Ultra HD Home Theater Display Review

 

VIZIO SmartCast™ E-Series 65” Class Ultra HD Home Theater Display

 

MSRP: $1099, Street $899

 

| October 18, 2016 |

| Richard De Jong, Editor |

 

Before we begin this review of the VIZIO E-Series 65u-D3, let me advise you that this 65-inch display is not for everyone – particularly, if you are a cord cutter who connects your current TV to an antenna to watch the traditional Over the Air (OTA) broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS and the CW.

 

Simply stated, the E-Series 65u-D3 is not a TV in the sense that it does not include a tuner. You cannot hook up an antenna to the unit and change the channel to NBC and watch Sunday Night Football or switch to PBS to see Masterpiece Theater.

VIZIO E65u-D3 front

To be clear, if you still subscribe to a cable or satellite service, you can easily connect their digital receiver to this 65u-D3 and tune into your favorite channels through the receiver. But if you plan on hooking up an antenna for OTA channel access, look elsewhere for a TV, for example, the VIZIO 2016 D-Series Ultra HD Smart TV fits the bill nicely.

 

The E-Series 65u-D3 Ultra HD Home Theater Display may seem unconventional even to the cord-cutting Millennials who stream all their programming through Internet apps.

 

Unlike Smart TVs that provide direct on-screen connections to apps like Netflix, YouTube or Amazon Video, the E-Series 65u-D3 employs an alternative method that VIZIO has labeled as SmartCast.

 

Basically, the 2016 E-Series has Google’s Chromecast technology built-in and you use your Android or Apple smart phone to access over 1000 Chromecast-enabled apps like Netflix. You find your program, like Netflix’s mesmerizing Stranger Things, on your phone and then cast it to the 65u-D3 display.

VIZIO E65u-D3 Stranger Things cast

Of course, if all that seems too complicated, you can always hook the E65u-D3 up to a streaming media device like a Roku or a Blu-ray player and connect to your apps through these units.

 

I realize that was an extended preamble, but I have read a few too many grumpy reviews from E-Series customers who unpacked their “Home Theater Display” only to discover that the unit did not fit their normal TV viewing regime.

 

If these new methods of accessing your programs appeal to you, then the Ultra HD SmartCast E65u-D3 delivers an excellent 65-inch 4K image for the money. For more details, see the Performance section below the Ratings box.

 

Currently, VIZIO makes seven sizes of the SmartCast E-Series Ultra HD Home Theater Display, 70, 65, 60, 55, 50, 48, and 43-inch. Since the specifications are similar for all seven models, this review of the E65u-D3 can apply to the other six siblings. (Of note, VIZIO does offer HD [not Ultra HD] E-Series TVs. They would require a totally separate review.)

 

Overall Rating: 8.1

 

Performance: 8.3

As good as the video performance of the VIZIO SmartCast E-Series 65” Ultra HD Home Theater Display is – and it is often very good – its picture quality does not pack the consistent punch of a more expensive Ultra HD TV with HDR and wide color gamut capabilities. The audio from the integrated pair of 10W speakers is not great and begs for a purchase of a soundbar system.

 

Features: 7.0

By design, this home theater display is lacking in many of the features common in today’s TVs, no curved screen, no TV tuner, no fancy remote, no built-in camera, no voice recognition or motion control. Also, it does not provide an Apps store, rather it has Chromecast technology built-in to allow you to cast content from apps on your smartphone.

 

Basically, VIZIO has off-loaded most of the normal TV duties to your smartphone or tablet. Of course, if you don't want to talk to your remote or are already accessing streaming apps from your phone or Roku-like device, the "lack" of these features on the E65u-D3 is a +.

 

Ease of Use: 8.0

You would think that the absence of features would make this VIZIO easier to use. And in a way, it does. But if you are expecting the unit to be the hub of all your content, both traditional and streaming, you will have to familiarize yourself to a new accessory-based system. Of course, if your smartphone is already the hub of your entertainment ecosystem, then the E65u-D3 should be easy to integrate and operate and you can push this rating to 9.0.

 

Value: 9.2

At the time of this writing, you can find this VIZIO E65u-D3 Ultra HD Home Theater Display for around $899 from multiple online sources. Simply stated, considering the excellent picture quality from this non-HDR enabled display, the price tag is a bargain for a 65-inch Ultra HD screen. Of course, it is only a deal if you can live without the missing features mentioned above. Also with Black Friday quickly approaching, you might want to keep watch for a door buster.

