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
First off comes setup. The M50-E1 takes its "smarts" to heart by allowing you to set it up via a smartphone, which can be quite a bit easier due to the availability of a touchscreen for typing in information. We chose this method, and while it worked quite well for most aspects of setup, the network configuration failed, potentially due to the confusion of having the phone connected to one home network and the TV connected to another. In any event, we were not able to get our sample connected on the first try, despite typing in all the correct network information, and it wasn't until we returned to the TV the next morning that we found that it resolved its issues and connected itself to our home network. There's probably just a bit more ironing out that Vizio needs to do to get setup by smartphone working perfectly.
The first thing you may notice about the M50-E1 is that it boots into a live smart screen. This is a huge advantage in a day and age where so many users are getting their content from something other than an antenna or old-style cable box (which, notably, the M50-E1 does not support, as it has no coax input). Too many modern TVs, including our 2014 Samsung 4K model, default to static if you don't have one or the other attached, and even our 2016 LG OLED reference model defaults to a screensaver. We'd really like to see statistics on how most media is being consumed today, but we'd guess it's not cable or antennas, especially in the young, savvy, cost-conscious market that Vizio is targeting. Now, one major drawback of Vizio's approach is that the welcome screen, shown below, takes a lot of time to load. Even in "quickstart" mode, the TV took 13.75 seconds to turn on, and in "eco" mode it took 15.5 seconds. Given how close these two are, we'd just as soon leave it in eco all the time for the energy savings while off. We think the slow startup really stems not from the power-up delay, but from the slow processor that Vizio has built into the M50-E1. Essentially, it's acting as a mini computer, and like any computer, it needs to "boot up." Overall, we still like the approach of booting into a welcome screen rather than a blank screen, but it doesn't come without drawbacks in a lower-cost model like this one.
We tested the M50-E1 using a variety of 4K sources, including Amazon Instant Video via the built-in SmartCast TV app, YouTube via the SmartCast Mobile app, as well as 4K discs via our Oppo UDP-203. Overall, we were very impressed given the pricepoint. No, it won't match an LG OLED when it comes to color and contrast, and it's not as bright as LEDs from Samsung and Sony that cost twice as much, but it's very good, certainly good enough to be someone's first 4K display. In fact, there's been such great progress among LCD panels in the past few years that the M50-E1 is easily a match for our Samsung HU8550 from 2014, which retailed for $2,500. HDR content, like Planet Earth II and the science-fiction film Arrival (which uses lots of panning shots) looked great, and John Wick 2, which has among the widest dynamic ranges you'll find in any movie, looked fantastic. Furthermore, we believe Vizio has struck a pretty good compromise in terms of its motion handling in films, avoiding excessive smoothing while still offering decent 3:2 pulldown to avoid excessive judder. If you want the ultimate test of motion handling in films, check out Planet Earth II at the 23-minute mark, a panning shot of iguanas running across a rocky shore with snakes behind them. The motion, contrast, and brightness of this image are a serious test of any display, and the M50-E1 did a fine job, avoid the distracting artifacts that over-processing can cause.
It's really hard to demonstrate what HDR is without an HDR screen, but this sample from Planet Earth II, which looked great on the Vizio display, gives an indication of what you can expect: extreme contrast, challenging visual depth, and intense colors that just can't be displayed without the broader range that HDR allows. Again, we've seen better on LG's OLEDs, but they cost about four times as much. Assuming users of this TV won't be spending more on their AV gear than they do on their display, they'll be more than satisfied. Alas, we were disappointed to find that watching content tagged as HDR through the built-in Amazon app did not properly display as HDR10 (as indicated by the lack of an HDR10 notification in the "info" panel), and defaulted to standard 4K content. Our guess is that this is a limitation of Vizio's app, and we hope Vizio can work with Amazon to bring this great source of 4K HDR10 streaming content to consumers. Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq", available on the service, is one of our favorite pieces of demo material thanks to its outlandish color palette (and Samuel L. Jackson's even more outlandish narration), and it's a shame it can't be enjoyed to its fullest on the Vizio.
While we wouldn't judge a display for its audio, we found the built-in speakers on the M50-E1 surprisingly good. It helps that the display isn't particularly thin, which gives the set the ability to produce a bit more bass then paper-thin models. The only weakness we found was that dialogue could get lost amidst sound effects and music in complex surround soundtracks, which no doubt is a result of trying to do a bit too much with a set of stereo speakers. That being said, the M50-E1 actually provided a pretty good approximation of surround sound, and overall, we don't think anyone would be disappointed in the audio. Serious audiophiles will of course get a separate AV anyway, but it's not critical if you're just building out your system.
One last feature that the M50-E1 has is a tie-in with the Google Home Assistant, allowing for voice control. We think this is very cool in concept, but it's just too finicky at this point. While we could use the Google Home app (notably not the Vizio app) to connect the M50-E1 and the Home Assistant, voice commands were not properly understood, and even if they had been, only three apps are currently supported according to the Google help page: Netflix, CBS, and CW. So we're going to pin the blame for this misfire of a feature on Google, not Vizio. It's really just an extension of the Chromecast functionality, and we're guessing Vizio has no control over it whatsoever. If it did, we're sure Vizio would consider partnering with Amazon and its Alexa voice service, which will soon erase any memory of Google Home, from our point of view (and based on our extensive testing).
There's just no other way to say this: the M50-E1 is a great deal! Given its $600 retail price, it packs in tons of features, including a variety of ways to enjoy streaming content, aided by a user-friendly interface that puts streaming content front and center when the TV is powered on. This is fitting, given that the M50-E1 has no built-in tuner, and cannot accept antenna or standard cable signals. Remember, Vizio is marketing the M50-E1 as a UHD display, not a UHD TV, because in reality, it's not a telesion, which may confuse some consumers not familiar with the difference. As long as people go in knowing what they're getting, that's just fine with us. But what most impresses us is that the M50-E1 offers full HDR support, including support for Dolby Vision, which is so new and so cutting-edge that very few external 4K devices support it at this time (the $550 Oppo UDP-203 we used for testing was the first such disc player, thanks to a firmware update pushed out mid-summer 2017). In fact there are only a handful of discs on the market that feature Dolby Vision as of our publication date, although the Vudu streaming service offers quite a few options for rent or purchase. For a display that costs as little as it does, the M50-E1 is certainly in fairly elite company.
There are just a couple things we would change about the M50-E1. The startup time is notably slow, the multiple overlapping methods of getting streaming content to the TV provides plenty of options but can be confusing, and the styling and stand design could use a bit of work. Plus we think the Google Home integration is sort of a gimmick. Put another way, the M50-E1 is perhaps a little rough around the edges, but we think that's reasonable - this model is designed to hit a pricepoint, a very competitive one at that, and shouldn't be mistaken for a luxury model.
The Vizio M50-E1 was released with an MSRP of $599.99, and is available for a discounted $549 shipped free from B&H Photo Video, as well as various other retailers, as of our publication date. At that price, it certainly gets our highest recommendation.