The Vizio P series was probably the most highly anticipated TV of 2014. Ever since it was introduced at CES 2014 at a starting price of $999 with the heady promise of full-array local dimming combined with 4K resolution, I envisioned an LCD TV that would be close to as recommendable as some of the plasmas of yore. Or at least, the most recommendable LCD TV of 2014.
Unfortunately for Vizio, it was not. My initial review revealed some pretty serious video processing issues, which made the picture look too sharp, overly-enhanced and even, with some material, plagued by artifacts like unnatural twinkles and twitchy moving lines. The worst part was you couldn’t turn the processing off.
With its latest round of software updates, however, Vizio has (largely) fixed the issue, and the P series becomes much more recommendable. Its picture quality isn’t quite the match of the Samsung HU8550, but it’s much less expensive.
On the other hand, it’s also hundreds more than other Vizios like the E-series and M-series , and its picture quality isn’t that much better, despite the extra resolution of 4K (which, if I may reiterate, is barely visible anyway).
The additional problem for Vizio is that the TVs announced at CES 2015 will be making their way to store shelves in a couple of months, so buyers interested in the latest and greatest might already consider the darling of CES 2014 old hat. If you can overcome that bias, however, you’ll find the P series an excellent performer and the best 4K TV value available today.
Editors’ Note: This review has been updated since its initial publication based on changes observed as a result of installing new software, version 1.1.14. The scores for performance and value have each been raised from 7 to 8, and the overall score from 7.2 to 7.9. Please see the Picture Quality section for additional details.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch (P55) and 65-inch (P65) sizes, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. Aside from the differences noted in this review, especially related to the 55-incher’s IPS panel (see ‘Picture quality,’ below), all sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The 2014 Vizio M and P series look almost identical, except that the silver finish on the stand and sides of the P is somewhat darker, which I prefer. There’s Vizio’s characteristic “tab” logo on the far right, a thin, black bezel, the rounded corners and the matching open-base stand, which doesn’t swivel. It’s a nice, clean look, but certainly not a standout compared to most makers’ 4K sets.
From the side, the 2014 P series is thicker than many LCD TVs, thanks in part to a direct LED backlight. That’s a minor disadvantage in our book, not least because nobody watches TV from the side. It’s still not exactly chunky.
The topside of Vizio’s remote is pretty mediocre. There’s no backlighting, little key differentiation, and the arrangement of keys around the cursor always tripped me up. On the flip side is a full QWERTY keyboard that I liked a lot better. It’s fully backlit and includes touches like directional keys and a dedicated “.com” button to ease log-ins.
The menu system has the same arrangement as other recent Vizio sets. It’s basic, easy to navigate, and I appreciate the helpful on-screen touches, including descriptions of various menu items and access to the full user manual.
Aside from 4K resolution, the headline feature here is full-array local dimming. Every other 4K TV with local dimming, full-array or edge-lit, is significantly more expensive than the P series, and indeed all but four mainstream 2014 4K sets – the Sony XBR-X950B, the Toshiba L9400, the Panasonic AX900 and Vizio’s own R series – have the typically less-effective edge-lit scheme. Each size in the P series gets 64 dimmable zones, with the exception of the 70-incher, which gets 72. Most sizes in the M-series, by way of comparison, get 32 zones, while the E-series has even fewer.
Vizio’s website specifies a “240Hz effective refresh rate,” but like all 4K TVs, the 2014/2015 P series actually has a 120Hz panel. The extra Hz supposedly comes from backlight scanning. Vizio isn’t the only company to play these sorts of refresh rate games, and don’t be surprised to see an even higher number – “Clear Action Rate 960” – quoted at times by the company.
You may also notice the absence of 3D in the chart above. Many of Vizio’s previous TVs offered passive 3D compatibility. As of the 2014/2015 model year, Vizio has dropped the feature entirely, announcing no 3D-compatible televisions, even in the higher-end P and R series. That’s a shame, because passive 3D is greatly improved by 4K.
Like most 2014 4K TVs the P series offers built-in HEVC decoding, allowing it to handle Netflix and other 4K streaming services.
