XVT3D500CM), Vizio has taken the bold step of offering an HDTV with a true ’Scope aspect ratio. There aren’t many genuine firsts in today’s follow-the-crowd television market, but these sets definitely qualify.

’Scoping It Out
Apart from its wide aspect ratio, the CinemaWide set offers another major plus—a true pixel count of 2560 x 1080. That is, the set’s horizontal resolution is actually higher than the horizontal resolution of any standard HDTV. But the actual image area of a 2.35:1 movie in our 1920 x 1080 HD system is 1920 x 817; the rest of the vertical pixels are used for the black bars. The CinemaWide upconverts a 2.35:1 source in its native resolution of 2560 x 1080. Going by the latter, the XVT3D580CM’s true aspect ratio, while specified as 21:9 or 2.33:1, is actually 2.37:1—or 21.33:9.

But that number doesn’t roll easily off the promotional page; 2.37:1 falls neatly between the two most popular ’Scope ratios mentioned above. We’ll use 2.35:1 here as a generic term for these two ratios.

Since the true resolution of the 2.35:1 source image is still 1920 x 817, this upconversion can’t actually increase the resolution. But it does produce a picture with a finer pixel structure. This alone should pay dividends, provided there’s a clean upconversion from 1920 x 817 to 2560 x 1080. The most obvious benefit of this is that you can sit closer to the screen. I did much of my viewing of this set from little more than 7 or 8 feet.

When the source is not ’Scope—that is, when it’s 1.85:1, 1.78:1 (16:9), 1.33:1 (4:3), or some other conventional format— the image is centered on the screen, and there are black bars on the sides. I found the sidebars less intrusive than top and bottom ones.

In the Auto Aspect setting of the multiple-position Wide (aspect ratio) control, the set switches automatically between 2.35:1 and 16:9 by sensing the presence or absence of black bars. This takes a second or two to accomplish, and with menus, trailers, and FBI warnings in a blizzard of aspect ratios stacked up before the main feature, the picture size can bounce around like a Whac-A-Mole. The set also doesn’t respond well to some films with non-standard formatting, such as mixed-aspect films (currently rare, but including The Dark Knight and Tron: Legacy). These and other nonstandard aspect ratio films were sometimes displayed at full-screen width with geometric distortion or other oddities, regardless of the setting of the Wide control. Our review sample, however, was an early production model. Vizio says it’s working on ironing out these kinks as I write.

Because of the increased screen width available, if you call up the menu, the image slides over to the right, smaller but fully visible, with the menu on the left. Unfortunately, on the day before I wrapped my viewing tests, the set suddenly stopped doing this correctly. The image stayed centered, with the menu partially obscuring its left side. With any luck, this bug was endemic to my early sample and won’t be an issue.

More Stuff
The set offers all of the standard video controls, including the company’s weird assortment of picture modes. At least a Movie mode is offered, but why Vizio continues to include picture modes named for different sports (Golf, Football, Baseball, etc.) remains a mystery. Along with several color temperature settings, you get red, green, and blue offset and gain controls for calibrating the white balance—but no color management system for adjusting the red, green, and blue color points.

The set is edge lit, with the LED lighting located behind the screen’s top and bottom borders. Vizio’s Smart Dimming improves the black level by automatically adjusting this lighting in vertical zones as needed by the picture. While it’s not as effective as LED backlighting with full local dimming, this Smart Dimming does significantly improve the overall black level (see HT Labs Measures) without side effects. A separate Adaptive Luma feature is said to perform a related function electronically at the pixel level. I set it to Low.

The Smooth Motion Effect and Real Cinema modes, used together, comprise the set’s motion smoothing feature. If motion smoothing via frame interpolation is your thing, it works. I left these features off. A PiP (picture-in-picture) or PoP (side-by-side images) option is also included, but as with most sets, the displayed input combinations that may be selected are limited.

The set has an unusual group of Picture Size and Position controls, which proved useful. Out of the box, with 2.35:1 movies, the Vizio’s picture had a small but visible vertical squeeze, which lent it a bit of the fat-actor look. Increasing the Vertical Size control to +10 fixed this, but not without cropping 10 pixels each from the top and bottom of the image, degrading the set’s measured 1:1 pixel-perfect performance. Of course, the upconversion to 2560 x 1080 degrades pixel perfection as well (pixel perfection means that each displayed pixel corresponds directly to a pixel in the source, clearly impossible when video processing is involved). But the image lost to my corrective stretch adjustment was tiny, the processing involved produced no obvious image degradation, and without the correction, the 2.35:1 image’s subtle geometric distortion was visible—at least to me.

(877) 698-4946

chilipalm's picture

Did you try connecting a PC via HDMI out to the TV to see if it will output the native resolution of the TV?

maj0crk's picture

Nothing said about stretching a 16:9 TV image to fill the ultra-wide screen. Or is that capability there?
I've yet to see this set in any store, including Vizio's favorite Wal Mart. Is it still an internet-only purchase?