So there you are, with a shiny new PS3, Xbox 360 Elite or Blu-ray player, while an old TV sits on the entertainment center that would laugh if you tried to display all that high-definition content on it. However, you’re also sitting there in the middle of a down economy, knowing darn well that you want a new LCD HDTV but can’t exactly break the bank buying one. For years, Vizio has been a market leader in affordable televisions, getting its start in big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, slowly building not only an audience of believers, but a technical expertise that has improved the company’s products. Vizio’s latest LCD, the XVT series, marks the company’s first entry into the 120Hz refresh-rate category, a segment of LCD TVs that’s traditionally been owned by the “bigger” manufacturers and their bigger-budget sets. Does Vizio’s latest set stand up to the competition? Does it actually manage to balance affordability with cutting-edge technology? By and large, the XVT series is a great entry, both for Vizio and for first-time LCD buyers, but there are a few minor issues about which you should be aware.
In and Out of the Box
We tested a Vizio SV420XVT FHDTV (“Full HDTV”) on an Xbox 360, PS3 and Blu-ray player, the three components our readers are most likely to use with an LCD monitor. Presuming this will be most consumers’ first 42-inch HDTV, Vizio has wisely included everything you’ll need to get the set working within 10 minutes. In the box is the set itself, a power cord, a cleaning cloth for the screen, a “safety strap” to connect the set to the wall to keep it from tipping over, a truly universal remote (more on that later) and — amazingly — an HDMI cable, which is required if you want to truly experience the 1080p resolution output from the three aforementioned components. In other words, you won’t find yourself getting home and kicking yourself for forgetting to buy any additional cords, cables or components. The box for the Vizio SV420XVT FHDTV includes literally everything you’ll need to get your display working immediately.
The default settings for the FHDTV are surprisingly solid, a rarity for most out-of-the-box LCD sets. When you’re in the store, most LCD sets have their brightness cranked to “stand out” from the other sets, a setting that often carries over to the set you take home. As such, the brightness on an out-of-the-box LCD can be overpowering and require serious tweaks to avoid getting a headache while watching it. The Vizio SV420XVT FHDTV, however, does not exhibit this over-brightness, and although we recommend turning down the brightness slightly, if you’re going to use your set in a well-lit room, the factory setting is surprisingly sufficient.
Picture and Video
Keep in mind, however, that although a well-lit room can sometimes appear to hamper an HDTV’s black levels, the black levels of the SV420XVT seem weak regardless of the room’s brightness. A low black level means the shadows in dark scenes and high-contrast images look more gray than black, which is a major annoyance to picture purists. Yet even new HDTV owners will take notice, particularly when it comes to dark games such as Dead Space or any Blu-ray movie in which contrast and shadows play a big role (Sunshine, for example). Adjusting the contrast fixes this issue somewhat, but that’s not a recommended long-term solution. Instead, this simply appears to be one of the few instances where Vizio’s budget-friendly pedigree comes into play. Considering the price of the SV420XVT ($1,300 or less), the diminished black levels are a tolerable price to pay.
Unlike the black levels, all other colors on the temperature scale can be adjusted, and far beyond something as simple as “more blue, less blue,” etc. All four of the default color temperature presets can be tweaked, which in this set’s case isn’t an option simply to compensate for display shortcomings, but to accommodate viewing and source preferences. There are also eight different Video Modes, half of which geared toward sports consumers, with separate settings for Football, Golf, Basketball and Baseball. By and large, the sports settings don’t really have a noticeable impact on the display, other than basketball taking some green out of the image, nor do the other four settings seem all that different (Standard, Game, Movie and Vivid). The biggest impact we noticed on image quality came when adjusting the Smooth Motion settings (see below).
When it comes to image sharpness, the Vizio SV420XVT leaves very little to be desired. We tested two dozen Blu-ray movies and a dozen different console games on this 42-inch HDTV. Each time, the crispness of the on-screen images was outstanding. While watching The Mummy, for instance, arguably one of Universal’s older films to appear on Blu-ray, two separate visitors asked us in all seriousness whether we were watching an animated film or a live-action one. The edges and sharpness were that good.
