Vizio SmartCast M-Series (M65-D0) review

Vizio’s M-Series is a mold-breaking new concept

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Our Verdict

Vizio’s M-Series is a smart new take on 4K HDR TVs, but if you don’t mind going a bit higher in price, there are much better screens out there that look even better and offer everything the M-Series does … well, minus the tablet.

For

  • SmartCast system
  • Low-ish price point
  • Plenty of ports
  • HDR10 and Dolby Vision

Against

  • Wobbly legs
  • All picture modes have issues
  • Tablet complicates simple tasks
  • No native Amazon Video app

It's hard to innovate if you’re a TV manufacturer. There’s only so much you can improve upon year after year, especially if you’re looking to keep prices low. 

While most manufacturers settle for an increase in brightness and tack on a few percentage points more of coverage on the DCI-P3 color chart, Vizio set out to do something drastically different with this its 2016 TV line-up – it scrapped traditional operating systems for something a bit more ubiquitous: Google Cast.

Vizio built this functionality straight into the TV and the result is one that makes finding content easier than ever with over 1,000 apps avalaible to download as soon as you open the box. 

Vizio doesn’t require you to bring your own device to this peripheral party, either. Every model in the M-Series packs in an Android tablet that’s ready and raring to replace your remote. It’s a smart solution, and one that certainly impresses in both form and function. 

Problematically, however, it’s all built into a less-than-stellar screen.

Design

Vizio’s M-Series has a few screen variations. There’s the 50-inch, 55-inch, 60-inch, 65-inch and, if 65 inches still isn’t enough, a ludicrously big 75-inch screen. This review covers the 65-inch version of the screen, the M65-D0, and therefore it’s worth noting that there might be some discrepancies if you buy a size lower or higher in the series. 

The bezel around the outskirts of the 65-inch TV is slim and trim, but wide enough to have its presence felt. It’s not the picture-on-wall design that LG and Sony have opted for this year but, in Vizio’s defense, this screen costs half as much as the competition.

The M65 stands on a set of metal legs that are relatively easy to setup. Lay the TV flat on its side after unboxing it, and it should only take a minute to fit the legs into place and screw them in – since they only fit in one way, there’s no confusion as to which legs go where. 

While it's easy to setup, the legs themselves are a bit wobbly, even when tightened. It’s not enough to make the TV tip over at any point, but they’re unstable enough to make you question the TV’s safety for living rooms that often have pets or young ones running around. 

Spin the TV around to the back and you’ll find a bevy of ports: five HDMI that support HDCP 2.2, component, two USB and an ethernet port. That should be plenty of ports to connect every streaming and gaming device in the house, though you’ll just need to check which devices are plugged into which ports as the ports have different specs – i.e. some support 2160p@60fps, 4:4:4, 8-bit while others support 2160p@60fps, 4:2:0, 10-bit. Plug a 4K HDR player into the wrong port and you might get an error message … or worse, SDR content.

The other crucial part of the M-Series’ design is the inclusion of the bespoke 8GB Android tablet. Although the tablet is primary intended use is to control the TV, casting content from apps like Netflix, Hulu and Vudu to the big screen, it also works as a competent reader, 720p video watcher and game player in its own right. There are loads of positives here, obviously, and a clear advantage to having a smart remote that we’ll cover more in the next section.

Design TL;DR: The Vizio M65-D0’s design leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, it’s easy to setup and has plenty of ports, but it’s not nearly as slim (or stable) as its competitors’ sets.

Smart TV (SmartCast)

SmartCast is a novel idea. Why should TV companies re-invent the wheel each and every year when it comes to operating systems when Google has an excellent open system in the form of Google Cast? Sure, there’s no real interface to speak of, but in the hands of capable, tech-savvy folks, it’s just as effective of a solution without any of the upkeep on Vizio’s end. 

This is a win-win situation. Not only do you get a screen that has every Chromecast app on it via the Android tablet, but that means Vizio doesn’t have to spend its time making sure it has the latest version of Netflix, Hulu and all the dozens of other streaming apps we’ve come to expect in a TV these days.

So, how does it work? Well, it’s identical to Chromecast. Namely, all you need to do is load up an app on the included Android tablet (like say Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, etc…) and press the Cast button to send it to your TV. Easy right? 

Now, as the name suggests, you can also mirror the Chrome browser from your PC, but you’ll need to be prepared for the rather ugly image quality if you’re using an HD screen.

While streaming an app on the TV, the tablet is totally free to be used as a web browsing or gaming device without affecting the quality of your stream. Hello mulitasking!  The other important part of this equation is the SmartCast app that comes pre-installed on your tablet. This app is helpful to find all kinds of content and even better at keeping track of the shows you already like through the My Watchlist tab. But, that said, it does have its limitations like the lack of a 4K HDR section to help you find the best-looking showcase content and the fact that you won’t be able to access Amazon Video via the tablet.  

Despite not having Amazon, there are over 1,000 other apps with Cast functionality as well as voice integration with Google Home so chances are good you won’t miss Amazon too much.

Smart TV TL;DR: SmartCast might be the strongest part of Vizio’s 65-inch offering. The inclusion of the tablet is useful not only as a hub for apps, but it actually enhances the overall usability of the system by putting controls at your fingertips. Too bad there’s no Amazon.

HD/SDR performance

It’s always hard transitioning from a TV’s best aspects to its worst, but this honestly can’t be helped. While the SmartCast functionality is one of the TV’s best qualities, its HD/SDR performance is, by far, its worst. 

Simply said, the vast majority of HD/SDR content looks grainy and, at least in the standard picture mode, very washed out. Blacks turn out a muddy, granular grey, while most of the primary colors lack the vibrancy anyone would expect from such an expensive 4K TV.

