Vizio E Series (2017) TV Review
The first good HDR TV you can actually afford is finally here
For the last few years, Vizio's E Series—re-released under the same moniker every year—has been designed to give consumers a taste of the latest TV tech at "whoa, I can actually afford that" prices.
Case in point: In 2014, this meant putting LED backlights across the entire screen, a performance upgrade previously reserved for very expensive TVs; the next year, Vizio bumped the series to 4K (UHD) resolution; and last year, the TVs all got "Smart Cast," Vizio's proprietary form of Google Cast. This year, the 2017 E Series gets the best upgrade of all: High Dynamic Range, or HDR.
Despite the stacked resume—4K resolution, HDR compatibility, smart casting, and full-array LEDs—the 2017 E Series(available at Best Buy for $499.99) once again starts at very affordable prices, with the 50-inch debuting under $500. There are cheaper TVs, sure, but that's still a heck of a bargain. It's not perfect, though, and there are some sacrifices that may make a more expensive model a better choice for HDR fanatics.
About the Vizio E Series
The 2017 Vizio E Series is available in nine screen sizes, with slightly difference specifications between them:
• 43-inch (Vizio E43-E2), $400 — no HDR
• 50-inch (Vizio E50-E1), $470 — no HDR
• 55-inch (Vizio E55-E1), $550 — HDR compatible
• 60-inch (Vizio E60-E3), $750 — HDR compatible
• 65-inch (Vizio E65-E0), $900 — HDR compatible
• 70-inch (Vizio E70-E3), $1,300 — HDR compatible
• 75-inch (Vizio E75-E3), $2,000 — HDR compatible
• 80-inch (Vizio E80-E3), $3,400 — HDR compatible
We bought and reviewed a 2017 55-inch E Series, so the findings in this review should apply to the 55-, 60-, 65-, 70-, 75-, and 80-inch to a degree, but will not represent 1:1 parity with the smaller, non-HDR compatible sizes. In the 50- and 43-inch sizes, you don't get HDR compatibility.
There's also the issue of zone count and VA versus IPS panel types. Because each of the 2017 E Series models use FALD (full-array local dimming), the efficacy of their picture quality is highly dependent upon the "zone count," or how many independently controllable LED zones the backlight uses. Traditionally, FALD TVs are very expensive, but the E Series' claim to fame is delivering FALD at affordable prices. However, to do this, Vizio usually expends the minimum possible amount of effective FALD zones. While a flagship FALD-equipped TV might have hundreds of zones, the E Series traditionally has somewhere around 12.
Each of the E Series TVs delivers four HDMI inputs, as well as component/composite and USB inputs. Note that none of the E Series displays have internal tuners, and thus you won't get a coaxial/RF jack here. It's also worth noting that only one HDMI input (HDMI 1) is HDMI 2.0 compatible.
Pros & Cons
Con: Not too easy on the eyes
One major mainstay of Vizio's E Series that seems to never change? The design. Every year, the E Series look about the same: plain black chassis, stand, and bezels, where by far the most interesting "design" element is the screen. The 2017 version isn't breaking any molds, either. However, this is only a con if you want a particularly handsome TV. If you'd rather not pay for extraneous looks, the E Series' affordability is due in part to how plainly/simply it is designed.
Pro: For general viewing, the picture quality is quite good.
Like previous E Series TVs, the 55-inch 2017 model gets the job done in a pinch. Its full-array local dimming may be a bit coarse (more on that in a second), but overall it does achieve the intended effect of increasing the E Series' contrast (the darkness of its shadows and brightness of its highlights).
Using the standard ANSI checkerboard and the Calibrated Dark mode, I measured an average black level of 0.03 with a reference brightness around 125. This gives the E Series a contrast ratio around 4,200:1, which is great for this price/pedigree.
Con: When is an HDR TV not an HDR TV?
This isn't the first time I've had this complaint and it won't be the last, but buyers need to understand the various ways in which High Dynamic Range (HDR) matters and doesn't matter. While a TV doesn't need to be super bright and colorful for viewers to benefit from the on-board HDR-enabling tech, it's not unreasonable to expect that your "high dynamic range" TV have, you know, more dynamic range than what you're used to seeing. If a TV is going to promise more brightness and a greater range of colors, it needs to deliver.
Because it's a FALD-equipped model, it has the capability to get fairly bright without introducing unsightly edge-bleed or flashlighting, but it simply doesn't. Its color production range, while definitely good enough for the majority of non-HDR content, lacks the punching power to really drop any jaws. While this isn't a blemish against the TV necessarily, it's something buyers (and HDR fans) should keep in mind: you're not going to be super-duper impressed by Blu-ray HDR here, though it does look very good.
