Vizio M Series (2016) TV Review
Want to dive into the HDR future without spending a bundle? Look no further.
About the Vizio M55-D0
The 55-inch M Series features High Dynamic Range, full-array backlighting, and the Vizio SmartCast system. While we reviewed the 65-inch specifically, most review points still apply to the 55-inch. Note that it only has a 60 Hz refresh rate, however.
About the Vizio M50-D1
The 50-inch M Series features High Dynamic Range, full-array backlighting, and the Vizio SmartCast system. While we reviewed the 65-inch, most of the review still applies to the 50-inch version. Note that it has half as many local dimming zones and a 60 Hz refresh rate.
About the Vizio M60-D1
The 60-inch M Series features High Dynamic Range, full-array backlighting, and the Vizio SmartCast system. While we reviewed the 65-inch, most performance and functionality still applies. But the 60-inch uses an IPS panel—details below.
About the Vizio M70-D3
The 70-inch M Series features High Dynamic Range, full-array backlighting, and the Vizio SmartCast system. While we reviewed the 65-inch version specifically, the performance and functionality detailed in this review still apply to the 70-inch version.
About the Vizio M80-D3
The 80-inch M Series features High Dynamic Range, full-array backlighting, and the Vizio SmartCast system. While we reviewed the 65-inch version specifically, the performance and functionality detailed in this review still apply to the 80-inch version.
Vizio's 2016 M Series is—in my opinion—one of the most exciting TV lineups this year. This is one of the first "affordable" series on the market to deliver High Dynamic Range—a kind of super-charged TV experience that delivers oodles of brightness and color—in both the Dolby Vision and HDR 10 formats.
And the fun doesn't stop there. All six sizes in the M Series also come equipped with full Google Cast functionality, and even include a tablet remote that handles anything and everything related to the TV's software and smart features. Vizio also removed the built-in tuner that allows over-the-air cable or satellite reception, so technically the M Series aren't even TVs—they're "Home Theater Displays."
But whatever you call 'em, there's no arguing that Vizio's M Series is once again a unique combination of future-facing elements and tolerable price points. While they're not the flashiest HDR TVs on the market, you're still getting 4K resolution and HDR10/Dolby Vision playback, and that's what matters. Unlike more "premium" HDR sets, these won't cost you an arm and a leg: In fact, you probably won't even feel like you're paying for a new-fangled HDR set—making this one of the year's best values.
About the M Series
The 2016 M Series is Vizio's most future-facing iteration yet. It's available in six screen sizes:
• 50-inch M Series (Vizio M50-D1), $849.99
• 55-inch M Series (Vizio M55-D0), $899.99 (was $999.99)
• 60-inch M Series (Vizio M60-D1), $1,249.99
• 65-inch M Series (Vizio M65-D0), $1,299.99 (was $1,499.99)
• 70-inch M Series (Vizio M70-D3), $1,799.99 (was $1,999.99)
• 80-inch M Series (Vizio M80-D3), $3,999.99
As you can see, the M Series starts pretty big (at 50 inches) and only gets bigger. The 2016 version continues the previous precedent of striking a "middle ground" in terms of price and features. It's not as flexible, in terms of screen size, as either the 2016 E Series or 2016 D Series, but it embraces the future more readily via Dolby Vision and HDR10 compatibility.
Where the M Series TVs primarily differ is in some techy (but nevertheless important) specs, with differences mostly affecting the "smaller" panels:
• The 50-inch has 32 local dimming zones; 55- and up all have 64 local dimming zones
• The 50- and 55-inch have 60 Hz native refresh rates; the rest have 120 Hz native refresh rates
• The 60-inch uses an IPS type LCD panel; the rest use VA type LCD panels
This means you can expect marginally less granular dimming performance from the smallest M Series, and you may notice unavoidable but subtle Blu-ray judder when watching on the 50- and 55-inch versions. We'd also expect the 60-inch to sport better viewing angles but worse black levels than every other size. However, the 65-inch (which we reviewed) and two larger sizes should be all but identical in their performance.
We received the M65-D0 on loan from Vizio, and spent about a week with the TV running tests and watching content. As usual, I gave the TV about 24 hours of runtime prior to testing and evaluating; performed a full factory reset upon reception of the TV; and used all of my own accounts (or TJ's—thanks for the UHD plan!) for content like Netflix, YouTube, and VUDU.
Pros & Cons
Pro: These TVs come with the coolest accessory ever—an Android tablet.
While I used Vizio's "SmartCast" app and Google Cast functionality while reviewing the 2016 E Series, it's a different experience where the M Series is concerned. That's because, unlike the E Series, the 2016 M Series TVs include a tablet.
