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Strap on your spurs and dump out that tea: This edge-LED LCD from Vizio is our first taste of the American company's 2013 line-up. Yeehaw! Okay, so maybe they're as much Taiwanese as American—they still make major rounds in stateside retail branches.
Now, I know what you're thinking—Wasn't the M-Series around last year? That may be the case (same for the E-Series), but both have survived, thrived, and multiplived. At least as far as screen sizes go: At CES 2013, I saw something like twenty different E-Series sizes advertised. Pretty wild.
As for this 50-incher, it's the M501D-A2R. While it may be a mouthful to say, it's a treat to watch and use. With this TV, Vizio packaged a quality panel with decent smart features to offer consumers an awful lot of value. If you're in the market for a 50-inch smart TV, keep an eye on this one.
The 50M401D does not fall into the high-end category, but it's still an attractive TV. Silver hardware complements a pitch-black screen, which seems to magically float above a cut-out base. Controls and ports are tucked out of sight, leaving the face free to take center stage. This minimalist display is fairly light and very thin, making it a good candidate for wall mounting.
Appearances aside, the M501D is not crafted of solid metal, but a smoothly finished plastic. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it looks expensively forged, even if it isn't, and would stand out on almost any TV stand. As far as utilities go, the M501D is equipped with a larger-than-average selection of ports and input connections. Users will find four HDMI inputs, two USB inputs, a shared component/composite input, digital and analog audio out, ethernet in, and an RF jack. Like in years past, Vizio marks video connections by quality tier, in case you've not yet figured out that HDMI is usually the way to go.
Alongside the panel and stand, the Vizio 50M501D ships with eight—yes, eight—pairs of Passive 3D glasses, as well as Vizio's standard 2013 remote. The glasses are firm and lightweight, though they tended to pinch a bit when I wore them over my nerd-grade spectacles. The remote's responsiveness is fair, and it has plenty of dedicated buttons for more immediate app access. Personally, I think an M-GO button is a little much—but to each their own.
The most interesting thing about Vizio's smart platform is that it isn't really a smart platform. By that, I mean connecting the M501D to the internet simply gives the user access to a number of apps which string up along the bottom of the screen, rather than using the full smart home screen seen on most other internet TVs. While it lacks the scope of a full platform, the actual layout is quite convenient for browsing through your apps while watching content.
All of the "heavy hitters" are here: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Assuming you have a decent bandwidth, everything loads up quickly and smoothly. Social networking apps fit to the left side of the screen, so you can keep watching TV while you check your Twitter feed or Facebook page. There's a button on the remote to resize the aspect ratio of content to better fit beside one of these apps, but it's fairly glitchy, and tends to continually resize the screen at times. Really, it's only a minor inconvenience.
Beyond smart content, the on-board software works just fine. Users have access to a number of picture modes—including dedicated Night and Day modes, called Calibrated Dark and Calibrated, respectively. There aren't full CMS controls for color management, but the TV's white balance menu works well in conjunction with calibration software to improve the overall color balance. Audio controls are also quite extensive, including a full EQ menu and numerous pre-set audio modes.
For what you're paying, it's all a rather welcome addition to the purchase. Getting a 50-inch TV for $799 is a pretty solid deal; getting that same TV pre-loaded with easy-to-use apps is terrific.
Last year, I tested a few Vizio TVs, each of which proved to be fairly commendable products. One of them even won one of our Best of Year awards. Seeing as the 50M501D is our first taste of the company's 2013 line-up, I was excited to test it out, and it didn't let me down.
This TV is a solid performer, though it's not entirely without flaws. Its Calibrated picture mode nails most of the international standards for HDTV images right out of the box, with properly saturated colors, and just enough white balance control to tweak the little slips that occur during shipping.
For an LCD, it also has a fairly wide horizontal viewing angle, which means you have more options as to where you put the TV. A 50-inch TV like this one is likely going to be placed in a larger room, and perhaps even watched by more than one person—so a wider viewing angle is not only welcome, it's a necessity.
My one complaint about the 50M501D is its black level, which is more gray than black. The TV's contrast ratio is definitely on the slim side, as it just doesn't possess the depth of dark to create a picture with high contrast. This lack of contrast is going to make films and richer video game content look a little flat, though only if you're especially picky. Overall, this Vizio produces a great 1080p picture.
The Vizio M501D-A2R does a lot of things right. It's a decent performer where most content is concerned; its black level may not be theater-quality, but it produces highly accurate color right out of the box. After a few updates, the included smart content was responsive and easy to use. Plus, almost all of the apps you'd ever actually use are pre-installed.
While it may not have the heft of Panasonic's plasmas, nor the ultra-sleek style of Samsung's LCDs, the edge-lit 50M501D is a great television, especially for $800. I'd advise consumers to keep an eye on this one—and if you see it on sale, pounce like an arctic rattler on a prairie dog.
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