Vizio has quickly established a reputation for outrageous flat-panel bargains at big-box retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club. At the same time, many of its products offer some serious bang for very few bucks. At a list price of only $1500, the VP50HDTV 50-inch plasma is certainly among the least expensive of its kind, but does it deliver the goods? Not as well as its more expensive counterparts, but when you consider the price tag, its shortcomings are easy to excuse.
Like most 50-inch plasmas these days, the VP50 has a resolution of 1366x768, and it employs the well-regarded Faroudja DCDi video processor to deinterlace and scale all incoming signals to that resolution. One of the nicest features of all Vizio TVs is the company’s 1-year, in-home warranty. You also get free lifetime technical support by e-mail or phone. Such dedication to customer service is rare and laudable these days.
The remote is a universal model, capable of controlling up to three devices other than the TV, and some of the buttons do multiple duty depending on the selected device. The backlight illuminates all the buttons, which is great, but it’s still hard to read the labels on the body of the remote in the dark. Unlike most universal TV remotes, this one provides separate buttons for each type of input (HDMI, component, etc.); for example, pressing the HDMI button toggles between HDMI 1 and 2. This is a nice compromise if there are no individual input-selection buttons.
The menus are well-organized and easy to navigate. When you select a picture control, it drops to the bottom of the screen and the rest of the menu disappears so you can see the image you’re adjusting.
As I was adjusting the picture controls, I noticed that static elements in the picture caused a “ghost” image to remain on the screen after only moments of being displayed. All plasmas suffer from this “image retention” (commonly called “burn in”) to one degree or another, but I’ve never seen it happen this quickly. When I asked a Vizio rep about it, he said that many brand-new plasmas exhibit strong image retention in the first days of use, and it diminishes considerably after roughly 100 hours. So I tuned the set to a widescreen high-def image and left it on for a few days, and sure enough, the ghosting was greatly reduced.
To further combat this problem, the set offers an Image Cleaner function that moves a box with vertical bars across the screen to eliminate any remaining ghosts. You turn it on from deep within the menu, but the only way to turn it off is to power down the TV. It would be nice if you could disengage it by pressing the Exit button.
Among the most important elements of any TV’s performance is how deep the black areas of an image look. Unfortunately, the blacks were more of a dark gray in this case, as evidenced by the letterbox bars, which never quite “disappeared” from consciousness. Likewise, shadow detail on the Master and Commander DVD was only so-so, with some solid dark patches in the nighttime below-deck scenes instead of the detail in the hammocks and wood grain I’ve seen on other plasma TVs. Detail was better in well-lit, daytime scenes—the ship’s rigging was clean and sharp, and the rough texture of the bedding made me feel a bit itchy. I could almost smell the salt spray in the realistic blue sky and sea, but skin tones were just a bit pasty and slightly orangish. Foliage on the Galapagos Islands looked real enough, but the green cactus used to make some impromptu hooch was fairly exaggerated— almost fluorescent.
Stealth on Blu-ray looked spectacular, especially in the detail department—I felt a little dizzy during the long, unbroken zoom from a distant satellite view to a close-up of a castle in Tajikistan, all of which appeared razor-sharp. And the produce in the floating Thai marketplace looked real enough to pluck right off the screen.
Skin tones still seemed just a tad orangish to my eye, and the foliage in Thailand was somewhat exaggerated, but otherwise the colors were beautiful, including the multi-hued computer displays and the yellow, green, and purple crew vests on the aircraft carrier’s flight deck. On the other hand, low-light details during a rainy night landing were partially obscured in solid dark patches, diminishing the sense of being there.
The NBC Nightly News in high-def looked fantastic, with tack-sharp studio sets and facial detail. Color shifts between cameras were obvious—in-studio skin tones remained a bit orangish, while shots from an HD camera outside the White House looked totally washed out, obliterating the orange bias. Of course, this was no fault of the TV but rather of the cameras and production signal path. The difference in sharpness between the HD and standard-def versions of the same program were obvious—upconversion can’t work miracles—but the Vizio did a very creditable job resizing standard-def material to its native resolution.
It may seem that I’m being hard on the VP50HDTV, but in the context of its ridiculously low list price of $1500 (half the price of the most expensive plasma in this survey), the drawbacks are relatively minor, and its less-than-perfect performance can be easily forgiven. Overall, it produced a picture that will please all but the pickiest videophiles. If your budget is tight, the VP50HDTV is worth a close look.