The tablet is a six-inch Android slate with 8gb of storage, a quad-core processor, and a 720p rez screen. Yes, you get what's essentially a fully functional tablet with these TVs, with access to the Google Play Store and pre-installed Google apps like Gmail and YouTube. There's also a wireless charging dock!
To be honest, the tablet itself feels pretty lightweight and cheap—because it is. You're not going to get a Nexus-quality tablet included as a second-screen device, especially with how relatively affordable the M Series TVs are. Still, I'm not complaining.
Con: But... you may miss just pushing regular ole buttons.
After my initial honeymoon phase of "whoa, tablet!" I sat down to actually use the thing. Just like most of the low-end Android tablets I've used, it was responsive, buzzing almost aggressively with every key press and emitting piercing, somewhat painfully loud chirps to tell me when it had connected to the TV.
You can do everything from the tablet. Want to change the picture mode from Standard to Calibrated? (Yes, you do.) Want to raise the backlight, crush shadow detail into oblivion, or mix the RGB skin tone emphasis so everybody looks like a presidential candidate? You can do it all right on the tablet, and the TV reflects the changes immediately.
You'll also use the tablet for all your smart functions and Google casting options. After updating Netflix, I logged in, which was already a better experience thanks to the familiar on-screen Android keyboard. It's also worth noting that via a direct Android pipeline, all of your blue-chip apps—Netflix, YouTube, and so on—are going to get immediate updates and bug fixes, rather than rolling out in secondary or tertiary waves.
Then I went and did something else and came back. I was in the Netflix app, and wanted to turn the volume up on the TV, so I jumped over to Vizio's dedicated SmartCast app. It had disconnected from the TV, so I had to reconnect to change the volume, and in the interim couldn't pause Netflix. If I'd gotten a phone call, I would have had to fumble with three "apps" across two phablet-like devices.
Instances like this aren't super common, but there are definite cons to the second-screen approach—one of our video team members described it as one of the most frustrating things he'd dealt with all year. Granted, there is a second button-based remote included as well, but it's so minimalist and neutered of buttons it feels more like table scraps thrown to traditionalists than a useful accessory—you also can't control the smart functions with it at all, outside of play/pause.
Love it or hate it, you're going to have to use a full-featured second-screen device—either the included Android tablet, or your Android/iOS device with the dedicated SmartCast app—if you want to operate the M Series with any degree of efficacy.
Most users, especially younger users, will probably love this approach. But if you don't particularly enjoy touchscreen feedback or simply don't want to look at a smaller screen while already looking at a bigger screen, you may have gripes.
Pro: You won't have many complaints about the basic performance.
One of the M Series' biggest draws—for technophiles and videophiles, anyway—is its HDR10/Dolby Vision compatibility. But there's still not a ton of that content available outside of $30 discs and $300 disc players, either.
So while I'd love to simply evaluate the M Series as an HDR TV first and foremost, this is an affordable series that's going to have all kinds of viewing habits and expectations thrown at it, and it needs to be able to handle both standard and high dynamic range with aplomb.
Fortunately, the M Series sets do a lot right from a basic picture quality perspective. Their multi-zone backlight dimming functions aren't on the level with flagship models, but you'll still get great contrast even in the brighter Calibrated picture mode. I measured an ANSI black level of 0.042 and a reference brightness of 230.20, both great numbers for standard dynamic range.
Testing also revealed satisfactory color accuracy and white balance. I do have a couple of complaints, however, aimed more at the videophile crowd. At darker "dim room" backlight settings, the TV's LED uniformity is occasionally a little off. This means a slightly uneven output from LED to LED, creating slightly darker/brighter areas of the screen—mostly visible when most or all of the screen is the same color or outputting the same brightness, which admittedly is a little rare.
Last but not least, the TV's local dimming zones can occasionally show a bit of luminance stair-stepping. There's a pretty big jump between shadow luminance when a large portion of the screen is dark (where you'll be getting jaw-dropping shadows around 0.005 nits) and a smaller, shadowy portion of the screen is adjacent to bright areas (making for a jump up around 0.077 nits). This is another issue that doesn't come up too much during content, but is still worth being aware of.
Overall, though? Our "zone response" test—which basically moves a vertical white stripe up, down, and diagonally across the screen—showed some seriously impressive zone control from the M Series. In normal lighting, I could hardly see a touch of bloom or delayed zone activation. Vizio's gotten great at local-dimming over the last three years, and it's very apparent on the M Series.
Con: Great contrast comes at the expense of good viewing angles.
As usual with VA-panel based FALD (full-array local dimming) LED TVs, the M Series sets don't offer the best viewing angles. While your experience will be different if you've got the 60-inch M Series with an IPS panel, the other five sizes aren't likely the best candidates for wall-mounting in a very wide space.
