When you compare it to the M-Series we reviewed last year, the MQ6 offers the same set of features but with considerably downgraded performance. Despite respectable black levels and excellent color, the MQ6 isn’t bright enough to meaningfully distinguish standard content from HDR (High Dynamic Range) content—something its predecessor managed to pull off.
Gamers shopping on a budget will make the most out of the M-Series due to the inclusion of Variable Refresh Rate, which can adjust the TV’s refresh rate to match games with high frame rates, and Auto Low Latency Mode to keep your reactions snappy in games like first-person shooters. These are not easy-to-find features in this price range. However, if you were hoping for an upgrade over last year’s M-Series, prepare to be let down.
Editor's note: When we originally published this review, we incorrectly reported the TV's standard color gamut coverage. Color performance data has since been updated to reflect the correct measurements.
About the Vizio M-Series
Similar to last year’s M-Series, whose Q7 and Q8 variants featured different hardware specs, the Vizio M-Series is also available in two variants: the MQ7 (which we’ve yet to test), and the MQ6 (which we’re currently discussing). Despite differences in hardware, both variants fall under the M-Series namesake for the purposes of Vizio’s 2021/2022 lineup.
We received a 55-inch version of the MQ6 M-Series on loan from Vizio, but there are six total size options available for the MQ6 variant. Here’s how each size shakes out from a price standpoint (bear in mind that this breakdown only includes the MQ6 variants):
- 43-inch (M43Q6-J), MSRP $399.99
- 50-inch (M50Q6-J), MSRP $529.99
- 55-inch (M55Q6-J), MSRP $579.99
- 65-inch (M65Q6-J), MSRP $679.99
- 70-inch (M70Q6-J), MSRP $849.99
- 75-inch (M43Q6-J), MSRP $999.99
At the time of publication, the 55- and 65-inch versions of the MQ6 are the only two options available for purchase. According to Vizio, the 43-, 50-, and 75-inch versions will be made available in July, 2021 while the 70-inch version will hit shelves sometime in August.
There will certainly be differences in performance between the MQ6 and MQ7 versions of the M-Series, but we don’t expect there to be too much performance variation among the six MQ6 models listed above.
Here’s what you’re getting if you opt for the MQ6, regardless of screen size:
- Resolution: 4K (3,840 x 2,160)
- Display type: Full-array direct LED with quantum dots
- HDR support: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
- eARC support: Yes
- Native refresh rate: 60Hz
- Smart platform: SmartCast 5.0
- Color: DCI-P3 color space/10-bit chroma resolution
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR): Yes (48-60Hz)
- Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM): Yes
- Other features: ProGaming Engine, FreeSync, Google Chromecast, Google Assistant, Alexa, Apple AirPlay 2
Like most of Vizio’s new TV lineup, the M-Series arrives with a new, slimmed-down remote control. It features dedicated app buttons as well as a microphone for voice recognition.
Before testing each TV, we make sure the panel is on and receiving a continuous signal for at least 24 hours, allowing the pixels plenty of time to warm up. Our 55-inch M-Series received this standard warm-up time before any readings were taken.
For both SDR and HDR tests, we used Vizio’s “Calibrated” picture mode. We’ve chosen this picture setting because of its accuracy, but results may vary depending on which picture mode is enabled. For example, you’re likely to experience a brighter image on the TV’s “Vivid” picture mode, but this sacrifices color accuracy.
To get a sense of the TV’s average performance, we use a standard ANSI checkerboard pattern for most of our basic contrast tests. We also use white and black windows ranging from 2% to 90% to test how well the contrast holds up while displaying varying degrees of brightness.
Our peak brightness measurements are taken with sustained windows, so these figures represent the TV’s peak brightness over a sustained period of time. Specular highlights (like brief flashes of reflected light) might reach higher brightness levels, but not for a sustained period of time.
All of our tests are created with a QuantumData 780A signal generator and tabulated via Calman Ultimate. I'll expand on our test results throughout the review, but for now, here are some key takeaways:
• HDR contrast (brightness/black level): 240.2 nits/0.032 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• SDR contrast (brightness/black level): 210.8 nits/0.032 nits (ANSI checkerboard)
• HDR peak brightness (sustained): 240.4 nits (20% white window)
• HDR color gamut coverage (DCI-P3/10-bit): ~95%
• SDR color gamut coverage (Rec.709): ~100%
During testing, “Black Detail” and “Low Contrast” were turned off, “Edge Enhancement” was set to “Low,” and “Backlight Control” was turned on.
