I have long admired Vizio for its high-value TVs and soundbars. This year is no exception, with performance improvements across the board. The company first announced many of these products during CES last January, but now they are hitting the market with prices that are sure to please consumers.
Vizio invited journalists to get up close and personal with the 2019 lineup during two product-showcase events in May, one in New York City and the other at the company’s headquarters in Irvine, California. I attended the event in Irvine, and I was quite impressed with what I saw and heard.
Vizio is offering 21 new TV models for 2019 in six lines, all of which feature 4K resolution and the ability to accept and decode HDR, including HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. In addition, all Vizio TVs use full-array backlighting—no edge lighting in any model—and all but the entry-level V5 line provide local dimming, which generally improves perceived contrast.
Starting at the top, the new PX series—officially, the P-Series Quantum X—offers two screen sizes: 65 and 75 inches. (The PQ was available only in a 65-inch screen size.) Like the PQ, the PX uses quantum dots in its backlight to achieve very high brightness and wide color gamut. In fact, the peak brightness has increased from 2,000 nits in the PQ65 to 3,000 nits in the PX65 and 2,700 nits in the PX75. Likewise, the color gamut has increased from 80 percent to 84 percent of BT.2020.
Also, the number of local dimming zones has increased from 192 in the PQ65 to 384 in the PX65 and 480 in the PX75. In fact, each LED in the backlight is its own dimming zone, which is much better than having multiple LEDs per zone.
Pricewise, the PX75 lists for $3,499.99, while the PX65 carries an MSRP of $2,199.99. That’s amazingly low for such high performance at those sizes.
The step-down P-Series now uses quantum dots in its backlight, unlike last year’s P-Series, which used phosphor-based white LEDs. As a result, the color-gamut coverage has increased from 71 percent to 80 percent of BT.2020. Available in screen sizes of 65 and 75 inches, the 2019 P-Series also increases its peak brightness from 1,000 nits to 1,100 nits in the 65-inch P659, and 1,200 nits in the 75-inch P759. In addition, the number of local dimming zones has increased from 192 in 2018 to 200 in the P659 and 240 in the P759. And like the PX, each LED in the backlight is its own dimming zone.
And the prices? The P759 lists for $2,499.99, and the P659 is $1,399.99.
Quantum dots have even trickled down to the two new lines of M-Series TVs, informally called M8 and M7. The 65-inch M658 ($999.99) and 55-inch M558 ($799.99) both have a peak brightness of 600 nits and 90 local dimming zones, up from 48 in last year’s M-Series. Also, they cover 80 percent of the BT.2020 color gamut; the 2018 M-Series did not exhibit wide color gamut at all.
The step-down M7 series is available in four screen sizes: M657 (65 inches, $899.99), M557 (55 inches, $699.99), M507 (50 inches, $549.99), and M437 (43 inches, $399.99). These models have a peak brightness of 400 nits, and the number of local dimming zones ranges from 12 to 20, depending on the screen size.
The entry level is represented by two new V-Series lines: V6 and V5. These lines are derived from the previous E and D series, and they do not use quantum dots. The V6 line is available in three sizes: V656 (65 inches, $629.99), V556 (55 inches, $469.99), and V436 (43 inches, $299.99). These models offer 400 nits of peak brightness and 10 to 12 local dimming zones.
The V5 line includes eight sizes: V755 (75 inches, $1,199.99), V705 (70 inches, $799.99), V655 (65 inches, $599.99), V605 (60 inches, $529.99), V555 (55 inches, $449.99), V550 (50 inches, $329.99), V43 (43 inches, $299.99), and V405 (40 inches, $259.99). These models do not offer local dimming, and their peak brightness is 300 nits.
Vizio SmartCast 3.0
Vizio’s smart-TV platform is called SmartCast, which evolves to version 3.0 in 2019. Happily, all Vizio SmartCast TVs from 2016 onward can be updated to the new version.
SmartCast 3.0 features a redesigned, content-centric user interface with a mix of curated and partner-promotional items on the home screen. Currently, there is no individual-recommendation function. The system is based on HTML 5, so there is no need to download and install apps; it acts more like a web browser. That’s not to say there are no apps—the available apps are provided by Vizio, but there is no app store.