Thankfully you’re not locked into standard mode forever (there are six different settings including standard, vivid, calibrated, calibrated dark, game and computer) but finding the one that actually looks good for HD content is a challenge – calibrated looks washed out, vivid is a bit too oversaturated and loses contrast, both game and PC fair the same as standard. 

There’s no real “good choice” here in terms of picture settings. 

Now, none of this is to say Vizio hasn’t tried to give you the options to get to the place to get your TV to look its best. It has the six basic options and then, if you don’t mind digging into the SmartCast app a bit, an additional set of calibration settings that can be tweaked. 

We recommend going in immediately and turning up the “reduce signal noise” and “black detail” options, and making sure “reduce block noise” is at least at medium. These little tweaks don’t bring the TV up to par with other similarly-priced sets from Sony, Samsung and LG, but they will make it a more bearable viewing experience, thankfully. 

So what’s going on behind the panel? Well, there’s a few different components working in tandem – a full array panel with 64 active LED zones, Vizio’s Spatial Scaling Engine and Vizio’s VM50 Ultra HD Engine with Active Pixel Tuning. 

These components make it sound like the M65 should be one of the most visually competent TVs on the market. Sadly, it’s not. At least, not when it’s fed HD/SDR content. 4K/HDR content, on the other hand…

HD/SDR TL;DR: Long story short, HD/SDR is best avoided whenever possible. The upscaling isn’t top-tier here and most content looks lackluster in HD/SDR.

4K/HDR performance

So how do you squeeze the most out of Vizio’s panel? The first thing you should do is find yourself some 4K HDR content – when Vizio’s screen uses the wider color gamut via HDR, things are significantly better. Colors still don’t pop like they do on brighter, more powerful panels, but having the right kind of content is a good first step.

After finding solid 4K HDR content (see: Netflix), your best bet is to turn on the vivid picture preset then go into the settings to turn down motion judder and crank up black details. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be rewarded with a picture worthy of the 4K HDR name. 

When all’s said and done, you’ll find the picture has better contrast and colors seem to be well-saturated even if they’re not completely eye-popping.  

Keep in mind that the M65 supports not just one type of HDR on it, but two: both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. While Dolby Vision content is hard to find – the first UHD Blu-ray with Dolby Vision support just came out earlier this month – you can always stream movies like Pacific Rim and Mad Max: Fury Road from Vudu, which has a number of Dolby Vision titles. 

Outside of the always-spectacular Dolby Vision stuff, we spent a fair amount of time checking out how the two new 4K HDR game consoles, the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, looked on the TV. For the most part, both looked amazing. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn looked exceptionally gorgeous (thanks to both HDR and 4K support) while even regular HD games seemed to benefit from the dual upscaling from both the TV and game console. 

Overall, the difference between watching 4K HDR content and HD SDR content is night and day here. If anyone still says they can’t see a difference between the two, show them this TV. 

4K/HDR TL;DR: Vizio’s M65 does a much, much better job with 4K/HDR than it does with HD/SDR. Colors still aren’t as eye-popping as they could be and contrast could be even better, but those are mostly minor concerns with an overall excellent display.

Sound

The M-Series’ audio performance is on par with its visual performance: better with some types of content than others and, for the most part, middling compared to what else is out there. But, that said, it helps that Vizio equipped the M65 with two 15-watt speakers. These speakers are a bit more powerful than the standard 5-watt speakers you’d find on rival sets and while they don’t have exceptional clarity, they can actually get pretty loud. 

We tested the TV in our office space, a sizeable 40 by 60 foot office in San Francisco, and had no problem hearing the music from 12 to 16 feet away. 

While it wasn’t the best for bass-heavy EDM music or rap, it did have decent mids and highs – which is not only perfect for folk, pop and rock music but also to hear speech and sound effects during shows and movies.

A bit better clarity and low-end bass would’ve been nice, but it’s something we can excuse because the balance is just about right where it should be.   

Sound TL;DR: Good audio performance. Perfect for the mid-range monologues in Game of Thrones, but not the best companion for a dance party. 

Other panels to ponder

Vizio’s biggest strength is that it makes larger sets affordable. The M65-D0 costs $899 (around AU$1,200), for example. It’s hard to believe, but that’s a 65-inch 4K HDR Smart TV for under a grand. Finding all that for the same price is tough, but it is possible. 

The first place you should look is LG’s 65UH6030. It’s one of last year’s models, but it puts out a substantially better picture for only about $100 more. LG’s UHD set doesn’t come with a tablet, obviously, but it does come with LG’s webOS, a super smart operating system that has nearly every major streaming app on it – including Amazon Video. 

While Samsung and Sony also have a few models in this price point (see: the Sony XBR-65X750D or Samsung’s KU6500) nearly all of them are going to be several hundred dollars more than Vizio’s screen. 

Final verdict

Vizio’s M-Series is an exceptionally smart new direction for TVs. It removes something that was difficult to keep up to date and fully stocked with the latest apps and replaces it with a system that nearly everyone can understand and use – Google Cast. For this purpose Vizio provides a sleek, effective Android tablet in every box, which is something you won’t find any other TV manufacturer doing right now. All of this comes packaged with a massive 65-inch screen and costs well under $1,000. Problematically, however, the TV isn’t one of the best performers out there – especially when it’s fed HD/SDR content. 

If you can limit yourself to 4K HDR videos and are deadset on the under-$1,000 price point, this is your TV. If you don’t mind going a bit higher in price, though, there are much better TVs out there that look better and offer everything Vizio’s M-Series does … well, minus the tablet.