On the off chance you care, the screen-mirroring functionality found on many TVs goes missing, and there’s no official app to allow remote control from a phone and other sundries. You do get the limited screen mirroring of DIAL compatibility, however, which allows you to control the YouTube and Netflix apps Chromecast -style with your phone or tablet. I tried it with both iOS and Android phones, and it worked fine.
Smart TV: The same basic Smart TV interface, dubbed “VIA Plus,” is used throughout Vizio’s 2014 line. A row of app icons appear along the bottom of the screen, an arrangement aped in 2014 by Samsung and LG. You can re-arrange the seven icons within the “dock” and scroll to access more. If you prefer a full-screen interface, a second tap on the “V” button brings it up. I appreciated the excellent categorization, especially the ability to disregard the numerous “local TV” apps.
The P series naturally gets the version of Netflix that allows 4K streaming. The latest firmware update also adds additional 4K apps, including Amazon Instant, UltraFlix and Toon Googles.
Although it’s no Roku , Vizio’s app selection is very good. HBO Go isn’t available (it’s still a Samsung exclusive among TVs), and there are no major sports apps like MLB TV, NHL GameCenter, or NBA League Pass, but most of the other heavy-hitters for video are here. The meta-app “Web video” itself contains numerous sub-apps of specialized videos. Audio support is also extensive: you get iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Pandora and Spotify, although Rhapsody is no longer available.
The remote’s backside QWERTY keyboard is a real boon, particularly for log-ins and searches. Not every app supports it, but I was happy to see Netflix and Amazon do.
Unlike most other major TV names, Vizio still doesn’t offer a Web browser in its Smart TV system. That’s no major loss since a laptop, tablet, or phone works much better anyway. Still, it’s worth noting that some TV browsers – namely Samsung and LG – have improved a lot recently. Vizio’s system also lacks the many extras found elsewhere, including cable-box control, universal search, voice command and more.
Picture settings: The P series has the most comprehensive range of picture controls of any Vizio TV, finally bringing it into line with the Samsungs and LGs of the world. In addition to the 2- and 10-point grayscale controls and CMS we appreciated from the M series, the P adds an actual gamma preset. You get an on/off toggle for local dimming and a Game Low Latency setting that cuts input lag on any picture mode.
The “Motion Blur Reduction” option engages backlight scanning to supposedly improve motion resolution, but in our tests it was ineffective. The “Smooth Motion Effect” setting offers three levels of Soap Opera Effect.
Another improvement over the M series is in the treatment of picture modes. Gone is the confusing switch back to a single custom mode after every adjustment. Instead, the mode you’re adjusting is simply marked with an asterisk to indicate its settings are no longer in the default positions. If you like those settings you can save them in a custom picture mode (or more than one), which you can name anything you want and even lock, preventing inadvertent adjustment.
Connectivity: Of the five HDMI, four are version 1.4, meaning they can handle 1080p and 4K sources up to 30Hz. The fifth is HDMI 2.0 compatible, meaning it can also handle 4K sources up to 60Hz. In addition, this fifth input can accept 1080p signals up to 120Hz, although currently the only sources capable of outputting such signals are PCs.
I didn’t test 1080p/120Hz, but I did check all 10 HDMI inputs on both review samples with 4K sources. They all behaved as expected, except for HDMI 1 on the P65. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get it to properly display 4K/30 signal.
Like most 4K sets, the Vizio P series can’t accept 4:4:4 chroma subsampling signals via any of its inputs. The company claims that’s because three of the ports are compatible with HDCP 2.2, which doesn’t allow 4:4:4 signals. This isn’t a big deal to us since, once again, the only common 4:4:4 sources come from PCs.
Beyond HDMI, the Vizio’s other physical connections include one each of USB, component-video, composite video, Ethernet and an RF tuner port. There’s also an analog audio and optical digital audio output. As with other Vizio TVs, the P series’ optical jack passes Dolby Digital.
As we mentioned at the top, the best thing about the P series picture is its contrast – at least on every size but the 55-incher. We tested two sizes for this review, the 55-inch (P55) and the 65-inch (P65). The 65-inch set, as well as the 50-, 60- and 70-inch sizes in the series, use an LCD panel type known as VA. Only the 55-inch set uses a different panel type, known as IPS. Check out our Monitor Buying Guide for more on the differences between VA and IPS.
