As Raina and I were setting up our new house, one of the things I knew was that I wanted were large televisions both in the living room and the bedroom. Fortunately, I was approached by VIZIO and offered the opportunity to review one of their new 2016 VIZIO SmartCast M-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Displays. We love it.
VIZIO provided a 50″ model with Google Cast built into it and a 6” Android remote control tablet in exchange for me doing this review; let’s take a look.
THE ALL-NEW VIZIO SMARTCAST M-SERIES: Designed to Captivate. Introducing the all-new VIZIO SmartCast™ M-Series™ Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Display™. Part of the VIZIO SmartCast collection with Google Cast built-in, the M-Series features a powerful 6” Android™ tablet remote, and the stunning picture of High Dynamic Range. What you love won’t change, but how you experience it will never be the same again.
The first thing worth noting when considering one of these new VIZIO products is the fact that this isn’t a television in the sense that one traditionally thinks of a television. Rather, VIZIO refers to this as a “tuner-free” display. The difference between a tuner-free display and a traditional television is that a traditional television has an ATVSC TV tuner component built into it, which allows it to receive over-the-air broadcast TV without the need to connect the unit to a cable box, satellite box or streaming system such as Roku.
Since we, like most people these days, either stream our media or watch live TV from a cable or satellite box, there’s no longer a need to have the tuner built into the unit. This allows VIZIO to remove the tuner thereby saving weight, bulk and, in the process, it makes setup easier than ever and makes an amazing display surprisingly affordable.
If, however, one wanted to use one of these devices for watching over the air broadcast television,they would need to purchase an external antenna. It isn’t a huge expense, but it might be an inconvenience. Thankfully that’s not something I expect that we will ever want or need to do.
This new VIZIO SmartCast M-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Display has a resolution of 4K ultra HD. That means it looks better than anything I’ve ever had the opportunity to watch at home … so long as the content we are watching in super-high resolution. It has plenty of connectivity and, as mentioned, it ships with a 6″ tablet remote. More on that in a bit.
There are three basic ways one might want to use this VIZIO SmartCast M-Series display. First, one might opt to connect a cable or satellite box to one of the three HDMI connections on the rear of the unit or to the easily accessible HDMI port on the side.
Choosing this option allows the display to work as if it were any other cable or satellite-connected television. Second, the inclusion of an assortment of HDMI connections means you can also connect an Apple TV, and Amazon streaming device or a Roku box to it. We have an Apple TV connected to ours so we can access iTunes and use the display for AirPlay.
The third option is the most unusual and is what makes these displays so unique. You can wirelessly “cast” media from your phone or tablet to the display thanks to the fact that Google Cast is baked right into it. In fact, with Google Cast built-in, most of the other devices are redundant. This is especially the case with Roku and Amazon FireTV. So while you would need Apple TV to connect to iTunes, you can Cast from thousands of Apps already on your phone or tablet. Or you can use a Chrome browser to cast anything else that’s not directly Cast-enabled (like Amazon Video). That’s already inside the display, letting you access a huge array of various streaming systems. In addition, when casting/streaming to the Google Cast built-in, customers are able to stream/cast in 4K and HDR which is not possible through a third-party streaming player.
There are a few aspects of the VIZIO M-Series that stand out to my mind. First, this isn’t just a 4K UHD display. Instead, this is a 4K UHD display with High Dynamic Range. More on that in a moment. Second, as noted, this display has VIZIO SmartCast built into it. And finally, it ships with a 6” Android tablet remote. Oh, and I guess fourth, it is absolutely gorgeous.
Inside the box is the display, an HDMI cable, optional feet for those who will not be hanging the display on the wall, a traditional “dumb” remote and a 6” Android tablet for use as a smart remote. I appreciate the fact that VIZIO included an HDMI cable for those who might not have one sitting around. I also appreciate the fact that there are four different HDMI ports, one of which is on the side for easy access if the display is hung on the wall. The four HDMI ports mean you can to connect cable and satellite boxes, Blu-ray and DVD players, gaming consoles, computers and of course streaming boxes pretty much to your heart’s content.
