Exceptional budget TVs that support 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision are hard to come by. We were lucky to have found the TCL P-Series 55P607 early on in 2017 but, for a long while after that, we couldn’t find anything else ... until now: The VIZIO SmartCast M-Series XLED M65-E0 is a surprisingly affordable screen at just under $1,000 that has the endearing ability to compete with screens far above its price class.
It’s far from perfect (as one look at its rather bland and sluggish proprietary OS will indicate) but, in terms of pure picture performance, there aren’t many screens that can compete with the beautiful images this display can put out while remaining at or below this price point.
To that end, if you’re looking for a mid-range 4K display with two types of HDR and don’t mind putting up with a sluggish on-board OS, this 65-inch screen is the best place to get it.
If you purchased a VIZIO M-Series last year, you might remember the manufacturer packing in a free Android tablet that served in place of a traditional remote. It was a neat concept at the time, but for most folks was more hassle than it was worth.
Well, for both better and worse, that venture into tablet territory has returned to the safe haven of remote island – so long tablet, hello good old fashioned remote.
The transition from remote to tablet and back to remote might at first appear like a step back for the company but, unless you were dead-set on getting a mediocre tablet with every TV, it’s absolutely not: Like last year, the M-Series will come with Chromecast built-in, which means if you have an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, you can still cast content to the screen. This replaces the need for a separate streaming video device like a Roku, which will save you a bit of money on the purchase of your new TV.
The bad news is that we’re using the term ‘TV’ very loosely here. Technically speaking, the VIZIO M-Series is only a display - i.e. it doesn’t have a TV tuner built-in. If you want local stations via an OTA HD antenna, you’ll need to buy a TV tuner or shell out for a cable or satellite subscription.
Moreover, if you’re looking for an art deco piece to match your home’s more sophisticated decor, you won’t find it here. The M65-E0 is a fairly plain screen: the bezel is thin but far from invisible to the eye, and the two sets of metal legs, while easy to install, aren’t quite what we’d consider beautiful to look at. Ultimately, function beats out form here.
Spin around the screen to the back and you’ll find a good variety of ports. On the M65-E0 you’re looking at four HDMI, one component, one 5.1 digital optical audio, one stereo audio, two USB and one ethernet port, which should be enough to connect every device in your audiovisual arsenal.
Design TL;DR: While it’s not the most beautiful-looking screen we’ve seen in the past year, the 2017 M-Series is markedly and undeniably practical.
Smart TV (SmartCast with Chromecast)
A TV’s smart platform is its heart and soul. A good smart platform can make a good display great while an unwieldy OS knocks an exceptional screen down a few notches.
To that end, it’s good the VIZIO M-Series comes with Chromecast built-in – if it used the on-board OS exclusively, the M-Series would have absolutely been a bear to use. VIZIO’s proprietary platform is sluggish and limited in its number of built-in apps. That’s not even mentioning its content recommendation row that often pushes you to streaming services you neither own, nor care to own. (Despite not being a Hulu subscriber or ever opening the Hulu app, we were recommended four pieces of content from Hulu, three shows and a movie.)
On-board you’ll find Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crackle, Vudu, Xumo, Fandango Now, NBC, PLEX and a few others. Unfortunately, the options are sparse – it’s missing most of the music streaming services, for example – and there’s no way for you to load more apps on the TV itself unless they’re pushed via a firmware update from VIZIO.
The barebones nature of the smart platform would be more forgivable if transitioning from one app to the next was seamless and lag-free. But it’s not. There’s often a short delay when hopping from menu to the next on the interface, and loading up Netflix takes longer here than it does on other platforms and TVs.
In short, taken on its own merit, the on-board OS is awful – easily one of the worst operating systems on a TV we’ve tested in the last 12 months.
The good news is that you don’t need to rely on the on-board OS. At any point in time, you can pick up the closest smart device (whether that be your phone, tablet or computer running a Chrome browser), open any Chromecast-compatible app and beam that content straight to your new 65-inch screen. The system, which has been ironed out on a number of devices over the years, is exceptionally easy to use and adds immense value to the display.
Smart TV TL;DR: The on-board proprietary OS is a major letdown – it suffers from pop-in issues and doesn’t have a library of additional apps. Thankfully, Chromecast is built in and that, in many ways, works better than any on-board OS ever could.
Right. Up until now, there hasn’t been much to tout about VIZIO’s affordable, likable display: The uninspired design isn’t anything to write home about, and the display’s built-in OS is a laggier, barebones version of Android TV. So, what then makes this screen worth $1,000?
Two words my friends, “picture performance.”
Although built for HDR/4K/WCG (high dynamic range, 4K, wide color gamut) content, VIZIO’s M-Series absolutely electrifies high definition, standard dynamic range content. Pictures that would usually feel recessed and subtle seem to flare to life on the M-Series.
