With a selling price of $1,950, the Vizio P50HDM is the least expensive 50-inch HD-capable plasma we've reviewed to date. Having never heard of Vizio or its parent brand V, Incorporated, you may rightly be wondering whether that price is too good to be true. In short, it isn't. The P50HDM performed commendably in our tests, exhibiting deep blacks and accurate color. Its main weakness is that it lacks many of the features you've come to expect in HDTVs: namely, a built-in HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot. It still has ample inputs, however, and at the end of the day, we believe most buyers care less about features than about image quality and style. While its picture isn't quite up to the standards of our current favorite, the Panasonic TH-50PHD7UY, its breakthrough price makes it the best value to date among 50-inch plasmas. Overall, the V Vizio P50HDM has a sleek and high-tech look. A thick, glossy-black border surrounds the screen; on the bottom, below the black border, are speakers finished in bright silver. We think the look and the perceived contrast ratio would both be improved by making the entire panel black.
One complaint we've heard about the P50HDM has to do with fan noise. Our sample emitted a louder-than-normal whir from its back-mounted fans, which we found distracting under normal viewing conditions--particularly during quiet passages in movies. Vizio says it will provide onsite service to buyers who complain about the fan noise.
The company decided not to make the speakers detachable, so this 50-inch panel stands taller than most at 34 inches in height, although its 49-inch width is average. The company includes a foot-wide stand, and you can always choose to mount this 4-inch-thick panel on the wall.
The remote is oddly shaped, and all the buttons are black with white lettering. This color scheme makes it easy to distinguish different keys in a brightly lit room, but if you are trying to work in the dark, its lack of illuminated keys means you will need a good flashlight. The internal menu system is vertically oriented, well designed, and quite simple to navigate. Like all 50-inch plasmas, the V Vizio P50HDM has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which provides plenty of pixels to display every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All sources, including computers, HDTV, and standard-def, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
The Vizio's feature package is definitely its weakest point, but you can't expect the moon and the stars at this price. As we mentioned at the outset, it lacks both a built-in HDTV tuner and Digital Cable Ready capability, as well as a standard NTSC tuner. In other words, the P50HDM is a monitor, and as such it doesn't need to adhere to the FCC's tuner mandate. The omission of tuners means you'll need to use an external tuner box (cable, satellite, or over the air) to watch high-def and standard television.
While we weren't surprised by the tuner-free feature set, the lack of selectable color-temperature presets was a shocker. A more accurate preset would be a boon given the P50HDM's relatively blue out-of-the-box color temperature (see Performance). Vizio included several global picture modes to choose from, with different picture presets for different viewing environments. In the advanced menu section, we found Dynamic Contrast and Fleshtone
Happily the company didn't skimp in the most important area of features: connectivity. This is one of the few HDTVs we've reviewed with two HDMI inputs, which are becoming increasingly desirable given the proliferation of HDMI-equipped DVD players and set-top boxes and the dearth of HDMI-switching receivers. The set provides two component-video inputs, two S-Video inputs, two composite-video inputs, one VGA analog RGB input for PC hookup (1,024x768 at 60Hz is the recommended resolution), a set of analog audio outputs, and a headphone jack. It is a bit odd that the headphone jack sits on the back panel rather than on the front, where it would be much easier to access. The V Vizio P50HDM handles most of the key picture-performance areas very well. The black-level performance of this panel is quite good, achieving a convincingly inky black in the darkest scenes--something that few plasmas can claim.
However, we noticed a couple of problems. First, the Vizio P50HDM doesn't pass "blacker than black" signals, which are key to achieving the best contrast ratio. The other, larger issue is the visibility of false-contouring artifacts, which are most prominent in dark scenes, although they're also visible in some bright material. Chapters 2 and 3 of the Alien: Director's Cut DVD revealed the contouring artifacts, which appeared as shimmering masses of indistinct color near black. We also saw this issue in a relatively bright scene at the opening of the Vertical Limit Superbit DVD, which contains a long pan of a cliff side with a few of these indistinct areas.
Since the P50HDM offers no selectable color-temperature settings, you are stuck with the relatively blue grayscale as it comes from the factory (see the geek box). After calibrating the panel, which provided only three global gain controls instead of the usual five or six, we discovered that the gamma tracking isn't as good as we expect in a plasma. A strong indication of this is the unevenness of the grayscale from top to bottom, which affects color accuracy; for example, it tinges gray areas with some green and red. On the other hand, the Vizio's color decoding is quite accurate. Consequently, color saturation and skin-tone rendition looked excellent after calibration.
We were pleased to find that the panel passes all the resolution from 720p HDTV sources. Oddly enough, this is something most displays can't do, even though their native resolution is either exactly 1,280x720 or an even higher 1,366x768, as in the case of the Vizio.
HD material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked quite impressive. Color saturation and detail were both excellent. Dark scenes showed some false-contouring artifacts, but the overall picture quality was very good.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,550/8,600K||Poor|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,400/6,900K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,883K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 225K||Average|
|Color decoder error: red||-10%||Average|
|Color decoder error: green||-5%||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|