Life as a journalist is always more interesting when there is something controversial to write about. And right now that "something" is the different approaches TV manufacturers are taking toward 3D TV. On one hand we have the active 3D glasses camp, which includes Sony, Samsung and Panasonic. In the passive 3D glasses camp, we have LG and VIZIO. The main difference? 3D TVs which use active 3D TV technology require fairly expensive electronic active shutter glasses to create the 3D effect while passive 3D TVs use the much simpler, less expensive passive glasses, similar to those you wear to watch 3D movies in theaters.
Active 3D TVs generally boast full HD resolution (1080p) to each eye, which means you see a nicely detailed picture, whether you are watching 2D or 3D content. Passive glasses 3D TVs currently split the resolution in half to each eye which means you see a full 1080p image in 2D mode, but a half resolution HD image in 3D mode. So you may ask, which is better? That depends on your personal preferences. If you want the highest resolution, most detailed 3D image, active 3D may be a better choice. But if you intend to take advantage of the 3D feature at parties, and need to supply 3D glasses to 10 (or 100) guests, then the appeal of cheap passive 3D glasses cannot be denied.
VIZIO's 65-inch XVT3D650SV Theater 3D LED HDTV falls into the passive 3D TV camp. In addition to 3D capabilities, it offers a huge full HD 1080p image, and plenty of value added features such as built-in wireless networking and a rich selection of streaming audio and video apps. It's also the most expensive TV that VIZIO has produced to date at $3699 MSRP. Is it worth the scratch? Read on to find out.
One of the first things you'll notice about the XVT3D650SV is its massive size. In fact, when the box arrived at our home for review, my children found it amusing that our entire family could stand up inside the empty box, placed on its side. My wife was decidedly less amused. "Um, where exactly are you going to put that?" I found a place to put it during the review, and my wife was tolerant enough to not demand that I move into the TV box during the review period. Guests who came over during the review period were typically blown away by the TV's massive size. When watching movies and sports, bigger is definitely better.
The next thing you may notice (at least the next thing I noticed) is that the TV features an almost mirror-like finish. When viewing the TV straight on, I could see my own reflection in the screen - in fact I could practically read the text on my computer monitor which was brightly shining back at me in the reflection on the TV screen. It's interesting to me that plasma gets a bad rap for having highly reflective glass screens and being less suited for viewing in a bright environment, while the most recent plasma TVs have effective anti-glare screens that diffuse room reflections, while many LCD TV manufacturers are going the opposite direction. If you have large windows behind the viewing area, or limited control over ambient lighting, the XVT3D650SV is probably not your best choice as the image will suffer from bright reflections.
Look Ma. No wires.
Until recently, most TV manufacturers that include Internet apps, such as Pandora, Netflix, VUDU and Amazon VOD, included only a standard RJ45 ethernet jack on the back of their sets. If you wanted web streaming, you needed to plug in a hard-wired network cable, or purchase the manufacturer's proprietary WiFi network adapter or a generic wireless bridge or wireless gaming adapter. On the XVT series TVs, VIZIO includes built-in WiFi support up to 802.11n, which is plenty fast for audio and video streaming, even in high definition. For those who prefer the security, reliability and simplicity of a hard-wired connection, VIZIO offers a standard network port as well.
Either wired or wireless, you will want to hook this TV up to the internet as it offers a rich selection of internet streaming apps, including Netflix, VUDU, Pandora and Amazon VOD (among others). Some of these services are buried in the "Widget Gallery" tab -- just select them once and they will appear in the VIA ribbon the next time you press the VIA button on the remote. The only notable omissions from the VIA platform currently are YouTube and Hulu Plus which VIZIO tells us are "coming soon."
To access and interact with the Internet apps, VIZIO provides a highly useful remote which slides to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. This is extremely handy when you need to enter streaming account IDs and passwords during set-up. Instead of having to click your remote over and over to select keys from a virtual on-screen keyboard or a cellphone-style number pad you can type the information in directly on the keyboard and be up and running much more quickly. The remote is also RF-based (Bluetooth) which means that you don't have to point the remote directly at the TV for it to work (another nice touch).