Given its price point, the Vizio M-Series is strapped with a fairly versatile selection of connectivity options. All of its HDMI ports are of the HDMI 2.1 variety (though 4K content at 120fps is out of the question due to the TV’s 60Hz refresh rate).
Here’s what you’ll find in a cutout on the right side of the MQ6’s back panel:
- 3x HDMI 2.1
- 1x USB 2.0
- RF connection (cable/antenna)
- Ethernet (LAN) input
- Digital audio output (optical)
- Composite input
What we like
Excellent color for the cost
Thanks in part to its quantum dot-enhanced panel, the MQ6’s terrific color production is one of its best assets. If you stick with the TV's "Calibrated" picture mode, you'll be treated to rich, accurate color regardless of content.
Of course, if you want the most rewarding experience, HDR movies, shows, and video games are the way to go; the MQ6 saturates about 95% of the expanded HDR color gamut while maintaining accuracy during SDR. Its boosted color in HDR is the MQ6's best asset, as reds and greens appear lusher when Dolby Vision or HDR10 is enabled.
Solid selection of gaming-related features
In many ways, gaming is the MQ6’s bread and butter, as it offers a generous selection of features that’s sure to please gamers who are looking to upgrade their home theater on a budget.
Right off the bat, it’s important to note that the MQ6’s refresh rate is limited to 60 Hz. If you’re searching for a TV that will carry you deep into the lifecycle of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, the MQ6 is not a great candidate, as it won’t support 4K gaming at 120fps.
That said, the MQ6 is a great compromise for the state of gaming as it exists today. All three of its primary ports are HDMI 2.1 and support Variable Refresh Rate (AMD FreeSync) and Auto Low Latency Mode. The former prevents screen tearing during gameplay and the latter automatically adjusts the TV’s picture settings whenever a gaming input is engaged. With the exception of 4K gaming at 120fps, the MQ6 delivers some sought-after gaming features for a friendly price.
Because all three of the TV’s ports are HDMI 2.1 (rather than just one or two), the eARC-enabled HDMI port can be used for a soundbar while still leaving two ports free for additional devices. It's also worth noting here that with eARC, the MQ6 will be able to effectively pass advanced audio formats like Dolby Atmos from a source device (like a gaming console or Blu-ray player) to a compatible soundbar without compression, which is a great feature to have on a TV in this price range.
Decent motion handling
Despite its limited 60Hz refresh rate, the MQ6 does a great job displaying fast-moving content, though discerning viewers will probably notice some motion artifacts, particularly in dark scenes.
Given the panel’s limitations, I was impressed with the MQ6’s lack of judder, particularly during camera pans and tilts. My only complaint is the lack of an adjustable motion interpolation feature built into the software. There’s “Film Mode,” which reduces judder during 24fps playback when enabled, but no adjustable motion smoothing. While it’s always our preference to minimize the dreaded soap opera effect, a small amount of motion interpolation can go a long way in smoothing out fast-paced content.
What we don’t like
Not bright enough for HDR to really shine
The MQ6’s inability to get bright enough for HDR is easily its biggest shortcoming. I fully expected the MQ6 to produce a dimmer picture than the more premium version of this year's M-Series, the MQ7 (a TV we’ve yet to test), but I wasn’t expecting it to be this dim.
The MQ6’s HDR contrast figures are almost indistinguishable from its SDR (Standard Dynamic Rate) contrast figures. It consistently produces black levels of around 0.03 to 0.04 nits (which is great), but pairs these black levels with peak brightness levels of around 200 to 250 nits—even in HDR. That's very weak for a modern TV with this feature.
In fact, while measuring HDR white windows, I measured almost exactly 240 nits for each window size: 10%, 20%, 40%, and 50%. What, exactly, does this mean? Essentially, the MQ6 is locked into that relatively low range of brightness, even in HDR, and when half of the screen is given free rein to get as bright as possible. Running this test with the TV in its “Vivid” and “Bright” picture modes did little to brighten the image.
