The Long Road to a 4K TV Set!

December 21st, 2017

I purchased my last TV set in 2012. Our 50-inch Panasonic plasma was showing its age, and it was time to find a replacement. Flush with some cash from an unexpected ad deal, I purchased a 55-inch VIZIO E-Series Full-Array Smart TV set. Picture quality was quite good for a relatively low-cost LCD panel of the period, with bright, crisp pictures. In contrast, the Panasonic wasn’t near as bright, but it had an infinite viewing area. The VIZIO’s picture quality declined sharply off angle, typical for even the best of these sets.

But after talking about the 4K high resolution format so much on my radio show, I realized it was time to consider getting one of these sets in here or review. The folks at VIZIO agreed to send a 2017 55-inch M-Series SmartCast 4K Display with HDR. It bears model number M55-E0. All they asked was that I actually review the set in exchange for receiving it, but they had no restrictions on how I should approach the task, or what I’d conclude about the product.

They know me well enough to realize that nobody tells me what to say and how to say it.

The set arrived in October. I’ve mentioned this before, but the UPS delivery person stuck it on my apartment’s rear patio, taking advantage of the fact that I live on the first floor. I didn’t notice until I received a notice from VIZIO’s PR agency that the unit had shipped.

I nearly freaked for a few minutes until I noticed some barely decipherable scribbles on a delivery notice stuck on the side of the front door. I almost missed it, and I had an epiphany!

Once I brought in the set, I opened the box and took a fast look. A few days later, I asked one of my neighbors, someone who used to work for a cable company, to assist in carrying things. My back is still recovering from that June auto accident that totaled my car.

Within a few minutes, the legs were attached. We removed the old set from the stand and prepared to place the new one in its place.

But we hit a sticking point!

You see, the older VIZIO has a single stand at its center. It was was placed atop a Zvox Z-Base 580 soundbase. The new VIZIO has two metal legs situated 43 inches apart near the edges. I mention this for reasons you’ll see in a moment.

The soundbase had to go, since it’s only 36 inches wide. But here’s where we confronted a potential deal breaker. My existing TV stand was just 41 inches wide!

My helper suggested I go to a lumber store and have them cut a piece of wood wide enough to accommodate the new set, or see if I could find a precut piece of glass in the right dimension. The price of a single piece of glass, however, proved to be higher than the price of a new TV stand. A piece of lumber became the last resort until I lucked upon a TV stand with glass shelves that measured close to 50 inches wide. It was perfect, but cost more than I wanted to spend. But the store was fixing to close for good in a day or two. The stock was nearly cleared out except for a small number of items, and the manager was only too happy to take a $20 bill to get rid of the remaining TV stand, made by AVF, which usually sells for $80-90.

Now it goes without saying that few TV sets these days offer anything close to decent sound. The real thin designs, and the struggle to price them as cheaply as possible, means something has to give. Only the really large sets offer anything close to good audio quality, particularly when it comes to reproducing the thundering bass provided in those blockbuster super hero or sci-fi films.

VIZIO suggested a solution, one of their latest 2.1 soundbars, bearing model number SB3621n-E8. The unit measures 36-inches wide, and it comes with a 5.4-inch wireless subwoofer said to reproduce 50 Hz. The Zvox claims to reach 34 Hz, which is a noticeable but not significant difference. Although it lists for $149, the  VIZIO is getting stellar reviews, even when compared to competing gear priced at two to three times as much

Now a couple of things about the new TV. It has Google Chromecast built-in, offering a small number of embedded apps, such as Netflix. You can also “cast” thousands of other apps via an iPhone or other mobile device. Since it’s offering 4K streaming, you can theoretically dispense with an external streaming set-top box, such as an Apple TV 4K or devices from Amazon, Roku and even Google. I’ll have to see just how well it works, but remember you will still need an Apple TV to receive iTunes content.

Also notice that VIZIO refers to this product as a “Display” and not a TV set because there is no built-in tuner. For most of you, that isn’t going to be much of an issue. You probably receive most of your TV content via a cable or satellite set-top box or a separate streamer — or perhaps both. I suppose that’s another reason VIZIO has managed to keep the retail price at $699.