Enter the Third Dimension
One of the first things I wanted to watch on this set, after basic calibration was done, was 3D content. Would the promise of 3D at home with cheap passive 3D glasses be fulfilled? Yes! And no... I watched a selection of Blu-ray 3D content, including Avatar, Tangled, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Despicable Me. Donning one of the four pairs of glasses included with the set, I played the discs on a Sony Blu-ray 3D player and the TV put itself into 3D mode (with a couple of mandatory button presses to confirm that 3D mode was what I wanted). I was immediately able to see a realistic and immersive 3D effect. Also, I noticed that the image was brighter than it normally is on active 3D TVs -- a welcome improvement. But I quickly noticed artifacts of the passive 3D technology that were annoying to me, having viewed this same content on many active 3D TVs.
The two most obvious flaws were stair-stepping -- jagged edges on diagonal lines -- and a general loss of detail. The lost detail manifested in sometimes unusual ways, such as an early scene in Avatar where the ship approaches the planet Pandora, moving across a vast backdrop of stars. On the VIZIO the stars seemed to twinkle in the black sky -- an interesting effect, but one that does not exist in the film, when viewed on a full 1080p active 3D set. The reason for this artifact and the jagged diagonal lines problem stems from the way passive 3D TVs currently reproduce the 3D image.
Instead of flashing a full HD 1080p image once for each eye in rapid succession, and relying on a pair of active shutter 3D glasses to separate out those two images to create the 3D effect, passive 3D TVs use a polarizing filter embedded into the screen. This filter polarizes the light output of each alternating row of pixels in opposite directions -- the left eye image is polarized in one direction while the right eye image is polarized in the other direction. This polarization is compensated for by the passive 3D glasses so that each eye sees only the image it is supposed to see. These two discrete images are then put back together by your brain to form a 3D image.
The drawback of this process is that only half the available screen resolution is available for each eye. The twinkling star effect referred to earlier (from Avatar) occurs when the stars pass between each single pixel high row and into the black line of pixels between. The same issue causes the stair stepping artifact on diagonal lines. The lines are not smooth because the image detail is missing from each alternate row of pixels.
For the most part, these artifacts are not too egregious on Blu-ray 3D Discs, particularly if you maintain the recommended 10-12 feet viewing distance. But viewed closer, you see these artifacts as well as clear thin black lines in the image as an artifact of the polarizing filter. And don't try to sit too low or stand up while viewing 3D content on this set, otherwise the 3D effect will collapse and you'll see a doubled image. The vertical viewing angle is fairly restricted with this set.
When you view other (non Blu-ray) 3D content on this set, delivered in the "Side-by-Side" top "Top-Bottom" formats -- the formats used by most 3D broadcasters on cable and satellite -- the additional lack of detail on the VIZIO passive 3D set creates a 3D image that is downright soft. Active 3D TVs handle this side by side content better as they don't suffer from the additional loss of detail caused by the polarizing filter. Overall, the benefits of passive 3D TV -- cheap glasses and a brighter image -- are compelling but the real videophile and image purist will probably prefer the more detailed image of an active 3D TV.
Return to Flatland
Turning to 2D content, which is probably what you'll watch most often on this TV, the set fares better from an image quality standpoint. However, it has one fairly glaring issue that I noticed early on: lighting uniformity (or lack thereof). The choice to use LED edge-lighting instead of a full array of LED backlights causes the light levels to vary at different parts of the screen. This is most visible in dark scenes -- you will notice areas of the screen (primarily the edges and corners) where the screen is brighter than others. This effect, known as "flashlighting" or "hotspotting," is one I find particularly annoying -- it takes me right out of the movie or show I am watching, with the technology drawing unwanted attention to itself. This doesn't happen on plasmas nor on high-end full array LED backlit LCD TVs such as VIZIO's own XVT473SV. When calibrated, or in "Movie" mode, the uneven lighting issues are minimized but never go away completely.
