Review Statement: The author of this review received a sample unit from the manufacturer for the purposes of this review in exchange for the review.
The 4K video resolution era is in full swing in 2016 thanks to more content providers offering movies and TV shows with UHD (Ultra High Definition or 4K) visuals, which when displayed on a capable UHD display can really knock your socks off. The visual clarity bump is even more realized when the show, film, or video game, as well as the display itself, support HDR (High Dynamic Range). The effect you get from HDR, which essentially allows a display to render video with the brightest of whites, deepest of darks, and the most vibrant color palette you’ve ever seen, provides an even greater level of visual quality that looks much more precise than even a straight up UHD source. Now when they’re combined you can expect to be blown away by the resulting image, because it has a similar effect to how much better HD looked over SD, but now it’s the HD resolution that looks a little dated.
Vizio UHD HDR Displays to the Rescue
Just last year (2015) you had to shell out some serious cash to procure a display that could output video content in 4K with HDR if supported, but thanks to Vizio’s latest home theater display lineup, you no longer have to be loaded to enjoy the world of UHD video content. We were sent the Vizio SmartCast M-Series 50” Class Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Display to test out, and I must say that at first I had my concerns with the brand itself, but after spending the past two weeks with it, I have a whole new level of respect for the type of products Vizio can put out. It may not be considered a Cadillac brand, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete with the big boys in terms of visual quality at an affordable price point. This particular model, which can rival that of much more expensive displays in terms of features, will only set you back $699 dollars, and while that may seem like a ton of cheese, it’s actually much cheaper than brands with similar displays.
This new line of 2016 displays have the moniker SmartCast in them for a reason, so it’s not just some label Vizio gave them to make them sound intelligent. Unlike most modern SmartTVs that feature 4K UHD HDR enabled visuals, the SmartCast line relies on a paired mobile device, either the included Android tablet remote or your own iOS or Android device to cast online content to the display. This is usually done through built-in apps on the display itself, but Vizio opted to move the management of such features to a touchscreen, and for the most part it works really well and may be favored by the generations of humans who grew up with a touchscreen device in their hands. The included tablet itself is 6″ in length and sports a 720p screen, 8GB of memory, a quad-core processor, stereo speakers, a mic with a headphone input, and a wireless charging base. Those specs aren’t too shabby, but the screen could get a little jagged looking, especially around app icons in 720p, but you’re not buying a SmartCast display to watch programs on their tablet remote, so it’s really not a big deal.
- Screen Size: 6” Android Tablet Remote
- Resolution: 720p
- Storage Memory: 8gb
- Processor: Quad-Core
- Audio: Dual Stereo Speakers
- Microphone: Yes
- Accessories: Wireless Charging Dock, USB Power Cable
All of the SmartCast models have Chromecast built into them, which is the hardware that enables them to receive a video stream from the Internet, as controlled by your phone or tablet. Through the Vizio SmartCast app you can search content from Vudu, Hulu, and a plethora of VOD apps that support the feature. Or you can go to any of the thousands of Google Cast-enabled Apps directly, like Netflix. This allows you to have access to many more apps than a standard smart TV with just the factory installed standards. Basically, most apps on the Android platform can work with the tablet remote since it runs on the Lollipop OS (same as Android devices), so the app library can get extensive on these SmartCast displays. You can also mirror the tablet’s own screen to the display, or can Cast anything from a Chrome Browser on your PC, so if you wanted to fire up Amazon Instant video, or a game you installed, you can play it on the big screen.
Now the functionality of the tablet to do the casting leaves a bit to be desired, which I credit to the sometimes unstable Android operating system mostly. At times the tablet would drop its WiFi connection to my network, or shift down to the 2.4 GHz channel over the speedier 5 GHz one, which could get frustrating while watching a program. I also encountered buffering issues, app crashes, and other glitches that usually go hand in hand with an Android device, but when it was all cooking with gas, the tablet interface and its casting capabilities made my TV watching experience feel a bit futuristic. I was blown away by the level of picture quality that can be achieved by streaming 4K UHD HDR content to the SmartCast display, so the technology is definitely radical, but not perfect. Luckily, you don’t have to use the Android tablet as any iOS or Android device that supports the Vizio SmartCast app can also become a fully functioning remote and streaming device. I found everything to be a bit smoother when running the show from my iPhone 7, so it’s nice to have that option if anything else.
I also appreciated using the tablet remote to manage all aspects of the display rather than using a traditional remote and staring at its menu system. Some may prefer this method, so a standard, but limited remote control is packed in with each display, but if you’re used to navigating a touchscreen device I think you’ll find the tablet remote to feel very natural when it comes to managing all aspects of the display. With the tablet you can change inputs, raise the volume of the TV and a connected receiver if you have CEC-enabled devices, as well as control power for the TV and its connected devices. I just found this aspect of the tablet remote to be very useful and user friendly, so even with the buggy OS, I still preferred to use the tablet remote over the standard one.