In side-by-side testing, the P55’s black levels and contrast were clearly inferior to the P65’s. It showed other differences as noted below, including better fidelity from off-angle and less over-accentuation of bright areas, for what might charitably be called a more balanced picture. All told, I preferred the P65’s picture, and I assume the other sizes in the series will perform similarly.
The video-processing issues we noticed at first have largely been eliminated by the firmware update. The exception is with 4K sources, whether streaming or delivered to the 4K inputs; they still trigger the additional edge enhancement. See Video processing below for more information. Note that I did not retest any other aspect of the P series picture quality, only its video processing related to the over-enhancement issues I noticed during my initial review.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.
Software version information:Vizio says the new software update, version 1.1.14, has been rolling out over the last couple weeks, and by now most P series owners should have it. To verify your software version, hit the Menu key on the remote and select System, then System Information. The “Version” line is third from the top. If it doesn’t read 1.1.6 (or later), you can try forcing the TV to check for an update (click here for details). Unfortunately Vizio’s software update system isn’t as transparent as most other TV makers’, but worst-case-scenario, you can call customer service at 800-849-4623.
Black level: The 65-inch P series is capable of delivering a very deep level of black and superb contrast for an LCD TV. In most of the demanding dark scenes from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” it was neck-and-neck with the Samsung PNF8500 plasma (and often surpassed it) for second-deepest blacks in the lineup, trailing only the exceedingly expensive Sony.
One of my favorite such scenes is the Room of Requirement (Chapter 14, 57:29) which shows mostly shadows and dark areas punctuated by brighter highlights of the objects in the room. The P65’s letterbox bars and black areas were inky and true, much like the plasma’s, and visibly deeper than those of the HU8550 – which roughly tied the M series at depth of black. The Sony was easily the deepest and best-looking, however.
Meanwhile the two worst sets in the room for black level were the 55-inch P series with its IPS panel and the LG, which uses the same panel type. Despite both sets employing local dimming, the need to generate highlights in this scene meant they couldn’t dim the black areas enough, and as a result the letterbox bars and deep shadows were cloudy and significantly less-realistic than the others.
In terms of contrast, the P65’s biggest weakness was brighter highlights than any of the other displays – too bright, in fact. The glints from the Room’s brighter bric-a-brac in that scene were markedly more brilliant than any of the others, including our reference plasma, which looked very similar to the Sony. This extra pop actually made the scene look less realistic, and it was an issue the P55 didn’t suffer from. The P65 still looked better than its smaller brother overall, but I preferred the more balanced look of the Samsung plasma and the Sony.
The P65’s issue with pumped-up highlights appeared in other scenes too. The face of Voldemort on the hilltop, and the clothing of his minions (46:28) seemed a bit too bright compared to the other displays. Again, highlights on the P55 appeared tamer and shadows more in line with the plasma and the Sony, but again, I preferred the larger Vizio.
Shadow detail on both Vizios was very good for the most part, with no obscured sections and little of the extra brightness that plagued those sets prior to calibration (a major issue with the default picture settings; see here for details). That said, the P65 showed a darker cast in midtones than the others in the lineup, a result of sacrifices I had to make during calibration.
The story was similar in “Gravity,” another high-contrast, challenging Blu-ray. During the scene in Chapter 2 where Stone tumbles into space against a background of stars, the P65 maintained the deepest black after the Sony, beating out the plasma, while the P55 and the LG brought up the rear again. And once again the highlights, in this case the starfield, looked too bright on the P65 compared to the others
Blooming, where stray light from an illuminated backlight zone contaminates an adjacent dark area, wasn’t a major issue on both P series sets, but at times it was still noticeable and distracting. The P65’s worst performance in this area was during the extremely challenging Creation sequence from “Tree of Life” – at times (20:39, 21:58) I could actually watch individual zones of the backlight illuminate, while on the other local dimmers (including the P55) the effects were much more subtle. I also noticed similar backlight flashes during a dark scene from Netflix’s “House of Cards.”
