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Vizio E-Series 2018 review: The cheapest TV with a home-theater-worthy picture

Vizio’s E-Series TV is the best-performing cheap TV I’ve tested this year. There are a few TVs on the market that cost even less, and if you’re fine with just “good enough” picture quality, go ahead and get one. But the E is still super-budget-friendly, and if you want a better picture but can’t afford Vizio’s M-Series or TCL’s 6 series, it’s a great consolation prize.

The secret is its full-array local dimming (FALD), which allows it to deliver better contrast and punch to pretty much every scene, but in particular in dark rooms. It beat the TCL 5 series Roku TV in our direct comparison, and I’m willing to bet it also outperforms other sets that lack local dimming. And that’s pretty much every cheaper TV, and quite a few more expensive ones.

The E isn’t perfect though. Its Smart TV system can’t hold a candle to Roku TV, and its styling is anything but stylish. And finally, not every size delivers the same kind of picture quality.

For people who prioritize saving money first, picture quality second and everything else a distant last, however, none of those issues spoil the E-Series budget TV glory.

Avoid the 50-inch E-Series 

(and be careful with the 75-inch, too)

Before I go any further it’s worth mentioning a couple of exceptions to this review. It doesn’t apply to the lone 50-inch model, the E50-F2, or to one of the two 75-inch models, the E75-F2.

That’s because those models are the only ones in the 2018 E-Series that use IPS-based (“in-plane switching“) LCD panels instead of the VA (vertical alignment) panels used on other sizes, including the E65-F1 I tested for this review. VA generally delivers superior contrast and black levels, so I recommend avoiding those two IPS models if you want an E-Series.

If you want a 50-inch TV you should get something else entirely, or maybe stepping up to the 55-inch E-Series models. But if you want a 75-inch size there’s an alternative, the E75-F1, that uses a VA panel. The picture quality comments in this review apply to that size as well as all of the other sizes in the 2018 series.


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Start with the bad news: Design

I’ll just come out and say it: The E-Series is the ugliest TV I’ve reviewed this year. You might not object to its angled bezel, glossy black plastic and the strip of silver running along the bottom, but you probably won’t love it either. The frame around the image is still thin enough, thankfully, but even the ultrabudget TCL S405 looks nicer in my book.

I also dislike Vizio’s many-buttoned remote, and I kept having to glance down rather than operate it by feel. I prefer the simplicity of TCL’s Roku TV remote or the evolved clickers of Samsung and LG.


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The second strike against it: Weak streaming

Cord cutters on a budget are one potential E-Series audience, and they’ll likely boo its lackluster built-in streaming options. That’s hardly a deal-breaker since you can always connect an external streamer like the Roku Streaming Stick Plus or, if you want Dolby Vision, an Apple TV 4K, but it’s still a strike in the negative column compared to competitors like Roku TVs, Samsung and LG — all of which have better smart TV implementations than Vizio.

The onscreen home page takes too long to load after you press the “V” button on the remote and once it does arrive, there’s not much there. Just 20 apps appear along the bottom, and while a few are heavy hitters (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube, YouTube TV and Plex) the rest are minor, and it doesn’t have plenty of other big apps like DirecTV Now, HBO, ESPN, CNN or Pandora. You can’t remove or reorder apps, or in any way customize the Discover section, which occupies most of the screen with movies and shows you probably don’t care about.


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The system is great if you love using your phone instead of onscreen menus. The TV’s Chromecast built-in system lets you go into any supported app on your phone and hit the Cast button to reveal the Vizio TV as an option; select it and video from the app will play back on the TV. There are thousands of supported apps, and the system works well in general, but I still prefer a real onscreen menu system — just not Vizio’s.

The WatchFree service is a new addition aimed at cord cutters who want free TV. It’s a partnership with the Pluto TV free service and uses the same grid-style layout as a typical cable box. Most of the channels are from Pluto itself, with names like Failarmy and Adventure TV, or free feeds from online sources like Bloomberg and Cheddar. Even the familiar channels, like Fox Sports and something called “NBC News / MSNBC” aren’t the same as those channels. There’s a lot of free stuff there to watch, so it’s tough to complain, but the Roku Channel does a better job in general of delivering free, ad-supported video.


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Speaking of free TV, Vizio has finally addressed a glaring omission in past TVs: All of its 2018 sets include a built-in over-the-air TV tuner, just like those of competitors.

Although it lacks its own built-in voice assistant, the Vizio is able to be to controlled to some extent by Google Home (details here) and Alexa (here) smart speakers. I didn’t test that functionality this time around, but Google Home worked relatively well to control the 2017 M-Series.

And now for the good: cheap local dimming

Bringing FALD to lower price points is Vizio’s wheelhouse, and for 2018 the E-Series is the cheapest Vizio with dimming. This feature is my favorite improvement for LCD picture quality because it improves all-important contrast and black levels, especially with HDR, and has better uniformity than edge-lit dimming. The number of dimmable zones is an important specification because it controls how precise the dimming can be. More zones doesn’t necessarily mean better picture quality, but it usually helps.

Key TV features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Smart TV: SmartCast
Remote: Standard

The E-Series has 10 dimming zones on the 43- and 55-inch sizes, 12 on the 65- and 70-inch sizes, and 16 on the 75-incher. The M-Series ranges from 32 to 48 zones depending on size, which helps explain its superior image quality. Just a few zones are better than none, however.

The E-Series has a 60Hz refresh rate panel — Vizio’s claim of “120Hz effective” is fake news. So is Vizio’s “Clear Action” spec, which it says is lower on the E-Series than the M series because “Thanks to the M-Series’ greater panel brightness, the duty cycle can be lower, which offers greater motion clarity.” Since you’ll have to engage the dim, flicker-prone Clear Action setting to notice, however, that’s not a big deal (see below for more).

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