At a Glance
Vizio VO420E 42-inch LCD
The no-frills Vizio VO420E is attractively priced, but you have to settle for sub-par image quality and mediocre audio.
The Vizio VO42E ($750 as of October 1) is one of the least expensive 42-inch LCD HDTV sets that Vizio offers. It's also one of the lowest priced on the market--which might explain why it performed below average in our juried image quality tests. While delivering many of the impressive user customization options offered in its higher-rated (and higher-priced) sibling, the SV420M, this model clearly targets users on a tight budget who aren't too fussy about image and audio quality.
Judges in our PC World Lab juried tests gave the VO42E poor marks for everything from brightness and contrast ("detail loss in shadows") and color (described by many as oversaturated) to sharpness ("details smudged") and artifacts. These results probably reflect, at least in part, the absence of the advanced technologies that are built into the SV420M, starting with the VO42E's 60Hz refresh rate (vs. the SV420M's 120Hz). Also missing are the smooth motion and the 3D comb filter (a technology that reduces artifacts in TV images) found in the SV420M.
I wasn't particularly impressed by the VO42E's simulated surround sound. Even turned up all the way, it's not very loud, and it doesn't really succeed in creating a sense of space through audio cues.
Other significant differences from the SV420M include the lack of picture-in-picture support, and one fewer HDMI input (three compared to four on the pricier set). Like the SV420M, the VO42E has no network support (and hence no Internet features) and no support for a USB drive or other media (for viewing stills, or playing music or video).
The VO42E's main menu options are generally a subset of those found on the SV420M: It has lots of presets (Standard, Movie, Game, Vivid, Football, Golf, Basketball, Baseball, and a user-defined Custom button); an Advanced Adaptive Luma control for adjusting brightness in dark areas; and an option for dictating whether brightness should be adjusted to save energy consumption. You get the same audio presets as the SV420M's--Flat, Rock, Pop, Classical, and Jazz--and the same Lip Sync control for synchronizing the audio with the video image.
One notable feature for a set at this price is the ability to adjust audio and picture settings for each input type. Also, as with the SV420M, you get the option of creating your own input labels of up to 8 characters. You also get the usual controls for excluding channels when you surf and for blocking content based on ratings. The menu also includes aspect-ratio settings--Normal (4:3), Full, two Zoom modes, Stretch, and Panorama--which you'll typically access through the remote.
The VO42E's compact, minimalist remote is similar to the SV420M's--no support for other home theater components--but without buttons for picture-in-picture or freeze-frame. However, everything is clearly labeled and easy to access, with convenient, oversize channel and volume control rockers.
One area in which Vizio excels is documentation, and the VO420E does have a handsome color quick-setup guide and a good printed manual, both also available in PDF format online.
Vizio's no-frills approach isn't the problem with this entry-level set: For its low-end price, you don't expect many extras. But in shopping for an HDTV that you'd expect to keep for several years, you might want to search for better image and sound quality.