Review: Vizio M65-E0 4K/UHD HDR LCD TV

I’ve long held that Vizio LCD TVs represent some of the best value in the marketplace. Performance is generally excellent, and prices are surprisingly low. What better definition of value is there? So, I was eager to put a 2017 midline model, the Vizio M65-E0, through its paces.

Features

Like all current Vizio TVs, the 65″ M65-E0 ($1200) is a 4K/UHD LCD TV with a full-array/local dimming (FALD) LED backlight. In the M series, this is called XLED Plus, and it incorporates 32 local-dimming zones. That’s half the number of zones as last year’s M series—and with FALD, the more zones, the better. Still, this is better than edge-lit “local dimming.” In addition, the M series implements a Vizio technology called Active Pixel Tuning, which dynamically adjusts the brightness of individual pixels in conjunction with local dimming, which helps reduce haloing around bright objects on a dark background.

Vizio was among the first TV makers to embrace Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR), and it is fully supported in the 2017 M series, along with HDR10. This feature is called XHDR Plus, and according to Vizio, it also enables a wider range of colors, which the company calls Ultra Color Spectrum.

The LCD panels in the M series implement a refresh rate of 60 Hz, so there is no frame interpolation. Vizio claims an effective refresh rate of 120 Hz, but that’s due to backlight scanning.

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The Vizio M65-E0 provides four HDMI inputs, only one of which supports 18 Gbps and ARC (Audio Return Channel); the others top out at 10 Gbps. Other connections include one component-video input, one Ethernet port, one USB port, one analog-audio output, and one digital-audio output. Wireless connectivity includes 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 LE.


Of course, the Vizio M65-E0 and its siblings are so-called “smart TVs”; the company calls this function SmartCast. All the major apps are installed in the TV—Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, etc.—and the user interface has been improved. According to Vizio, most SmartCast apps use direct HTML5 links to the cloud, so you always have the latest up-to-date app experience. Vizio will add apps as it sees fit, but you cannot add apps from an online store.

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The new SmartCast user interface is pretty slick.

In addition, all SmartCast devices, including the M series, provide Chromecast built-in. This lets you cast content from thousands of compatible mobile apps to the TV via Wi-Fi.

The M65-E0 has no built-in over-the-air tuner. However, it does provide a pair of speakers powered by 15W each.

Ergonomics

There are three ways to control the Vizio M65-E0: the included IR remote, the SmartCast app on a mobile device, and voice commands using a Google Home device.

I really like the included IR remote, even though it’s not illuminated. The buttons are well separated and easy to find by feel in the dark. A large cursor-navigation rocker has a concave OK button in the middle that doubles as a Play/Pause button for streaming content. The left/right cursor buttons also double as back and forward scan while streaming. I also appreciate that it provides both Back and Exit buttons, which lets you back out of the menu system one level at a time or all at once.

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The included IR remote is clean and uncluttered. It’s not illuminated, but the buttons are easy to find by feel in the dark.

Dedicated buttons at the top of the remote provide immediate access to Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Xumo, Crackle, and iHeartRadio. A central button with the Vizio logo selects the SmartCast “input,” providing access to all apps and the recommendation/discovery function.

The menu system is very well designed, and it stays on screen until you exit, which I generally prefer over a menu that disappears after a period of inactivity. The Picture menu lets you select the picture mode and enable or disable the Auto Brightness Control, which dynamically alters the overall brightness according to the amount of ambient light in the room. It also has all the basic picture controls (Backlight, Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness).

A More Picture option opens a submenu with the advanced controls—Color Temperature, Black Detail (tweaks the gamma at the low end to improve shadow detail), Xtreme Black Engine Plus (FALD on/off), Clear Action (backlight scanning on/off), Reduce Noise, Game Low Latency, Pure Cinema, Color Space, and Gamma. The Reduce Noise menu item consists of two settings: Reduce Signal (random) Noise and Reduce Block (compression) Noise. Enabling Pure Cinema displays 24 fps content at 48 fps, doubling each frame. In this case, the backlight is scanned to reduce flicker.