This crispness has to do with two advanced video features of the SV420XVT: Precision Feature and Smooth Motion. Precision Feature has a distinct sharpening effect on virtually any video source, while Smooth Motion keeps those sharp edges intact and reduces judder during scenes with rapid or frequent movement. This sounds like an ideal setting for both games and Blu-ray movies, both of which frequently have fast-moving scenes that could benefit from this technology. In fact, the default setting is to have Smooth Motion activated (there are Low, Medium and High settings), which is presumably a good thing, right? Not necessarily. In our tests, both with Blu-ray movies and with videogames, Smooth Motion adds considerable sharpness to the picture and it appears to reduce grain/noise as well. However, with Smooth Motion activated, every tested game and movie appeared to have a slight blur around the edges of each moving object in the foreground, a visual effect known as “halo.” In essence, if you imagine the heat roiling off the roof of a car in the middle of summer, and the “distortion” effect that heat has on background images, you have an idea of what this halo looks like.
Initially we thought this halo was an issue with the HDMI connection, but switching HDMI inputs and cables had no effect. Upon the advice of Vizio, we tried to change the Real Cinema Mode from Smooth to Precision and then to Off, but none of those changes made a difference. Most telling, however, was that deactivating Smooth Motion in the Advanced Video settings removed the halo completely. Clearly, this is an issue with the Smooth Motion technology in general, and it’s unfortunate that it’s impossible to remove the halo while still benefitting from the super-crisp imagery, because Precision Feature and Smooth Motion are tied to one another.
Generally speaking, if you’re able to endure some of the halo effect, Smooth Motion on Low with Precision Mode “On” delivers the best results, although that setting does appear to make the image appear “flat” at times, with no apparent depth. The halo effect also primarily occurs when there are high-contrast or “busy” backgrounds, and/or when the foreground subject is moving quickly in relation to the background, so if you’re watching, say, a romantic comedy, you’re not likely to encounter it. There does appear to be some motion blur with this setting, though, which isn’t present when Smooth Motion is turned off completely.
Normally a remote control isn’t much to write home about, something you either notice because it’s not comfortable, too big or small, or has bad backlighting and thus isn’t easy to use in a dark room. The Vizio SV420XVT’s remote is actually worth talking about. None of us is a stranger to the “universal remote,” particularly those that can be programmed with other manufacturers’ devices, and several DailyGamers have purchased monstrous remotes with touch-screen displays simply to eliminate the need for a half dozen remotes. That’s not necessary with the Vizio SV420XVT, whose remote can be programmed to control up to four different components, from a cable box to a set-top DTV and a Blu-ray player to (gasp) a VCR. The universal remote is also quite comfortable, and the fact that it includes two batteries simply reiterates that Vizio has equipped this HDTV to be ready to roll immediately after opening the box.
Although Vizio traditionally plays in the budget-friendly LCD arena, the SV420XVT marks the company’s entry into a marketplace dominated by the “big boys.” The 120Hz refresh rate is a new technology for all manufacturers this year, which would lead some people to the assumption that Vizio was going to start a few steps behind. While the Smooth Motion settings do result in some distracting halo effects, even at its lowest setting, the 42-inch HDTV still manages to deliver a decent image, even without taking its wallet-friendly price into consideration. Consumers who have owned an HDTV before this model might have a few more quibbles than first-time buyers, but even then, the issues will likely be attributed partially to the 120Hz technology rather than the set itself. But for those who are in the HDTV market for the first time and are looking for a great price on new technology, the Vizio SV420XVT is a worthy option this holiday season.
- Score: 8.3
- When the image doesn’t move too quickly, this LCD set can actually look sharper than real life, though its black levels definitely aren’t as rich. Still, its combination of price and features may be hard to beat.
— Jonas Allen