When it comes to TVs, no brand stays on top forever. Today, once-great American names like RCA and Westinghouse are nothing but licensed logos stuck onto cheap imported TVs that appeal to the lowest common denominator: price. Meanwhile, the major Japanese brands like Sony and Panasonic have struggled to make a profit, and others like Sharp and Toshiba have retreated from key markets. Meanwhile, two Korean TV giants—Samsung and LG—have dominated the worldwide market for high-quality HD and UHD/4K screens.
In this competitive climate, Vizio has emerged as a company with the wherewithal to compete against the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese—at least in North America. Vizio does not build TVs, but it does design them, and the company has rapidly gotten better at delivering LED-lit LCDs that challenge the big brands when it comes to quality, not just price. In 2014, the company eliminated 3D from the feature list of all its TVs and rolled out its first UHDTV, the P series. However, Vizio’s boldest move was its decision to include full-array local dimming (FALD) across all of its TV lines.
Vizio’s vision of progress does not include bent (curved) screens or spy cameras linked to web browsers. The company designs flat, maximum bang-for-the-buck TVs that deliver high-end performance at mainstream TV prices.
Vizio’s M series is what many people think of when they picture the brand. It’s a popular series, and in 2015, Vizio addedUHD/4K resolution to the feature list. M-series TVs are available in screen sizes ranging from 43″ up to 80″ and can be found in big-box stores like Best Buy, Costco, and even Wal-mart. On the budget side of things, there’s the E series, which offers a basic FALD implementation (fewer zones) and 1080p HD resolution. Vizio’s P series sits above the M seriesin terms of features—it has more FALD zones—and pricing. However, the current P series is due for a refresh; it’s a 2014 model. Vizio put most of what made the P series great into the M series—the company calls it “trickle-down technology.”
Today, there is a battle brewing between OLED and premium LCD. While emissive OLED displays promise unbeatable blacks, the advantageous pricing and wide screen-size selection available with LCD makes it the current flat-panel technology of choice for every TV maker except LG.
For this review, I chose the M65 ($1500) because 65″ is a very popular screen size that sits at a favorable nexus of value and performance. Compare the M65’s price to the current cost of a 65″ UHD/4K OLED ($7000) and you can see the potential appeal of an M series with FALD for videophiles on a budget.
My focus here is on image quality, and specifically on the M65’s suitability for viewing high-quality cinematic content mastered to the BT.709 standard. This means dimming the lights, avoiding reflections from lamps, and sitting in an optimum location. Let’s see if Vizio’s M65 is worth consideration as a movie-watching machine.
The M65 is a flat, 120 Hz, 32-zone FALD, VA, UHD/4K LED-LCD. It does not offer 3D, P3/WCG, or HDR. Acronyms are fun! All that stands for flat-screen (as opposed to curved), 120-hertz refresh rate, full-array local dimming with 32 independent zones, vertically aligned LCD panel (as opposed to IPS), 3840×2160 pixel resolution, light-emitting diode-illuminated liquid crystal display. It does not offer 3D, wide color gamut, or high dynamic range. Oh, and the M65 features a satin-finish, anti-reflective screen.
The M65 has five HDMI 2.0 inputs, only one of which (HDMI 5) can accept UHD/4K 60p content at 18 Gbps with support for HDCP 2.2. The other four inputs can accept UHD/4K at 30p; two of those support HDCP 2.2, while the other two are limited to HDCP 2.0. It’s nice to see analog component input included. The TV also supports UHD/4K streaming from its built-in apps, and 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi ensures that UHD/4K content streams reliably. Apps that support 2160p streaming include Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, UltraFlix, and Toon Goggles, with Vudu adding the capability later this year.
There’s plenty of connectivity on the M65 including five HDMI inputs.
The TV itself is pleasantly minimalist, with a thin bezel and aluminum legs. On the back, you’ll find the inputs; they are easy enough to access. It’s a slick and attractive package that looks classy and—wait for it—premium.
The M65 offers six preset viewing modes, including the two of greatest interest to AV enthusiasts: Calibrated and Calibrated Dark. Additional modes include Standard, Vivid, Game, and Computer, and it can store up to six custom picture presets as well.
