Vizio M3D470KD Review: A Superb Sub-$1000 HDTV Set
At a Glance
Priced at around $900 (estimated street price as of July 18, 2012), the 47-inch, 240Hz Vizio M3D470KD edge-lit LED HDTV set displays remarkably strong images, with vivid colors and accurate skin tones. Its keyboard-equipped remote control makes entering a Wi-Fi password or a Netflix search a breeze. The set has some notable drawbacks—its built-in speakers are subpar, and if you want to enjoy your own media files, you'll find the M3D470KD limited—but those shortcomings are forgivable for the price.
Lab Tests: Picture, Sound, and Energy Consumption
The five judges in the PCWorld Labs’ image-quality tests awarded the M3D470KD high marks in almost every test involving 2D and 3D images, and we gave it slightly better grades for 3D.
One judge in particular noted the TV's sharp details and accurate colors. Moving-camera shots from the Blu-ray discs of Mission: Impossible III (chapter 7) and The Dark Knight (chapter 9) showed only a little of the distortion that marred most other sets in the test batch.
With this set, I tended to be the curmudgeon of the jury. While I gave it good marks overall, I noted some troubling softness, especially in our Wheel of Fortune clip. But I also noted a very wide range of viewing angles, which is notable for an LED set.
The M3D470KD can't convert 2D images to 3D, as many other sets can. Whether you consider this a major problem depends on your taste. Personally, I don't, as I seldom find such conversion convincing, and I rarely find myself wanting to watch a 2D film in faux 3D.
Unfortunately, the M3D470KD isn't as kind to your ears as it is to your eyes. We heard noticeable distortion at a comfortable volume, and the ill effects got much worse when I turned the volume up to 100 percent (which isn't all that loud on this set). The speakers had major problems with a sudden increase in volume in Phantom of the Opera (2004 version, chapter 2). First, the music didn't get as loud as it should have. Then, it dropped in volume and subsequently rose again to the louder level. The imitation surround sound offered little surround feel.
Generally, at this point in an HDTV review, I tell readers that if they want to properly experience today's movie soundtracks, they should invest in a separate surround system. With the M3D470KD, that advice is all the more important.
However, you have another, much less expensive way to bypass the M3D470KD's speakers, albeit an antisocial one: You can plug headphones into this TV, thanks to a side-mounted 3.5mm headphone jack.
This set earns its Energy Star label. In the PCWorld Labs energy test, it burned an average of 64 watts when on—a respectably low rate of consumption, if not an unusual one. When "off," it burned so little that it didn't register on our meter. To help save power, the M3D470KD can turn down its backlighting when the ambient light allows that, and you can set it to turn off automatically after a certain number of minutes with no signal.
Inputs, Basic Setup, and On-Screen Menus
In some ways, this is an easy HDTV to set up and use. In others, it's annoyingly difficult.
Although you'll find easy access to the HDMI and USB inputs, which are all conveniently positioned on the side, getting to the other inputs (VGA, coaxial cable, and so on) is needlessly difficult. They're mounted on the back of the set, facing downward. To make matters worse, the TV doesn't swivel on its stand. Accessing some of these inputs would require a contortionist.
The first time you turn on the M3D470KD, a wizard walks you through the initial setup. The procedure is reasonably easy, and if you want to use Wi-Fi to connect the TV to your network and the Internet (you can also choose ethernet), you're in for a pleasant surprise: Rather than entering your router's password by selecting letters one at a time, you can simply turn over the remote control and use the small but full keyboard on the other side.
As TVs have morphed into smart Internet devices, text entry has become a greater and greater problem. Vizio's two-sided remote control is the best solution I've seen yet. Not only is it simple and efficient, but it's also the only television keyboard device I've tried that works in every text-entry environment on the TV, including in Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube searches.
Unfortunately, when you turn the keyboard over again, you get a substandard conventional remote. It's neither backlit nor programmable. It's too small, resulting in buttons that are uncomfortably close together, yet it also has wasted space. For instance, the big Vizio button in the center, which brings up the online and media options, is surrounded by emptiness. And two buttons, Menu and Guide, have identical functions. All of the buttons feel resistant to pressing.
Many convenient buttons found on other remotes are missing here. You'll find no one-button way to change the aspect ratio, and no quick menu of commonly used options. However, the remote does provide dedicated buttons for bringing up Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon's pay-per-view service.
You'll find a button for changing inputs (moving, for instance, from the cable connection to your Blu-ray player or your old VCR), but the input menu forces you to scroll past every input listed between the one you're on and the one you want. Even the inputs with nothing plugged into them show up. (A Vizio representative told me about another way to change inputs, but that method proved even more difficult.)
Unlike many of its competitors, Vizio hasn't created iOS and Android remote-control apps, but in this case I don't see that as a major problem. Once you get past the wow factor, the only advantage of turning your phone into a remote control is the phone's keyboard. Since the Vizio remote already has a keyboard, a phone app would be redundant.
The on-screen menus and descriptions are often helpful for the regular consumer, but not consistently so. Select Adaptive Luma, for example, and a message pops up telling you that this option can 'Improve Details in Dark Areas of the Picture'. That's a good layperson description. But if you select Smart Dimming, the message merely says that this feature will 'Enable or disable the Smart Dimming Mode'. Um, thanks. To make matters worse, the phrase "smart dimming" never appears in the manual. (The manual helped me with other issues that the TV menus failed to explain on screen.)
You won't need the manual to find the M3D470KD's reasonably generous selection of Internet streaming entertainment. In addition to Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, and pay-per-view services from Amazon and Vudu, you get access to Facebook, Flickr, Rhapsody, Skype, and several Yahoo services. An option called Web Videos offers a selection of "channels," including Funny or Die, PBS, TED, and Vimeo.
But the options aren't so great if you want to watch your own entertainment. You can play music, videos, and photo slideshows off of a flash drive, if you've used the right file formats. For music, the M3D470KD supports only .mp3 files. It successfully played merely three of the seven video files I threw at it, and the manual doesn't list the video formats the set supports. Setting up a slideshow with music was more difficult than it should be. The TV doesn't support DLNA, either, so it can't play media from a PC over the network.
The Vizio M3D470KD's low price, very good image quality, and keyboard remote control make it a serious contender for the bang-for-the-buck crown. The audio problems and other quirks make the set less than perfect, but those shortcomings are negligible if you don't use your HDTV's built-in sound system.