As a writer who has covered multiple categories over the years, including audio, video, computer, and mobile technologies, it’s my duty to keep personal excitement at bay before taking pen to paper. As I have developed a particular fondness for home entertainment gear, this time around has proven to be more challenging than ever. Of all the converging technologies that have entered the tech space in recent years—to me, nothing beats immersing yourself in high-definition video and being surrounded by high-resolution multi-channel audio. So when a new product debuts that’s poised to enhance that enjoyment, I’m naturally eager to get it in the “lab” (my living room) to see how it performs. Since VIZIO is a brand with which I’m very familiar, having written about it on multiple occasions, agreeing to spend some time with the new 50" M50-D1 4K HDR-enabled display was pretty much a no-brainer.
So, what’s new?
When it comes to the realm of home entertainment, VIZIO has earned quite the reputation, delivering bang-for-buck performance that’s hard to match at or near its price. In fact, this reputation has earned the company a rather large and loyal following since it hit the market in 2002. VIZIO’s TVs have been well covered and regarded over the years, and its new M and P series 2016 models raised quite a few eyebrows when they were introduced, not only because of what they packed, but also because of a few interesting design changes the company chose to implement in its latest series. For starters, these new series aren’t traditional “TVs” because they don’t incorporate TV tuners, hence the name “Home Theater Display.” So, if you’re a cord-cutter or simply someone who relies on over-the-air broadcast TV via an antenna, you’ll have to use an external tuner. On the other hand, if you have a cable or satellite receiver, you can connect them as usual via its HDMI or component video interface to enjoy your local broadcast channels in high-definition, where available.
A notable addition to the entire 2016 lineup of VIZIO’s M series displays is the ability to handle 4K HDR video. While UHD 4K resolution is pretty common these days, High Dynamic Range (HDR) is just beginning to spread its wings. HDR itself isn’t a new technology—camera enthusiasts have been familiar with its ability to deliver enhanced contrast and color reproduction for years. As it currently stands, there are two competing HDR standards, known as HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Thankfully, VIZIO realizes the last thing its consumers want to deal with is another format war. So while the displays initially launched with just Dolby Vision support, a free firmware upgrade has been made available, allowing these models to support HDR10 content, as well. This means whether you’re watching Dolby Vision content, such as Marco Polo, on Netflix, or connecting a UHD Blu-ray player like the HDR10-enabled Samsung UBD-K8500, you won’t have to choose or guess which formats will ultimately reign supreme and deliver the most content; you can simply choose the content you most want to watch. Well done, VIZIO!
Another change for 2016 is the lack of a built-in traditional Smart TV interface; instead, VIZIO opted for the inclusion of SmartCast wireless streaming technology. While this may sound like an omission or oversight, it’s actually a rather interesting approach. Using the included Tablet Remote or an Android or iOS smart device of your own, you can stream content wirelessly from the wide library of apps that support Google Cast streaming. Apps that support Google Cast include Netflix, HBO Go, HULU, Showtime Anytime, Google Play Music, and much, much more. What’s great about this solution is that it gives you access to an ever-expanding library of TV shows, music, and movie selections beyond the services that are embedded into the display’s smart interface. Again, VIZIO is delivering choices.
Setup and installation
Once I had the M50-D1 unboxed and placed on my A/V stand, the on-screen setup guide walked me through pairing the tablet remote control, which was a relatively easy process that included placing it close to the lower-right corner of the display. Internet connectivity is also established in the initial setup process, and once it was complete, the display automatically downloaded and installed the latest firmware. In addition to using Wi-Fi to stream to the display, an Ethernet port is also on board. On the video side of things, connection options include 4 HDMI, dual USB ports, and a component video input, the latter is typically used to connect legacy high-definition video sources.