By far the more common instance of blooming were caused by graphical elements, for example the display overlays from by Blu-ray players or white credits on a dark screen. The HU8550 was the best of the LCDs at controlling blooming overall, and the Sony and the P series Vizios were very similar in most scenes. The lesser number of zones on the M series was noticeable as more widespread, albeit dimmer, blooming than the P series models.
Color accuracy: While this category isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, both Vizios failed to match the accuracy of either Samsung or the Sony. During “Tree of Life,” the P55’s palette lacked a touch of the punch and and saturation of most of the others – perhaps a function of its lighter blacks – while the conversely green of its grass was a bit too green, an issue the P65 shared. For its part the 65-incher delivered better saturation than the P55 but its darker look seemed to skew a bit blue at times, robbing skin tones of like the pregnant belly and hand of Mrs. and Mr. O’Brien (37:41) of some warmth.
All told however, color was very good on both sets, as evinced by very low grayscale and color error measurements shown below. All of the issues I saw in comparison would be very difficult to notice in isolation. It’s also worth noting that perhaps improvements could be made in calibration.
Video processing: Once I had reduced the Sharpness control to zero, the video processing issues I noticed the prior to the software update were pretty much gone. I checked out Sharpness patterns in both 1080p and 4K resolution from two separate test pattern generators, and the faint outlines I’d seen before around the edges of the patterns’ lines-known as edge enhancement-were no longer there, and detail was comparable to the other 4K sets in my lineup.
I also re-watched the moving video material I’d used during the first test. The guard from the beginning of Chapter 20 of “Samsara” looked as well-detailed on the Vizios as on the other sets in my lineup, and the crisp, too-hard edges I noticed at first on her face and uniform weren’t there anymore. The artifacts noticed in program material, for example the crawling lines and twitchiness in the window frames from Chapter 20, as well as similar artifacts in Chapter 22, were also no longer evident.
I did experience a significant glitch, however. When I fed the TV a 4K source, whether from Netflix 4K streaming, by switching to an input connected to a 4K signal, or by turning on the TV to such an input directly, the extra processing would appear again in the picture even though I had reduced Sharpness to zero. To make the processing go away, I had to go into the menu and tweak Sharpness up (to 1 or higher) and then down to zero again. This wasn’t an issue with 1080i or 1080p sources, but it occur with 4K on all of the inputs on both review samples.
The net result is that with 4K on the Vizio P series, you’ll need to remember to manually disable the processing by tweaking Sharpness (unless Vizio decides to update its software yet again to fix this issue…a man can dream, right?).
All of the P series other processing characteristics were par for the course. It passed our test for 1080p/24 cadence as long as I disabled the Clear Action and Smooth Motion Effect settings. Its motion resolution behaved similarly to that of most other 120Hz sets – 300 lines when smoothing (aka the Soap Opera Effect, or SOE) was disabled, and higher with it turned on. For film-based material, including most TV shows and movies, I preferred to keep that effect turned off despite the loss in motion resolution.
Smooth Motion Effect is what controls SOE, and even in its Low setting the smoothing was obvious and extreme; much more so than Sony’s Standard setting, for example. In that setting, the P55 delivered 800 lines and the P65 1,000, while both garnered about 1,100 lines of resolution in the two settings (Medium and High). Interestingly, engaging Clear Action backlight scanning did nothing to improve motion resolution in our test, and as usual dimmed the image, so we left it turned off.
Unlike the E and M series, the P was unable to pass our standard test for 1080i de-interlacing, so it might introduce some minor artifacts in 1080i film-based sources.
Input lag on the P series was excellent whenever I engaged the Game Low Latency setting, which is on by default in the Game picture mode and can be enabled and disabled in any mode. I did notice one tradeoff in picture quality in doing so, however: on the 55-inch set, a break in the image appeared along the top quarter of the screen, creating a strange doubling effect. The artifact disappeared when I turned off Low Latency and switched it back on again. While I couldn’t replicate it again during repeated switch-ins and outs, I nonetheless wouldn’t be surprised to see it or similar issues appear again, perhaps regularly, on any Vizio P series set.
