Before we start this review I want to talk about the word Value. From a consumer perspective the value of a purchase is usually the features and quality of a product divided by the amount of money you spent on it. In marketing speak "value" products are usually items that offer features at reduced quality for a lower price, at least that was my take on it until I got my hands on a "Value" HDTV from Vizio.
I recently had the change to spend four weeks with the Vizio VU42L, one of their latest 42" LCD televisions. While Vizio is fairly new to the market I had heard a lot of buzz about them in the tech blogs and spent a little quality time checking out their wares at CES this year. I was fairly impressed at how Vizio could cram so many features (big screen, 1080p) into on box without charging and arm and a leg for it. So while the product focus was value I had some fairly high expectations for the product. Before we delve any further lets take a look at the numbers behind the VU42L.
Screen Size: 42"
TV Dimionsions: 40.5" W x 28.5" H x 9.7" D
Weight: 48.5 lbs
Contrast Ratio: 1800 : 1
- 2 HDMI
- 2 Component
- 2 Composite
- 1 RGB
- 1 Svideo
Supported resolutions 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, 480i.
Max PC resolution: 1366 x 768
What's in the box
TV, remote, AV Cable, manual, batteries, power cord, safety strap, cleaning cloth
Packaging and Aesthetics
The VU42L came packed in a decent 1/4 inch cardboard box. it's the standard large TV setup where you pull a few plastic pieces off the bottom of the box and then pull the majority of the box off the base. The TV is well secured in the box with styrofoam inserts and the TV itself comes wrapped in a nice plastic bag. The majority of the accessories come in a little box stacked at the bottom of the box. It took me a while to find the box of goodies (with it being a press review unit I wasn't sure if the previous owner had absconded with the goods but I finally found them tucked safely away in the box)
The TV itself is good looking and it did pass the significant other test (i.e. the girlfriend approved). The first thing I noticed about the TV was that there are not buttons on the front of the TV which means you have a nice clutter free TV. Instead the buttons are are mounted on the right side of the TV. The seven chiclet sized buttons are located on the right side of the television. They control the power, volume, channel, menu, and an input selector. I like having a separate input button as you can quickly switch inputs on the TV without having to navigate through the televisions on screen menus.
Another thing that draws your eye when you look at the TV is the Vizio logo at the bottom of the screen. When the TV has power the logo glows yellow and changes to white when the television is powered on. I know it sounds cheesy but I really liked the feature as the logo is kind of cool and it also helps answer "Is the power out" question (I had the TV hooked up in my bedroom during a week of thunderstorms so this was a nice feature to have)
The TV is laid out in the traditional TV over speaker configuration. The speakers are sold sounding but not something you'd write home about. This isn't a big issue for me because I normally route my audio through a receiver and speaker system.
One of the things that will appeal to gamers with a lot of consoles is the fact that the VU42L has eight different inputs. All of the inputs except for the S-Video connection are located on the back f the TV. The Svideo port is located on the left side of the TV which makes hooking up a Camcorder or Dreamcast a little easier. The ports on the back are well laid out but face downward. This is to accommodate the ability of the TV to be mounted to a wall. Personally I like this configuration a little better as it's a little easier to get at the inputs. Above the ports is an excellent diagram of the ports so you don't have to crane your neck looking for the right slot or connection.
Setting up the TV is a fairly standard affair. It's certainly a two person job as you'll need two people to get it out of the box and move it to where ever you're going to place it. The TV isn't that heavy it's just a little awkward to move something that big around. Vizio does include a nice setup guide which helps show you what goes where.
As I mentioned previously the inputs on the TV are well labeled so hooking everything up is fairly simple. Vizio went the extra mile and attached a cord wrangler to the back of the TV, it's a little on the flimsy side but it's nice to be able to route all of your cables through one place on the back of the TV. I used the VU42L with the included stand but the TV should be fairly easy to mount to a wall provided you purchase the wall mount kit (sold separately).