Notably, the M65 is capable of black-frame insertion without frame interpolation—Vizio calls it Clear Action—which results in better motion detail without introducing other artifacts like the dreaded soap-opera effect. The downside is that you lose some light output, and some sensitive people may see plasma-like flicker when this feature is active—I did not see any. The TV also has variable controls to reduce judder and motion blur using frame interpolation.
In all, the Vizio has an excellent feature set when it comes to video processing and adjustment. The smart-apps functionality is enough to serve most people’s streaming needs, but Vizio makes no pretense of competing with the almost artificially intelligent Korean and Japanese flagship TVs in the smart-features department—for example, there’s no web browser on the M65.
Vizio’s included remote is adequate. The normal control buttons are a bit small and lack backlighting, so it’s hard to use in a dark room. However, it does offer a built-in backlit keyboard on its backside, which is helpful for entering passwords into apps. It gets the job done, but it certainly isn’t my favorite remote of all time.
A view of the front and back of Vizio’s double-sided remote.
I like the TV’s menu system a lot. It’s very clear and easy to navigate—a cut above what I’ve found in some other TV brands. The calibration controls are easy and efficient to use, and I appreciate being able to save custom picture presets with the option to lock them.
I also appreciate that almost all the features you’d want adjust and/or turn on and off are contained in the same “More Picture” menu. Some TV menu systems spread these functions out through various confusing submenus, but Vizio’s are quite ergonomic and logical.
The M65 came in a slender box that was not much larger than the TV itself—it’s very efficient packaging. The TV arrived in pristine condition, and it was simple to unpack and assemble—I put it together by myself. The legs were easy to attach with a screwdriver, and within minutes, I had the TV up and running. The first thing the M65 did on initial power up was ask for Wi-Fi setup details, which I happily provided. Then, I went into the apps I use most—Vudu, YouTube, and Amazon—to enter my user info with the keyboard remote.
Before formally reviewing a TV, I live with it for a few weeks. All I did was select the Calibrated Dark picture mode, the recommended factory default for movie watching in controlled lighting, and started watching movies. It was immediately obvious that I had to dial down the TV’s judder reduction. At the factory setting, it created the soap-opera effect, which can make films look like they were shot on video. Vizio provides multi-step adjustment for the feature, which is very handy because some content (sports, home video) benefits from frame interpolation. I also boosted the backlight to taste.
After several weeks of casual use—watching various movies plus browsing the Internet, including lots of time on AVS Forum—the Vizio M65 was ready for review. I performed a brief measurement with CalMan 5, just to see how it performed in its default Calibrated Dark mode. After resetting the backlight to factory default, I measured 32 foot-lamberts (fL) of brightness, and color temperature was nearly perfect at 6646K (6500K is the target).
A CalMan ColorChecker analysis using the Calibrated Dark default setting is impressively good.
I took another series of measurements of the Calibrated mode, which is optimized for bright-room viewing. Without making any adjustments, it produced 82 fL of peak brightness! I measured the color temperature at 6669K, which is close to optimum, but a little cool. Color accuracy remained high, and gamma was not too far off from the 2.1 preset—it measured 1.94.
With baseline measurements in hand, I proceeded with the formal review. Throughout the process, I compared the VizioM65 to my reference TV, a Samsung PN64F8500 plasma, and I used a Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR to send the same HDMI signal to both TVs.
First, I compared the TVs using factory default settings for both. On the Vizio, the preferred mode for home theater-style viewing is Calibrated Dark; on the F8500, it’s the Movie mode. These presets represent the respective companies’ best guess at the ideal movie-watching configuration for their TVs.
Before performing any adjustments, I compared the two flat panels with some familiar video clips. I used scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Interstellar, and X-Men Days of Future Past. Additionally, I scrutinized 4K video footage of the Philly skyline that I shot from a helicopter.
As soon as I began comparing the two TVs, I noticed that the Samsung—set to factory defaults in Movie mode—had overscan turned on. That’s bad! Overscan crops and resizes content, which results in a loss of detail. The Vizio has overscan turned off by default—in all its modes—which is appropriate for any TV that is not a CRT. This is genuine progress; having overscan on is nothing but destructive and unnecessary. Vizio has banished it to the “Picture Size and Position” submenu where it belongs.
