- Review Date: 8/5/2013
- Bottom line: The Vizio M551D-A2R is a surprisingly stylish, affordable LED-backlit HDTV that sports tons of features, good picture quality, and out-of-the-box 3D for eight people.
- Pros: Good all-around performance. Solid 3D. Generous feature set.
- Cons: 3D shows crosstalk when viewed too close or off-axis. Dark scenes can look slightly muddy.
Vizio has once again produced a very good big-screen HDTV for a reasonable price. While the Vizio E601I-A3 proved that you can get a solid 60-inch screen for under a grand, the M551D-A2R proves that you can get a very good 55-inch, 3D-capable screen for just over a grand. The 55-inch, LED-lit M551D-A2R is available for $1,099.99 (list) and comes packed with useful features and surprisingly solid performance, making it our new Editors' Choice midrange HDTV. If you don't want to spring four digits for 55 inches, the 50-inch M501D-A2R is effectively the same HDTV for $799.99 (list).
Editors' Note: This review is based on tests performed on the Vizio M551D-A2R, the 55-inch version of the series. Besides the screen-size difference, the 50-inch $799.99 (list) M501D-A2R is otherwise identical in features, and while we didn't perform lab tests on this specific model, we expect similar performance.
For its relatively low price, the M551D looks very stylish. A super-thin, quarter-inch black plastic bezel frames the 1.8-inch-thick screen, giving it a nearly bezel-free look except for a small protrusion in the lower-right hand corner holding the Vizio logo. A silver band wraps around the edges of the screen, matching the simple, skeletal rectangular base. On the back of the HDTV, an HDMI port, two USB ports, and a component video input face left, while three additional HDMI ports, optical and RCA stereo audio outputs, an antenna connector, and an Ethernet port face down. A tiny button on the back of the screen near the lower left corner acts as both a Power and Input button. If you need to do anything other than turn the HDTV on or cycle through inputs, you'll need to use the remote. This minimalist approach makes sense, because on-panel controls tend to be just for power and selecting the input, and doing anything else without the remote is difficult and awkward for all HDTVs.
The M551D features built-in Wi-Fi and Vizio's Vizio Internet Apps Plus (VIA Plus) service, which offers access to numerous streaming media services and online apps. You can access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and M-Go streaming media services through dedicated buttons on the remote, and the VIA Plus button loads a toolbar on the bottom of the screen that lists various services like Hulu Plus and Yahoo! Widgets in addition to the services with dedicated buttons.
The 7-inch remote has a flat, glossy black face framed by a silver band around it. It features a large square navigation pad with playback and dedicated online service buttons above it and Volume/Channel Up/Down and VIA Plus buttons below it. The buttons aren't backlit, but they feel distinct enough to easily identify them without looking. The non-navigation pad and volume/channel buttons are a bit small, though, which can be a problem if you have big thumbs.
We test HDTVs with the Klein K10-A colorimeter, SpectraCal's CalMAN 5 diagnostic software, and DisplayMate test patterns. After basic dark room calibration, the M551D showed a peak brightness of 221.492 cd/m2, and a solid black level of 0.031 cd/m2 for a contrast ratio of 7,145:1, all very good for an HDTV in this price range. To do better, you'd have to spend a fair bit more for a screen like the Editors' Choice Panasonic Panasonic TC-L55ET60, which boasts nearly double the contrast ratio.
Color accuracy for the M551D was generally solid, as seen in the chart above. The dots represent the measured color levels, and the squares represent the CIE ideal levels. Red was slightly oversaturated and green was slightly warm, but all colors were well within acceptable ranges to look accurate.
The strong black levels and accurate colors make the M551D look very good when watching movies. I watched The Big Lebowski and Piranha on Blu-ray, and both looked bright, crisp, and colorful without looking cartoonish and oversaturated. The Dude's new rug and the Jesus' bowling shirt both popped just enough to stand out against the just slightly warm colors of their respective sets in the Big Lebowski, and the murky underwater cave in Piranha had just enough shadow detail to look dark without seeming muddy. The fireside scene with Mr. Lebowski looked slightly muddy, but not enough to disrupt the scene.
3D and Power Consumption
The M551D uses passive 3D and comes with a whopping eight pair of 3D glasses (with additional pairs available from Vizio starting at $17.99 for two), so you can have a 3D movie party out of the box if you have a 3D-capable Blu-ray player. I watched Under the Sea 3D on Blu-ray, and the sea life popped out from the screen.
The M551D consumes an average of 97 watts according to our tests, which is fairly standard for an HDTV this size. It notably doesn't have an energy-saving mode like many other HDTVs, which let the LG 55LA8600 cut its power consumption from 106 watts to 68 watts, but even without it the M551D is a reasonable energy consumer. It's downright energy efficient compared with similarly sized plasma screens like the Editors' Choice Samsung PN60F8500, which uses over three times as much power (392 watts, 320 watts with Eco mode set to low).
If you want an affordable, 3D-capable HDTV, the LED-backlit Vizio M551D-A2R is hard to beat. Its $1,100 price tag puts it at the low end of 3D-capable HDTVs in its size class, and its generous feature set should satisfy your need for connectivity. You can get HDTVs with slicker designs or better pictures like the Samsung PN60F8500 or the LG 55LA8600, but you'll pay nearly twice as much for them. The M551D-A2R's combination of price and performance makes it our new midrange Editors' Choice HDTV, edging out the Panasonic TC-L55ET60 in sheer value.