4K UHD Display
For the price the 50″ Vizio SmartCast display packs an amazing suite of technology to give you the best possible picture for whatever source you are watching. It can upscale HD content to UHD, as well as render pure UHD signals, so any type of content you throw at it will look a bit more clear and concise than a standard HD display. This is partly achieved through the display’s Full-Array LED local dimming feature. Most displays of this nature use edge lighting, which can make a video look a bit too dark or too light during certain scenes due to the inability of the backlight to light the darker or lighter areas properly. With Full-Array LED local dimming the Vizio SmartCast displays have multiple zones spread throughout the entire screen to negate the major shift in tones when a show or movie transitions between dark and light images.
The 50″ model has 32 zones (larger displays have 64), which do quite well at making sure the picture quality always looks its best regardless of the lighting being used in whatever medium you are watching. I didn’t notice any sudden shifts in color tones, and the entire picture maintained its clarity regardless of the content I threw at the TV. Of course the screen’s 8 million pixels and 120Hz refresh rate help to make the images on it appear fresh and UHD-like even if you’re not watching something that was filmed with the high resolution standard required of the UHD format. Overall the picture is damn near perfect, and definitely can rival competitor displays that could cost twice the price of a Vizio SmartCast display. It nearly output the same brilliant picture as my much more expensive Samsung KS8000, but it fell a bit short, although it wasn’t by much, so don’t worry about the picture quality with these SmartCast displays, especially when you factor in their more affordable price points.
- Screen Size: (Diag.)49.50”
- Panel Type: VA
- Smart Platform: VIZIO SmartCast w/ Google Cast Built-in
- High Dynamic Range: Yes w/ Dolby Vision and HDR10
- Resolution: Ultra HD – 3840×2160
- UHD Upscale Engine: Spatial Scaling Engine
- Display Processor: V8 Octa-Core Processor
- Backlight Type: Full-Array LED
- Local Dimming: Yes with Active LED Zones x32
- Clear Action: 360
- UHD Codec Support: HEVC (H.265), VP9
- Effective Refresh Rate: 120Hz
- Active Pixel Tuning: Yes
- Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 20M:1
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Viewable Angle: (H/V)176°/176°
- Number of Colors: 1.07B
- OSD Language: English, Spanish, French
Thanks to this model’s ability to accept and then output both HDR standards for HDR viewing, it offers a much more robust, and dare I say a future proof build over a few of the industry’s most expensive brands. Not only can this display accept Dolby Vision enabled HDR sources, it can also accept the competition, which is the more widely adopted HDR10 standard. While content that supports HDR through Dolby Vision may have a slightly cleaner and pristine look thanks to the technology’s advances over HDR10, it’s still reassuring to know that with this Vizio Smartcast display you won’t be constrained to using just one of the HDR standards. This makes the display very desirable and functional, especially for early adopters of 4K UHD content who may unknowingly have a mix of HDR standards spread throughout their library of content. On a display from Samsung it wouldn’t be able to process a Dolby Vision signal, because it only supports the HDR10 format, so any content you buy, be it movies, video games, or other items to consume on the display, would all have to adhere to the lone standard. Now if you have one of these Vizio SmartCast displays, the previously mentioned issue doesn’t exist thanks to the fact that it can accept both HDR formats, so those looking for a set that can give them the best of both worlds in the old HDR standards department, Vizio’s SmartCast Series is the way to go.
Vizio is being very smart in this area even though it strongly supports Dolby Vision HDR, which like I mentioned above is the purest f0rm of HDR one can experience. Trust me, it can even make Batman v Superman’s lackluster plot pop off the screen and actually make you care about the DC heroes battling it out and then teaming up with Wonder Woman to take out Lex’s Doomsday baby. Speaking of Batman v Superman, its Director Zack Snyder is a big supporter of Dolby Vision. In regards to Batman v Superman, Snyder gave a ringing endorsement for his use of it in the film by saying, “You know what a movie looks like, and then you see it in Dolby Vision, you know you’re seeing something special.” I have displays that support both HDR standards, and I do somewhat agree with Snyder’s take on the best HDR standard to use, because after checking out a few shows and a film that support Dolby Vision and HDR10, the Dolby Vision version definitely has the slight edge over an HDR10 signal.
I definitely realized more contrast of dark and light colors, as well as a bump in vibrancy in all lighting and colors in my UHD HDR copy of Batman v Superman, which does support Dolby Vision through the VUDU streaming service. When compared to the HDR10 version, which is how the film is rendered if using a device that requires the HDR10 standard like most 4K UHD Blu-ray players do, the change in quality isn’t great enough to make you question the validity of the standard and why it exists. Both versions looked immaculate on the Vizio SmartCast display, which is why its ability to process both is so important and future-proofing minded.
