This year I've seen plenty of LED-based LCD TVs with disappointing picture quality, but the Vizio M3D0KD series isn't one of them. It boasts black levels and color accuracy that surpass competitors costing hundreds more, making it one of the elite values in its class. No, the series doesn't quite match the price-to-picture ratio of some of our favorite plasmas this year, but at least it comes in a screen size smaller than 50 inches. For TV buyers who don't want a plasma TV or are sold on another aspect of this Vizio's spec sheet, like passive 3D or its QWERTY remote, the Vizio M3D0KD belongs high on the list of candidates.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Vizio M3D550KD, but this review also applies to the 47-inch member of the series. The two have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. Update 8/21/2012: There's also a significant difference in Features between the two that was not noted in the initial publication of this review: the 47-inch model comes with a more basic, infrared QWERTY remote as opposed to the 55-incher's Bluetooth remote. See below for details.
Vizio won't win any awards for innovative styling with the M3D0KD, but it tends toward pedestrian rather than unpleasant. The glossy black, rounded-off frame around the screen is admirably narrow and the panel sits low atop the fixed stand. Two brighter elements annoy me, though: the lighter strip adjacent to the screen along the bottom (material right next to the screen should ideally be black and the same on every side) and the silver pedestal.
As I'd expect from an LED TV, the M3D0KD is quite thin in profile. The panels of both sizes measure a mere 1.5 inches deep.
The remote you get depends on which size you choose. The 55-inch M3D550KD has a Bluetooth QWERTY slider (pictured above) while the 47-incher has an Infrared "flipper" remote: standard keys on the front and a QWERTY keyboard on the back. My description below applies to the slider included with the 55-inch version; check out this previous Vizio TV review for more on the flipper included with the 47-incher.
More than two years after its debut the design of Vizio's slide-open remote seems dated, although it still offers great functionality. It's Bluetooth so you don't need line-of-sight to the TV; it can control other devices; and it has a slide-open QWERTY keyboard for easier typing of searches, passwords, and other Smart TV data. Unfortunately the slider feels cheap, the buttons aren't very responsive, and the unit felt more like a plastic brick than a svelte, modern controller in my hand. I'll take function over form faster than the next guy, but Vizio takes it too far in the wrong direction.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Guided setup for remote control of other devices; optional Skype camera/speakerphone (XCV100, $130)|
Tops on the list in my book is Vizio's Smart Dimming feature, which makes the M3D0KD a member of the increasingly select tribe of LED TVs with local dimming. Yes, those edge-lit areas of the screen dim in large, imprecise swaths compared with the dimmers that have full-array backlights, but some local dimming is better than none in my experience since it usually improves black-level performance.
Like many passive 3D TVs this year, the M3D0KD includes a four-pack of glasses. Vizio charges $16 for a 2-pack if you want more, and most third-party circular polarized glasses, such as those used at movie theaters, should work too. No maker of active-3D TVs this year, aside from Samsung which throws in at least two pairs with every 3D set, includes glasses. Check out our 3D TV Buying guide and comparison of active and passive 3D for more.
The Vizio lacks 2D-to-3D conversion, if that matters to you -- it doesn't to me since such conversion is usually quite poor.
Unlike most TVs that can play back photo, music, and video files from an attached USB stick, the Vizio cannot play such files from a home networked source via DLNA.
The M3D0KD can control your other gear using the included remote. That's a nice feature in theory and the guided setup worked well, but I found it frustrating when I tested an LG Blu-ray player, for example. Switching away from the player's input didn't turn it off automatically and some commands, for example "Back," didn't work. I still think even the cheapest Harmony remotes are better.
Smart TV: If Vizio's remote seems dated, then its VIA Smart TV suite, which looks exactly the same as it did during its first generation, deserves the same adjective. Its design makes finding the app you want more difficult than any of the other major competitors' do 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.
At the time of this review Vizio's M3D0KD offered more than 150 apps. Vizio's app selection is devoid of sports-streaming apps like MLB.TV and NHL GameCenter Live, but otherwise excellent -- in fact, it's the only Smart TV purveyor aside from Panasonic to include Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and Vudu. 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 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 others like AOL HD, eBay, Fandango (with ticket purchasing), iHeartRadio, SnagFilms, Vimeo, Wealth TV 3D, and WSJ Live. The remainder of that 150 are inevitably less useful, including umpteen apps devoted to local news channels.
Picture settings: The M3D0KD has Vizio's trademark list of picture modes named after sports -- Football, Golf, Baseball, and Basketball -- that have little to do with improving image quality when watching those sports. Advanced settings include two-point color temperature and a couple of dejudder settings, along with the option to enable or disable the local dimming and ambient light sensor. Missing are a color management system, gamma presets, and more-involved grayscale controls, so the M3D0KD isn't as friendly to tweakers as sets from LG and Samsung, for example.
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.