For all my watching, I enabled Xtreme Black Engine Plus (FALD), Clear Action (backlight scanning), and Pure Cinema (24 fps content displayed at 48 Hz). I disabled all other so-called “enhancement” settings.

Calibration

Calibrator extraordinaire David Abrams of Avical measured the Vizio M65-E0 before and after he performed a full calibration for SDR, HDR10, and Dolby Vision content in the Calibrated Dark picture mode, which he determined to be the best mode out of the box. He used SpectraCal’s CalMan software and the Colorimetry Research CR-250 spectroradiometer and CR-100 colorimeter.

The user menu includes full grayscale and CMS (color management system) controls. However, David decided to do the calibrations in the factory menu so they would apply to all inputs for which the Calibrated Dark mode was selected.

Here are the pre- and post-calibration measurements in SDR mode:

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Pre-cal, blue increasingly dominated the grayscale as the brightness increased, with dE errors up to 5.14. Gamma was quite good except at 90%. Colorimetry was pretty good as well.


Post-cal, the grayscale is excellent. (Don’t let the spikes in the RGB Balance graph fool you; the vertical scale of the graph is very zoomed in.) The average dE is 0.44 with a max of 0.9, well below the threshold if visibility. Gamma looks very good except at 80% and 90%. Peak brightness is 101.6 nits, and black level is 0.0182 nit.


Post-cal, the SDR colorimetry looks very good, with an average dE of 0.66 and a max of 1.57.


Pre-cal, the results of the ColorChecker were pretty good, with an average dE of 1.93 and a max dE of 5.13. Colors were all under dE = 3; only the grayscale dE was over 3.

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Post-cal, the ColorChecker reveals that David improved the color performance compared with the pre-cal results. Average dE is 0.79 with a max of 2.27.

Here are the pre- and post-calibration measurements in HDR10 mode:

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Pre-cal in HDR10 mode, the average grayscale dE was only 1.51, while the max was 3.9. Red, green, and blue stayed pretty locked together. As in the SDR mode, the errors grew worse as brightness increased. The EOTF was right on the money. Colorimetry didn’t fare so well; the average dE was 9.17 with a max of 19.6.

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Post-cal, the HDR10 grayscale looks very good, with an average dE of 0.73 and a max of 2.78 at about 75% luminance, where the tone mapping kicks in. Peak luminance was 856.2 nits and black level was 0.0029 nit.

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David was able to greatly improve the HDR10 colorimetry compared with the pre-cal results. Average dE was 2.05 with a max of 4.56. Things got worse as the brightness increased.

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Pre-cal, the ColorChecker revealed that most colors were fairly accurate—except the primaries and secondaries! Average dE was 4.33 with a max of 20.57.

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David was able to improve the ColorChecker results, but not by that much. Average dE was 3.77 with a max of 17.52.

Here are the pre- and post-calibration measurements in Dolby Vision mode:

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Pre-cal, red, green, and blue remain pretty close together, but their overall luminance drops a lot as the brightness called for in the signal increases. The average dE is 2.85 with a max of 6.14. The EOTF looks very good, and the colorimetry is excellent across the board.

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Post-cal, the Dolby Vision grayscale looks excellent, with an average dE of 0.73 and a max of 2.23. The EOTF and luminance response are superb. Peak luminance was 850 nits, and black level was 0.002 nit.

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Post-cal, the colorimetry is vastly improved. Average dE was 1.08 with a max of 1.77.

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Pre-cal, the ColorChecker reveals pretty good results. Average dE is 3.4 and max is 4.82.

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Post-cal, the ColorChecker reveals much better results. Average dE was 1.11 with a max of 2.15.

Finally, here’s the spectral distribution of the Vizio M65-E0:

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The spectrum of the M65-E0 includes three peaks in the red area. This looks a lot like the spectrum of GE’s RadiantRed phosphor, but I don’t know if Vizio is using that phosphor in its LEDs.

One thing David discovered is that some controls do not automatically change to their set values for SDR, HDR10, and Dolby Vision. I had to adjust Backlight and Contrast manually for each type of content. Hopefully, Vizio will correct this in a firmware update.

