Vizio’s E Series Shows That Good 4K TVs Can Be Affordable

I must confess. I don’t yet own a 4K TV. I’ve stared at them for countless hours in the office and at trade shows, but when it comes time to spend my own money, I haven’t pulled the trigger. And why should I? I’m still sitting cozy with a wonderful 2011 60-inch Panasonic Viera plasma HDTV that works beautifully and has some of the best picture quality possible for its resolution.

Throughout the years, TV makers have tried hard to get me to upgrade. First, 3D TVs (boy, that was a bust), then curved and high-resolution 4K sets, new screen types like LG’s beautiful OLEDs, now with retina-searing High-Dynamic Range (HDR)—which offers extra vivid colors and inky blacks. Right now, those fancy OLED HDR TVs from LG are the must-have TV, but they still cost $1,500 or more.

I still don’t think anything beats OLED, but the massive 65-inch Vizio E-Series set I’ve been using is winning me over to the 4K side. Vizio has made a name for itself by offering high quality TVs on the cheap, and the new E-Series is a prime example of this strategy at work. The 65-inch E65-E0 I’m using has a beautiful LED screen with a 4K Ultra HD pixel resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels), a full backlit screen with 12 local dimming zones (more on those soon), HDR10 for extra contrast, high-speed Wi-Fi AC, Bluetooth 4.1 support, built-in streaming apps that actually work pretty well, and Chromecast support, too.

These are high-end features you’d find on a $1,000+ TV like this excellent $1,700 Samsung Q7C. This option from Vizio is only $800. And, if you can sacrifice a few inches, the 55-inch set has the same specs for only $500—pretty extraordinary. Though, you’ll have to put up with one rather ridiculous omission. Technically, it isn’t a TV at all, but I’ll talk about that later.

A Highly Dynamic Picture

How good the picture looks will depend almost entirely on whether you’re watching (or playing) content filmed or made in 4K HDR, and there still isn’t a lot of it, to be honest. You’ll have to dig into Netflix’s Originals (and slightly upgrade your subscription) to get 4K. Amazon has some high-resolution video, and so does YouTube and Google Play Video. Gamers, you’ll need a PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One X. It’s rare enough that most things you’ll watch will still come in HD. Luckily, HD content still looks pretty damn nice on this set, too.

Today, I was particularly awed watching Netflix’s Fire Chasers documentary. The devastation and burning felt a lot more real in high resolution. Flames burned incredibly brightly, and the 12 dimming zones did a great job balancing those bright yellows and oranges with the deep blacks of the charred California forests in the aftermath of the fires. The realism did help me feel more connected than I think I might have.

Some TVs have lighting that comes in from the sides, but Vizio has a full backlight behind the screen for brightness (though it’s still a TV that may not be bright enough for a very well-lit room). That backlight has 12 zones where the TV can turn off or dim lighting to darken blacks in a particular spot on the screen. It’s a subtle trick, but the TV has better black levels because of it. And if you’ve ever seen an OLED TV, where every pixel can completely turn off if it’s black, you probably understand how important dark blacks are.

Vizio has also done a remarkable job eliminating the soap opera effect, which is that annoying, unnerving feeling that you’re on set or watching something that was filmed with an iPhone. It can make any movie or TV show feel cheap, like you’re watching a daytime soap opera. This happens on a lot of LED and LCD TVs with a 120Hz refresh rate, or higher. Usually, you can turn off the effect, but none of Vizio’s default picture-enhancing features seem to harm the quality much. The Calibrated mode in settings gave my 65-inch E-Series very nice, tuned color for my room.

Simple Streaming

No TV has fantastic streaming options, but I’ve found myself using some of the limited streaming apps included on the built-in ‘SmartCast’ menu. The basics are here, like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu, but I also enjoyed Xumo, which has some live TV channels, and a couple others. They’re a little laggy, and the Hulu app didn’t have the service’s new menu design yet, but mostly I’ve enjoyed using the apps. The built-in Chromecast support is also nice. I can cast shows from any app using my phone, and because I own a speaker with Google Assistant, I can yell out “Hey Google, play Black Mirror on TV” and on it comes—just like it might in an episode Black Mirror, right before everything goes off the rails.

Of course, I do still recommend you get a Roku, though maybe not the Roku Streaming Stick+. I’ve had some trouble getting it to output 4K properly on this TV, and due to the shape of the back panel, long USB sticks don’t fit well in any of the 4 HDMI ports. I recommend you go with a new Roku Ultra instead.

Rabbit Ears Not Included

Not everything about this Vizio is perfect. Most notable is that it’s technically can’t act as a traditional TV—there’s no TV tuner built in, which is why Vizio calls it a “Home Theater Display.” If you want to use a [digital antenna (this is my favorite) to pick up local TV channels, you’ll need to buy an external TV tuner. I haven’t tested enough to tell you which is best, either, but they’re about $50. It’s not ideal, but if you’re a cord cutter that mostly just streams, like I do, it’s not as big a problem. Cable boxes should work fine.

The build quality also leaves something to be desired. It has thin bezels and looks excellent from the front, but the back has a cheap, plasticky look. You may also need to wall mount it or buy a new TV stand to fit this 3-inch thick, 50-ish pound display. Instead of a nice pedestal stand in the middle, Vizio TVs have two stubby legs on each side. The 65-inch E-Series is too wide to fit on almost any standard table, which is a good enough reason to consider the 55-inch and 60-inch models, though they aren’t much better.

Like most affordable TVs, the speakers in this Vizio aren’t nice to listen to. You’ll want to pick up a soundbar or speakers of some kind. Naturally, Vizio sells a pretty good soundbar at a solid price.

Those gripes aside, the Vizio has E-Series models from 40 inches all the way up to 80 inches these days. We only recommend three sizes, though. The 55-inch, 60-inch, and 65-inch models offer all of the high-end perks at reasonable $500 – $800. The smaller versions lack features the quality local dimming and the larger sets are just too expensive. The Vizio E-Series are not the absolute greatest TVs you can buy (again, LG OLED), and they aren’t quite the cheapest in their class, but when it comes to value, they’re just right.

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