Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vizio Razor M3D550SR


If we were writing this review in 2010 or 1983 or 1953, we'd begin with how 3D will revolutionize how you watch movies (and TV)...forever! Of course, 3D today is still caught in the starting blocks for home use, relegating the importance of 3D capability on Vizio's M3D550SR to "Featurette" rather than the "Feature Presentation." While the TV's 3D effect isn't very well-implemented here, at least you get four glasses in the box, so watching an occasional 3D movie as a family doesn't require any additional outlay or effort on your part.

Meanwhile, the ... Expand full review

If we were writing this review in 2010 or 1983 or 1953, we'd begin with how 3D will revolutionize how you watch movies (and TV)...forever! Of course, 3D today is still caught in the starting blocks for home use, relegating the importance of 3D capability on Vizio's M3D550SR to "Featurette" rather than the "Feature Presentation." While the TV's 3D effect isn't very well-implemented here, at least you get four glasses in the box, so watching an occasional 3D movie as a family doesn't require any additional outlay or effort on your part.

Meanwhile, the Vizio's 2D picture quality was very good for the price overall compared with other edge-lit LED TVs, highlighted by deep black levels and well-rendered shadows. We did experience problems with the overactive Smart Dimming system and the TV's video processing, but they don't spoil our positive impressions. Vizio's VIA apps are plentiful and the QWERTY keyboard takes more than a few (beneficial) cues from smartphones, and while the TV's look is nothing special, its features are among the best available. In fact, with Vizio's failure so far to release any of the higher-end models it teased at CES in January, this is the company's flagship TV for 2011. The M3D550SR isn't our favorite edge-lit LED of the year, but it still makes a strong showing against the stiff competition.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch M3D550SR, but due to physical differences between the models in the series, we cannot apply the results gathered here to the other sizes. The 46-inch version, for example, has a glossy screen and our quick look at its picture quality put it a step below that of the 55-incher. We never saw the 42-incher, but we can't assume it behaves the same as the 55-. For more on the different-sized models in the series, you can follow the links below.


The TV features a piano-black bezel, angular speakers, and an aluminum pedestal.

It's been said before, and unless something radical happens at CES 2012, it'll be said again: TVs look the same. Take the manufacturer name off a product and it can be hard to tell your low-end Samsung from your Toshiba from your LG. In this fashion, the M3D550SR is another black, rectangular box with a "screen bit" in the middle. The rectangle around the edge is piano-black on the 55-inch, while the 47-inch is rose-black--black with a red tint in direct light. The bottom edge is a little different in that the speakers jut angularly out from the bezel in a not-unattractive way. As an edge-lit LED, the television is slim, and the swivel stand gives it some flexibility.

The LED edge-lighting system affords an ultraslim profile.

The remote control, identical to the one found on the 2010 XVT3SV, not the 2011 E3D0VX's flipper--is one of the better features offered by the Vizio. Not only does it sport a slide-out QWERTY keyboard but it's also Bluetooth, so you don't need line of sight to control the TV. The keys on the keyboard are a little rubbery, though.

The Settings Menu is sensibly laid out and easily navigable. The menu is left-aligned and can take a little getting used to, as the highlighted option isn't immediately obvious. The Smart TV portion of the interface capability favors the "ticker" method, appearing at the bottom of your screen.

The Vizio Internet Apps interface slides along the bottom of the screen.


Vizio traditionally offers an excellent feature set for the price and the 55-inch M3D550SR packs them in, with passive 3D the most prominent. Despite its picture-quality problems, it's quite likely that passive 3D will become more prevalent next year--people don't like paying lots of money for 3D glasses and they find cross-talk distracting. The cheap glasses make more sense for consumers who only watch a 3D movie on a special occasion.

The television is an edge-lit LED featuring local dimming that behaves similarly to LG's LW5600. It uses a series of LEDs along the edge of the TV and dynamically lights them in zones across the screen in response to light and dark content. The only drawback to this kind of technology is that it can cause blooming when trying to illuminate light areas surrounded by black.

Other: Blockbuster, Rhapsody and other Yahoo apps

In terms of content, current superstars Neflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant are present and correct, while other services such as Blockbuster, Facebook and Pandora are also available. The only missing major contenders are CinemaNow and YouTube. Apart from adding new services, the Vizio Internet Apps system is largely the same as we've seen in previous years, and the design feels dated compared with most of the major-name competitors' designs.

Fine color temperature control

The TV offers a plethora of picture modes, including sports-specific ones like baseball and golf, but if you're looking for even more advanced tweakery, the TV only offers a two-point grayscale system, as opposed to the 10 points found on LG and Samsung TVs.

The Vizio offers an easy-to-use setup menu.

Nothing major is missing from Vizio's connectivity array, although the rare user who needs more than one component-video input will be disappointed.

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Most connectivity options are offered by the M3D0SR series.