This display also supports HDR enabled video games, so if you have a copy of Forza Horizon 3, or possibly Gears of War 4 and an Xbox One S, you can beef up your gaming visuals without having to jump through hoops to get the HDR to work. The Vizio SmartCast display had no problem making the already immaculate looking Forza Horizon 3 game world look even more rich and vibrant thanks to its support for HDR10, which again will be the main standard featured in most video content. Really for the price ($699 for the 50″ model) you can’t beat what the Vizio Smartcast line has to offer in terms of HDR, the real technology that can make your eyes melt with crystal clear and vibrantly rich visuals.
One of the trickier aspects of watching 4K UHD HDR content are the standards and regulations for HDMI inputs. To watch this premium format content your display needs to have HDMI ports that utilize the HDCP 2.2 protection standard, as well as the 1.4 HDMI standard, but preferably the latest 2.0 standard. In fact, certain types of UHD HDR content can only work with a 2.0 port with HDCP 2.2, so having the right standards is key. Luckily the SmartCast lineup has you covered with HDCP 2.2, and 2.0. Although, only one of the four HDMI ports on the 50″ model support the 2.0 standard, so you are a bit limited if you have multiple devices that require a 2.0 port. This can be remedied with a 4K enabled stereo receiver to provide more 2.0 ports, but when you factor in the TV’s ability to cast 4K UHD HDR content over your network, you may not even have a need to plug a device into the lone 2.0 port. The other three ports should support 4K UHD, just at a lower refresh rate.
The SmartCast line also still includes a component connection, as well as analog and digital audio ports. It also has two USB ports for devices that can be made into a media server such as a modern hard drive full of video files. The SmartCast line is tuner-free, meaning that it doesn’t have a port to plug a coax cable into, so you would have to buy a piece of hardware to get OTA signals, which is a bit of a bummer especially if you’re trying to cut ties to your cable or satellite provider, but based on a Vizio study less than 10% of all users actually use a TV’s OTA connection, so the lack of one won’t be a huge deal for most interested customers. Although, with devices like the Tablo and its app, you can get around this and still enjoy OTA HD content on the display.
- HDMI Ports4 (1 side; 3 down)
- HDMI VersionPort 1 supports: v2.0; Ports 2-4 supports: v1.4
- HDCP Versionv2.2
- HDMI 1 Tech Spec: 600MHz pixel clock rate: [email protected], 4:4:4, 8-bit/[email protected], 4:2:2, 12-bit/[email protected], 4:2:0, 12-bit
- HDMI 2-4 Tech Specs340MHz pixel clock rate: [email protected] 4:2:0 8 bit
- Component1 (side)
- Ethernet1 (down)USB Ports2 (side)
- ARC: Yes
- Analog Audio Out: 1 (down)
- Digital Audio Out: (SPDIF) 1 (down)
If you are like me and possibly have looked down at the Vizio brand in the past in favor of more expensive, well known brands, I can assure you that you can put your fears aside when it comes to the company’s new SmartCast M-Series 4K UHD displays. I have been blown away by the level of quality packed into this very affordable 4K display, which comes loaded with future proof technologies that the big brands don’t have yet (HDR10 and Dolby Vision support), and is close to half of the asking price of similar models by companies not called Vizio.
The whole SmartCast system adds a new way to interact with your display, and makes the experience feel very familiar thanks to the inclusion of a 6″ Android tablet remote. Luckily you can download and install the Vizio SmartCast app to your own iOS or Android device if you’re not a fan of the included remote, or you can just use your current streaming hardware like the Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or an app enabled gaming console with one of the display’s four HDMI ports.
In terms of picture quality the SmartCast M-Series 50″ outputs crystal clear UHD content that really looks vibrant thanks to the HDR10 and Dolby Vision support (content dependent). The picture is bright and lit uniformly thanks to the Full-Array local dimming technology it employs, so it looks good in both well lit and darker rooms. It really does offer next level display technology for an affordable price with a bit of future proofing built into it. The biggest downsides are the lack of HDMI 2.0 ports (only 1 included), and the lack of an OTA TV tuner, but there is hardware out there to make up for these omissions, albeit with a bit of cost being factored in to the overall asking price. Vizio has hit a homer with the SmartCast M-Series, and has made me change my tune on the brand moving forward. I can wholeheartedly recommend the 50″ model, as it is the one I tested, but I have faith the larger models, or the slightly more expensive P-Series displays, will feature the same level of quality in bigger and better packages.
I have learned my lesson, which is don’t judge a tech company by its cover, because Vizio is more than just a brand for discount stores and frugal spenders. Plus they give you a free HDMI cable in every box, what other tech company does that!
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