When Vizio told me many sizes in its mainstream E-Series would get the benefits of local dimming, I was intrigued. That feature, designed to dim the backlight in discrete sections to enhance black levels and contrast, is rare on today's LCD TVs and positively unheard of at the E-Series' price level. Sad to say, it doesn't work all that well in this TV's case. Sure, black levels get darker, but the trade-off in shadow detail is one I'm not willing to make.
Meanwhile, the E-Series' other big picture-quality specification is a 120Hz refresh rate that, as far as I can discern in my testing, is a claim invented from whole cloth. The E0i-A1 behaves in every way like a 60Hz TV, and if it walks like a duck, I'm calling it Donald. Or maybe Howard. And while I'm at it, there's no benefit to its direct LED backlight compared with that of a standard (non-LED) LCD TV.
Once I overcame my disappointment over unfulfilled expectations, I came to the conclusion that the Vizio E0i-A1 isn't a bad TV after all. It competes well against the picture quality of other LCD TVs in its price class while delivering plenty of Smart TV content and sleek minimalist style. Its price isn't as aggressive as some E-Series Vizios', though, like the 60- and 70-inch E1i-A3 or the E320i-A0. I have a feeling Vizio will drop that price quite a bit over the rest of 2013, making the E0i-A1 an increasingly appealing value.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch Vizio E420i-A1, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series listed below. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. As of press time, the 39- and 47-inch models were not yet available for sale, but Vizio says they're coming soon. Other sizes and models in the E-Series have different-enough components that this review doesn't apply to them.
|Models in series (details)|
|Vizio E390i-A1||39 inches|
|Vizio E420i-A1 (reviewed)||42 inches|
|Vizio E470i-A1||47 inches|
|Vizio E500i-A1||50 inches|
When I reviewed the 60-inch E-Series last year I called it the nicest-looking Vizio TV in memory, and this smaller example looks almost exactly the same. Its black plastic frame measures just over half an inch thick on the top and sides, although black masking on the panel between the frame and the picture adds another quarter-inch. Vizio's subtle right-offset logo is a welcome change of pace from the prominent center logos on most TVs.
"Direct LED" backlighting makes this set about as thick (3.15 inches) as an old-school CCFL-backlit LCD TV, so it doesn't get the "Razor" moniker Vizio applies to its edge-lit LEDs. The generic-looking stand doesn't swivel.
Unlike Vizio's higher-end Smart TV remotes, the one that comes with the E420i-A1 lacks a flip-side QWERTY keyboard. The front side is not my favorite among what I've seen on entry-level clickers. It lacks illumination, the Menu, Exit, Guide, and Back keys are too small and there's not enough differentiation between buttons. Its best feature is the inclusion of dedicated keys for Amazon Instant and Netflix; unfortunately, Vizio replaced the Vudu app shortcut key on previous clickers with one for M-Go (see below).
Vizio employs the same menus on this set as on its higher-end models like the M3D0KD series. The menu system resembles an app in appearance, and I liked that the picture settings section is integrated into the main app taskbar. Responses were fast, explanations were complete, and I had no problems finding my way around. I also appreciated the easy guided-setup process.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Direct with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: Optional Skype camera (XCV100; $70)|
Now that TV makers are starting to ditch CCFL-based backlights altogether, the Vizio E0i-A1's direct LED backlight itself isn't that remarkable. As I mentioned above, it leads to a relatively thick cabinet, and as usual with LED it doesn't mean a better picture. "Direct" simply means that the LEDs are placed behind the screen, as opposed to along the edge. Fewer LEDs are required, which is one reason why direct sets are cheaper than edge-lit ones. I'm guessing that paucity of LEDs contributes to the ineffectiveness of its local dimming.
Despite the TV's supposed 120Hz refresh rate, the E0i-A1 series behaves just like a 60Hz TV. Vizio is the first company I can remember to claim 120Hz on a TV but neglect to include smoothing/dejudder processing. You might not like the so-called Soap Opera Effect such smoothing induces, but with nearly all other 120Hz TVs it's an option you can turn on or off. With the E420i-A it's simply not available.
Vizio actually uses the term "120Hz effective refresh rate" on this and other TVs, including the E601i-A3. But while that set has the smoothing and motion resolution I expect from a 120Hz TV, the E0i-A1 series has neither. That's why I'm sticking with the "60Hz" specification on the table above, despite what Vizio says.
Unlike the E601i-A3 I tested earlier, the E420i-A1 doesn't (yet) handle music, photo, and video streaming over a home network from a DLNA server. It will handle such files via USB, though.
Smart TV: I had no major complaints about the Smart TV feature on the E420i-A1, and considering the set's price, that's high praise. Its interface is mediocre in design, but content selection was excellent and responsiveness was good enough.
Vizio hasn't changed the design of its Smart TV since it debuted three years ago, so it's not as slick as most other TV makers' brainy portals. Its main interface, based on the original Yahoo Widgets, consists of a strip along the bottom of the screen. It shows just four widgets at a time, so finding the one you want is a tedious scrolling chore if you have more than 10 or so installed. Vizio doesn't make finding new apps any easier, with a Yahoo Connected TV Store that's crowded with entirely too much chaff, including way too many "apps" devoted to local TV stations.
Content selection, however, is among the best available -- and comes close to matching Roku's, trading HBO Go for YouTube. Vizio leaves no major video services off the list, although it still doesn't have sports apps like MLB.TV and NHL. Skype is now active, although to use it you'll need to purchase a $70 camera/speakerphone. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio, there's plenty of musical choice, too.