Technology

Eyes-on: Vizio takes on LGs OLEDs with a super-bright quantum dot TV

  • The P-Series Quantum is Vizio's flagship TV for 2018. My camerawork in Vizio's dark demo room can't do this justice, but it is really, really bright. Jeff Dunn
  • And fairly colorful, too. Jeff Dunn
  • The rest of the P-Series is a visible step down from the Quantum but should be competitive regardless. Jeff Dunn
  • It comes with an aluminum border around the display. Jeff Dunn
  • The M-Series tends to be Vizio's best mixture of price and performance. It has the same form factor as the P-Series (all of these sets look similar, if you haven't noticed). Jeff Dunn
  • Then there's the E-Series, which is mainly a value play. Again, it's hard to tell the difference on camera, but generally speaking this won't get the black levels and brightness of the higher-end sets. Jeff Dunn

Vizio has announced its newest crop of televisions for 2018.

The Irvine, California-based company this week refreshed its entire lineup, with updates to its affordable E- and D-Series, midrange M-Series, and higher-end P-Series sets.

P-Series Quantum

At the top of the lineup, however, is a new model dubbed the P-Series Quantum. This is Vizio's shot at the high-end OLED sets from LG and Sony, though it uses an LCD panel with a quantum dot layer—similar to what Samsung offers in its highest-end TVs—instead of OLED itself. It's a 65-inch 4K display with support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR.

Notably, Vizio says the Quantum has 192 full-array local dimming zones, which should give it relatively granular control over its backlighting and improve contrast and HDR performance. The company says the P-Series Quantum can also achieve up to 2,000 nits of peak brightness, which, if true, would make it the brightest TV on the market and further bolster its HDR. Vizio claims a wider color gamut here than on its other sets as well.

I was able to look at the P-Series Quantum, along with most of Vizio's other new TVs, at an event in New York City this week. There's only so much I can glean from a half-hour of viewing in a heavily controlled demo environment, so any impressions have to be taken with a big grain of salt. But for what it's worth, the Quantum did look impressively bright and vibrant next to Vizio's other sets as well as LG's new C8 OLED TV.

Vizio isn't pretending it can replicate the perfect black levels of an OLED screen, and the OLED panel in my demo indeed got visibly darker, so we'll have to see if the Quantum's ostensibly higher brightness and extensive local dimming keeps it competitive. It'll cost a few hundred dollars less than those OLED TVs either way: the Quantum will go for $2,200, whereas LG's new OLEDs currently start at $2,500 for a 55-inch panel.

Vizio says the Quantum will be available sometime this summer.

P-Series and M-Series

The rest of the P- and M-Series 4K TVs omit that quantum dot filtering for a more typical LCD panel. They're not massive leaps over last year's models: both series still feature VA panels (which tend to have worse viewing angles than an IPS panel but better contrast), utilize full-array local dimming, and support HDR10 and Dolby Vision. A few smaller sets used IPS panels last year, but now it's VA across the board.

Both series have 55- and 65-inch models, but the P-Series maxes out at 75 inches while the M-Series stops at 70 inches. The new M-Series doesn't refresh its 50- and 75-inch models from last year, though Vizio is still selling the 2017 50-inch model on its website.

Both models now have slimmer bezels—save for a still-decent-sized chin at their bottom—though the P-Series TVs come with an aluminum frame. Each one still has slight black borders running around the screen, so nothing here is totally bezel-free. But most of those borders sit flush against the glass panel.

In any event, Vizio says the P-Series will reach up to 1,000 nits of peak brightness, while the M-Series will reach up to 600 nits of peak brightness. Two of the M-Series TVs have a few more local dimming zones this year: there are now 48 in the 70-inch model and 40 in the 65-inch set. Last year's M-Series sets only had 32 zones, so we expect contrast and HDR to be better this time around, albeit not hugely superior.

  • Part of Vizio's demo involved setting the new TVs side by side, with what Vizio termed the "optical stacks" and other image filtering tech removed—the idea being to show how each TV's backlighting and LEDs work in real time. This is the lower-end E-Series: it has fewer local dimming zones, so its backlighting is more sparse and imprecise. There wasn't nearly as much blooming on each panel as these photos imply, but the higher up the ladder you go, the less actual blooming there was. Jeff Dunn
  • This is the mid-tier M-Series. You can see the LEDs are a bit more locked around the objects lighting up on screen. Jeff Dunn
  • And here's the P-Series. It's a step up, though it's harder to tell from a still image. (Try to ignore the glare.) Jeff Dunn
  • And finally the P-Series Quantum, which was much more focused around the objects on screen and kept the parts that were supposed to be dark, dark, during my demo. Jeff Dunn

Some of the P-Series sets, meanwhile, subtract local dimming zones: whereas last year's "XLED" models had either 126 or 128 zones, only the 75-inch set has 128 this year. The 65-inch set now has 100 zones, whereas the 55-inch set has just 56. A Vizio representative chalked that up to the company wanting to find a "sweet spot" in terms of value and said it shouldn't result in a significant performance drop.