You'll want to be double sure about placement with regard to viewers sitting on the far ends of couches, and especially with regard to eye-to-screen height. I measured a total viewing angle of 16°, or ±8° from the center to either side of the screen in Calibrated mode. Note that this probably doesn't apply if you turn off the LED dimming function (which will hamper contrast considerably), and isn't a reflection of the generally much brighter HDR experience, either.
Pro/Con: Refresh rates and motion performance will vary between sizes.
My sample unit was the 65-inch M Series, which comes equipped with a 120 Hz native refresh rate. TVs with 120 Hz native refresh rates are the best choice for certain kinds of content, specifically Blu-rays which run at 24fps, and require a frame-splitting algorithm when handled by 60 Hz refresh rate TVs. If you're aiming for the 50- or 55-inch M Series with 60 Hz refresh rates, be aware that you'll have to rely on the built-in de-judder function to get the best Blu-ray performance.
Gamers will also be pleased to note that despite their high-fallutin' status as 4K HDR TVs, the M Series sets are still a decent choice for low input lag during video games. Using our 1080p Leo Bodnar input lag tester, I measured each HDMI 5 (the traditionally lowest input lag HDMI port) and got an average ms response around 20–25ms (1080p) with the TV's game mode settings enabled, which is a solid result.
Pro: A perfectly viable HDR set, but not the most impressive we've seen.
When flagship HDR TVs first hit our labs—stuff like the Samsung KS9800 or Vizio's own Reference Series—my sunglasses were out of arm's reach and I'm still seeing spots. But in all seriousness, the major draws of High Dynamic Range—no matter the HDR format you're watching—are not just tons of brightness and heavily improved color fidelity, but the processing power to fill it all with glorious detail.
Naturally, the best HDR TVs achieve the highest degree of brightness and color saturation. While there are TVs out there that can technically "process" an HDR signal, they offer so little improvement in those areas compared to non-HDR sets that it's basically false advertising. The M Series is far better than that, but it's not amongst the most powerful performers we've tested, either.
While there's no benchmark results for an "HDR appearance" (outside of the UHD Alliance's "Premium Certification" program), it stands to reason that LED TVs in particular need to be able to produce much more light than a non-HDR TV. The M Series does pretty well in this regard, but it isn't mind-blowing either. While watching HDR10 content (Warcraft in 4K HDR on disc) and DV content (Marco Polo on Netflix), the brightest specular peak I measured was a little over 500 nits, with averages around 400-450 nits, and a typical screen brightness between 100 and 200 nits.
These are good results, but they're also about half of what you'd get on something like the Samsung KS9800, which claims 1000 nits, for reference. Granted, that TV is also about $3,500. The M Series offers similar performance in terms of its color saturation/color volume, which is tied in many ways peak luminance ability. You'll definitely get more color here than you would with a non-HDR TV, but not to the same extent as some of the premium OLED models or LCD sets outfitted with advances like quantum dots.
In short, this means you can expect a definitely appreciable "HDR appearance" to HDR content. While some HDR compatible TVs will play the format without giving it much "oomph" in terms of impact, the M Series goes the distance—just not quite to the extent of the year's top HDR sets.
Con: No built-in tuner means you can't watch over-the-air cable or satellite.
This is pretty self explanatory. Vizio removed all the tuners in the M Series TVs, so you can't get terrestrial or satellite signals. You can still watch over HDMI/component/composite connection, just no coaxial connection.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—especially if you want future flexibility!
While the price here is very palatable, it's hard to say the 2016 M Series is the perfect choice for everybody. Starting at $849 for the 50-inch, you can get your hands on a fully-featured 4K/UHD TV with HDR10 and Dolby Vision playback—and also one of the most innovative, albeit risky smart platforms on the market this year. But as usual for Vizio, the series may not appeal to consumers who just aren't looking for the HDR experience yet.
As affordable as the M Series is, y'all can save even more by avoiding the format entirely, and springing for something like Vizio's own 2016 E Series, which keeps 4K and smartcast but chops off a lot of the extra compatibility and the tablet accessory (for reference, the 50-inch E Series starts around $470). There are also plenty of non-HDR offerings from Samsung and LG that replace the HDR/tablet filigree with improvements in other areas.
However, if you (smartly) want to stay at pace with 4K content; Dolby Vision media via streaming and disc playback; and 4K/UHD Blu-rays with HDR10, the M Series does it all at a very nice price. More traditional users may not be huge fans of the SmartCast (Google cast) process, but taken as a whole package, there's no denying the M Series delivers a winning trifecta of pure performance, affordability, and progressive compatibility where future content is concerned.
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