Vizio P-Series (P65-F1) review

Vizio’s new P-Series puts Samsung’s QLED screens to the test

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Great Value

Our Verdict

The 2018 Vizio P-Series puts out some gorgeous pictures and offers superior 4K HDR performance. Its sound quality and SmartCast OS leave something to be desired, but in spite of these small issues, it’s a solid, affordable 4K HDR TV for the price.

For

  • Beautiful color reproduction
  • Stellar 4K HDR picture
  • Solid HD upscaling
  • Affordable price

Against

  • Really rough sound
  • Slight gradation issues
  • SmartCast OS is slow
  • Search is limited

Samsung might’ve had a corner on the ultra-bright TV market last year with QLED but those days could be coming to an end – this year, two new TVs are coming for Samsung’s crown. 

There’s the new Sony Master Series Z9F, an LED-LCD from Sony with Android TV and Sony’s new X1 Ultimate processor, and Vizio’s new P-Series Quantum that claims to offer similar performance for around $1,000 less than Samsung’s flagship Q9FN QLED TV.

Somewhere between these TV titans stands the Vizio P-Series – a solid 4K HDR screen that puts out QLED-like levels of brightness and color for around $1,000. It may be the middle child in terms of performance, but what’s on offer is well-worth the sticker price.

In short, the P-Series offers  three types of HDR - HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG - plus a 4K resolution and delivers high-quality HDR performance that will bring you into a picture that makes you feel immersed in its imagery. 

New for 2018 is the inclusion of ATSC tuners (a plus for you cord-cutters as you will only need an HDTV antenna to pull in free over-the-air channels) and voice integration for both Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. 

It has its share of problems so far, too, but from what we've seen Vizio's P-Series is shaping up to be the affordable, color-rich TV we need in 2018.

Price and release date

For our review we’ll be specifically looking at the 65-inch P65-F1, however it’s worth noting that the 55-inch P55-F1 and the 75-inch P75-F1 both use the same panel technology in different screen sizes. All of these models are available now, and will run you $799 (P55-F1), $1,199 (P65-F1) or $2,099 (P75-F1), depending on which size you go for.

If you’re looking for something a bit more premium than the P-Series, the next step up is the P-Series Quantum, which is available starting at $2,099 for the 65-inch PQ65-F1. If you’re looking to save a bit of money, you can step down to the still-good M-Series that starts at $699 for the 55-inch M55-F0 – or look at the cheaper TCL 6-Series that we’ll touch on later. 

Design

While Samsung’s entry-level QLED and Vizio’s P-Series are neck-and-neck in terms of picture performance, Samsung still has the lead in terms of overall design – due to the former’s use of a tidy t-shaped stand instead of the traditional v-shaped legs. 

The t-stand, which appears on every QLED TV model in Samsung’s range, neatly tucks power and HDMI cords away inside rather than let them dangle behind the screen. Not only does this help hide cords better, but it’s also centrally located and therefore doesn’t require such a wide table like more traditional TV legs do. 

That being said, despite its more traditional design, the Vizio still looks darn good. It has a thin, nearly non-existent bezel on three sides of the screen, while one silver trim underscores the screen and hides the IR receiver. 

With the stand attached, the screen sits at 57.01 x 35.14 x 11.81 inches (1448.1 x 892.6 x 300.0mm, L x H x D) but is only around 2.72 inches thick should you decide to wall-mount it.

Spin the screen around to the back and you’ll find five HDMI ports (four of which are HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 support and one is HDMI 1.4 for 1080p/120Hz video), which hang out alongside component/composite video input, stereo analog audio, optical digital audio, Ethernet and one USB 2.0 port that could power a streaming stick of your choosing.  

Inside the TV, you’ll find a full array panel with 100 dimming zones. That puts it in contention with TCL’s 6-Series 4K HDR screens which offer 96 zones on the 55-inch TCL 55R617 and 120 zones on the 65-inch 65R617. Despite having a few more or a few less zones, you’ll get a fairly similar picture quality – but we’ll touch on that more in the next few sections.