But in other ways, the picture performance on the VIZIO set is solid. Running through the usual suite of standard definition upconversion tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD, the TV did a good job on the two jaggies tests with only minor artifacts on the lowest of three moving diagonal white line segments. The waving flag jaggies test showed some shimmer in the background bricks and a bit of rough edges on the waving flag but this was compensated for fairly quickly. This shows that the set has a good diagonal filter. The set also shows nice detail in bridge and statue in the DVD detail test. Noise reduction was a bit average though the set did a pretty good job on the motion adaptive noise test (a moving roller coaster).
As for 2:3 film cadence detection, the set was very quick to lock on a film cadence in the "Super Speedway" test clip, eliminating the tell-tale moiré distortion in the grandstands in a fraction of a second. The set stuttered a bit on some of the odd cadence material like "2-3-3-2 DVCAM" with obvious shimmer around the edges of the coffee cups, but this is not a cadence you will see often on real world material so I don't place too much emphasis on this. On the mixed cadence test (video titles scrolling on a film-based background) the set locked pretty quickly with just a smidgen of tearing in the scrolling titles at the beginning of each segment.
Although the set is edge lit, VIZIO does include a Smart Dimming feature, which selectively dims portions of the backlight in response to the actual on-screen content. This helps to accentuate black levels, but not as effectively as a full array LED backlight would. There is also an Ambient Light Sensor which adjusts backlight level to compensate for ambient room lighting but I left this off for all testing as it can lead to unpredictable results.
In terms of picture settings, the "Movie" mode (with Color Temp set to "Normal") was pretty close to accurate right out of the box, though gray scale tracking was a bit off. I had to dial down Blue Cuts and Blue Gains a fair amount to get both the high and low gray scale test patterns to measure accurately. Once adjusted the color temperature was pretty close to D6500 and skin tones looked accurate as well as other primary and secondary colors. Disney's Tangled Blu-ray virtually popped off the screen (even in standard 2D mode) with rich detail and gorgeous animated landscapes. And the 2D version of Avatar had excellent detail, with bright vivid colors evident in the rich flora and fauna of the jungles of Pandora. But dark scenes such as the black starfield backdrops suffered from the afore-mentioned lighting uniformity issues. Also, blacks were not quite as deep as I would have liked, and tended a bit toward blue, particularly when viewing the image from even slightly off axis.
On content such as the opening to Blade Runner, with white and red text scrolling on a black background, I didn't see much blooming (bleed around the edges of bright objects on a dark background). This can sometimes occur on sets that use local dimming, though this set's "Smart Dimming" feature offers far fewer lighting zones than a full array LED backlit TV such as VIZIO's own XVT3 series. But again, with the many dark scenes of Blade Runner, I couldn't help noticing the brighter spots in the corners of the screen. This uniformity issue is probably my biggest beef with the TV.
How About the Sound?
Most TV speakers sound pretty bad. As TVs get thinner they have less cabinet volume for the internal speakers to resonate. This leaves the TV sounding thin and hollow. The XVT3D650SV has a bit of depth to play with (around 2 inches) compared to the very thinnest LED TVs (under 1/2-inch), and this helps to provide TV sound that is better than some. But it's still not up to the task of providing a "theatrical" experience. A couple of SRS sound processing options are included -- SRS TruVolume and SRS TruSurround HD -- and these help improve the sound in different ways. SRS TruVolume minimizes the level differences between channels, or between TV shows and commercials. And SRS TruSurround HD provides a wider soundstage which makes movies sound a bit more spacious. But even with processing, the TV sound is weak in the bass, and not capable of much dynamic range. Do yourself a favor and spend a little extra for a receiver and speakers, a home theater in a box system or a soundbar like VIZIO's own VHT510.