As with most high-definition displays, the VIZIO M50-D1 required a few menu adjustments, out of the box, to deliver optimized picture quality. Using the Calibrated Dark picture mode found in the display’s settings, I was able to get pretty close to what I consider to be a true-to-life cinematic image; and it took just a few adjustments from that point to really dial things in. After completing the picture adjustments, I was able to save my settings and access them across the display’s other inputs—time saved. While I didn’t have a UHD Blu-ray player on hand, I connected my Fios HD DVR and Marantz UD5007 Blu-ray player without incident and, thanks to the aforementioned SmartCast technology, I could simply rely on my smartphone or the included tablet to stream content wirelessly. To further aid in the installation, VIZIO includes an HDMI cable in the box.
About that tablet…
As you can no doubt tell by now, VIZIO’s M-series displays include a 6" tablet remote. Furthermore, this tablet runs a pretty unobtrusive version of Android Lollipop, has 8GB of storage, and is equipped with a quad-core processor. As with most other Android tablets, I was able to log in to my Google account and access my existing library of content, which includes thousands of photos and songs. And because Google Cast is supported, getting that content to show on the big screen was a breeze. If you choose, you also have the option of watching content directly on the tablet’s 720p display and connecting a pair of headphones to its 3.5mm headphone jack.
While the tablet itself doesn’t function as a traditional IR-based universal remote control, I was able to download remote control apps easily for other Internet-connected components in my home theater system. VIZIO’s SmartCast app comes pre-installed on the tablet, and allows you to search for content across multiple entertainment apps. These content options include TV Shows, Movies, Music, Live TV, Kids programming, and Live Streams. On the hardware side, the tablet features a micro-USB interface and even comes with a dock that offers secure, magnetic placement of the tablet remote and the convenience of wireless charging. A standard USB charger is also included. In addition to the tablet, the display ships with an IR-based remote control, which offers basic control options.
Before exploring the world of 4K streaming material, I turned to a Blu-ray movie that I know well, and one that would serve as an excellent test to measure the display’s black level performance visually, The Dark Knight. Having watched this movie a dozen or so times on my plasma TV, I’ve come to know what to expect from the shadows of Gotham. The M50-D1 LCD screen features a local dimming backlight, complete 32 active LED zones, and there’s no doubt this backlight technology contributed to the display’s excellent black-level performance, a weakness commonly attributed to LCD televisions since their inception when compared to other display technologies. As with most other LCD panels, black levels, contrast, and color reproduction took bit of a hit when viewing the screen from an angle. With Plasma TV’s having issues of their own, being out of production, and OLED TVs coming in at a premium price, this is simply par for the course for when it comes to LCD screens.
Next up on the list was Netflix’s Marco Polo, in 4K and Dolby Vision. To enjoy this content, you have to subscribe to Netflix’s 4K streaming service and have an Internet connection that’s up to the task; which Netflix recommends be at least 25 MB/s. I’ve seen HDR at trade shows and in-store demos, but this was the first time I had it in-home, and once I had everything in place, the advantages this technology offers was easily discernible. I prefer disc-based content to streaming almost always, but there was no denying the fine image detail and overall contrast HDR delivers; the picture quality was downright stellar. If you’re not a Netflix subscriber, VUDU also offers pay-per-view 4K HDR material for your viewing pleasure.
A little change goes a long way
Aside from the 50" model discussed here, VIZIO’s M-series displays offer multiple screen-size options all the way up to 80 inches. While this display ushers in a few changes not seen on traditional TVs, even last year’s VIZIOs for that matter, change isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Features aside, a display’s primary job is to deliver the goods when it comes to picture quality; and to put it simply, this level of performance in this price range is pretty remarkable. Throw a capable Android tablet into the mix and this display screams bargain, especially considering its picture quality punches way above its weight class. If you want to more about how these displays can integrate into your home theater environment or what you may or may not need to enjoy them at their best, contact us. As always, we’re here to help.
Are you interested in 4K HDR-enabled TV? Tell us why or why not in the Comments section, below.