Now, I know what you're thinking—Wasn't the M-Series around last year? That may be the case (same for the E-Series), but both have survived, thrived, and multiplived. At least as far as screen sizes go: At CES 2013, I saw something like twenty different E-Series sizes advertised. Pretty wild.
As for this 50-incher, it's the M501D-A2R. While it may be a mouthful to say, it's a treat to watch and use. With this TV, Vizio packaged a quality panel with decent smart features to offer consumers an awful lot of value. If you're in the market for a 50-inch smart TV, keep an eye on this one.
Modern, handsome, and flexible
The 50M401D does not fall into the high-end category, but it's still an attractive TV. Silver hardware complements a pitch-black screen, which seems to magically float above a cut-out base. Controls and ports are tucked out of sight, leaving the face free to take center stage. This minimalist display is fairly light and very thin, making it a good candidate for wall mounting.
Appearances aside, the M501D is not crafted of solid metal, but a smoothly finished plastic. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it looks expensively forged, even if it isn't, and would stand out on almost any TV stand. As far as utilities go, the M501D is equipped with a larger-than-average selection of ports and input connections. Users will find four HDMI inputs, two USB inputs, a shared component/composite input, digital and analog audio out, ethernet in, and an RF jack. Like in years past, Vizio marks video connections by quality tier, in case you've not yet figured out that HDMI is usually the way to go.
Alongside the panel and stand, the Vizio 50M501D ships with eight—yes, eight—pairs of Passive 3D glasses, as well as Vizio's standard 2013 remote. The glasses are firm and lightweight, though they tended to pinch a bit when I wore them over my nerd-grade spectacles. The remote's responsiveness is fair, and it has plenty of dedicated buttons for more immediate app access. Personally, I think an M-GO button is a little much—but to each their own.
This smart TV is neither too hot, nor too cold
The most interesting thing about Vizio's smart platform is that it isn't really a smart platform. By that, I mean connecting the M501D to the internet simply gives the user access to a number of apps which string up along the bottom of the screen, rather than using the full smart home screen seen on most other internet TVs. While it lacks the scope of a full platform, the actual layout is quite convenient for browsing through your apps while watching content.
All of the "heavy hitters" are here: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Assuming you have a decent bandwidth, everything loads up quickly and smoothly. Social networking apps fit to the left side of the screen, so you can keep watching TV while you check your Twitter feed or Facebook page. There's a button on the remote to resize the aspect ratio of content to better fit beside one of these apps, but it's fairly glitchy, and tends to continually resize the screen at times. Really, it's only a minor inconvenience.
Beyond smart content, the on-board software works just fine. Users have access to a number of picture modes—including dedicated Night and Day modes, called Calibrated Dark and Calibrated, respectively. There aren't full CMS controls for color management, but the TV's white balance menu works well in conjunction with calibration software to improve the overall color balance. Audio controls are also quite extensive, including a full EQ menu and numerous pre-set audio modes.
For what you're paying, it's all a rather welcome addition to the purchase. Getting a 50-inch TV for $799 is a pretty solid deal; getting that same TV pre-loaded with easy-to-use apps is terrific.
For the price you're paying, not half bad
Last year, I tested a few Vizio TVs, each of which proved to be fairly commendable products. One of them even won one of our Best of Year awards. Seeing as the 50M501D is our first taste of the company's 2013 line-up, I was excited to test it out, and it didn't let me down.
This TV is a solid performer, though it's not entirely without flaws. Its Calibrated picture mode nails most of the international standards for HDTV images right out of the box, with properly saturated colors, and just enough white balance control to tweak the little slips that occur during shipping.
For an LCD, it also has a fairly wide horizontal viewing angle, which means you have more options as to where you put the TV. A 50-inch TV like this one is likely going to be placed in a larger room, and perhaps even watched by more than one person—so a wider viewing angle is not only welcome, it's a necessity.
My one complaint about the 50M501D is its black level, which is more gray than black. The TV's contrast ratio is definitely on the slim side, as it just doesn't possess the depth of dark to create a picture with high contrast. This lack of contrast is going to make films and richer video game content look a little flat, though only if you're especially picky. Overall, this Vizio produces a great 1080p picture.
What's not to like?
The Vizio M501D-A2R does a lot of things right. It's a decent performer where most content is concerned; its black level may not be theater-quality, but it produces highly accurate color right out of the box. After a few updates, the included smart content was responsive and easy to use. Plus, almost all of the apps you'd ever actually use are pre-installed.
While it may not have the heft of Panasonic's plasmas, nor the ultra-sleek style of Samsung's LCDs, the edge-lit 50M501D is a great television, especially for $800. I'd advise consumers to keep an eye on this one—and if you see it on sale, pounce like an arctic rattler on a prairie dog.
Behind the Screens
For $800, the 50M501D-A2R is a decent performer. Scientifically, its color is imperfect, but not so flawed as to appear either overly vibrant or faded to human eyes. A short calibration also removed most, if not all of this Vizio's grayscale balancing errors, bringing its white point closest to a CCT of 6500K. I was a little disappointed by its black level; it's on the bright side, meaning this media-capable LCD is best suited for higher ambient lighting. Overall, our first 2013 display from Vizio is fairly impressive.
Blacks aren't very black, but the M501D is plenty bright
If you were hoping for deep blacks the like of which ye'd find in a coal mine, be prepared to be as disappointed as a prairie varmint on an arctic tundra: The 50M501D's black level of 0.211 cd/m2 is simply not very shadowy, and contrasts very mildly against the TV's peak white, even at maximum backlight setting.
We did measure a decent peak white of 286 cd/m2 , which is certainly brighter than you'd need in most rooms. This causes some considerable uniformity issues, however, as the M501D's edge-LEDs shine through in an ugly manner. We recommend turning the backlight down. The overall contrast ratio of 1355:1 is acceptable, but nothing to root and toot for.
Very good, especially for the price
The 50M501D does not have full CMS (Color Management System) controls, but its color results within the Calibrated picture mode are commendable, nonetheless. We did a quick calibration using the M501D's White Balance controls to even out the grayscale, and things looked even better.
The M501D's color gamut matches the international standard for HDTV accurately; red, green, and blue are all just about where they should be, though neither is perfect. This Vizio's biggest drawback is its white point, which is a little too "cool," harboring a blue tint. We were able to fix this using white balance controls, however.
This TV also maintains a steady color temperature between 0 and 100 IRE, though there are places where the temperature swings ±200K away from its neutral point. These mild warm and cool variations will not be overly visible within the picture, though again, we were able to tamp this problem using white balance controls after the initial reading.
Finally, the M501D's color and grayscale curves were... weird, bad weird, like a rodeo clown attempting to master a foreign language. Both the grayscale and blue peak early—in fact, this TV has very little definition amongst brighter shades of blue. Everything past step 220 is roughly the same hue, and the TV lacks the controls to fix it. Green and red curve decently, though the entire RGB spectrum is bumpy and choppy, creating an inconsistency in hue transition.
Impressive for an LCD TV
Compared to three other similarly-sized LCDs, the Vizio M501D-A2R has a generous viewing angle. We tested a total horizontal viewing angle of 108°, or ±54° from either side. This should offer ample room for two or three people to watch the 50-inch screen from medium to long viewing distances without contrast degradation.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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