If you need a tuner, you can buy one for $30 or so at Amazon.

As most of you know, there’s not a whole lot of 4K content available yet, so much of what you watch will be scaled up from HD. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of a quality 4K TV is the ability to upsample lower resolution fare and deliver a good picture, close to the real thing. Amazon, iTunes and other services are beginning to offer more 4K content, but don’t expect much or anything from the cable or satellite providers. You’ll also find a growing number of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs if you’re willing to buy one of those new players, which aren’t altogether cheap yet. They will be.

I’ll post a preliminary review of the VIZIO in the next issue of our weekly newsletter. While I am guided by the approach taken by other reviewers, I am not going to follow their usual routine and calibrate the set professionally. Sure, that will help the unit produce the best possible picture, but it doesn’t reflect how most people will set up their TVs, particularly lower cost models. I prefer real world experiences, and I’ll try to make the best of the presets, so you’ll have an idea of what to realistically expect without lots of hoop jumping.

Meantime, I’m thankful to VIZIO for the early Christmas cheer.

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6 Responses to “The Long Road to a 4K TV Set!”

  1. dfs says:

    I think I’ve stumbled across a big problem with these “smart” 4k tv’s (in my case a 60-in Sony Bravia model). When I try watch something from its preloaded Netflix app I am constantly bedeviled by spinning beachballs because it can’t handle the streaming. And I see a LOT of complaints about this very same thing when I google for “Sony Bravia memory.” When I watch the same thing on my Apple t. v. I encounter these problems rarely if ever. Why the difference? Well, I can only guess and, for want of any visible alternative, I am beginning suspect that Sony failed to put a decent amount of memory in the model I have. I can’t verify this since memory size is not a statistic that Sony (and I would suspect many other mfrs. too) is exactly eager to publicize. But here’s a problem that customers (and reviewers too) ought to be much more aware of than they seem to be. If you want to watch streaming content on one of these things without a whole lot of heartache, you need to hold out for a model with a decent amount of memory, or even with upgradable memory, or accept the extra expense of relying on an Apple t. v. or similar outside aid to deliver your streaming programming. And if the salesman is unable or unwilling to discuss this issue, you should head for the nearest door. If you don’t pay attention to this issue, my guess is that you’re going to find yourself in a world of pain.

    Gene, as you start using your set I hope you don’t get bit by this problem yourself.

    • gene says:

      I tried Netflix, an embedded app, and it was amazingly fast to load, much faster than on Apple TV. So it may be an issue with Sony. It’ll be slower, however, if I load an app that’s “cast” from my iPhone.

      I’ll be trying out more features in the days to come ahead. So far it’s looking good, though the setup process took about 20 minutes to complete. But that was mostly due to downloading firmware and software updates.


  2. David says:

    I’m in the market for a new TV and I can’t wait to read your review!

  3. dfs says:

    Yes, my Netflix embedded app loads faster than my Apple one too. But everything else is as I have described it, the embedded app chokes on streaming content, the Apple one handles it gracefully, and, as already stated, my theory is that amount of available memory is responsible for this crucial difference (when my Sony chokes and I restart it, it accepts another 15 min. or thereabouts of streaming content, just as if its memory has been flushed.) I scarcely claim to understand the ins and outs involved, but loading speed seems determined by factors other than available memory.

    • gene says:

      Is this a new set, or one you’ve owned for a while? Have you ever complained to Sony?

      So far I’ve run the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video apps on the Vizio without encountering any problems in loading the apps or the content. Both offer 4K or Ultra HD fare and it appears HDR is functioning, so pictures are sharper and colors are richer.

      More to come.


  4. dfs says:

    I think that over time you will realize that the real benefit of these 4k sets isn’t so much in their ability to handle 4k programming as in the upscaling they do for regular HD fare. Pictures are sharper and colors brighter and more saturated, to the point that if you’re sitting more than a very few feet away from the screen the difference between upscaled HD and true 4k is not easy to detect. But everybody should relax and enjoy it, and not be deterred from buying one of these sets by the fact that the networks and cable companies are dragging their feet in implementing 4k. Just by itself, the benefits of 4k upscaling justify the purchase.

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