A major difference between last year’s P-Series and this year’s is the addition of a tuner to this year’s line-up. Tuners allow you to connect an OTA antenna to catch all your local stations, making this a proper TV rather than a 4K HDR display. 

Design TL;DR: Vizio has produced a traditional two-legged TV here. It doesn’t hide the cables particularly well, but it does offer a plethora of ports and sports a TV tuner.

Smart TV (SmartCast) 

Vizio has been all over the map these past few years looking to create the best homegrown operating system. What it’s landed on, at least for the time-being, is SmartCast. 

SmartCast blends the traditional mish-mash of streaming services with a Cast-capable screen. With it, Vizio is prioritizing the inclusion of free apps on its home screen as well as direct support for some of the most popular streaming sites such as Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube for immediate use out of the box. 

Those services, for the most part, require subscriptions to use – which has traditionally been a nightmare for cord-cutters looking to escape the headache and financial burden of on-going contacts. For those folks, Vizio TVs have dedicated sections labeled WatchFree that takes content from Pluto TV and offers it to you without a monthly fee. This gives folks some content right out of the box to watch – even if it’s not quite the same caliber as a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video service.

Speaking of streaming services, if you’re in need of something to watch, Vizio has a curated carousel of films and TV shows that change out every so often. You can find hit TV shows and movies, as well as app recommendations. At any time you can head over to the search function to try and find something to watch – but don’t be surprised if you only get results from FandangoNow and Vudu, two services that Vizio’s TV has a strange affinity for. 

If you’re not casting directly to the screen from your mobile device or browser, navigating around the UI can be a bit cumbersome and downright slow. Inputs from the remote are sometimes delayed and there’s often a short load time when hopping between sections. Worse, Netflix can take a few seconds to load a video even on 150Mbps connections and, because there’s no microphone built into the remote, you’ll need to type all search inquiries in by hand or find yourself a Google Assistant or Alexa speaker.

If you’re not a smart speaker owner and you lose the remote or feel like shaving a few seconds off typing, you can download the SmartCast app on your mobile device that offers basic control functionality and a plethora of content that you can stream directly to the TV but it’s certainly not something you need to download to get the best experience.

Smart TV TL;DR: Overall, Vizio’s SmartCast system is slow but effective. It has all the major players are here on the TV and most apps that aren’t offer Cast support through Chromecast Built-in.

HD/SDR Performance

One of the things we’ve criticized Vizio for in the past is its inability to upscale content in an effective manner. Thankfully, that’s something Vizio has largely improved this year. 

That said, for the most part the P-Series turns most HD/SDR video into good-looking 4K content. Watching films like Blade Runner 2049 and A Wrinkle in Time in HD/SDR looked similar to their 4K/HDR versions – if a little less impressive overall in a few key scenes.

That’s because the P-Series can actually get relatively bright – somewhere in the 400 nits range with HD/SDR content – and colors, even in Vizio’s standard Vivid preset, look natural. In previous models we’ve seen a reddish hue that overtakes the TV that is nowhere to be seen on the P-Series we had in for testing. Skin tone looked natural throughout our testing while lush forest scenes emitted a vibrant green without skewing toward oversaturation. 

Where we’d like to see the TV improve – especially when it comes to the upscaling algorithm – is clarity. If you’re watching from a short distance away, HD/SDR content can sometimes look grainy, blurry and … well, just not clear (just throw on a YouTube video to see what we mean). Other TVs struggle with this, too, but it was a constant issue when watching HD/SDR content closer than six feet away. 

Issues with clarity are common when it comes to upscaling HD/SDR content, but that wasn’t the only issue: we also noticed severe color gradation in certain scenes (clouds and fog are the worst) that detracts from the otherwise spectacular colors this TV can put out. 

If you’re sensitive to motion, however, you’ll be pleased to know we saw nothing wrong with the P-Series’ 120Hz panel. Fast motion could’ve been a hair smoother, but for the most part everything looked as natural as possible without any hint of the dreaded soap opera effect.

HD/SDR Performance TL;DR: Vizio is definitely working on its upscaling algorithm. It still has a way to go to catch up with some of the screens from LG, Samsung and Sony, but it’s vastly superior to what we’ve seen in past years.