Tests

I like to start my display evaluations with test material. First up was the Samsung HDR10 Reference Disc, a UHD Blu-ray. In the dynamic-range tests, the bright highlights in images of a black dog and man in black clothes on a black background looked a bit crushed. Also, the uniformity of interstitial full black fields was not great; it was clearly lighter in the corners than in the center. The shadow detail in bright scenes looked quite good; I could see into the bright and dark portions of the image.

The color tests all looked great. Forest greens, brown tree bark, purple flowers, and yellow and red fruit all looked rich and natural. Also, the skin tones of people on separate black and white backgrounds looked entirely natural.

In a motion-sharpness test, the camera pans over rocks at various speeds. It’s quite juddery at the higher speeds, and turning Clear Action (backlight scanning) on and off made no visible difference. This was also true of the motion-interpolation test, in which text of different sizes scrolls horizontally at a rate of 8 pixels/frame.

In the 10/8-bit test, a fixed shot of a coastline with clouds moving past is shown with 10-bit and 8-bit color depths. The 8-bit version shows very slight banding in the clouds, but it’s not bad at all. The TV’s 8-core processor does a very good job on this test.

Next up was the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray. In the resolution tests on this HD SDR disc, Clear Action (backlight scanning) greatly improves motion detail. In the contrast tests, the black level isn’t great. I saw slight banding in the 0-100 ramp and significant banding in the 0-25 ramp. Looking at the Macbeth color chart and other color-specific test images on and off axis, the saturation and contrast were greatly reduced when viewed from off axis. This becomes obvious beyond about 30 degrees or so.

Finally, I looked at the HQV Benchmark 2.0 test discs, both Blu-ray and DVD. In both cases, the rotating bar in the video-resolution test looked exceptional, with virtually no jaggies at all. Moving on to film resolution, there was momentary moire at 1080i with 3:2 pulldown, but the TV’s processor locked onto the cadence quickly. The same clip with 2:2 pulldown showed more moire.

Taking a look at the noise-reduction tests, setting the Reduce Signal Noise parameter to low reduced the random noise without much softening. Higher settings softened the image too much for my taste. The Reduce Block Noise parameter seemed to have little if any effect on compression noise.

Real-World Content

Moving on to real-world content, I started with a quick look at Bruce Wayne’s white shirt at 1:09 of Batman v Superman on UHD Blu-ray. It was certainly clipped, but not as obviously as I saw on the Sony A1E. Also, dark parts of the shot did not seem that much darker than they did on the Sony, which Sony contends would happen if a TV’s tone mapping rolls off more gradually than the A1E’s.

One of my favorite clips to test local dimming is the title sequence of Stargate: Continuum on Blu-ray, which is a full-screen starfield in the black of space. In this case, I saw no haloing around the stars or titles at all. Granted, it’s only SDR, so the peak brightness is much less than HDR content, but I have seen haloing around those stars on other sets.

Vizio suggested that I look at Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on UHD Blu-ray (HDR10) and streaming from Vudu (Dolby Vision). I tried to cue them up and switch between them as they were playing, but the TV doesn’t allow that. When you switch from SmartCast to an HDMI input and then back to SmartCast, you must enter the Vudu app and resume the title. As far as I could tell with this limitation, the two versions looked very similar in terms of color, highlights, and shadow detail. Surprisingly, the Vudu stream was not noisy at all.

I also watched Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes in Dolby Vision from Netflix. This half-hour supplemental episode from the Netflix series Marco Polo has lots of HDR-specific content. For example, the opening scene in the temple is dark with shafts of light coming from the windows and door. That light is very bright, but I could still see into the shadows. However, as I had seen in other content, the black level was okay, but not great.

Detail was excellent, but there was a fair amount of noise. The Reduce Signal Noise control worked better than Reduce Block Noise, though both softened the image.

Next up was Despicable Me on UHD Blu-ray, which uses Dolby Vision for its HDR encoding. The colors were gorgeous, and overall, the image was very bright with razor-sharp detail. There aren’t many dark scenes, and the black of space as Gru rockets to the Moon is okay, but not great.

Turning to HDR10, I watched some of Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray. HDR is obvious in the title screen with the sun in space next to the limb of the Earth. The sun is very bright, but as I’d come to expect, the black of space was only so-so. Colors and detail were exquisite. Also, I saw no banding in the sky at 19:00 in the Islands episode or in the nearly full-screen white clouds at 0:30 in the Jungles episode.

When I tried to play Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on UHD Blu-ray at 60 fps, all I saw was a “no signal” error message. It turns out that the HDMI 2 input, which both David and I used, is version 1.4 at 10 Gbps, as are inputs 3 and 4. Only HDMI 1 is version 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 at 18 Gbps, which is necessary for 2160p/60 4:2:2 color with 10-bit precision. So, I switched the connection to that input and selected the Calibrated Dark picture mode, which David had calibrated in the factory menu.

I had set the Oppo UDP-203’s output resolution to Source Direct, and even connecting to HDMI 1 with a cable known to support 18 Gbps, I still got the “no signal” message. When I set the player’s output resolution to Custom/UHD Auto, the signal was displayed. It looked like 60 fps, which is what the player should send in Source Direct mode.

After consulting with Vizio, I learned that there’s a setting in the Settings menu for HDMI 1 called Full UHD Color On/Off. This setting determines if HDMI 1 operates at full 18 Gbps bandwidth or not. Apparently, a similar setting can be found in all HDR TVs, and it defaults to Off for maximum compatibility with source devices. After I turned it on, Billy Lynn played just fine with the Oppo set to Source Direct.

The image looked spectacular. (I know that many people don’t like the look of high frame rate, but I do.) Detail and color were stunning, and shadow detail in the opening shot in front of the hotel and in the limo was excellent. HDR looked great in the interior shots with outdoor light in the background.

I decided to compare Life of Pi from UHD Blu-ray and HD Blu-ray, so I set the Oppo to Source Direct to examine how well the TV upscales HD. In particular, I looked at chapters 8 (the night storm in which the ship sinks) and 18 (bioluminescent jellyfish at night). As I had come to expect, the blacks were only okay, not great. The HD Blu-ray looked much flatter and duller than the UHD Blu-ray, and the colors were not as saturated. The TV’s upscaling was pretty good, through the image was slightly softer than the UHD Blu-ray, as expected.

Conclusion

The Vizio M65-E0 offers great performance, especially in terms of color, detail, shadow detail, HDR, and upscaling resolution and bit depth. It supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, which is a big plus in my book. Also, the Vizio SmartCast system with Chromecast built-in is comprehensive and well designed. All this for a list price of only $1200!

This TV calibrates very well, though at its price, most buyers probably won’t spend several hundred dollars more on a professional calibration. Its SDR pre-cal measurements are pretty good, but HDR10 and Dolby Vision benefit greatly from a full calibration.

My only significant complaint is the mediocre and uneven blacks, even in HDR mode with local dimming on. (When I turned local dimming off, the black level got significantly worse.) The measurements indicate a black level of 0.002 nit in HDR, which is very low, but on real-world content, it didn’t look that low at all.

Of course, the blacks don’t matter as much when watched in ambient-light conditions, like a family room—which is how many people watch much of their content. In ambient light, blacks look much better than in total darkness. However, you can’t perceive the full extent of HDR in that environment, either.

On the high side, a peak brightness of 850 nits in HDR mode is very good—not quite enough to meet the UHD Alliance Premium specification, but close. And HDR imagery looks very bright in its peaks, much brighter—and more colorful—than SDR.

All in all, the Vizio M65-E0 upholds the company’s reputation for high-value flat-panel TVs. Because of the so-so blacks, I can’t give it an online-shashki Forum Top Choice award, but it definitely deserves a Recommended nod. If money is tight and 65″ is the right size for you, the Vizio M65-E0 is well worth serious consideration.

Many thanks to David Abrams of Avical for measuring and calibrating the Vizio M65-E0, and for allowing me to do my evaluation in his studio.

Review System

Source
Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player

Setup & Test Discs
Samsung HDR10 Reference Disc (UHD Blu-ray)
FPD Benchmark (Blu-ray)
HQV Benchmark (Blu-ray & DVD)