Last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to see the latest Vizio M-series TV—a 55-inch M552i-B2—side by side with a 55-inch Samsung UN55H7150. It was Vizio's event, which means the company was trying to show its television in the most positive light, so I was prepared to be skeptical. It's always a bit of a challenge to decide what to make of manufacturer demos, while at the same time they often present an early opportunity to get a feel for how new products perform.
When it comes to televisions, the best demos are as transparent as possible. That means knowing the actual settings used on each TV and switching between ambient lighting and an entirely dark room while being in control of the session. It helps if the demo includes test patterns, not just eye candy. Fortunately, Vizio's demo met my definition of transparent—nothing was hidden, nothing was off limits. Mind you, I didn't bring a calibration kit with me—I had to rely on my eyes and my trusty pocket camera.
Even though the room was bright, the moment I walked in I could see that the new M series represents a new level of quality of LCD HDTVs at that price point. The Samsung H7150 was directly ahead of me as I walked through the door, and the Vizio was off to the left. The Samsung had very prominent LCD artifacts, including washed-out letterbox bars that pulsated thanks to the set's edgelighting. The Vizio M-series TV was off to the left, but it was already showing better contrast, better color, and deeper blacks. Most notably, the letterbox bars were extremely dark—plasma dark. I had already seen the Vizio sets at CES 2014, so I knew what to expect in terms of image quality—however, when I noticed blackout shades on the windows, I immediately asked to make the room dark.
Vizio M (2014) vs. Samsung H7150
Most of the demo involved scenes from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug—excellent material for evaluating all sorts of television performance parameters. I also took a good look at Avatar in 2D as well as a test pattern-based demonstration of motion resolution. Both movies provide plenty of fodder for videophiles, and I was surprised at how great Avatar looks in 2D.
Once the comparison got underway, the Vizio outperformed the Samsung in many ways. In a dark room, the M series had a plasma-like quality thanks to inky blacks that held up over a relatively wide viewing angle. Because the M series uses a backlit LED array, there were no distracting flashlight effects in the letterbox bars. The blacks in the image itself never got quite as dark as the letterbox bars, but it was darker than any of the blacks rendered by the Samsung. All in all, you have to be a very meticulous plasmaphile to find fault in the deep-black rendering of Vizio's M series. Halo artifacts were minimal, and the local dimming worked seamlessly, never becoming a distraction. It's literally a world apart from my two-year-old Vizio M series. In fact, the Samsung reminded me much more of my older Vizio, a 55-inch M3D550KD.
The Samsung H7150 is not the best performer in a darkened room, it's as simple as that. Many LED-edgelit TVs are plagued by distracting artifacts when viewed in the dark. There might be a few exceptions—for example, the latest Samsung UHDTVs (curved or not) and Panasonic's AX800U—but those are premium-priced UHDTVs. Samsung's H7150 is a top-tier HDTV, and it fared quite poorly compared to the backlit array in the 2014 Vizio M series.
Even after I opened the shades, the image-quality advantages of the Vizio remained. It had more contrast and sense of depth, and those dark black letterbox bars just made the image a pleasure to behold. I don't want to wax rhapsodic here, but I do love a TV capable of exceptional picture quality, and the Vizio had that in spades.
After I had my fill of comparing the two TVs using cinematic content, the demo moved on to the test-pattern phase—namely, a motion-resolution comparison that the Vizio managed to ace, while the Samsung struggled. The Vizio's handling of motion was clean regardless of the frame rate; you can see it in this video, which you should view full-screen in HD. Vizio's M is on the left and the Samsung is on the right:
Vizio M vs. Samsung H7150 Motion Resolution Test
When we turned off all motion resolution-enhancing features on both sets, the quality diminished—but even then, the Vizio M managed to look better than the Samsung, preserving more detail. The difference was not as pronounced as it was with motion interpolation turned on, but it was visible.
Turn Off Motion Interpolation
Ultimately, there's only so much I can glean from a 30-minute session with TV—especially without being able to calibrate it myself. One the other hand, there are some performance characteristics that remain consistent, regardless of calibration. The Vizio M series is clearly a very capable 1080p TV; its performance in a dark room is commendable, and the same characteristics benefit it in bright light as well. With any luck, I'll get my hands on a demo unit so I can dig deeper into its capabilities.
If you still think of Vizio as a value brand, it's time to recognize that the comapny is becoming a leader in image quality. The main reason for that is the use of a backlit LED array. Vizio had a number of LED-backlit TVs in 2013, but according to the company, the improvements in the local-dimming algorithm make the 2014 models much better. Based on the performance of Vizio's E series and M series, I must admit I am quite enthused to see the P series and R series under similar conditions.