Technology

Vizio 2018 M-series, P-series TVs do local dimming for less

2018-vizio-p-series-quantum-angled

Vizio’s new P-series Quantum boasts some impressive picture quality specifications.

Vizio

Sony, LG, Samsung and even TCL are now putting one of my favorite picture-enhancing technologies — full array local dimmingย — into their highest-end LCD TVs. But nobody does local dimming like Vizio.

The US company’s onslaught of 2018 TVs, spread across five series and 19 models announced on Tuesday, includes a whopping 13 with full array local dimming (FALD). No other manufacturer has more than six FALD TVs in its 2018 lineup, and for the most part they’re a lot more expensive than these Vizios.

Vizio 2018 M-series, P-series TVs do local dimming for less

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FALD allows a TV to brighten and dim different areas of the screen independently, which greatly improves contrast. It’s crucial to better high dynamic range (HDR) images on LCD TVs, and HDR provides the best in-home video quality available today. In CNET’s previous tests, Vizio sets performed extremely well, especially for the money, and the 2018 versions look like similarly strong values.

While many of its budget sets can also do local dimming, Vizio reserves its best image quality features for the mainstream-priced M- and P-series. It also introduced a new flagship TV in just one size, the 65-inch P-series Quantum. Here’s how they break down.

Vizio P- and M- series models

Model Size Dimming zones Price
PQ65-F1 65-inch 192 $2,200
P75-F1 75-inch 120 $2,500
P65-F1 65-inch 100 $1,300
P55-F1 55-inch 56 $900
M70-F3 70-inch 48 $1,500
M65-F0 65-inch 40 $1,000
M55-F0 55-inch 32 $700

Vizio 2018 picture-enhancing features

Series Color Nits (Peak) Refresh rate
P-series Quantum Quantum Dot 2000 120Hz
P-series Ultra Color Spectrum 1000 120Hz
M-series standard 600 60Hz
E-series standard 400 60Hz
D-series standard Not listed 60Hz

Quantum leap

Judging from its specifications, the P-series Quantum should deliver the best image quality of any Vizio TV to date. I doubt it can beat OLED TVs from LG and Sony, but they’re significantly more expensive.

The company claims a searing 2,000 nitsย of peak brightness, which, if true, would make it the brightest TV we’ve ever measured. Equally important to video quality buffs is its prodigious number of local dimming zones, which should allow it to minimize blooming and maximize local contrast. Finally, its quantum dots likely achieve a wider color gamut, which has been a relative weakness of past Vizio sets we’ve reviewed.

Vizio’s demo showing its actual LEDs illustrates different levels of local dimming precision. On step-up models like the Quantum, fewer LEDs behind the screen need to stay lit to show the pause icon (upper left) and the firework itself. The remainder of the screen can remain dark, increasing contrast and overall image quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The standard M- and P-series look similar to last year’s versions, and that’s not a bad thing. Our favorite TV for the money in 2017 was the M-series, and while the 2018 version has more zones (48 versus 32 in the largest sizes), I don’t expect that to create a massive difference in picture quality. I measured a peak of more than 800 nits last year, substantially higher than the peak claimed for 2018, but not as bright as the 2018 P series. Just like in past years, they’re all compatible with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range.

Vizio also detailed its step-down E- and D-series sets. The E-series is also FALD-equipped, with up to 16 zones, and unlike the 2017 E series it’s also compatible with Dolby Vision HDR. The entry-level D-series, meanwhile, loses local dimming and Dolby Vision, but can work with HDR10.

Vizio E-series 2018 models

Model Size Dimming zones Price
E75-F1/E75-F2 75-inch 16 $1,550
E70-F3 70-inch 12 $1,050
E65-F0/E65-F1 65-inch 12 $800
E55-F0/E55-F1 55-inch 10 $500
E50-F2 50-inch 10 $440
E43-F1 43-inch 10 $350

Vizio D-series 2018 models

D70-F3 70-inch $1,000
D65-F1 65-inch $780
D60-F3 60-inch $650
D55-F2 55-inch $500
D50-F1 50-inch $440
D43-F1 43-inch $350

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We didn’t love Vizio’s SmartCast system last year, and the 2018 version looks largely the same.