With both TVs set to factory defaults, in a dimly lit room, there was no denying that the Vizio looked superior to the Samsung. Blacks were very dark and inky on both displays, but the Vizio handled shadow details better than the F8500. The Vizio’s color temperature and color balance was more accurate, the F8500’s color balance looked greenish, and the image was a bit too warm overall.
While scrutinizing various clips from X-Men Days of Future Past, I noticed some scenes in which the Vizio could not muster up as much contrast—the F8500 had more pop. However, during other scenes, the Vizio would edge out the plasma. It depended on each scene’s composition, lighting, and how it interacted with the Vizio’s FALD algorithm. There was never a huge discrepancy between the two TVs, and it was interesting to see them trade places in terms of which one looked the best at any given moment. I must stress that the differences in overall image quality were minor.
Default setting cinema modes compared. I massively boosted the exposure in the lower image to show that the letterbox bars of both TVs were equally dark.
Watching South Park in pristine HD via Blu-ray revealed that the M65 was adept at rendering textures, of which there are more than in most animation. Both TVs made the animated series look great, with vivid colors, sharp lines, and excellent screen uniformity. However, when I watched my 4K aerial videos, the superior resolution rendered by the M65 because of its lack of overscan trumped the F8500’s otherwise awesome presentation.
Interstellar was interesting because I own a copy of the movie on Blu-ray, iTunes, Vudu HDX thanks to the format comparison I wrote a few months back. For this review, I also rented Interstellar in UHD/4K from UltraFlix.
Frankly, the Vizio M65 blew me away with its default Calibrated Dark settings. Under dim indoor lighting, with blackout shades drawn, black levels looked exceedingly good. Anyone who thinks LCD flat-panel technology is at a standstill should see what you get for your money with the M65: a highly color-accurate TV with great black levels, good screen uniformity, and excellent sharpness and detail rendition.
The M65 exhibited great screen uniformity for an LED-LCD.
Performance—Optimized Picture Settings
The next step in the comparison involved adjusting the basic picture controls using the Spears & Munsil HD Benchmark and Calibration Disc (2nd Edition) Blu-ray, which sells for $30. You can perform the same adjustments using the AVS Forum HD 709 Toolkit. It’s not possible to fully calibrate a TV using those tools—color, grayscale, and gamma adjustments require software and a meter—but they will help you optimize several key settings, including brightness and contrast. The result of these tweaks is usually an improvement over a TV’s factory default settings.
I found that the Samsung plasma required a slight boost in the brightness control to avoid crushing shadow detail. TheVizio required no such adjustment—it was already set properly.
The F8500 is a native 1080p display, whereas the Vizio M upscales 1080p content to 2160p. In the sharpness-adjustment screen on the Spears & Munsil disc, the F8500’s default setting created “ringing” artifacts around the lines of the 1080p pattern. The Vizio displayed a much sharper—essentially perfect—representation of the same graphic. I reduced the sharpness setting on the F8500 until the ringing disappeared, but I did not disable it altogether—I settled on a setting of 6. Once I got the F8500 dialed-in, the patterns on the two TVs were virtually indistinguishable. As with color temperature, contrast, and brightness, the Vizio’s default sharpness setting proved to be optimal.
When it comes to rendering fast motion, I thought the Vizio did a good job without having to resort to any tricks. The M65 offers separate controls for judder reduction (frame interpolation) as well as black-frame insertion. Even with those functions disabled, the M65 looked as good as the F8500 when playing the Sarah on Hammock clip from the Spears and Munsil disc, which is a real torture test for motion rendering. Turning on motion interpolation improved the clip’s apparent sharpness on both TVs, and to roughly an equal extent.
To my eyes, the M65 handles motion well, and it gives you plenty of flexibility when it comes to optimizing its performance.
At this point in the review process, the two TVs produced pictures that looked nearly identical most of the time—more so than I anticipated, based on past comparisons between the F8500 and various LCDs. Shadow detail was virtually identical between the two, and overall picture quality—including color accuracy—appeared surprisingly similar.
Switching the M65 to Calibrated (day) mode resulted in an image the plasma had no hope of matching in a bright room. Under less-than-ideal viewing conditions—including daylight spilling in through a window—the M65’s screen possessed markedly darker apparent black levels, as well as visibly brighter whites compared to the F8500 in Movie mode with maxed out cell light and contrast controls. The Vizio’s anti-glare filter was far more efficient at obscuring room reflections; next to the M65, the plasma looked like a mirror.