This is what VIZIO calls XLED – a marketing gimmick it’s invented to describe its series of screens with its proprietary Ultra Color Spectrum and Xtreme Black Engine Plus technology. Working in tandem, these technologies are what makes it an exceptional performer, gimmicky marketing or no.
And while you might expect that getting this level of performance takes calibration magic, perhaps the best part is that the TV doesn’t even need to be calibrated to get great-looking images – you’ll get transformatively great picture the second you get it out of the box.
Saying this is a huge relief. On last year’s M-Series, HD/SDR content truly didn’t shine the way it does now on the 2017 model. The red hues which dominated the screen last year have been scaled way back, allowing blue and green to permeate the screen in equal measure.
The result of this color spectrum equity is an image that’s vibrant, but not oversaturated – although, switching the default color grading to, say, the Vivid picture setting, undoes a lot of this natural color balancing and pushes things back towards the red end of the spectrum.
The only major problem the screen has – and it’s something that we’ll come back to in the 4K/HDR section – is that while pictures have the right hue and color tone, they could stand to be a bit brighter. Without a powerful backlight, images don’t have as much contrast as they could. Sure, what’s there is enough, but the low peak luminance definitely makes us wonder what could have been if the screen could get even brighter.
HD/SDR performance TL;DR: Despite a lackluster showing in the brightness department, the M-Series’ work with HD/SDR pictures are phenomenal. Best of all, though, this TV requires almost no calibration to make it really shine.
Every ounce of brilliance that VIZIO put into the M-Series’ HD/SDR performance is doubled when it comes time to display a 4K/HDR image: The screen’s full brightness potential is achieved in HDR; contrast is exceptional for a 32-zone LED LCD screen and colors, similarly, are fantastically vibrant without straying into toxic or oversaturated territory. (There’s a hint every now and again that the red hue issue from last year is still there, but for the most part it appears that all colors are getting a fair share of screen time.)
Over the course of two weeks, we watched a number of 4K HDR TV shows and movies – everything the Netflix sci-fi noir epic, Altered Carbon, to the less well-constructed but still beautiful Britannia on Amazon Prime. Each and every time the results were the same: controlled, natural colors, good contrast and startling clarity.
What do we owe our viewing pleasure to? The M-Series is the way it is thanks to high-caliber VA panels. These panels are full-array local dimming (FALD) with 32 contrast control zones – less than last year’s model, admittedly – and an effective refresh rate of 60Hz. These numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but what’s on offer here is more than enough to make this one of the best-looking mid-range screens to hit store shelves this year.
While the hardware is definitely the driving force of the screen, it doesn’t hurt that the M-Series offers Dolby Vision on-board as well.
Dolby Vision, in case you haven’t heard that name before now, is a souped up version of HDR, offering a brighter, more colorful specification for most of Netflix’s in-house content catalog. You’ll find it mostly on Netflix, but soon on 4K Blu-rays (including Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) and Vudu, too.
The only place the displays falters in the performance category is when it’s met with direct sunlight. This, admittedly, is not an easy test for almost any TV to pass, but on more than one occasion VIZIO’s screen became all but washed out when we left the curtains open. This might’ve resulted differently if VIZIO’s screen could’ve put out some hearty brightness of its own, but in the end, a few hours of less-than-ideal TV viewing didn’t sour our experience.
4K/HDR performance TL;DR: While it doesn’t reach the peak brightness of other 4K HDR TVs, VIZO’s M-Series does an exceptional job with 4K HDR content. It’s colorful, vibrant and offers great contrast thanks to its full array local dimming design.
Having just come off a bad experience with the TCL C-Series, the M-Series’ solid audio performance was like music to our ears.
That said, while the display’s back-firing speakers are unlikely to blow you away, they are more than adequate for most types of content. Dialogue comes through loud and clear, and action sequences have the right amount of oomph without causing grief for your neighbors. We wish there was a bit more power on the low-end and a bit more musicality in the highs and mids, but what’s here isn’t likely to disappoint.
While the tiny speakers have enough audio prowess to get you started, you'll likely want to pick up a soundbar at some point to elevate the audio to match the video.
Other panels to ponder
Mid-range TVs can be a competitive field. You have discount brands like Insignia ready and willing to sell you a 65-inch screen for under $500 while TCL, a serious contender in this space, recently unlocked the key to balancing performance and price in its soon-to-be-considered-legendary P-Series.
The good news here is that TCL’s P-Series is only available, currently, in a scrawny 55-inch form factor and Insignia is notorious for cheap, prone-to-failing screens. That means if you’re dead-set on a 65-inch screen and don’t want to drop an extra $500 on a Sony or Samsung TV like the Sony X900E or Samsung MU9000 Series, VIZIO’s M-Series is far and away your best bet.
Toting a brilliant picture and available in numerous sizes starting as low as a 50-inch and going as high as 75-inches, the VIZIO M-Series is an exceptional purchase. While the design of the TV is bland and the OS is poorly designed, you’ll be overjoyed when you see the picture performance of this exceptional TV … er, display.