Vizio's low-priced, high-value formula has a couple of new incarnations in the 60- and 70-inch E1i-A3 TVs, which are priced at one and two grand respectively at press time. Those prices are bargain-basement for such massive, LED-powered screens alone, but Vizio goes one better by mixing in features like Smart TV and a remote with a real QWERTY keyboard.
To get better picture quality in a 60-inch LED TV you'd have to pay another couple hundred dollars for Sharp's LC-LE640U series, with its crucial ability to display a darker shade of black. The 60-inch E601i-A3 competes well against that TV in other areas of picture quality, however, making it undoubtedly the superior bargain. It has a tougher row to hoe against the excellent Panasonic TC-P60U50 plasma, which also costs about a grand but is "dumb TV," for better or for worse. Buyers who prize picture above all else should choose the Panasonic, but for everyone else in the big-screen market, the Vizio E601i-A3 is our value pick so far this year.
Series information, updated November 20, 2012: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch E601i-A3. The 70-inch version, according to Vizio, will deliver even better picture quality, and the company will send us a 70-inch sample to review in the next couple of weeks.Normally with a series of TVs from a single manufacturer that are the same in specifications but different in size, we review one of the sizes hands-on and apply the review to all of them (here's why). When I posted the original review of Vizio's E1i-A3 series that's exactly what I did, applying the review to the 70-inch size as well, because Vizio claimed the two had nearly identical picture quality. Recently the company changed that claim, however, so I'm removing the review from the 70-inch size until I can test it.
Mainly thanks to its ultraminimalist, thin-bezel design, the E601i-A3 is the nicest-looking Vizio TV I can remember. The frame measures only seven-eighths of an inch wide along the top and sides of the screen, and along the bottom it's just a bit thinner. That's about the same as the bezel on Samsung's UN60ES6500 and thinner than that of Sharp's LC-60LE640U.
As a result the Vizio is almost all screen when seen from the front, and as thin as any LED TV when viewed in profile. That thin look, combined with Vizio's understated glossy black styling, puts Vizio's E601i-A3 into the same styling league as TVs from the more well-known name brands. As is common at this price level, the panel doesn't swivel atop the stand.
To make it easier to enter searches and other information into Smart apps, the E601i-A3 comes with a remote with a full QWERTY keyboard on its flip side. While not up to the standards of a good smartphone keyboard, it's roomy and fine for occasional use -- easily outclassing the tedious onscreen virtual keyboards required by most other smart TVs. I liked the tactile "click" as I depressed keys, though I was annoyed at constantly having to flip to the front of the remote to enter numbers.
It's also worth noting that since the remote uses infrared to signal the TV, you have to keep its front edge aimed roughly at the screen, which can seem unnatural. If you hold the keyboard more perpendicular to your face, as I demonstrate in the image below, it's likely many of your button presses won't register. That's one reason why Bluetooth or another wireless technology is superior to infrared for living-room keyboards.
The front face of the remote is not my favorite. The menu/exit/guide/back keys are too small and there's not enough differentiation between the keys. The remote's best feature is that it has dedicated keys for Amazon Instant and Netflix; unfortunately, Vizio replaced the Vudu app shortcut key on previous clickers with M-Go (see below). Its worst, shared by the QWERTY side, is lack of any illumination.
Vizio employs the same menus on this set as on its other Smart TVs, and I'm a fan. The menu system resembles an app in appearance, and I liked that the picture settings section is integrated into the main App taskbar (see below). Responses were fast, explanations were complete, and I had no problems finding my way around. I also appreciated the easy guided-setup process and unusually complete onscreen manual.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Screen finish||Matte||Remote||QWERTY "flipper"|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||N/A||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional Skype camera (XCV100; $70)|
The E601i-A3 sits in the features sweet spot for LED-based LCD TVs. Its edge-lit LED backlight forgoes the local dimming found on models like Vizio's own M3D0KD, but the company does include 120Hz processing. Also left off the list is 3D, although in my book that's no big loss, especially on a TV priced this competitively.
Update November 29: When I tested the TV initially it was incapable of finding any DLNA servers, and when I checked with Vizio I was told that the TV did ot support DLNA. Multiple users, however, reported success with DLNA on this TV, so I recently re-tested it. Lo and behold, it seems to work fine now. I can't really explain the discrepancy between my two tests, but even so I have changed the review to indicate that the TV does support DLNA networking.
Smart TV: Compared with most major TV makers' smart TV implementations, Vizio's VIA suite of Smart TV apps, which looks exactly the same as it did in its first generation, seems dated. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than it should be since you'll need to scroll through the small ticker at the bottom of the page. Yes, you can rearrange the ticker and weed out the apps you don't want, but it's still a pain for those who want to keep more than a few apps installed. Response times were decent, but not as snappy as from Samsung's or LG's app suites. That said I do prefer Vizio's design to Sharp's.
On the other hand, content selection is among the best available today -- 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. With Rhapsody, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and iHeartRadio there's plenty of musical choice too. There's no Web browser, but that's no major loss since TV-based browsers are universally inferior to smartphone, tablet, and of course PC browsers.
Update December 18: When this review first published it erroneously stated that Skype was active, but I was unable to test it since I didn't have the optional camera/speakerphone. Now Vizio tells me they app isn't yet active on the 60- and 70-inch versions of this TV, but did not say when: "We're working actively working with Skype to get these models certified."