 

Ratings Caveat

Please remember that all these ratings are relative to the state of the art and marketplace at the time when the review was posted.

 

Performance

 

I don’t want to seem harsh when grading the performance of this VIZIO E-Series display but I recently reviewed the Samsung 65KS9800, an Ultra HD TV with premium features like Wide Color Gamut and HDR and those high-end capabilities do produce consistently better picture quality then this not so enabled VIZIO. (VIZIO's P-Series does furnish HDR and Ultra Color Spectrum.)

 

Then again, the 65-inch VIZIO is selling for around a quarter of the cost of the same-sized Samsung. And importantly, when you are making your purchasing calculations, the picture quality of the VIZIO is quite good.

 

On more than a few occasions, it is head-noddingly, finger-pointedly good. Especially when displaying high production value Blu-rays, both 4K and HD, the colors are oh-so-satisfyingly rich and the detail is crisp without resorting to being overly sharp.

VIZIO E65u-D3 angled

Even with full array LED backlighting (with 12 Active LED Zones of Local Dimming), the blacks on this VIZIO don’t achieve that deep inky velvet backdrop that top of the line OLED TVs can render.   (Again these OLED models are at least four times more expensive.)

 

You may also witness some blotchiness in the deep shadows. But I tend to blame the streaming or broadcast much more than this E-Series display.

 

The audio from the integrated 10W speakers is about what I expect from TV sound, which is not much. The audio might be OK for sporting events, though I often had to turn up the volume even though I sit close.

 

I definitely suggest that you switch the Audio setting out of Surround Sound, especially when watching sporting events. In Surround, very often the announcers’ voices were almost totally lost in the background noise.

 

Even though the E-Series might be a budget buy leaving you with no money to spare, your picture will look so much better if you can add a more capable audio system to your setup, even an inexpensive sound bar.

 

Setup

 

Setting up the VIZIO E65u-D3 includes a bit of a twist in the process. The beginning is normal, you plug all your devices into the back of the display. As a reminder, there is no input for an antenna cable because the E-Series does not supply a TV tuner.

 

VIZIO is spot on when they describe the packaged remote control as “basic” and therein lies the twist. The remote offers the elementary functions, Power, Volume, Channel, and Input, which may be all you need for most day-to-day tasks. But to achieve the full potential of this SmartCast home theater display, you will need to load the VIZIO SmartCast app (Android or iOS) on to your smartphone or tablet. Then, you pair your mobile device to the E65u-D3. (The Installation Guide steps through that procedure.)

 

 

The SmartCast app not only allows you to cast streaming content from apps  like Netflix to your 65-inch display, it also supplies the Picture, Audio and System menus that are usually accessed with your remote control.

 

VIZIO E65u-D3 SmartCast menuHere’s an example of how this two remote combination works. VIZIO furnishes seven Picture Mode defaults, Vivid, Game, Computer, Cal, Standard, Calibrated, and Calibrated Dark. By clicking on the PIC button on the basic remote, you can select one or another. (The remote is pictured below in the Features section.) But if you want to tweak the settings (Brightness, Contrast, etc.) on any of the modes, you do that in the SmartCast app on your mobile device. (Pictured on the right.)

 

As always, I recommend that you sample all the modes with your favorite content and see which you prefer. Though if you are going for a home theater vibe, choose Calibrated or (in a subdued lighting environment) Calibrated Dark.

 

If you want to explore, go into the SmartCast app, tap the little cog wheel icon to pull up the Device Settings menu and choose Picture. In the Picture menu, turn Sharpness down to zero.

 

And if you really feel adventuresome, tweak Gamma to 2.4. This Picture menu also provides the tools for finer tuning, but for most consumers, the default settings are more than adequate.

 

As mentioned earlier, you may find it necessary to turn Surround Sound off. You do that in the Audio menu (found under Device Settings) in the SmartCast app.

 

Those steps should get you up and running. Of course, if you plan on casting streaming content from your mobile device, you will need to download the apps. After you do, the Installation Guide will explain the casting procedure.

