ProsAmazing price for a 4K HDR-capable display; lots of "smart" options make it feel like a true home theater display, not just a TV
ConsUtilitarian style; slow startup; wide footprint; some popular video sources missing from built-in and smartphone apps
This happens to be our very first "TV" review, but it's most definitely not our first display review, and in fact we've tested a variety of TVs over the past few years; we just haven't published reviews of them because they become outdated so fast. Thanks to Vizio, however, we got our hands on a brand-new 2017 model before a new one was right around the corner, and we're going to be putting the M50-E1 through its paces to see whether its promise of delivering 4K resolution, HDR capability, and a broad range of streaming options is as good as it sounds given the $600 asking price. Throughout this test, we'll be comparing the M50-E1 to a Samsung UN55HU8550 55" 4K model, which was considered the very best 4K TV when it was released for $2,500 in 2014, as well as LG's OLED65C6P, which at $4,000 was chosen by many editors as the best TV on the market until its replacement arrived this spring. Tough benchmarks? Perhaps, but if Vizio, which is known for cutting consumers a pretty good deal, can even approach the quality and features of these sets, it's going to be doing pretty well!
Special thanks to Vizio for providing a free sample of the Vizio M50-E1 for review.
Update: Catch The Tech Buyer's Guru discussing the ins and outs of the Vizio's 4K HDR capabilities on NBC/KGW-8's "Portland Today Show"!
Description and Features
The M50-E1 features a relatively standard design. The panel itself measures 49.5" diagonally, with bezels that are 1/2" thick on all sides, but because of the slim strip of black area on the outer margin of the panel, the effective bezel is a bit wider, more like 5/8". The M50-E1 is 25.6" tall and 44.5" wide according to our tape measure, and is a rather chunky 2.9" thick. The metal loop feet add an additional 2.4", making the set exactly 28" tall when assembled on a stand rather than mounted on the wall. Notably, the feet are very wide-set, at 38.5" end-to-end, meaning you'll need a stand that's at least 40" wide to ensure that the M50-E1 doesn't slide off the edge when bumped. This is in contrast to a lot of more expensive models that use a center-mounted foot design, which allows the user to set the TV on top of a stand that isn't nearly as wide as the TV itself. While it could be argued that having a TV overhanging your stand isn't aesthetically pleasing, it's always nice to have the option, and unfortunately you really don't have that with the M50-E1.
In terms of connections, the M50-E1 is fairly complete, with a notable exception. Along the side of the frame, it has a USB input, component video along with stereo inputs, plus an HDMI port. On the rear, facing downwards (ideal for wall mounting), you have Ethernet, two more stereo jacks (these being for output to a receiver), a digital optical out, and three more HDMI ports. So this is all very good, but the one issue is that there's only one HDMI 2.0 port (labeled HDMI 1), which is thus the only port capable of accepting true 4K signals. That's of course the one you'll need for high dynamic range (HDR) content as well - the M50-E1 is very cutting-edge in that regards, supporting not just HDR10 but the superior Dolby Vision also. As a Vizio representative clarified for us, to enable HDR content even on HDMI port #1, you must go into the VIZIO display’s Input settings to enable the "full UHD color" function, which turns on the 10-bit signal from UHD content and provide full color and dynamic range.
HDMI port #1 happens to also be the audio return channel (ARC) port, used to send audio from the TV to a receiver, as you'd use for media streamed through the TV itself. This becomes a bit of a problem, as you can only get 4K video into the TV through that HDMI #1 port, but you may also want to connect it through the receiver to get audio out. That's going to cause some issues for anyone without a circa-2016 high-end receiver that can pass UHD HDR video. The vast majority of receivers cannot do this, which means you'll need to connect a 4K HDR source, like a 4K Blu-Ray player, into HDMI port #1, but can't get audio out of it to your receiver. We'd much rather see just three HDMI ports and have them all be HDMI 2.0-compliant than have one such port and three HDMI 1.4 ports. We predict a lot of buyers of the M50-E1 won't realize the limitations the set has until they go to hook up true 4K equipment down the line, like HDMI 2.0-equipped gaming PCs, game consoles, or 4K Blu-Ray players. Remember, this is a TV that retails for $600 - the vast majority of its buyers aren't going to have $1,000+ AV receivers capable of switching this gear for them now or in the future. Want to watch HDR content from your 4K Blu-Ray player and your shiny new Xbox One X? You're going to be fumbling with some cables over and over!
In addition to buying a third-party device, there are three ways to get streaming content from the M50-E1: the Vizio "StreamCast Mobile" app for smartphones, the new-for-2017 built-in "SmartCast TV" apps, and Chromecast, which uses third-party apps with built-in support for casting via Google's Chromecast system. To a certain extent, there's a lot of overlap between these functions, and in our opinion, if the M50-E1 had a full suite of built-in apps, there just wouldn't as much need for the SmartCast mobile app. Alas, Vizio's built-in apps are quite limited, and one of the biggest, Amazon Video, was just recently added (the other big ones included being Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and Crackle). A few apps that are notably missing are YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and HBO Now, but these are all available in the mobile app. Basically, users are going to have to do a bit of hunting around if they frequently use various media sources. When we asked a Vizio representative whether YouTube would eventually find its way to the TV's built-in app list, the response was that "VIZIO will continue to update and expand the SmartCast TV interface. SmartCast Mobile provides access to thousands of Chromecast-enabled apps." Speaking of Google, we should mention that the M50-E1 even has built-in Google Home Assistant capabilities, meaning it allows you to control it with your voice. We'll be checking that out on the next page too, but in short, it's not a killer app yet.
The remote that Vizio shipped with our M50-E1 sample was very basic, and we were informed that consumers will either get a newer remote in the box, or have the chance to upgrade for free to the new "SmartCast TV" remote that adds dedicated buttons for a variety of built-in services like Netflix and YouTube. We can only show you a render of what that remote looks like based on what's shown on the Vizio website. We think the dedicated buttons will make the M50-E1 even more user-friendly for consumers who are really buying it for its Smart TV features, as opposed to just using it to watch cable or play movie discs and games.
We've always wondered how TV manufacturers would handle the constant ebb and flow of content providers. It requires lots of "upkeep" in terms of supporting a variety of apps, which traditional TVs didn't have... manufacturers could just put them out on the market and sort of forget about them, other than warranty claims. Things are different now, and we don't doubt that some of the providers included on the remote won't be around in a few years, and unlike in an app, they can't be easily "deleted"! Such is life in the high-bandwidth streaming lane!
All right, on the next page we'll get into what it's like to use the M50-E1 to consume 4K content.