Vizio's E1i-A3 series is the poster child for "TVs are getting bigger and cheaper all the time." The 70-inch behemoth reviewed here costs less than any similarly sized TV I know about, yet delivers quite a bit for the price. Beyond the picture, it packs in Smart TV, complete with a nifty QWERTY remote, as well as sharp styling that does its best to keep a screen this size "understated."
The 70-inch Vizio E701i-A3 does cost twice as much as its 60-inch brother, however, and if you're spending two grand on a TV, it's worth considering the alternatives. Sharp's LC-70LE640U is a better performer, Panasonic's 65-inch TC-P65ST50 is better still in pretty much every way, and both can be had for just a few hundred more than this Vizio. But if you're OK with that and just want a huge, very good LED TV, Vizio E701i-A3 is a spectacular value.
The E1-A3 series, whether 60 or 70 inches, is the nicest-looking Vizio TV I can remember. The frame on the 70-incher is mighty thin albeit a bit thicker than the 60- along the sides -- about an inch. It's less than that along the top and a bit thicker along the bottom. The 70-inch Vizio's bezel is about the same size as that of the 60-inch Sharp's LC-60LE640U.
The result is a gigantic TV that's seemingly almost all screen when seen from the front, and while the 70-incher is about half an inch thicker than the 60 in profile, it's still plenty slim. Those bezel and cabinet dimensions, combined with Vizio's understated glossy black styling, puts Vizio's E701i-A3 into the same styling league as TVs from the better-known 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 TV apps, the E701i-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; $75)|
The E701i-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. If you want a 3D Vizio, your largest screen choice so far is the 65-inch M3D651SV, while Sharp's LC-70LE745U is the closest 70-inch 3D competitor.
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 those 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.
Vizio tells me the Skype app isn't yet active on the 60- and 70-inch versions of this TV, and did not say when it would be: "We're working actively working with Skype to get these models certified." When it finally gets turned on, you'll still need to purchase the $70 camera/speakerphone.
Vizio lacks an "app store" and any paid-app choices, but the Yahoo Connected TV Store (the VIA engine is based on Yahoo Widgets) has plenty of free, somewhat useful options like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango (with ticket purchasing), iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live. The remainder of the more than 150 other apps are inevitably less useful, including umpteen apps devoted to local news channels.