 

Features

 

To paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, this VIZIO E-Series is the very modern model for a millennial, the type who have been streaming everything from the Olympics to Game of Thrones on their smartphones or tablets and may finally be ready to luxuriate with a 65-inch 4K screen without the flourishes.

 

This home theater display fills the no-frills bill by jettisoning features that we come to expect, though don't necessarily need or want to pay extra for, like a TV tuner, a fancy remote, and even a built-in camera. The simple flat screen with a standard black bezel is slightly reflective when powered off, but when it’s on, those reflections are not noticeable. The TV does not swivel on its legs.

VIZIO E65u-D3 dimensions

No buttons adorn the front. On the back are a set of basic function buttons (Power, Volume and Input). Also on the rear are two connection panels. The horizontal one provides a LAN port, if you prefer a wired connection to your router. The E-Series also includes an integrated Wi-Fi adapter.

 

In addition, there’s two audio outputs, one analog stereo and one optical digital. There are three HDMI inputs. HDMI 1 is ARC (Audio Return Channel) compatible. (Input 1 supports HDMI Version 2.0. Ports 2 - 4 support v1.4.) On the vertical panels are one more HDMI in, an old-school set of Component ins, and two USB ports. Once again, there is no RF input for an antenna or cable.

 

The E-Series is not what is commonly called a SmartTV because it does not have an on-screen apps store. All of the streaming content apps like Netflix and Pandora are accessed through your smartphone or tablet and then their content is cast from that device’s app to your VIZIO E65u-D3.

Since the E-Series employs Google’s Chromecast technology, the simplest apps to use are the Chromecast-enabled ones. Luckily they number over a 1000, including Hulu, YouTube and VUDU.

 

 

(Note that Amazon Video is not Chromecast-enabled. A VIZIO spokesperson says that if you download the Google Cast plugin to your Chrome browser “You should be able to Cast any web content from the browser." The Google Cast icon never appeared on my iPhone. Luckily both my Blu-ray player and Satellite set top box give me direct access to the Amazon app.)

 

VIZIO E65u-D3 remote controlIf you are working with a Chromecast-enabled app, you simply choose the program within that app on your smartphone, hit the Cast icon and in a few seconds the stream starts playing on your 65-inch display. If the show is available in 4K (for Netflix there is a 4K subscription tier) and you have enough bandwidth, it will stream to your VIZIO in Ultra HD. When casting, the content is bypassing your phone or tablet and streaming directly from the Internet to the VIZIO. The phone is merely the control device.

 

Here’s a hint, if you wonder what is the video resolution of a source coming into the display, on the basic remote, click on the Input button (the icon with an arrow). In a few seconds, at the top right of the screen, a little info overlay pops up and in one of the boxes, the resolution is shown. 1080 is HD, 2160 is Ultra HD (2160 x 3840).

 

Looking through the User Manual that you can download from the VIZIO site, the VIZIO SmartCast app offers a wide array of features such as searching for programs over multiple apps and setting up Favorites or Watchlists. Yes, it might be worth reading the manual - at least that section.

 

Late at night, I like to put on my Bluetooth wireless headphones and listen to TV without disturbing my slumbering partner. This VIZIO does not provide the ability to pair to my wireless headphones. Again my cable box comes to the rescue, but if I want to watch a Blu-ray, I’m out of luck because the player also does not pair with the headphones.

 

The small (1 5/8” x 5 5/8”) non-backlit remote is an encapsulation of the just-the-basics paradigm guiding the designers of the VIZIO E-Series, just six buttons and two toggles – and the Channel toggle is not supported with this E-Series. But when you ponder the functions provided, they are the ones critical for day-to-day-usage.

 

Conclusion

 

The VIZIO SmartCast E65u-D3 Ultra HD Home Theater Display may not be everyone’s cup of tea since it doesn’t include a TV tuner. But if you access your streaming content from your smartphone or tablet, then consider casting it to this budget-priced 65-inch 4K display, with its much better-than-budget picture quality.

 

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VIZIO E65u-D3 front
VIZIO E65u-D3 Stranger Things cast
VIZIO E65u-D3 angled
VIZIO E65u-D3 dimensions

VIZIO E65u-D3 remote control

VIZIO E65u-D3 front
VIZIO E65u-D3 Stranger Things cast
VIZIO E65u-D3 angled
VIZIO E65u-D3 dimensions