Still, this isn't a great sign, so we'll have to wait to see how much impact it has in practice. The P- and M-Series models I saw in New York looked perfectly competent at first blush—albeit with more noticeable blooming than the P-Series Quantum, as expected—but again, there's only so much to say without proper testing.

For what it's worth, Vizio is still selling last year's 55- and 65-inch P-Series sets, with the 2017 55-inch set going for $70 more than this 2018 model and the 65-inch model going for the same price as its successor. If those older models drop further in price, as they usually do, they should be good values.

Officially, the new 75-, 65-, and 55-inch P-Series sets will cost $2,500, $1,300, and $900, respectively. Taking a step down to the M-Series will set you back $1,500, $1,000, and $700 for those same sizes. Both series are available to buy now at Vizio's website, and Vizio says they will fully roll out to retailers by the end of April. The M-Series in particular was a decent value last year, though it may be undercut again by TCL's Roku TVs, which look like they will have a similar feature set with more full-array local dimming zones.

E-Series and D-Series

Vizio's E- and D-Series of TVs are primarily for those just looking for a serviceable 4K TV for cheap. They're still unlikely to blow anyone away with regard to picture quality, but Vizio does have a modicum of full-array local dimming in the E-Series sets: 16 zones in the top-end 75-inch models, 12 in the 70- and 65-inch models, and 10 in the remaining 55-, 50-, and 43-inch models. That shouldn't result in a particularly strong HDR image—my demo suggested as much—but the fact that it's even there in a budget model is fairly uncommon. The E-Series now supports Dolby Vision HDR, too; last year's models did not.

That said, Vizio says some E- and D-Series models use IPS panels instead of VA, so you'll get a drop-off in picture quality there. The company did not specify exactly which ones, though. Vizio didn't specify peak brightness for either series, either.

The D-Series as a whole loses full-array local dimming and Dolby Vision support. It also includes 1080p models in addition to 4K ones. It is the cheapest of the bunch, however, and technically supports HDR10 content.

Here's how the pricing breaks down for the 4K E- and D-Series TVs. Each model is available now:

  • E-Series: $350 for 43-inch, $440 for 50-inch, $500 for 55-inch, $800 for 65-inch, $1,050 for 70-inch, $1,550 for 75-inch
  • D-Series: $350 for 43-inch, $430 for 50-inch, $500 for 55-inch, $650 for 60-inch, $780 for 65-inch, $1,000 for 70-inch

The tuner is back

All of these TVs run on Vizio's "SmartCast" interface, which has undergone a few changes in recent years. The company previously asked users to treat its TVs like a big Chromecast, meaning you'd have to beam media apps to the TVs to watch them on the big screen. Vizio has added built-in app support for big names like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video since, but in general it doesn't have nearly the level of support as a Roku TV. The company says it's working on its own app that'll compile free streaming channels in a grid interface, much like Pluto TV, but that doesn't have a set launch date yet.

The UI also had a reputation for being a bit laggy in operation. Things did look a tad choppy at points during my demo, but it's too soon to say whether the problem has really continued.

The TVs support Alexa and Google Assistant, too, allowing the digital assistants to change channels, adjust volume, turn the TVs on and off, and so on. Alexa is a bit less capable than Google Assistant, though; the latter can take requests for videos from apps like YouTube or Netflix and then start them on the TV.

Finally, all of Vizio's TVs this year have a built-in TV tuner, meaning you'll be able to hook up an HDTV antenna to pull in free over-the-air channels. Yes, last year's models actually omitted this. The inputs on each TV will comply with HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0 this year, too, meaning there should be fewer technical issues if you want to hook up a newer HDR- or 4K-capable device.

Again, it's too soon to say exactly how these new TVs will match up on the market; TCL's forthcoming Roku TVs and LG's latest OLED sets are particularly promising and dig right into the market the M-Series and P-Series Quantum aim at. But, on paper, most of the TVs here should be at least competitive, with the E-Series a particularly promising option among TVs under $500.

Listing image by Jeff Dunn

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