The other issue is HDR streaming. We purchased our model and at its current firmware version, it couldn't stream HDR content. In this price range, that's a bit of an issue. Unless you already own an expensive HDR Blu-ray player, or a newer game console like the Xbox One S, streaming HDR via apps like Netflix and Amazon Video are your best bets to experience the upper echelon of content.
We spoke with Vizio, however, and the company confirmed that a firmware update is on the way to allow for HDR streaming. To prove it, the company pushed the firmware update directly to our E Series model via the serial number, enabling HDR streaming from Netflix, Fandango, and VUDU. And indeed, after the update I was able to stream Marco Polo in HDR on the TV. Eureka!
Con: Smart Cast seems like such a good idea on paper.
When Vizio announced the "Smart Cast" platform last year, we were pretty excited. The company's Google cast-based platform saw the 2016 M Series and 2016 P Series shipping with included Android tablets. This is because Vizio's "Smart Cast" lineup requires a second screen device to be controlled or used at all.
The 2017 E Series is in the same boat. Right on the back of the TV near the power cord, there's a sticker warning users that they won't be able to set up/use the TV without a second screen device. While the 2017 E Series does include a remote control, the intention is that you'll operate it entirely via a smartphone or tablet. And on paper, this sounds great. It makes it much easier to do things like type in your WiFi password, and you can cast any Google cast-compatible app straight to the screen.
However, in practice, using the SmartCast app is a bit of a hassle. Setting up and updating our E Series sample proved to be a longer process than setting up a non-Smart Cast TV due to disconnects between the app and the TV. Essentially, I had to go through the entire setup process twice due to the app completely forgetting the connection that had been established.
Con: No built-in tuner means no coaxial devices.
One interesting thing about the E Series is that the TVs don't contain built-in OTA tuners. That means they don't have a coaxial/RF input, and you won't be able to tune to over-the-air or digital channels, nor use an external antenna or satellite. While this doesn't mean you can't use a cable box with an HDMI or component output to watch cable, it does mean the TV itself primarily cannot be using for "tuning." Not a huge con in 2017, but something buyers should be aware of.
Pro: For a low zone count, this is the best local dimming I've seen in a while.
Something I noticed that's a real feather in the 2017 E Series' cap (or at the very least, the 55-inch we tested): this is some of the best local dimming I've seen on a TV that purportedly only has 12 dimming zones. Whether I was looking at complex test patterns or actual content, the E Series never once showed a hint of unsightly blooming or coarse transitions. Kudos, Vizio.
Con: As usual, better contrast comes at the cost of a limited viewing angle.
The big advantage to VA-panel based LED/LCD TVs with full-array local dimming (almost regardless of zone count) is that, during head-on viewing, they typically deliver much deeper/richer shadow tones and black levels than non-FALD counterparts. The downside? That efficacy falls off quickly during off-angle viewing, making for limited horizontal viewing angles.
Case in point: I measured a viewing angle that dropped to 16% of the head-on contrast value at just ten degrees off angle. More plainly, that means you have a very limited cone of viewing from anywhere besides directly in front of the TV. You get a few feet, enough for two or three people, but we'd strongly recommend against trying to spread out around a room or wall-mounting the E Series.
Pro: At the end of the day, HDR content still looks good.
We've established that the E Series has some red flags when it comes to referring to it as an HDR TV. At the time of this review, most E Series TVs can't stream HDR content, and it's not much brighter or more colorful than a non-HDR set—I measured peaks below even 300 nits, which most non-HDR TVs can do just fine.
But I have to hand it to the E Series, despite its technical shortcomings where brightness is concerned, it looks great. This may be a credit to the mastering of HDR discs, but I was impressed. The E Series only has one HDR-friendly HDMI input, so make sure you get the right one before judging on your own.
But suffice to say, despite its 60 Hz refresh rate and limited performance ability, the HDR content I watched looked balanced, bright, aptly colored, and attractive. The E Series does a very good job with what ability it does have to expand on the light/color space of its standard dynamic range performance, and (unless you're comparing it to a much more expensive HDR set) won't disappoint.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—just be aware you aren't getting the "cutting edge"
On paper, the E Series checks off a lot of the right boxes. It's a 4K/HDR/smart TV with a flashy new "Google cast" system that uses your second screen device as a remote. How futuristic!
In reality, SmartCast is sometimes a pain in the butt—not to mention the app likes to randomly pop up and give you the status of the TV when you're away from it, and sometimes won't connect at all when you're right next to it. The E Series is also not the heaviest hitter from a brightness/color volume standpoint (we expect the 2017 M and P Series will change that).
That said, for the things you are getting—the 55-inch gives you 4K resolution, the ability to enjoy HDR content, and smart functionality that is fine when it works—it still feels like a serious deal for the asking price of $550. The series again lives up to its reputation, and we imagine it's going to make an excellent choice for many TV lovers.
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