For an edge-lit LED-based LCD TV the Vizio performed very well overall. It showed relatively deep blacks and accurate color, and was admirable in its ability to distinguish shadow detail--an important aspect of any TVs performance as it gives a picture depth. On the downside we did notice some blooming and uniformity issues along improper handling of 1080p/24 content.

While Smart Dimming provided better picture quality, it played merry hell with our calibration since the TV wasn't sensitive enough to distinguish near black from actual black and would turn off completely during some measurements. The dimming also plays around with color in the lower parts of the spectrum and we weren't able to get a stable RGB reading at the 20 percent level. While "Mythbusters" proved that you can actually polish a you-know-what, in this case it almost wasn't worth the elbow grease. Nevertheless we persevered despite the dimming issues and the fairly insensitive two-point system, and the resulting picture was still noticeably better than the default in Movie mode.

Note that we also tried calibrating the TV with dimming off, but the pictures looked terrible, with blacks resembling a Nordic ash cloud.

Our suspicions that the 55-inch and 47-inch have different panels were more or less confirmed when we plugged the calibration settings in from our 55-inch and the 47-inch TV looked and tested terribly. As a result we can say that the posted settings can only be used on the 55-inch.

Black level: The Vizio could throw its weight around this group with a depth of black that beat the LG and the Sony, although it wasn't quite as deep as the ST30 or the Samsung. Compared to the Sony EX523, the Vizio was able to conjure up much more detail in darker areas, and even rivaled the ST30 in this regard. The Vizio's deeper blacks weren't to the detriment of dynamic range with bright and complex scenes looking punchy--only a little bit of blooming in dark regions spoiled the plasmalike effect.

When the Smart Dimming feature detects a completely black screen, the backlight switches off, causing problems at times. The detection is apparently laggy enough that you may lose really quick fade-in fade-out cuts, the type you might find in trailers or action movies. It happened during a trailer for "The Transformers," for example, as well as when we were measuring the TV's everyday (5 percent) test pattern; we had to turn the menu on to make sure the picture showed.

Color accuracy: Compared with the color-accuracy king of the edge-lit LCD world, the LG LW5600, the Vizio isn't quite there, and this is partly due to the lack of fine-tuning available. Skin tones were natural after calibration and there was only a faint lack of cyan-green colors in comparison with that of the LG.

Actor Chris Pine wanders around in his underpants at one point in the "Star Trek" movie, and sexiness aside, this scene is actually a good tester for skin tones. The Vizio was able to make the actor's bronzed shoulders look fairly natural, though the LG was noticeably better.

Video processing: Video processing was one of the areas where the Vizio could use some improvement. Like Vizio's E3D420VX before it, the film mode was quite lacking. In our lineup of TVs, it gave the worst judder performance with a hiccupping detectable in smooth pans with 1080p/24 content.

On the plus side, its ability to replay content without jaggies was admirable. Employing Smooth Cinema mode at "high" we were able to get the motion resolution all the way to 1,200 lines, but the TV languished at only 350 lines without it. Since you'd need to put up with significant haloing artifacts if you leave Smooth on, we still recommend disabling it and taking the motion resolution hit, which is hardly visible in most program material.

Uniformity: Consistency across the screen, is the bane of every edge-lit LCD screen, and things are no different for the Vizio. We noticed brighter green "spotlights" in the corners during bright scenes, especially on letterbox bars. While discoloration of the letterboxes shouldn't trouble most people, it is the No. 1 cause of complaints from videophiles about plasmas like the VT30 with its "rising blacks" issue. If this troubles you, too, then the Vizio isn't for you.

Bright lighting: The 55-inch and 42-inch are the two models in this range that have a matte coating on the screen, and when viewed in a bright room, any reflections don't prove to be too distracting. Based on brief testing with the 46-inch we can say that the screen is as overly glossy as the top-shelf LG LW9800--not a good thing.

3D: When 3D TVs emerged in 2010 the 3D effects were mind-bogglingly strong, and this is where this Vizio has chosen to remain. In comparison, this year Sony in particular has dialed down the strength of the "Z-axis" which gives the screen depth. Unfortunately there is no "3D strength control" on the Vizio, only a 2D/3D switch.

The 3D effect is quite overpowering with exaggerated depth and an inability to place some background elements correctly in the frame. Compared with the active 3D on the Samsung 6400 there was no crosstalk at all, but curiously the image seemed more distorted, as if it were wrapped around a globe. As a result, "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams" was quite difficult to watch. Even a simple scene with a scientist sitting in front of a landscape was warped and proved much easier to view on the Samsung.

Power consumption: Unless a manufacturer bungs a nuclear power plant in behind your TV (look for the distinctive twin cooling towers!) most LED-backlit LCDs are fairly conservative when it comes to energy usage. The same goes for the Vizio: even when uncalibrated it uses only a little more energy than a 60-watt light bulb (71W).

Motion resolution (dejudder off)

Annual energy consumption cost after calibration


(Read more about how we test TVs.)

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