A Vizio in your living room might not have impressed your snobby videophile friends in the past, but the company known for budget LCDs is doing its best to change that. The XVT3SV series, Vizio's third attempt at using a full array of local dimming LEDs to compete with the other brands' flagship LCDs, is in our book its most successful. The XVT3 stands among the best LCDs we've tested in the crucial areas of black level and color, and its matte screen--rare among high-end LEDs today--means superior bright-room performance compared with just about anything available. It's not perfect, especially when seen from off-angle with dark material, but for the price it's tough to complain. As for the rest of your living room visitors, they'll be impressed by the Apps, the remote and the oodles of other features, although some might pooh-pooh the styling. If you're in the market for a high-end LED-based LCD, and you don't care about 3D, the Vizio XVT3SV series deserves a serious look.
Editors' note: Based on the strength of its performance against the competition, we have awarded the Vizio XVT3SV series our Editors' Choice among LCD TVs for 2010. Also, on February 16, 2011, we lowered the Design score from an 8 to a 7, lowering the overall score from 8.3 to 8.0. We feel the new score more accurately reflects the TV's design in the current marketplace.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Vizio XVT553SV, but this review also applies to the 42- and 47-inch sizes in the series. All three employ full-array LED backlights with local dimming, have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The review does not apply to the smaller screen sizes in the series, namely the 32-inch XVT323SV and the 37-inch XVT373SV, which employ edge-lit LED backlights.
|Models in series (details)|
|Vizio XVT423SV||42 inches|
|Vizio XVT473SV||47 inches|
|Vizio XVT553SV (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Panel depth||3 inches||Bezel width||2.2 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||No|
After repeatedly failing to impress with its bulky, two-tone 55-inchers from 2009 and earlier this year, Vizio finally updated the looks of its XVT models. The new design ditches the silver speaker bar and goes all-black, and also introduces a few rounded edges on the side of the bezel and between the speakers along the bottom. The overall look is a bit sleeker but still generic, and the stand doesn't swivel, but at least the XVT3SV models will blend unobtrusively enough into most decors.
Vizio also cut the depth from 5 down to 3 inches, in case you care. We don't, but we do care that you can't disable the glowing Vizio logo when the TV's turned on. Firmware update, please?
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||6.3 x 2.2 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||91||Backlit keys||0|
|Other IR devices controlled||Yes||RF control of TV||Yes (Bluetooth)|
|Shortcut menu||No||Onscreen explanations||Yes|
|Other:Remote has slide-out QWERTY keyboard and integrated control for other IR devices|
Vizio's secret weapon, found on no other TV remote we know of, is a full slide-out keyboard with dedicated keys for letters, numbers, and symbols, just like on a smartphone. Best of all, it's included with the TV for free, not as an expensive option like some other Internet-friendly remotes.
We found the thicker, heavier clicker reassuring in the hand. Its standard keys are easy to navigate and thoughtfully laid-out, although we'd appreciate more differentiation by feel. The lack of any kind of illumination didn't help, and we missed having a dedicated key for aspect ratio. The keyboard worked on all of the apps we tried, and although we found it more cramped and somewhat less responsive compared, say, with the keyboard on a typical smartphone, it's perfectly usable and makes Tweets, Facebook status updates, and username/password sign-ins so much easier than the standard remote/onscreen keyboard combo.
Bluetooth means the remote works without needing line-of-sight, and also promises future functionality. Although we didn't test it, Vizio says the TV can pair with other Bluetooth devices like a full-size keyboard or stereo headphones. Vizio is releasing a pair of such headphones soon, but told us that any recent Bluetooth-compatible set should work.
The universal aspect of the remote was also well-thought-out. Onscreen prompts, as opposed to long lists in the instruction manual, guide you through programming control codes for your devices; the volume and mute keys can "punch through" to operate external gear like an AV receiver. It lacks the full task-based functionality of a Harmony, but this TV remote still goes further than any we've tested toward obviating most users' need to buy a universal model in the first place.
Vizio's menu system resembles another App in appearance, and we liked that the picture settings section is actually integrated into the main App taskbar (see below). Responses were fast, explanations complete, and we had no problems finding our way around. In sum, the remote and menus of the XVT3SV series were among the best we've used, and surpass in many ways the efforts of more well-known brands.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D-compatible||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Matte||Refresh rate||240Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes||1080p/24 compatible||No|
|Internet connection||Yes (built-in Wi-Fi)||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
Local dimming of the full-array LED backlight, our favorite variety, is the main display-related draw. The 55-inch model boasts 120 "zones" of dimming, whereas the 55-inch 2XVT model had 80 (the 42-inch XVT3 has 120 zones and the 47-incher 160, but we don't think the difference will be visible). Vizio says it has also improved the dimming capability of the zones, allowing them to go all the way to black when appropriate with other bright content onscreen (in similar mixed scenes, the zones on the 2XVT models were limited to a minimum of 5 percent above black). See Performance for details on blooming, as well as on the results of our 1080p/24 testing.