The only time I needed to break out the manual was to verify that I had setup the RGB connection to my media center PC correctly. I was having some issues getting audio out of the TV but it was a bit of operator error as it takes a little bit of time for the TV to recognize which audio to use with the VGA signal I was feeding into it.
The remote is decent although a little on the generic side. Dan thought he had seen it the same remote ship with other TV's but that's really neither here nor there. Button layout is decent and there aren't any real chicklet sized buttons that you have to squint to see. The only real problem I had with the remote is that channel and volume where on different sides than I'm used to. That's more of a personal thing though and not that big of a deal once you got used to using it. The remote does feature a nice backlight to help you read it in the dark
Everyday Use experience
I ran the VU42L through a battery of real world non-gaming tests. Since this was a 1080P TV my first goal was to hook up the PLAYSTATION 3 and watch a few Blu Ray movies. I watched a few scenes from "The Departed" before deciding that while the movie looked good I wanted to give the TV a bit more of a challenge. For that I fired up the comic book opus 300. I figured the movies high levels of black and high speed/low speed action would really put the TV to the test.
300 looked absolutely beautiful in HD and the VU42L did a great job of providing solid deep blacks and helping to bring the movie to life. I didn't spend a lot of time calibrating the contrast ratios of the TV but the picture looked stellar right out of the box. The detail was fantastic and you could see every blood drop and severed limb in exquisite detail.
The other challenge I put the VU42L was running it as the monitor for my Vista Media Center. This was another area that the VU42L looked fantastic in as the added space of having a HD Media center really made all the difference. I didn't notice some artifacts on the left side of the standard definition signal and I thought it might have been a problem with the TV but I was able to replicate the problem with my other HDTV and it had the same issues so it looks like it was an issue with the Media Center rather than the TV (Bugs in Vista? That's umpossible). I think the girlfriend actually wept when she came home to find that we had shipped back the TV because the picture quality was that solid.
OK so let's talk about what you're really here to see, how well it acted as a gaming box. For the first round of tests I hooked up my PS3 through to the VU42L with the standard Sony HDMI cable. For my gaming tests I played a bit of Madden 07, the Heavenly Sword demo, Blast Factor, Calling All Cars, and a bit of F1. All the games looked gorgeous and I didn't notice any ghosting that you would normally expect with an LCD screen. The images were very sharp and clear and the VU42L really did well in all it's 1080P glory.
I did notice a few small annoyances with the PS3 connected. Whenever I launched a game I would get the solid blue "No Signal" screen from the system until the game started up. This was a bit annoying when playing games in a dark room because you are temporarily blinded by the bright blue screen. I looked for some way to adjust this in the menus but I couldn't find anything to correct the issue.
Up next was hooking up the Xbox 360 via the standard component cables. After saying a few prayers to ward off the red rings of death I fired up the Bioshock demo and ran through it a few time. I also played a few games Geometry War Evolved and a bit of Oblivion. While playing I didn't notice any tearing and the images were sharp and crisp. I didn't notice any of the issues with the "No Signal" screen that I did with the PS3 which leads me to think that the PS3 doesn't send signal down the pipe while loading games and the 360 does, something you might want to take into account when considering the Vizio VU42L.
One feature that I really liked about the TV is that it is very easy to switch between inputs on the TV. A lot of TV's force you to sort your way through a menu structure to change inputs whereas the Vizio allows you to cycle through the inputs with the push of the button. This is really nice as you can switch between inputs quickly and easily. This allows you to play a couple of quick rounds of Warhawk before flipping over to take down some Big Daddies in Bioshock.
The best measure of a review is whether or not the reviewer would purchase the item being reviewed. With the Vizio VU42L I can honestly say I started checking out prices of the unit online. The TV is a great value for the money and while there is the annoyance of the "No Signal" screen with the PS3 and a few quirks here in there is no doubt that Vizio has delivered a lot of values without delivering a "value" level product. The TV has a MSRP of $1,199.99 about a grand at CostCo, Wal-Mart or through Vizio's online store. For the money you're getting a well built TV that supports 1080P and plays games and movies without any problems.