Among those apps is WatchFree, Vizio’s free-TV streaming service in partnership with Pluto TV. The service offers more than 100 live channels that require no subscription or sign-in. There’s even an electronic program guide, much like cable or satellite service, and a dedicated WatchFree “input” along with the HDMI and other inputs. There is no DVR functionality, however. Other apps include Netflix, Hulu and Hulu + Live TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access, NBC, and many more.
The detail page for any movie or TV show now indicates all the providers that offer it as well as the cost from each provider. It also indicates if a title is 4K from any provider, though it does not yet indicate whether the title is HDR or not. In addition, you can watch trailers and clips from the detail page.
The platform is already compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands using external devices to control basic functions like power on/off, channel and input selection, and volume. But SmartCast 3.0 will soon offer new capabilities—for example, searching for titles, genres, cast members, etc. This feature should be available in several weeks.
SmartCast 3.0 is currently compatible with the Google Nest Hub. When you launch an app, the Hub displays contextual controls, such as play/pause, volume, etc. You can also use voice commands to change the picture mode, display closed captioning, and other functions. In addition, Google Chromecast is built in, as it has been since SmartCast first debuted.
Another feature that will be added to SmartCast 3.0 in the coming weeks is support for Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit. You’ll be able to ask Siri to launch content, play music throughout your home on AirPlay devices, and share photos and even a slide show with music on the TV’s screen. In addition, HomeKit will display a “remote control” for the TV on your phone.
In addition to TVs, Vizio is well known for its affordable soundbars. New for 2019 are five models that improve performance by letting form follow function. Vizio optimized the performance of its soundbars using reference-quality audio products as a benchmark, which then dictated size and form factor within the soundbar category.
One outcome of this approach is a single size to accommodate most TVs, rather than multiple widths for different screen sizes. So, four out of the five new models measure 36 inches wide. They include the SB36514 ($699.99), SB36312 ($469.99), SB3651n ($249.99), and SB3621n ($149.99).
The model number indicates the size (36 inches) along with the audio configuration—514 indicates 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos, 312 equates to 3.1.2 Atmos, 51 means 5.1, and 21 indicates 2.1.
All four models come with a wireless subwoofer; the sub for the SB36312, SB3651, and SB3621 is a newly designed slim model that can fit under a couch or bed. Like some previous Vizio soundbars, the SB36514 also includes two wireless surround speakers with upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos along with two more upfiring drivers in the main soundbar. Interestingly, Vizio obtained a waiver from Dolby to let users adjust the level of the overhead channels in its Atmos-capable models.
Also new for 2019 is the SB2020n ($69.99), a 20-inch two-channel model that also functions as a Bluetooth speaker. At the showcase event, Vizio put the SB2020n next to a similarly sized Bose Solo 5 ($249), which is a best-selling small soundbar. Playing the same music and switching between them, the Vizio had much better bass, and the low-mid body of the guitar was excellent.
Vizio also demonstrated some of the other models under a TV. The SB3621 sounded great, with very good bass from its slim subwoofer. Next up was the SB36514, which Vizio compared with a Sony HT-Z9F ($899.99), a 3.1 soundbar with DSP-based Dolby Atmos simulation. Watching the opening scene of Mad Max: Fury Road, I heard nothing overhead from the Sony, but the overhead channels were easily evident from the Vizio.
The final demo highlighted the SB46514 ($999.99), which was introduced late last year. This 46-inch soundbar features a separate woofer and tweeter for each of the three front channels, with passive radiators for the LR channels and a port for the center channel. Also included is a 10-inch cube subwoofer and surround speakers with upfiring drivers that are a step up in quality compared with the surrounds that come with the SB36514.
This demo was a video game—Star Wars: Battlefront—and the sound was very impressive. The bass was quite deep, and there was lots of overhead action with Tie and X-Wing fighters whizzing around.
Other features common to all the 2019 soundbars include DTS Virtual:X, a DSP-based virtualization system that spreads the sound field well beyond the confines of the soundbar’s enclosure. It seemed to work quite well in the clips I heard.
Another common feature is Chromecast built-in, which provides access to streaming services such as Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal, and iHeartRadio. Also, all Vizio soundbars can stream audio from mobile devices via Bluetooth. Finally, the SB36514 and SB36312 offer support for Google Assistant voice control using an outboard device.
Clearly, Vizio has once again raised the bar for value and performance with its 2019 TVs and soundbars. I look forward to trying some of them out in my own environment soon.