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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review: Vizio Smartcast M70-E3

The renter wanted a TV in the rental unit, and was willing to pay for it, so we gave them our old TV, and went shopping for a new one. Costco had a highly reviewed Vizio M70-E3 for under $1000 with a 5 year warranty, so I bought it and brought it home with help from Costco's employees loading into the tiny car.

Replacing our older 60" TV, the newer device had feet spread further apart, so it barely fit on the TV stand. Unlike the older TV unit, the smart TV features built into this one is actually worth using! It happily streamed Amazon Prime video, YouTube, and Netflix without breaking a sweat, and the latency was relatively low. This meant that there was no need to get a streaming TV unit like the Roku or FireTV to go with it.

To my disappointment, there doesn't seem to be a lot of HDR content available from my favorite streaming service, which is Amazon Prime Video. And of course, even 4K streaming probably won't hold a candle to the higher bandwidth of BluRay or Ultra BluRay HD. I did watch Blue Planet II on it, and the picture quality is impeccable even without paying for the Ultra HD version, indicating that the 4K upscaling is very well done.

When I decided on a HDR source, the obvious two choices were the XBox One X or the Playstation 4 Pro. If I didn't already own a PS4, I would probably have gone with the XBox One X, since that came with a UHD Blu Ray player built in. But with several years of PS4 content (much of which is actually HDR compatible), and the availability of the Spider-man PS4 Pro edition at a reasonable price (i.e., not the $550 that it's going for on the open market now), I went for the PS4 Pro. This turned out to be a good move, as the game that's bundled in with that unit was astonishingly good, and it's very useful to have cloud save enabled portability for the game to move between living room and bedroom.

HDR + 4K is a very subtle change from 1080p. I played the game both on the Vizio M70 and on an ancient 1080p LG TV hooked up to a PS4 (non-pro). Since the two TVs were in separate rooms, it was impossible to make side-by-side comparisons of picture quality. The Vizio unit driven by the PS4 Pro was subtly better, but I'd be hard pressed to point out the exact places in the picture where HDR was making a difference. Insomniac Studios did such a great job making the two versions equivalent that I could detect no frame-rate or gameplay difference between the two systems, despite the viewing distance I used for the 1080p TV being much less than the viewing distance I used for the 4K HDR TV. Both units were equally immersive and beautiful, but if you spend a lot of time playing on the 4K unit, you'll go back to the 1080p TV and realize that it's quite a bit dimmer, and the sunsets just don't look as nice. The picture is also not as sharp. But it's nowhere as big a jump in quality as the introduction of DVD players was, for instance.

Because of limitations of the human eye (which by the way, is not universally applicable, since my brothers and I all have better than 20/20 vision when corrected with glasses), the general consensus is that for most American living rooms, any screen less than 70" is a waste of time for 4K. But HDR is a significant improvement and does make for a gorgeous display with content that drives it. My hope is in the future we'll get more content with HDR and it will make a significant improvement in the viewing experience. In the mean time, I'm not convinced that even in 2018, it would be worth upgrading a 1080p unit to 4K. Since the prices are now comparable to equivalent 1080p screens however, if you're buying new you might as well get a 4K HDR unit, and this one is a good one, especially if you can find a good deal.


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