That issue aside, Game Low Latency delivered among the best lag scores I’ve ever measured as long as I was using HDMI Input 5. On both sets I measured around 19ms with GLL engaged on HDMI 5, and at certain times I measured even lower: 2.5ms, with an unprecedented 0.0ms lag at the top of the screen (!). This last result was achieved only after I immediately remeasured a second time, so I’m more apt to trust the higher number (and report it in the Geek Box, below), but either way, the P series was still superb. Turning off GLL in default Calibrated Dark mode on the HDMI 5 yielded lag of around 63ms on the P55 and 65ms on the P65.
The other HDMI inputs introduced worse lag. With GLL engaged or in Game mode, both sizes of P series measured around 46ms, on the happy side of “Average” (between 40 and 70ms) on our scale but not spectacular. Turning off GLL in calibrated mode on the other inputs yielded lag of 97ms on the P55 and 104 on the P65.
PC gamers: It’s worth remembering that my input lag tests were conducted only at 1080p/60Hz. Higher resolutions and/or refresh rates might yield different results.
Uniformity: Compared to the edge-lit H8550 I expected the Vizios to have better uniformity, but in fact the reverse was true. The screens of the P series were slightly brighter in the middle than along the edges, although not badly enough to be noticeable in most program material. No major clouding was visible that wasn’t caused by backlight blooming.
I did notice a bit of backlight structure during pans. For example, as the camera sweeps over the sheets and blue walls during Chapter 5 of “Tree of Life” (38:22), slightly brighter vertical bars were visible on both P series sets. This structure also appeared, albeit more faintly, on the other LCDs, with the exception of the HU8550.
From off-angle, the P65 and P55 has different characteristics, as expected with their different panel types. The P55 maintained color and, unlike most IPS panels I’ve seen (including the LG), black-level fidelity very well, making it one of the best LED LCDs I’ve seen for wide-angle viewing. The P65, on the other hand, showed the typical loss of color fidelity – straying toward blueish-red from the sides and top – and also washed out somewhat, albeit not as quickly as the HU8550. All of the LED LCDs in the lineup betrayed more blooming from off-angle, although again the HU8550 controlled ts blooming best.
Bright lighting: Under the lights the semi-matte screen of the P series performed well, reducing the intensity of reflections better than most of the other displays, with the exception of the M series (which has an identical screen finish to the P65) and the plasma. Between the two P series sets, the P65 deadened reflections better, but on the flipside the P55 was slightly better at maintaining black levels and contrast under the lights. In that area, the Sony and the Samsung were the best, while the others (with the exception of the LG) were all relatively close.
Sound quality: I didn’t test the sound of the P series, but since it has the same specifications and essentially the same cabinet design as the M series, they should sound very similar. See the M series review for details.
4K performance: According to my 4K signal generator, both Vizios resolved every line of a 3,840×2,160 source, and neither showed any major issues with the other 4K patterns. Demo material in 4K also looked as good as on the other 4K sets in my lineup, but no better in terms of detail, as long as I had manually adjusted out the additional edge enhancement.
And that’s the rub. As I described above, when watching Netflix 4K the additional edge enhancement would appear even if Sharpness had been reduced to zero, making details appear too sharp and unrealistic compared to the other 4K sets in my lineup. To make it go away I had to “tweak” Sharpness again manually.
Beyond that, the Netflix app worked well, delivering what the on-screen menus said was a steady 4K stream, a testament to the new souped-up Internet connection at CNET’s TV lab (your mileage may vary at home). I didn’t test any other 4K apps on the P series.
As usual, it was tough to tell the difference between the 4K and 1080p streams. I set up a quickie comparison for four CNET co-workers, with two TVs streaming 4K from native Netflix apps and two streaming 1080p from a PS3 – all synced to the same episode of “House of Cards” – and asked them to pick out the two 4K sets. None of them guessed correctly.
Of course none of that is Vizio’s fault; the differences between 4K and 1080p are small on any TV, especially via streaming.
Vizio P552ui-B2 CNET review calibration report
Vizio P652ui-B2 CNET review calibration report
How We Test TVs