Let’s talk about the HDR- High Dynamic Range.
The difference between this display and its High Dynamic Range with support for Dolby Vision and HDR10 and displays with standard dynamic range is pretty amazing. HDR is meant for specific (new) content that has been mastered in a High Dynamic Range format. Unlike standard dynamic range, HDR offers far greater brightness, contrast and color saturation than ever before, making images really lifelike. There are two HDR formats: Dolby Vision and HDR10, and this display is compatible with both formats. Content is available on Vudu and Netflix, as well as on UHD Bluray (via a UHD BD Player).
The local dimming is a feature that benefits both HDR and SDR content, improving black levels in dark parts of the image, while increasing or maintaining brightness in bright portions of the image. It is a crucial feature to have for proper HDR implementation. HDR utilizes the M-Series’ 32 active LED zones that the display dynamically adjusts in the background. The screen’s backlight adapts to the content on the screen by adjusting these LED zones. This, in turn, delivers “incomparable contest levels. Sharper details in the deepest and purest black levels.” In other words, built into the display, but something you will never see, are 32 different active LED zones that are constantly changing. As the content on the screen changes the display adjusts its’ backlighting to enhance the picture quality, provide sharper detail and deliver more refined contrast levels. The result is a screen that is an absolute joy to watch, so long as you are viewing content that is designed for this level of clarity and resolution.
For transparency sake, let me note I did not have the ability to put this display next to one without this technology in order to get a head-to-head comparison. Between VIZIO’s graphics and the experience of watching 4K video on the display, however, I have little doubt this makes a real difference. This is the nicest display I have ever had.
The 50” display I was sent has an Ultra HD resolution of 3840 x 2160. It has a V8 Octave core processor inside and, as noted, 32 active LED zones for local dimming. In addition to the three HDMI ports on the back and one on the side it has a component input on the side, an Ethernet port on the bottom, and two USB ports on the side as well. It has an analog audio out and a digital audio out (SPDIF). It has an effective refresh rate of 120 Hz, offers a 16 x 9 aspect ratio and has 176° viewing angle. It has 2 10W speakers to give you decent enough sound if you’re simply using the display but because it has a digital audio out – optical – connection you probably will want to pair it with a good sound bar. It has DTS studio sound and DTS true Volume. And, of course, the display is VESA compliant, so that you can mount it on the wall. (That’s what we did.) What is particularly striking about the display is that it only weighs about 30 pounds. Yes, it is a large display, but it is shockingly light and, as a result, easy to set up.
VIZIO did something rather interesting with their displays by cooking Google Cast into it. That means you can fire up the SmartCast app on your smartphone or tablet and “cast” any Google Cast-enabled app right to the display. In other words, unlike other “smart TVs” that have their own separate streaming system built into them, VIZIO displays “outsource” that task to Google’s Google Cast and the growing number of apps that can be “cast.”
Honestly, I had some questions about this approach at first, but now I really like it. I’ve used smart televisions that have their own smart system, one from a competitor is downstairs — and they are almost always incredibly clunky and far too often, used for a few days and then rarely ever used again. By relying on Google Cast, VIZIO found a simple way to add smart functionality that actually works. Of course, this could be accomplished by simply having the display be a display and including a Chromecast dongle but this is a far neater and more integrated approach. Moreover, The Chromecast dongle does not allow 4K streaming. Integrating Chromecast into the display allows for ease of use, 4K streaming, and frees up the HDMI input.
In order to set up the display, you’ll need to pair it with a smartphone or tablet—like the one that is included — running the SmartCast app. It is a free download, it is available for iOS and Android, and comes pre-loaded on the included tablet.
The setup process takes just a few minutes, and the display walks you through it. You simply open the VIZIO SmartCast app on your smartphone or tablet, indicate that you want to pair a new remote, and then hold that remote near the lower right corner of the display. Using Bluetooth, it quickly pairs and you’re good to go. The display and the app walk you through the process step by step.