4K/HDR Performance

Thankfully, there’s nothing to complain about with the screen’s 4K HDR performance. In fact, considering how much work it takes for other screens to come close to natural colors, the P-Series is supremely good right out of the box. 

Brightness is surprisingly uniform and while the P-Series can’t reach OLED levels of black, it’s surprisingly dark for an LED-LCD. There’s a preservation of details here that’s nearly unprecedented at this price point and helps the screen compete with TVs like the Samsung Q8FN and Sony X900F that cost substantially more.

Like we mentioned in the HD/SDR section, colors are surprisingly natural and almost never strayed into oversaturation territory. That’s due in no small part to the screen’s balance between color accuracy and overall brightness, emphasizing the former over the latter. 

That said, speaking of brightness, this is an UltraBright 1000 screen – meaning it puts out around 1,000 nits of peak brightness with HDR content most of the time. That number, right now, is more or less the industry standard for brightness and the fact that we’re getting it in a screen at this price makes the P-Series very enticing. 

In terms of HDR support, you can expect HLG, HDR10 and Dolby Vision standards to be supported, with the latter available via the built-in Vudu and Netflix apps. (Editor's note: While there's not much of it, Dolby Vision is also available on the built-in Amazon Prime Video app as well.) Overall, Dolby Vision looks its best with the Calibrated preset mode – as it preserves black levels the best – but you should expect a substantial drop in overall brightness as a tradeoff. 

In the beginning we mentioned that the screen is comparable to Samsung’s QLED TVs – and it is – but that comparison mostly applies to the entry-level Samsung Q7FN. The higher up the line you go, the brighter the screens go (up to around 1,600 nits) and, as good as the Vizio P-Series is, it just can’t compete in that range.

4K/HDR Performance: Most HDR content looks natural, bright and plenty colorful on Vizio’s P-Series screen. The TV supports Dolby Vision but some presets make content look unconventionally dark.

Sound

Sporting just 10-watt speakers on either side of the screen, the P-Series’ sound is … well, at best very mediocre. It gets the job done just fine most of the time, but vocal tracks can get muddled and lost at the most inconvenient times. 

Your only weapon in the fight against lost dialogue is Vizio’s Volume Leveling feature found within the audio settings. With it enabled, DTS TruVolume kicks in and attempts to create a better balance to the sound, trading a better midrange for tepid treble and sub-par bass.

While the solution isn’t ideal (it’d be great to have phenomenal sound across the board) it makes the screen usable without a soundbar. Of course, should you need one, Vizio has recently released Dolby Atmos-enabled 5.1.2, 3.1.2 and 5.1.4 soundbars that are more than capable of making music, sound effects and dialogue all sound superb.

Sound TL;DR: Use the TV speakers as long as you can (captions help) but be prepared to invest in a soundbar somewhere down the road.

Other panels to ponder

The Vizio P-Series is a good value screen. It offers solid 4K HDR performance at a price that doesn’t seem unreasonable for most folks – especially once the sale price kicks in. 

That said, there’s another series of TVs that might provide even better value for the money, and that’s the TCL 6-Series. The 55-inch version TCL 55R617 can often be had for $650, making it around $150 cheaper than the P-Series. Not only is the TCL cheaper, but it offers Roku TV as its built-in operating system that’s more robust, feature-rich and slightly faster than Vizio’s SmartCast system. The tradeoff is that some buyers report that TCL’s screens vary in quality – often leading to exchanges. (We didn’t experience that with our unit, but we’ve seen a number of these reports floating around online.) 

If you’re looking to get something a bit brighter, Samsung’s sub-entry level Q6FN is available in a 55-inch size for around the same price as Vizio’s 65-inch P-Series. The Q6FN will be a bit brighter overall and be a bit better with upscaling HD content, but you won’t have access to Dolby Vision content on the Samsung.  

Final verdict

The P-Series is a great choice if you're after a TV that performs at an above-average level with great pricing. It has a number of top-shelf features with good black levels, but has its share of problems, too, like some audio reproduction issues and a slower operating platform. It's easy to look past these small flaws for the price, however, and the P-Series is ultimately something we can recommend with confidence.