I measured the M65’s contrast ratio in Calibrated mode using an ANSI checkerboard (4×4). Peak whites were 61 fL and the blacks measured 0.008 fL. That’s a contrast ratio of 7625:1, which is very respectable. Shutting off FALD produced peak whites measuring a retina-scorching 99 fL, and blacks were 0.017 fL, which is a 5882:1 contrast ratio.
Here’s the highly accurate ColorChecker analysis of the (uncalibrated) Calibrated mode, which is good for daytime viewing.
The Calibrated mode on the Vizio M65-C1 is good for bright rooms and features quite accurate color.
Next, I hung black carpeting behind both TVs. In the bright room, the M65’s blacks looked as dark as the carpet, while the F8500’s blacks looked gray in comparison. As good as the F8500 looks in a bright room, the M65 is better in that environment.
Movies are best watched in a darkened room for maximum immersion, so I switched back to Calibrated Dark on the Vizioand put the Samsung’s cell-light and contrast controls back to their dark-room setting.
I returned to watching X-Men to see the effect of the basic adjustments. Post tweaks, I found that the two TVs were in a virtual tie in terms of image quality. Going back to South Park, I found the TVs looked shockingly similar. The main thing the plasma had going for it over the LCD was wide viewing angles; as long as I watched it from my couch, the Vizio M65’sVA panel delivered excellent contrast. It was commendably free of typical FALD LCD artifacts like clouding and obvious halos around bright objects.
Since most TV shoppers don’t opt for a professional calibration, the fact that the Vizio M65 exhibits excellent color and contrast characteristics right out of the box—and at a price that beats the big players—is a game-changer. However, this is AVS Forum, and pushing the panels to perform as perfectly as possible is par for the course here. So, without wasting too much time on easy tweaks, I went for the gusto: A full 10-point calibration on both TVs (actually it’s 11-point for theVizio).
For the calibrated comparison, I aimed for a peak brightness of 35 fL, BT.709 color, and a BT.1886 gamma curve on both TVs. I calibrated them with Spectracal CalMan 5 software and a Colorimetry Research CR-100 colorimeter, which I profiled with a CR-250 spectrophotometer.
Calibration appeared to go well for both TVs. The Vizio also achieved highly accurate calibration; I used its 11-point grayscale controls to get as close to perfect as possible, including a near-flat gamma curve with FALD activated. The M65’s CalMan graphs looked great! However, when I attempted to view content on the Vizio post-calibration, I did not like what I saw. Suddenly, the machinations of the FALD algorithm were incredibly obvious.
I took yet another look at some scenes from X-Men and Harry Potter. While the M65’s colors were entirely accurate, I could see distinct halo artifacts and clouding that was not there before. Worse still, the backlight was bleeding into the letterbox area. It was so dramatically different from what I’d grown used to during the weeks leading up to the calibration, I figured I had found a glitch of some sort.
As it turned out, my first remedy fixed the problem entirely: I disabled the 11-point grayscale controls. Sticking to the 2-point adjustment yielded a perfectly acceptable calibration and had no adverse impact on the operation of the FALD algorithm. Given the improvement in FALD performance I witnessed when I disabled the 11-point controls, I saw no reason to go beyond a 2-point calibration with the Vizio.
If you use the M65 as a giant monitor for production work—I did, and I loved it—you can disable FALD. It’s turned off by default in the Computer and Video Game picture modes. Without FALD messing with the gamma, you can calibrate the M65 with the 11-point controls and achieve accuracy that’s good enough to perform color-critical work on photos and video. My wife, who photographs food professionally, noted that the M65’s rendition of her images was “exactly what I wanted the pictures to look like.”
With any luck, the odd FALD behavior will turn out to be a glitch that firmware can fix. I didn’t sweat it, because skipping the 11-point controls had no significant impact on the final result. Indeed, I found little need for any calibration whatsoever with the M65. Yes, I tweaked color temperature, and I adjusted the backlight to achieve a precise degree of brightness. Even so, the simple adjustments I made with the Spears and Munsil disc—combined with changing the backlight to taste—were enough to produce an image I consider excellent.
With the dramatic finale of X-Men playing out on the screen, the 2-point calibrated Vizio achieved something quite close to parity with the plasma when it came to color accuracy and pop, even with the lights out.
While color accuracy on the M65 took a slight hit without the 11-point adjustment, the differences were practically irrelevant. I saw more variation between any two TVs at the recent Value Electronics shootout than I did between the two TVs in this review. When it came to the final analysis—what you perceive—the LCD’s image popped like it does on a plasma, as long as the FALD was operating correctly. Skin, skies, and plants looked realistic and accurate. Blacks were deep, and letterbox bars stayed dark. After a while, I just grew to accept that the M65 is a great TV and doesn’t require any qualifiers.
I performed ANSI-checkerboard contrast measurements on the calibrated panels. The M65, in (calibrated) Calibrated Dark mode, yielded 31 fL peak white and 0.0038 fL for black, an 8157:1 contrast ratio. The plasma struggled a bit with the ANSI pattern; peak whites were 30 fL and black measured 0.0058 fL, resulting in a contrast ratio of 5172:1.
The M65 is much more than a viable replacement for a plasma. If you use it to watch UHD/4K footage, or as a 4K displayfor a computer, you enter a realm that 1080p TVs cannot compete in. When I streamed Interstellar via UltraFlix on theVizio, the image was jaw-dropping. The video was as clean and smooth as Blu-ray, but there was often more detail present. Scenes in outer space were a particular highlight, I simply saw more stars.
Finally, the M65’s utility as a giant PC monitor impressed me a great deal. It aces the task and is a pleasure to look at. When I open a still image in Photoshop and take in 8 megapixels of detail all at once, it blows me away. The same goes for editing UHD/4K video—it’s simply amazing to see so much detail at once, and I think the leap in resolution from HD to UHD might be underplayed at the moment, perhaps due to the lack of content. Once you leave the HD-resolution envelope and go UHD, the M65 ‘s image quality becomes even more impressive.
One more note on using the M65 with a PC—I used it with the Calibrated Dark mode and FALD active most of the time. It’s the most gratifying mode on the TV. As long as I was viewing content—as opposed to creating it—the extra pop FALD offers is worth the slight hit in ultimate color accuracy. With six custom preset modes available, I found it easy to program the M65 for the various roles I wanted the TV to fill.
The biggest surprise with the Vizio M65 was how quickly I forgot I was watching an LCD TV. Unlike every other LCD I’ve had in my studio—including a few that cost far more for a 65″ screen—the 2015 M65 delivered deep blacks and high contrast without exposing the FALD machinations that make it possible—that is, as long as I didn’t use the 11-point calibration controls.
The most interesting thing about the Vizio is how well it performs without a calibration, which I consider a significant part of the value it brings to the table. There’s literally no reason for most people to spend money on a professional calibration; the Vizio’s default color in its Calibrated and Calibrated Dark modes is just that—calibrated. As long as what I reviewed is not a so-called “golden sample,” Vizio has indeed pulled off a hat trick with its M65; the TV is good-to-go fresh out of the box.
This is not a typical result for an uncalibrated TV. Vizio’s Calibrated Dark mode appears to live up to its name.
In a dark room, playing movies, the M65 manages to hold its own against one of the last and greatest plasma TVs ever made. If you add any ambient light to the equation, the M65 looks better than the plasma. Adding UHD/4K resolution to the mix, the M65 pulls even farther ahead of what the plasma can offer. If I had to choose between keeping my F8500 or trading it for the Vizio M65, it would be a difficult choice. While I appreciate the moments where the F8500 exhibits better contrast, and it’s capacity for colorimetric perfection continues to impress (it’ll continue to serve as my reference) the versatility of the M65 offers a sharp counterpoint to that.
When I think about how I considered the F8500 a bargain when I bought it on clearance for $2000, the fact the M65 sells for $1500 is a bit shocking. If this is trickle-down technology, I can’t wait to see what the company has up its sleeve for the next generation of the higher-end P series.
If your primary interest is in a high-quality, low-cost 65″ TV that’s great for watching movies—and serving as a computer monitor—I doubt you can do better than the Vizio M series.