Vizio

Welcome back, TV tuner. Howdy, YouTube TV

Vizio has addressed another glaring omission in past TVs: All of its 2018 sets include a built-in TV tuner, just like those of competitors. Now I can finally go back to calling them “TVs” instead of “tuner-free displays.” (Just kidding, I always called them TVs anyway.) The tuner has real value to people who don’t subscribe to cable or satellite TV.

Another weakness last year was Vizio’s SmartCast suite of smart TV extras, and the 2018 version is basically the same. You still have to use your phone to cast most apps to the TV, and the on-screen version doesn’t allow customization. The TVs still work with both Alexa and Google Assistant, the latter allowing users to stream content to the TV with voice controls.ย 

As for upcoming improvements, Vizio says an app for YouTube TV is coming soon, along with another, unnamed new streaming service aimed at cord cutters. It doesn’t have a name or a launch date yet, but Vizio said it would launch with a similar channel lineup as Pluto TV, and would add more channels in the future — all accessible via a grid-style guide. For easy access it will be accessible as another “input,” much like SmartCast itself.

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A new streaming service, coming soon, can access a bunch of free “channels” using a standard grid guide.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Vizio says owners of 2016 and 2017 SmartCast TVs will continue to get the same upgrades as the 2018 models, a nice perk that’s uncommon in the TV industry (with the notable exception of Roku TVs, which also enjoy constant updates).

Hands-on impressions and more

I got the chance to check out the Vizio sets in person and they looked as impressive as I expected from the specifications. In a side-by-side demo with an LG C8 OLED TV, the Quantum held its own, with more pop to HDR highlights but brighter (worse) black levels, as you might expect. I won’t comment further on image quality until I can review them in CNET’s lab, and especially compare them to similarly-priced compeditors (see below).

I was also able to wheedle a few more bits of info out of Vizio’s representatives.

  • There won’t be any other size of P-series Quantum this year. Vizio told me a 75-inch or larger model, for example, would just be too expensive, but it may produce one in 2019.
  • All of the inputs on all of the models are fully HDCP 2.2/HDMI 2.0-capable (the exception is the specialized Input 5 on the P-series, which again allows 120Hz direct input but isn’t HDMI 2.0). That’s a welcome change from 2017, when only one input was fully capable on the M-series, for example. It means you can connect more 4K and HDR devices directly to the TVs, rather than buying a separate switch or AV receiver.
  • In another improvement compared to last year, all of the sizes in the M- and P-series sets (including the Quantum) use VA-type panels, which in my experience deliver superior contrast and overall image quality compared to IPS panels.
  • Vizio says some of the D- and E-series TVs use IPS panels, but didn’t immediately detail which ones. When I get than information I’ll update this article.

Tough competition

The M- and E-series received good marks from CNET last year, but even with the picture quality improvements and affordable price points of 2018, it faces a couple of stiff challenges.ย 

The TCL 6 series looks like the M-series’ main nemesis, with more dimming zones and the awesomeness of Roku’s cord-cutting prowess for a similar price. Meanwhile Sony’s X900F costs a bit less than the P-series Quantum at 65 inches, and comes in both larger and smaller sizes to provide a credible step-up to the standard P series. Somewhat more expensive is Samsung’s cheapest FALD TV, the Q8, but it could also appeal to Vizio-averse video quality fans who don’t want to step up to an OLED.

All of Vizio’s new TVs are available today at its website and in the coming weeks at other retailers. The exception is the P-series Quantum, which will ship in early summer.ย 

I’m looking forward to testing these sets and more as they become available.ย 

Updated 4/10 at 3:30PM ET with additional information, photos and video.

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