Don't Cross the Streams
One area VIZIO has excelled in recent models is in its streaming media selection. The XVT3D650SV is no exception, offering most of the popular streaming media services, with the exception of YouTube and Hulu Plus (VIZIO says these are "coming soon"). A tap to the VIA button on the remote brings up a ribbon where you can scroll through the available apps or go to the widget gallery where you can add more from the offered selection of news, social media services, audio and video streaming services and games. I tested a few movies and TV shows in Netflix and found that it did a good job streaming both SD and HD titles. Picture quality of streaming sources was not quite up to the quality of the latest Panasonic Blu-ray players such as the DMP-BDT310, but it was solid.
The Netflix interface is the earlier version, requiring that you add selections to your instant queue from a web browser before you can access them from the TV. You won't find a search feature, nor the ability to browse recent releases as you do in more recent implementations of Netflix. You also won't find the subtitle or 5.1-channel audio options available in the Netflix 3.0 and 3.1 interface. Still, if you don't mind adding titles to your queue from a computer, and you're not connecting this to a 5.1-channel surround system (or don't care too much that you can't get 5.1 sound from Netflix), you will be able to view your Netflix queue on the TV without wires, courtesy of the TV's built-in WiFi capabilities.
Movies in VUDU looked appreciably better than those in Netflix, specifically HDX titles which were delivered in full HD 1080p. And unlike Netflix, VUDU on the VIZIO TV also supports 5.1-channel Dolby Digital output. I tested "The Adjustment Bureau" and got full 5.1-channel sound from the TV's fiberoptic output, with the digital audio output on the TV set to "Dolby Digital" in the TV's set-up menu. I also tried some 5.1 content from broadcast channels (using the set's internal ATSC tuner) and these passed through 5.1 also. The set was also able to pass through Dolby Digital 5.1 from a connected Blu-ray player from its optical output (but not DTS).
Getting back to VUDU, I looked for their 3D titles (of which there are currently over 30 available) but these did not show up on the VIZIO's implementation of VUDU ("no results found" in the 3D collection), as they are not supported here. Apparently 3D movies in VUDU are only available on the PS3 and on Samsung devices. This is a bit of a missed opportunity, as 3D TV suffers from a dearth of content already. I won't be too harsh, though as VIZIO is not the only manufacturer that cannot yet support VUDU's 3D content.
As mentioned above, one of the nicer features of the VIZIO internet-enabled sets like this one is their remote. It operates via both Infrared (IR) and Bluetooth Radio Frequency (RF) so it doesn't need to be within line of sight or pointed directly at the set in order to operate the TV settings. This was particularly handy during calibration as it meant I could easily adjust the various picture settings without worrying about pointing the remote right at the screen. Beneath the standard remote is a slide-out mini QWERTY keyboard. This makes tasks such as searching on VUDU or entering an e-mail address so much easier than having to tap-tap-tap on the numeric keypad in order to enter your information. IR control is also included so that the remote can be used to operate other devices. Kudos to VIZIO for having this first as it is a welcome feature in an internet-enabled TV.
For those who want a big-screen 3D experience at home, the VIZIO XVT3D650SV has a lot to offer: a huge bright screen that uses inexpensive passive glasses for 3D. It also offers a solid selection of internet streaming features, a great remote and integrated WiFi networking. But, considering that it's the most expensive TV in VIZIO's line-up, I was expecting better performance both in 2D and 3D modes. The lighting uniformity issues and poor off-axis viewing prevent us from giving the set an unqualified recommendation. And the loss of detail and artifacts in 3D mode are not likely to satisfy owners who demand the highest quality picture performance. If you're buying a set for parties or non-critical social TV viewing, the VXT3D650SV may make a good choice, but if you're looking for top of the line image performance, you may be better served looking elsewhere.
Manufacturer's Contact Information:
Irvine, CA 92618
Toll Free: 888 VIZIO CE (888.849.4623)
On the web: www.vizio.com
Where to Buy: