A lot of people think of me as a gadget person. There's some truth to that, but I don't have a high turnover rate. I usually buy something that I like and will continue to like, and use it until it's either broken or seriously outdated. When my Samsung DLP broke for the second time, I was ready to replace it with an LED-backlit LCD TV. Even though Samsung makes excellent LCD TVs, I was inclined to buy a different brand because of the extremely poor support they had for their DLPs. Five years after I spent over $3,000 for that set, Samsung stopped making the parts and couldn't even help to properly diagnose the problems it was having. So, time to move on.
It's a good time to buy an LCD display. The technology has matured quite a bit and prices have become quite reasonable for the larger displays. LCD is the current king of the hill in displays. Plasma, although still being produced, lost the war because LCDs overcame plasma in every way: picture quality, price, longevity, size, power consumption and weight. I recall an acquaintance buying a 50" plasma display in 2004 and paying over $12,000 for it. This Internet-enbabled 55" LCD display has a retail price of about $2,100 and can be found for about $1,600. Last year's fluorescent backlit 55" LCDs can be purchased on sale for about $1,000.
LCD displays are available with two types of backlighting: fluorescent and LED. Displays with LED lighting can be found in backlit and side mounted models. While LCDs with fluorescent backlighting can provide excellent picture quality, LED backlighting is the better way to go. LEDs use less power, typically look better and should last much longer. Potentially, they give much better black levels than fluorescent backlighting. Sets with side mounted LEDs need light guides to move the light to the back of the panel. These sets are thinner than back mounted LEDs, but the edge in quality still seems to go to the backlit LEDs.
Because many discreet LEDs are used (instead of a few fluorescent panels), their output can be adjusted to improve black levels. They use very little power and these sets run pretty cool. I would be surprised if the Vizio uses much more than 100 watts most of the time. That's pretty good for a 55" screen. After running it for a few hours, the back of the set is barely warm to the touch. Nice!
I'm going to discuss the Vizio from several points of view: picture quality, menu system (usability), physical parameters, and Internet access and Web apps. Newer TVs are starting to integrate Internet access into the sets. This is a good thing, but not as sophisticated as attaching a computer or an Apple TV to your set.
Vizio includes 80211.n wireless access, Netflix and Pandora integration and several other Yahoo Web apps and services, including Facebook and Twitter. How useful is it to have Twitter running on a side pane on your TV? I guess it depends who you ask and whether or not they have an iPad, too. The setup is simple, but I'm used to adding devices to my network. If you know your wireless router's WPA password and the name of your network, you'll have no problem getting it up and running in a minute or two. I found the wireless performance to be excellent. I'll discuss it in more detail a little later, but Netflix movies stream HD video without a hiccup; it was a revelation. My only complaint about the Netflix interface is that you can't search by title, but you can access everything in your instant queue and scroll through many different genres of available films and television shows. As far as I can tell, Netflix is streaming at 720p at a minimum. To access Facebook and Twitter apps, you'll obviously need to know your username and password. If you're fortunate enough to have Ethernet cabled throughout the house, you can just plug the Ethernet jack into the back of your Vizio.
The Vizio's picture setup is integrated into the Web apps menu that scrolls across the bottom of the screen. This is a good arrangement. One single menu system allows you to access the apps and the TV's setup menus.
The Vizio has an excellent picture. The image is bright and the colors are true to life. It keeps up with the fastest action without smearing and the noise levels are low. Black level deserves some discussion. One of things that made plasma screens better than LCD about five years ago was the black level. That is the difference in levels between the whitest whites and blackest blacks. Plasma screens only display pixels that relit. With LCD, the backlight is on all the time and pixels that are not displayed are blocked out. Because of light leakage around the crystals, blacks were not true blacks. I read a couple of reviews about the Vizio that said that its black levels are mediocre. That is true -- unless you use Vizio's Smart Dimming setting (it may be the default). I experimented with the settings and found that raising the brightness level a bit and turning on Smart Dimming resulted in a bright picture with velvety blacks in dark scenes. I'll do some more experimenting, but I'm so pleased with the picture that I'll probably leave it this way. I'm not an LCD expert, but I suspect that all of the manufacturers use something similar to Vizio's Smart Dimming. The way it works is that it separates the LEDs that provide the backlight into zones and lowers the light level for those zones that are displaying a mostly dark picture. This couldn't be done with older LCD TVs with fluorescent backlights. I've read a couple of complaints about halos around white areas on black backgrounds, things like screen credits. I did notice this affect, but it was slight and only noticeable occasionally. At any rate, the technology is still developing, but Vizio can provide software updates to the TV over the Internet if they improve the algorithm.
Vizio's LCD has a very wide viewing angle. I walked across the room, pasting in front of the television and saw very little picture variation. With a large 55" screen, you are more likely to have a group of people watching with you from time to time and all of your guests will be able to enjoy the show with the wide viewing angle.
The XVT553 has a native resolution of 1080p, which is as good as it gets today. It will handle conversion of other resolutions to display properly. If you're feeding your signal through a modern home theater receiver, then everything is being converted in the receiver for you.
I originally watched Avatar at the local Imax, which is as good a picture as you could possibly get. I viewed the Avatar DVD to see how it stacked up. Except for it being about 50' smaller than the Imax screen, it compared very well. Subtle colors were rendered faithfully and sharply by the Vizio.
The Vizio's picture controls are fairly intuitive. My only problem was that there are several proprietary features and I didn't know if they should be enabled or disabled. Since you can see the picture side my side with the controls, it's at least easy to compare the difference with and without those features.
The Vizio's remote is a cut above most others in one way, but Vizio should have gone a little further. The remote can control the TV with both IR and Bluetooth. The remote has a slide-out keyboard, like many mobile phones, and the remote uses the Bluetooth connection for the keyboard. You can use the keyboard to enter text in Web apps, or you can use a typical onscreen keyboard where you have to use a cursor to get to each letter.
The remote does not have backlighting, a significant omission, since you often use the remote in the dark. It's not macro programmable either. It is supposed to be able to control other home theater components, but that functionality is limited. At any rate, it's a step in the right direction. The remote's layout is mediocre. The buttons are all the same size and not organized in the most useful manner. I just wish that Vizio had included a true programmable remote with backlit keys.
My Vizio is connected to my home theater system, so I don't listen to the television's internal speakers. They are probably fine, but I've never heard television speakers that I would consider good. There is an optical out port for audio. I connected my DVR and a Blu-ray DVD player to the Vizio's HDMI ports with the digital audio out going to my receiver. This way, TV, DVDs and Netflix all send their audio output to the receiver, which is how it should work. Alternatively, if you have a receiver with HDMI ports, you can simply feed the TV with a single HDMI cable. My Yamaha receiver was released just before Yamaha included HDMI ports. It's an excellent receiver in every other respect, so i'm in no hurry to replace it. The current setup works fine.
The Vizio has an internal tuner if you are using an external antenna to pick up local channels. If not, that won't make much difference to you.
The Vizio has five HDMI inputs (four in the back, one on the side), one component (RGB) input, a composite input and a VGA input. It has both an analog and a digital (optical cable) sound output for your home theater.
I give the Vizio five stars, meaning that while not perfect, it's excellent. It has an excellent picture, very good Internet features (especially Netflix and Pandora) and the price is very good for a Internet-enabled television with this picture quality. If you want the thinnest and most stylish television as a focal point of your room, you'll want to buy an edge lit television. Otherwise, the 3" deep Vizio XVT553SV is an excellent choice.