We applaud the integration of Wi-Fi, and in our testing it worked much better than on the 2XVT we tested earlier. With the same setup and test Wi-Fi router, we measured around 6,500Kbps according to the XVT3's internal test, whereas the 2XVT came in at around 2,800Kbps.
Though videos often took a while to load via Wi-Fi on the XVT3--around 90 seconds at times on Netflix, for example--they evinced the quality we expected with no dropouts. We did experience a hiccup or two, for example when an Amazon Video On Demand title played in low quality at first, then improved when we restated the app, so as usual we recommend going with the wired connection when you can. And as with all Wi-Fi setups, your mileage will vary with your router and environment. All of the testing below was performed via the wired connection.
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||Yes|
|Other: SyncTV Kids, Web Video|
Aside from Hulu Plus, available now on Samsung and coming to Vizio this fall, the XVT3SV series isn't missing anything major, and its Rhapsody subscription music service remains an exclusive (although Samsung has added Napster, for its part).
Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon VOD generally exhibited the picture quality we expected, and we appreciated that many picture controls were available--including picture modes, backlight level, and advanced controls like dejudder, but excluding contrast, brightness, color, etc. Vizio treats these streaming services as a separate input, and unlike other such TVs can run other Apps simultaneously, allowing you to Tweet or check Facebook while watching Netflix, for example. Think of it as TV multitasking, or just think of streaming services as another TV channel.
Nearly every Rhapsody function is included in the app, turning the Vizio into a celestial jukebox for subscribers (starting at $10 per month; the TV doesn't count as a "device" against your total) and begging for connection to an external audio system (analog and digital audio output is supported). Searches for artists, songs, etc., came up quickly, and autocomplete kicked in as we typed the first few letters. We assembled a playback queue, called up Rhapsody's channels and our own custom playlists, and enjoyed cover art on the big screen. All was not perfect--we experienced some delays and freezes, such as when loading a large My Library list, and once or twice between songs--but in general this ambitious app is a winner.
The free Pandora service also worked well in our testing, syncing custom stations with our online account. Neither audio app lets you run other apps or sources simultaneously, and neither does video from SyncTV Kids, which features full episodes of animated titles like "Babar" and "Class of the Titans."
In the last couple of months Vizio has added a few new apps, including a streaming service titled simply "Web Video." It offers access to video content in a neatly organized list of "channels" like CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS, in addition to lesser-known names like World Poker Tour, NASA 360, G4, and GeekBrief. Full TV episodes are rare to nonexistent on the major networks, with the exception of the well-stocked PBS feed, but as expected for video that originates online, video quality is pretty bad in general, even from sites like PBS that have higher-quality content online. Vizio says it will add Blockbuster and CinemaNow soon, for what it's worth.
Unlike most other Internet-enabled TVs, the XVT3 series currently does not offer streaming of your music, photos, and video via a home network (DLNA) or USB stick. Vizio says it will add such functionality in time for the 2010 holiday season.
|Other: At press time there were 30 total non-streaming widgets, including 13 Yahoo widgets with three games, eBay and more; MediaBox allows access to Picasa accounts|
Although Samsung has also appropriated the popular "apps" title for TVs, Vizio arrived at the Apple iPhone nomenclature imitation party first. It calls its platform VIA, for "Vizio Interactve Apps," although in our book the "I" could stand for "integrated." VIA is the most tightly woven Internet TV experience we've tested yet, and acts like Yahoo Widgets should have all along (see that writeup for basic information).
All of the applications, from Amazon VOD to Netflix to Yahoo Weather, can be found in the Widget Gallery, which conjures up a notification graphic when new apps are available. When downloaded they appear after a few seconds in the taskbar along the bottom of the screen. Load times were entirely tolerable, and navigation was snappy both within apps and between them on the bar itself, even when we filled it with apps.
Notable nonstreaming apps include eBay, Facebook, iMemories (a pay home movie upload and sharing service), a Wikipedia search, and three different weather services. A few questionable widgets are also available, such as an information service for the United Way of Greater St. Louis, and the local news, sports, and weather for Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Numerous games and the usual Yahoo Widgets suspects (reviewed separately here) round out the selection.