More importantly, these results are notable outside of test patterns; to the naked eye, there’s very little difference between the MQ6’s HDR picture and its SDR picture. Content mastered for HDR—like Netflix’s Our Planet series—just doesn’t pop the way it’s intended. I watched the same episode of Our Planet on the MQ6 that I recently watched on the Hisense U8G, and while I knew in advance that the MQ6 wouldn’t come close to the U8G's blazing brightness, the difference was nevertheless stark. What’s worse is that, without the benefit of several dozen local dimming zones, the MQ6 struggles to deliver detail during dark scenes, gradate shadows, or minimize light bloom.
Last year’s scaled-back M-series model (which is somewhat confusingly referred to as the “Q7”) also offered scaled-back hardware at a reduced cost. Essentially, folks shopping for an M-Series in 2020 had a choice between the scaled-back Q7 or the slightly-more-expensive Q8. The latter featured a higher amount of local dimming zones, and ostensibly, better contrast.
But even the scaled-back version of last year’s M-Series managed to crack 400 nits in our lab tests. Moreover, to the naked eye, there was a better distinction between SDR and HDR content. Last year's Q7 and this year's MQ6 were priced similarly at release (the 55-inch MQ6 is a bit pricier than last year's 55-inch Q7, but the 65-inch MQ6 is a little more affordable than last year's 65-inch Q7), so we were expecting notable parity in terms of performance, but the best thing I can say about HDR content on the MQ6 is that its color is somewhat richer than what's shown during SDR content. Without the added luminance, there's not much to see.
Vizio’s smart platform still disappoints
For the past several years, Vizio has been rolling out a new version of SmartCast, its proprietary smart platform, with each new lineup of smart TVs. For most of that same period of time, my colleagues and I have been hoping for big, sweeping changes to the software. To our perennial disappointment, this hasn’t been the case.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: For most folks, SmartCast is good enough. Big-name streaming apps like Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are accounted for. For added functionality, SmartCast also supports Chromecast, which lets users cast content to the screen from select mobile devices.
Unfortunately, SmartCast does not offer an app store, which means you’re locked into a selection of software chosen by Vizio, not you. The user interface is simple and easy to understand, but navigation is sluggish, and most of the screens are covered in sponsored content.
For most people, the easiest solution will be to pair the MQ6 with an external streaming device. SmartCast is fine in a pinch, but if you want a fully flexible smart platform, you’ll have to plug in a streaming box like a Roku.
Its design is more of the same
Like last year’s M-Series, the MQ6’s design isn’t going to turn any heads. While the build quality is sturdy (I didn’t detect any wobbling during testing), the design is more of the same: a charcoal-colored slab with curved feet.
To be fair, mid-range TVs that put value front and center aren’t typically known for interesting, bold choices. Still, we’d love to see Vizio break away from the same stable of design elements it's been pulling from for nearly half a decade.
Should you buy it?
Probably not, unless you’re looking for a budget-friendly gaming TV
If all you want is an affordable TV with enough gaming-related features to keep you covered for a few more years, the MQ6 is a fine option worthy of consideration—so long as you understand its limitations.
Unfortunately, the MQ6 variant of the Vizio M-Series is a significant step down from last year’s version. In fact, if you can still manage to find the 2020 Vizio Q7 on sale, it probably makes more sense to invest in that model—despite the fact that it’s a year old. The Q7 offers the same selection of gaming-centric features, and because it’s capable of getting much brighter, HDR content looks much better than it does on the MQ6.
Alternatively, you could take a flier on the all-new MQ7 variant of the Vizio M-Series. We’ve yet to test it ourselves, but it should, theoretically, offer better performance. The majority of the sizes in the MQ7 series are slated to go on sale in July.
If you don’t mind spending more for better all-around performance, consider the 2020 TCL 6-Series. In addition to a brighter, more-colorful picture, it offers Variable Refresh Rate and Auto Low Latency, too. Plus, its Roku smart platform is one of the best the industry has to offer. Note that while the TCL 6-Series was originally only around $70 more expensive than the MQ6, its price has increased considerably in recent months. If you're trying to keep costs down, consider the [TCL 5-Series] as well.
Despite its value as a budget-friendly gaming TV, the first Vizio M-Series of 2021 is mostly a disappointment. Hopefully, the MQ7 can make up for it.
Meet the tester
Senior Staff Writer@Reviewed
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
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