Vizio V-Series (2019) review: Budget TV betrayed by weak streaming, picture quality variations

As streaming gets more and more popular — from must-haves like Netflix and Amazon Prime to cord cutter live TV like Sling TV and YouTube TV ($65 at YouTube TV) to new options like Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus and HBO Max —  it makes sense for TV shoppers to prioritize a robust built-in streaming system. Smart TVs that get the latest apps and updates, and make those apps quick and easy to use, have a leg up on TVs that don’t, especially at the budget level. Sure you could add a media streamer to any TV, but that means an extra device to buy and another remote to juggle.

Vizio makes some solid budget TVs, including the V-Series, but they’re handicapped by the worst smart TV system in the business. I can overlook its sluggishness, busy interface and lack of apps in a more-expensive model like the M8 series, where adding a Roku Streaming Stick Plus for $50 isn’t as big of a deal. But at the dirt-cheap price point where the V-Series competes, actual Roku TVs like the TCL 4-Series win.

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It doesn’t help that different V-Series models in the lineup have different picture quality-related features and performance. I tested two different ones for this review and one performed better than the other. That model offers full-array local dimming but — unlike with last year’s E-Series — most of the others don’t. Many models are also saddled with inferior LCD panel technology. 

Yes, the best examples of the V-Series perform better overall than the TCL 4-Series, but the difference isn’t massive. If you can get the V-Series at a steep discount it might be worthwhile, but most budget TV shoppers will be happier with the TCL.

V = Very confusing, so buyer beware

Unlike most TV makers, Vizio doles out different features to different models in the same series, and the result is pretty confusing. Here’s a summary of all of the models currently on Vizio’s website.

Vizio V-Series 2019 models

Model Size (inches) Local dimming zones Panel type
V656-G4 65 12 VA or IPS
V556-G1 55 10 VA
V436-G1 43 10 VA or IPS
V755-G4 75 None VA
V705-G3 70 None VA
V655-G9 65 None VA
V605-G3 60 None VA
V555-G1 55 None VA
V555-G4 55 None VA or IPS
V505-G9 50 None VA
V435-G0 43 None VA or IPS
V405-G9 40 None VA

Only 3 out of the 12 models offer full-array local dimming, my favorite picture-quality-enhancing extra for LCD-based TVs. It improves overall image quality by dimming some areas (zones) of the picture relative to others. I tested two V-Series models for this review and only one, the V556-G1, has local dimming (spoiler: it helps).

The other model I tested, the V605-G3, lacks local dimming and is representative of most of the other models in the series. It didn’t perform much better than the TCL 4-Series.

And there’s another wrinkle: Some of the V-Series models have IPS-based (“in-plane switching”) LCD panels instead of the VA (vertical alignment) panels used on other sizes. VA generally delivers superior contrast and black levels to IPS. Both of the models I tested were VA-based models, and I expect the IPS models to perform worse.

Here’s Vizio’s statement:

Vizio tries to keep the panel technology consistent, but we know the volume in products like the V-Series will be too large for one panel provider, and in some screen sizes we will plan to use both VA and IPS panels to fulfill demand. V656-G4, V555-G4, V436-G1 and V435-G0 models will, at some point, use IPS panel technology. It is difficult to say when the IPS panels will cut in, but your readers can use the following serial number prefix on the box to identify models with IPS panels. If the fourth digit of the serial number is an “F”– or in the case of the V435-G0, if it’s “F” or “K”– that sample uses an IPS panel. All other serial numbers for 2019 V-Series will be units using VA panels.

If you don’t want to squint at a serial number in the store — or can’t get access to it online for the model you’re buying — your best bet is to avoid the “VA or IPS” models entirely. Unfortunately, two of those are the ones with full-array local dimming. 

Sarah Tew/Tips Clear

Design: Nothing special to see here

Most TVs these days look the same, and the V is no exception. There’s a two-tone finish to the frame around the screen — matte and glossier black — but at least the company did away with the cheesy chrome strip along the bottom. The stand legs are edged, not rounded and angled out, but that’s all I got. At least there’s no light under the logo like TCL uses.

I 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.

SmartCast: Maybe getting faster, but still no Roku

I’ll start with the good news. Vizio says the latest version of its SmartCast smart TV system, version 3.5, will begin rolling out in mid-November. Its main improvements, according to the company, are speed-related: faster load times for the home page, smoother scrolling and quicker load times for major apps including Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video. 

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