Vizio M-Series (2017) review

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The Good: The affordable Vizio M-Series has better overall picture quality than anything else at its price, and in some ways outperforms even more expensive TVs. It can handle both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high-dynamic-range formats. The Chromecast built-in system offers more apps and frequent updates than many dedicated smart-TV systems, and can even be controlled by a Google Home speaker.

The Bad: Not as bright as some competitors. No built-in tuner, so you can’t watch over-the-air antenna broadcasts unless you attach a separate tuner. Mediocre external design and poor Smart TV onscreen menus.

The Bottom Line: The Vizio M-Series remains the best choice for mainstream budgets that prioritize image quality over everything else.

The question a TV like the Vizio M-Series poses is simple: Do you want to pay hundreds more for a slightly better picture, sleeker style or different brand name? If the answer is no, this is the TV for you.

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Just like 2016’s model, the M-Series is the cheapest TV I’ve tested that earned an 8 out of 10 in Performance. You won’t mistake it for an OLED TV at more than twice the price, but its picture is great for an LCD. It sits in the sweet spot between budget 4K TVs like the Vizio E-Series or TCL S405, and upper-midrange models like the Sony X900E, Samsung MU9000 and Vizio’s own P-Series. Its picture can easily compete against those more expensive LCD TVs, and in some ways it’s better, so if raw picture-for-the-dollar is what you want, the M should be first on your list.

Vizio improved HDR image quality from last year and maintained a great picture with Dolby Vision sources, and the M-Series handles regular high-def sources well too. The key to everything is local dimming, a technology that really boosts LCD image quality, especially in demanding home theater lighting situations where it matters most.

So why wouldn’t you want an M-Series? The biggest reason is probably brand reputation — some people would rather pay extra for a Sony or Samsung TV of similar image quality, or get one of those brands’ “good-enough” TVs at the M-Series’ price. Another is styling: Let’s face it, the M-Series isn’t going to win any beauty contests, and if you spent a fortune on interior decor you might want a set that looks the part.

Those two knocks also apply to CNET’s second highest-rated non-OLED TV of 2017, the TCL P series Roku TV. If you want a 55-inch model and value Roku’s superior Smart TV experience, you should get it instead of the Vizio. But it only comes in that one size.

For everyone else, consider an M. It remains my go-to recommendation for savvy buyers who want excellent picture quality for an affordable price, and for the second year in a row, earns CNET’s Editors’ Choice award.

Goodbye, free tablet; hello, weak menus

Last year Vizio (and others) made a big deal about including a tablet remote with the M and P series and ditching built-in menus. This year there’s no included tablet — just a regular generic-looking clicker — and onscreen Smart TV menus are back. They’re weaksauce, but that’s hardly a deal breaker given excellent alternatives like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus or, if you want Dolby Vision, an Apple TV 4K.

Vizio M series 2017

Vizio’s Smart TV takes too long to load after you press the “V” button on the remote and once it does arrive, there’s no much there. Just 10 apps appear along the bottom, and while four are heavy hitters (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Vudu) the rest are minor, and it doesn’t have plenty of other big apps like YouTube, HBO and Watch ESPN. You can’t remove or reorder apps, or in any way customize the Discover section, which occupies most of the screen with movies and shows you probably don’t care about.

Netflix and Vudu support both 4K and HDR (Dolby Vision in Vudu’s case), but I was miffed to discover that the Amazon app doesn’t support HDR. The only way to get YouTube is via your phone, and even then it’s in 4K, not HDR.

By “via your phone” I mean the “Chromecast built-in” function. Going into any supported app on your phone and hitting the Cast button reveals the Vizio TV as an option; select it and video from the app will play back on the TV. There are thousands of supported apps, and the system works very well in general, but I still prefer a real onscreen menu system — just not Vizio’s. But if you’re a phone-centric kinda person, you can always use Vizio’s SmartCast app to control the TV.

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One cool trick you can do with a Chromecast TV, however, is control it with a Google Home speaker. It worked very well in my tests on the M, although unlike Alexa commands of Sony TVs, for example, power on/off isn’t supported.

Right now Netflix, YouTube, YouTube TV, HBO Now and the CBS All Access and CW apps are supported by voice on Home. As a YouTube TV user, I appreciated being able to say, “OK, Google, play NBC” or, “OK, Google, play the Knicks” and have the Vizio play the live channel or my recording of last night’s basketball game on ESPN, for example. “OK, Google, play ‘Game of Thrones'” and, “OK, Google, play ‘Star Trek: Discovery'” worked as well. Subsequent commands, like, “Skip forward 30 minutes” and, “Next episode,” worked in some apps but not in others. YouTube also worked as promised.

Vizio M series 2017

Heavy on features, not style

Vizio isn’t investing heavily in its external design department. The M looks just like last year’s M: slate-gray frame from the front, silver edges and thickish profile from the side. The stand legs consist of chrome rods bent into rounded supports, and while distinctive, they risk looking a tad cheap to my eye.

Key TV features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR-compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV SmartCast
Remote Standard

The focus is on picture-enhancing features, starting with full-array local dimming (FALD), which Vizio is branding “XLED Plus” this year. It improves the all-important contrast and black levels, and has better uniformity than edge-lit dimming. The number of dimmable zones (32) is actually half that of last year’s M and one-quarter that of the P-Series, and in general, more zones equal better picture quality. With the exception of the TCL 55P607, most other TVs at this price lack dimming entirely, use the edge-lit variety as seen on models like Samsung MU9000 or cost a lot more, like the Sony X900E.

The M-Series has a 60Hz refresh rate panel — Vizio’s claim of “120Hz effective” is basically bunk. It lacks a setting to engage MEMC (motion estimation, motion compensation), aka the Soap Opera Effect, as found on the more expensive Vizio P-Series. For 2017 all of the sizes in the M-Series use higher-performance VA panels, not the IPS panel found on the 55-inch version of the 2017 P-Series and the 60-inch version of the 2016 M-Series.

One other difference on paper between the M-Series and P-Series is the P’s somewhat wider color gamut. In our tests comparing the two, however, the M actually showed a wider gamut. Like LG, TCL and (soon) Sony, Vizio supports both major types of HDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, in the M-Series.

The M-Series lacks a built-in TV tuner, so it can’t receive local TV stations available via antenna/over-the-air broadcasts.

Vizio M series 2017

Connectivity caveats and complexities

  • 4 HDMI inputs (1x version 2.0, 3x version 1.4, all with HDCP 2.2)
  • 1 component video input
  • 1 USB port
  • Ethernet port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Stereo analog audio output

Here’s another difference between the M-Series and P-Series. Of the M-Series’ four HDMI ports only one, Input 1, supports HDMI 2.0a. The other three, inputs 2 through 4, support HDMI 1.4.

In practice, however, you can still connect many of today’s highest-quality sources to any of the Vizio’s HDMI inputs. The “1.4-only” inputs will work with 4K Blu-ray players from Samsung and Oppo and, according to Vizio, as long as you send standard 4K/24 signals, but not with the Xbox One S (you’ll need to connect that to HDMI 1, and engage the “Full UHD color” feature in the VIZIO menu).

I tested the Amazon Fire TV and it worked fine on Input 4, but the Roku Streaming Stick Plusneeded to be connected to HDMI 1 (with a port saver for the tight quarters back there) to pass 4K and HDR. I also tested the Sony UBP-X800 and it worked fine on Input 4 with standard 4K/24fps movies like “Wonder Woman,” but not “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” the only disc I know of that sends a 4K/60fps signal. “Billy” via the Sony didn’t deliver HDR on Input 4, but did work properly on Input 1.

In short: When in doubt, use Input 1. If you have a bunch of “picky” 4K HDR devices or ones you aren’t sure about, maybe an HDMI 2.0 switch will work. Or maybe the M isn’t for you. Input 1 is also capable of accepting 1080p at 120Hz, a frequency typically reserved for computers.

Since there’s no tuner, the standard RF-style antenna input is conspicuously absent. Otherwise connectivity is standard.

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Picture quality

Simply put, it’s really tough to see any difference between the M-Series and the more expensive TVs with which I compared it. Its black levels and contrast were excellent, laying the foundation for an accurate, punchy picture in demanding home theater environments. It can’t get as bright as many others, and so isn’t the best choice for ultrabright rooms, but it’s plenty bright enough for the vast majority of indoor situations — and its light output with HDR, where it really counts, is solid. Speaking of high dynamic range, the M-Series was also excellent with both Dolby Vision and, unlike last year, the more common HDR10 sources.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Dim lighting: Of the 65-inch sets in my lineup the M-Series is the cheapest, but  most scenes looked just as good, if not better, than on the others. I watched “Jason Bourne” in my dark home theater and the opening scene, where Bourne (Matt Damon) one-punches his opponent to the ground in a match in Greece, looked great on the M, with superb saturation and, er, punchiness. It did on the others too, and telling them apart was tough.

Things started to separate in dark scenes, when the M’s deep black levels could strut their stuff. During the Reykjavik hack in Chapter 2, the letterbox bars and deep shadows looked a bit darker and more realistic on the M than on the Sony and the Samsung. Meanwhile the P-Series sets (both TCL and Vizio) looked darker still and the best overall, while the 2016 M-Series looked essentially identical to the new one, despite the difference in their number of dimming zones. The M also handled shadow details very well in this scene, keeping up with the best sets in the lineup.

During my favorite very dark scenes, like Chapter 2 of “Gravity” when Ryan tumbles against a backdrop of stars, or in Chapter 12 of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” when Voldemort attacks Hogwarts, the M’s black levels actually started a bit brighter (worse) than the Sony and the Samsung at times. But as the scenes brightened the M quickly pulled ahead of those sets by maintaining deeper letterbox bars and black areas. I chalk this up to more precise zones on the M than on the other two, causing less reaction (black-level rise) from mixed scenes — which are much more common than exceedingly dark ones. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes the M (and the two P’s) look closer to the ideal of pure OLED black and less like LCD.

Bright lighting: Although it’s still plenty bright for just about every lighting situation, the M-Series was still among the dimmer sets in my lineup with SDR (non-HDR) content, which you’ll be watching most of the time. Its numbers were comparable to those of cheaper sets like the TCL S-Series and Vizio’s own E-Series. On the bright side for Vizio, full-screen light output was actually pretty decent, and the M’s highly accurate Calibrated mode isn’t much dimmer than Vivid at 274 nits with a window pattern.

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Light output in nits

Light output in nits
TV Mode (SDR) 10% window (SDR) Full screen (SDR) Mode (HDR) 10% window (HDR)
Samsung UN65MU9000 Dynamic 1410 509 Dynamic 1435
Samsung QN65Q7F Dynamic 923 588 Dynamic 1781
Sony XBR-65X900E Vivid 908 524 Vivid 902
Vizio P65-E1 Vivid 459 575 Vivid 498
TCL 55P607 Vivid/dimming off 438 431 Brighter/Dark HDR 448
LG OLED55C7P Vivid 433 145 Vivid 715
Vizio M65-E0 Vivid 288 339 Vivid 880

With HDR, light output was substantially higher, outpacing every comparable TV aside from the Samsungs and the Sony, and in Calibrated mode it was also great at 788 nits. Methinks Vizio should adjust its brightest SDR presets to take more advantage of the M’s capabilities.

The M and P share a similar semimatte screen finish, which beat the others (with the exception of the Samsungs) at reducing reflections. Preservation of black-level fidelity was solid, about as good as the others.

Color accuracy: According to my measurements and program material, the M is as accurate as any TV available. When the CIA director (Tommy Lee Jones) lands in Las Vegas in Chapter 14 of “Jason Bourne,” for example, colors from the skyline to the desert hills to his craggy skin tone appeared well-balanced and saturated, and very similar to on the other sets. Outside of a side-by-side comparison, it’s tough to tell the difference between them after calibration.

Video processing: The M lacks the blur and judder reduction of the P-Series, and it didn’t perform as well in terms of reducing blur. I’m not particularly sensitive to motion blur, but if you are, the P-Series or a Samsung might be worth the extra money.

The M registered proper 1080p/24 cadence but exhibited the motion resolution characteristics of a 60Hz TV at just 300 lines. Vizio does offer a Clear Action control that improves that number to a respectable 900, but as usual it introduced flicker and dimmed the image, so most viewers will want to avoid it.

Input lag for gaming was decent at around 45ms, whether or not I used the Gaming Low Latency setting. That’s better than the P-Series but a bit worse than the cheaper E-Series and the Sony X900E.

Uniformity: Brightness across the M’s screen was quite uniform, better overall than on the Samsung and TCL and similar to the others. With full-field test patterns there were no bands or bright spots, and only near the edges were there slight variations in brightness — and those were impossible to discern with real video.

From off-angle the image maintained black-level fidelity and color well, if not quite as well as on the Samsung or the Vizio P. All of the sets in my lineup were in the same ballpark, however.

HDR and 4K video: The M-Series was actually among the best TVs in my lineup at high dynamic range, whether with an HDR10 or a Dolby Vision source. Only the Sony looked consistently better, and it was quite close between the two.

I flipped back to the HDR10 4K Blu-ray of “Jason Bourne” and put all the sets in their best default settings for HDR, since I don’t calibrate for high dynamic range. The Sony and Vizio M looked a bit better than the others in brighter outdoor scenes like the Greece fight, with the brightest highlights and more saturated colors. Between the two I’d give the slight edge to the Sony with its more balanced color.

In the dim hacking scene from Chapter 2 the M’s deep blacks again outdid the Sony and Samsung, and combined with bright highlights to again provide more pop than the others, including the Vizio P. That set had a slightly more muted color palette, however, without the deep saturation I saw on the M and the Sony. The difference was most obvious in reds, for example a London city bus in Chapter 12. It really popped on the Sony and M-Series, not so much on the Samsung and the P.

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I was particularly surprised at the P-Series’ HDR10 lagging behind the M, but my measurements bore that out: It was dimmer and had a narrower color gamut. Vizio touts the P’s wider gamut, and when I presented the company’s engineers with my findings they basically confirmed what I found: “Yes, your measurements are similar to Vizio’s expectations. While the specs for the two displays are similar, the M-Series panel and filters are slightly different, including more red in the gamut, which increases its overall coverage.”

Sticking with “Bourne,” I compared Dolby Vision from the Apple TV 4K (on the Vizios and TCL) to the HDR10 4K Blu-ray. It didn’t make a huge difference, nor were the images identical to what I saw with HDR10. The Sony still looked best overall, and the M-Series still looked great, but the P-Series sets (both TCL and Vizio) looked better than before, and closer to the M. The M still delivered brighter highlights and the P darker blacks, but the M’s color looked less saturated.

Of course, different films have different characteristics, especially in HDR. I also watched “Wonder Woman” as part of the comparison lineup in the MU9000 review and the results were similar. The TCL and Vizios looked better overall, like they did with HDR10, but then again so did the Sony, which wasn’t playing Dolby Vision. Once again, the TV seems to have a larger effect on what you see than the HDR format. For more comparisons involving the M-Series, check out our MU9000 review.

Geek box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.014 Good
Peak white luminance (100%) 288 Poor
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.32 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.503 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.379 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.441 Good
Avg. color error 2.103 Good
Red error 1.654 Good
Green error 2.486 Good
Blue error 2.094 Good
Cyan error 2.55 Good
Magenta error 2.24 Good
Yellow error 1.593 Good
Avg. saturations error 1.68 Good
Avg. luminance error 2.58 Good
Avg. color checker error 1.39 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 900 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 45.13 Average
HDR default
Black luminance 0.003 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 880 Average
Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976) 91 Average
Avg. saturations error 3.3 Average
Avg. color checker error 2.5 Good

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/oFJQgq)

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