It is worth noting that you can cast content from your own phone or tablet to the display without SmartCast, once the Display is set up. If you have Netflix, for example, and if your phone and Display are on the same network, the Netflix App will see the Display and will give you a Cast icon in the upper right corner. Press the button and your content will “Cast” to the screen.
The SmartCast App will aggregate content from multiple apps at once, so you can search for a movie like “Mission:Impossible:Rogue Nation” and instead of having to load each app and searching separately, you can just search through SmartCast, which will look at multiple apps at once.
What I love about the M-Series of VIZIO’s displays is that they actually ship with a 6” Android tablet. The company refers to this as an Android tablet remote but it is simply a small Android tablet with the SmartCast app pre-installed. The tablet has a 720P screen, 8 GB of storage (there’s no expandable storage), a quad-core processor, dual stereo speakers and a microphone. Yes, you could also simply use your own smartphone or tablet to accomplish the same thing.
What makes this approach preferable to using your own device is the fact that VIZIO’s tablet remote comes with a wireless charging dock.
Simply plug the wireless charging dock into a power port and by placing the tablet on the dock and you’ll always know where it is AND have it fully charged. Plus, because it is a full Android tablet if you’re not using the remote you can use the tablet to browse the Internet, catch up on a few emails or do pretty much anything you would on a small Android tablet. In addition, the display comes with VIZIO’s standard “dumb” IR remote.
When I received this review sample, I quickly unpacked it. I was impressed with the build of the display. I immediately popped the legs/feet into the bottom of it and placed it on our dresser. A few days later I had a technician come to the house and he mounted the display on the wall and buried the cables in the wall. The result is a beautiful yet understated 50” display hanging on the bedroom wall over the dresser with no cables to be seen anywhere. The tablet remote got plugged in next to the bed, and we’ve been able to watch the late-night news on an absolutely gorgeous screen for the past few days. As noted, the display has two 10W speakers built into it. The sound they put out is decent enough, but I definitely want to pick up a VIZIO sound bar sometime in the near future. It’ll take the audio quality up to the same level as the display itself.
There are a few things that stand out about this display. First, because of the 4K Ultra HD HDR technology built into it, this is by far the best display I’ve ever watched at home. It is simply beautiful. Second, I am amazed by how thin and light this large display actually is. We mounted it on the wall with brackets that don’t tilt, or shift and it simply sits on the wall as if it were a huge picture frame. Third, I’m actually finding the fact that it has Google Cast built into it to be a huge benefit. As I mentioned, I have a competitor’s smartTV downstairs. It’s a few years old and has a fairly early version of the smart functionality. After some initial fascination with it, I never again used the smart functionality on that television; it is simply too clunky and slow. Instead, that TV has an Apple TV, a Roku and a Chromecast dongle attached to it.
With the VIZIO M-Series SmartCast display, you don’t have to have that extra Chromecast dongle in order to get tons of smart technology. Moreover, as noted above, you shouldn’t need any of these, other than the Apple TV if you have a lot of content on iTunes. In addition, because the VIZIO SmartCast app is touch enabled, adjusting the various settings on the display is incredibly easy. Finally, the fact that you can currently get this 50”, 4K Ultra HD smart display for under $750 is simply remarkable to me. It puts a huge beautiful smart display within the range of more people than ever and the quality will not disappoint. In fact, I like the smart display so much that, once we hung it in the bedroom, we went out and got another VIZIO display for the living room. That one doesn’t have the VIZIO remote but it is a little bit larger. 🙂
Check out this amazing VIZIO display here. You won’t be disappointed.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample of the VIZIO M-Series display
What I Like: Amazing picture quality; Google Case built-in; Ships with 6” Android tablet remote; Plentiful ports; Easy setup; Wall mount or tabletop it’s your choice
What Needs Improvement: I like it so much I want to go buy an even bigger one…