At the moment, 4K TVs are a hard sell. The sets are pricey, content is scarce, and 4K streaming solutions are still a ways off. There’s not much incentive to become an early adopter.
Vizio is trying to change that, as its 2015 lineup includes Ultra HD models at prices modest enough to make taking the leap seem smart. They’re also packed with excellent contrast enhancement features, so they’re worth checking out even if you just plan to watch upscaled HD content.
The company’s new M-Series sets are its mid-range models—pricing starts at $600—but they come loaded with specs that would make them higher than high-end if we were looking at the market of one year ago. Some of the sets’ picture-quality enhancements are arguably more important than the 4K spec.
Vizio’s M-Series sets feature full-array LED backlighting systems, which generally give you a more uniform picture brightness. Compared to edge-lit sets—which are thinner, more common, and prone to light banding—a full-array panel usually costs more. But with a solid source of light comes a contrast riddle: In order to provide a balance of uniformity and sharp contrast between light and dark areas of a scene, a full-array set needs local-dimming technology. Not too long ago, a full-array TV with local-dimming tech cost a few thousand dollars. They were (and still are) the panel technology found at the upper reaches of major manufacturers’ LCD lineups. Since last year, Vizio has been offering the technology across its lower and mid-range lineups, at surprisingly low prices.
The Reference Series, which doesn’t have a price or a release date just yet, is optimized for HDR video and Dolby Vision. It’ll come with its own surround-sound system. Vizio
The Ultra HD (3840×2160) M-Series TVs start out at $600 for a 43-inch set with 28 zones of local dimming. Granted, 43 inches is very small for a 4K TV—the smaller the set, the less you’ll notice a difference between 1080p and Ultra HD—but a $600 set with a full array backlight system, local dimming, and the ability to handle 4K sources is a hot bargain.
If you’re fine with a 120Hz refresh rate, the sweet spot in the M-Series lineup is probably the $1,000 55-incher, which ups the local-dimming tech to 32 zones. Starting at 60 inches ($1,500), the refresh rate for M-Series sets jumps up to 240Hz. The lineup tops out at $4,000 for an 80-incher with 32 zones. Regardless of size, all the new sets come with built-in Wi-Fi, Vizio’s VIA Plus app ecosystem, a keyboard-equipped remote, and five HDMI ports—one of which is an HDMI 2.0 port that supports HDCP 2.2.
Along with the new M-Series TVs, Vizio announced it would still be offering 1080p TVs, although the HD models are now limited to the even lower-priced E-Series ($180 for a 24-inch to $1,400 for a 70-inch, with different refresh rates, local-dimming zones, and inputs across the lineup). It also provided a bit more information about its upcoming Reference Series televisions, which it showed off at CES a couple years ago.
The Reference Series will have a modular base and stand. You can remove the bottom speakers and mount it on the wall. Vizio
The deal with the Reference Series, which will be the company’s new premium-level range, is that they’re built for high dynamic range (HDR) video. They’re 4K sets with very bright full-array backlights (800 nits) and 384 local-dimming zones. To your eyeballs, that translates to a wider color gamut, fireballs on TV looking almost as bright as fireballs in real life, and the ability to “see through” bright patches on screen and view detail due to the contrast performance.
In order to get the full effect, you’ll need to watch content mastered for Dolby Vision on the new sets. Vizio and Dolby announced that a few 4K Warner Bros. movies, including The Lego Movie, Man of Steel, and Into the Storm, will be available via Vudu in Dolby Vision.
The Reference Series TVs aren’t out yet, and Vizio says they’ll be released this year. That probably means they’ll be available in the fall, when the company usually announces its new higher-end P-Series TVs. They’ll certainly be expensive, and you should start clearing space in your living room now: These Reference Series models will be available in just two sizes: 65 inches and a crazy-huge 120 inches.