Review: Vizio’s P50-C1 4K Ultra HD Display With Dolby Vision
UPDATED! Vizio’s 2016 P Series “home theater entertainment displays” have been getting glowing grades as reasonably priced 4K Ultra HD products with high dynamic range (HDR) capability, and a quick glance at demo material would seem to confirm that.
However, we’ve learned the hard way that just because a TV looks great in the showroom doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to perform that way in the real world. So we made arrangements to borrow a new 50-inch Vizio P50-C1 ($999.95 suggested retail) model and ran some tests to see what all hype was about.
Screen sizes and models in the P Series include: the 50-inch P50-C1, the 55-inch P55-C1 ($1,299.95 suggested retail), the 65-inch P65-C1 ($1,999.99) and the 75-inch P75-C1 ($3,799.95). All models have smart functionality built on the relatively new Google Cast streaming system, and all ship with a 6-inch 1080p Android tablet in the box to control all of the display’s settings as well as the Google Cast streaming platform.
The tablet comes with a charging stand and can be used for typical tablet activities in addition to controlling the big screen (no camera is included). Wisely, Vizio also throws in a more conventional button-style remote for those who prefer to control their video the old-fashion way.
Our verdict was that while the display has an impressive-looking overall picture, and very good price, there are still some issues that need to be clarified before making a purchase.
Read more of our review of the Vizio P50-C1 after the jump:
The P series “entertainment display” does some things very well – like producing OLED-like black levels with rich, colorful 4K UHD images, though with some detail crushing. It also has some problems with screen uniformity, color shifting to red when viewed off-angle from the left of center screen, occasional failures getting the tablet control interface to relay commands to the TV as quickly as we would like, and a failure out-of-the-box to present content produced in the HDR-10 format.
Following this review, Vizio added support for HDR-10 to 2016 P- and M- Series displays.
HDR-10 is the defacto baseline standard for HDR presentation today, and Dolby Vision, which is supported out-of-the-box in the P Series, is a voluntary format in the Ultra HD Blu-ray specifications. No Ultra HD Blu-ray players yet support it. Thus far home video content availability is provided by a handful of studios and distributors including Warner Home Entertainment streaming titles on Vudu, as well as select titles on Netflix and others.
Our feeling is that a 4K Ultra HD display with HDR must at least support HDR-10 out of the box or you run the risk of having a TV that might never play it. Dolby Vision is a fine HDR format, and perhaps better than HDR-10. Most studios are supporting Dolby Vision on the creation and production end for theatrical release, and additional TV makers like LG have signed on to add it to their 2016 TVs. With the HDR-10 firmware update, we now feel a lot better about this model.
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While we’re on the subject of HDR, this display didn’t come close to achieving the 1,000 Nit peak luminance called for by the UHD Alliance in its Ultra HD Premium logo certification program. The best we could muster using Vivid mode with contrast and back light boosted to 100, and gamma set to 2.4 (for dark room viewing) was 526 Nits. Some say that’s plenty for good HDR reproduction, but until something better comes along we will stick to the Ultra HD Alliance’s premium criteria recommendation of 1,000 Nits for LED LCD displays.
Vizio has rejected the UHDA’s certification program, saying the UHDA’s premium logo criteria announced in January falls short, although the UHDA has pointed out that Vizio chose not to join in the discussions to help set the standard in the first place. Dolby Labs, which developed Vizio’s HDR format, did, however.
According to a statement from the company: “Vizio sees value in the industry specifying a premium experience for consumers but the “Premium 4K” certification program proposed by the UHDA falls short and has serious problems. The UHDA program does not sufficiently detail how to measure for or specify items like peak brightness or black level and as a result, certifies some products that we don’t believe should qualify for a UHD Premium certification and would ignore other products that should be certified.
“Specifically, the certification’s 1,000 Nit peak brightness spec does not address any limitations of blooming of haloing artifacts, which can dramatically affect dynamic range (contrast) and overall picture quality. The testing requirement only measures the center brightness point of a test pattern and does not measure how the surrounding black level is affected. To maximize contrast, the peak brightness should be measured at the same time, with the same pattern as black level, as is done with ANSI contrast measurements.”
Vizio said the UHDA’s measurement range of 1,000 nits-to-0.05 is the equivalent of a 20,000:1 contrast ratio. “Vizio’s Reference Series gives you 800,000:1 contrast ratio, but in theory does not meet the UHDA `Premium 4K’ spec. Vizio’s focus is performance and true dynamic range, which is a balance between brightness and black level,” the company said.
Vizio reps have reportedly told some members of the press that a firmware update is coming that would enable HDR-10 playback on P Series displays in the future. But thus far the official statement reads: “Vizio remains focused on the Dolby Vision format at this time, as we feel it is technologically superior and has substantially better picture quality resulting from a proper implementation of high dynamic range and extended color gamut.”
Vizio has sought to differentiate itself by handling HDR using Dolby’s proprietary Dolby Vision format, which performs well under perfect streaming conditions on Vizio displays, but the fact is there are far fewer options for content in Dolby Vision than in HDR-10 at this time. Meanwhile, the stories about HDR format wars in the press threaten to stall (like 3D TV) the launch of a promising new home entertainment technology by confusing customers.
The best argument in favor of buying this display is its ability to produce deep black levels. We found a respectable black level of .06 Nits measuring for Rec. 709 with an L20 window size.
Technically, the black level in this display should be virtually immeasurable, like LG’s 4K OLED TVs, because the full array back lighting system is able to turn off individual zones of LEDs. Vizio’s P50-C1 model has 126 Active LED Zones, giving greater lighting control at close to the pixel level.
I compared the picture of the P50-C1 side by side with a 2016 KS9000 Series SUHD TV, playing The Revenant on synched Samsung K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Because the Vizio doesn’t support HDR-10, it did not receive the HDR metadata from the disc, and therefore presented a 4K Ultra HD image without HDR. The Samsung TV showed the image in full 4K UHD with HDR.
I was impressed. Despite not playing HDR-10, the Vizio P50-C1 had a very deep black level and warm tones from the camp fire scene that follows The Revenant bear attack. Missing, of course, were the spectral highlights of the HDR in flames and the rich glow of reflections on faces. These were all brilliantly displayed on the Samsung KS9000. Also, without the brightness boost from HDR-10, the black details were somewhat crushed and missing, where they were clearly visible in the brighter Samsung HDR picture that was more washed out. We didn’t have a copy of the title in Dolby Vision HDR to compare on the Vizio P50-C1, but we can assume it would have had similar spectral highlights to the HDR-10 picture with less crushing of detail in black regions of the picture than the non-HDR version. At least, that is the case in some streamed Dolby Vision samples of other content we’ve seen.
Overall, both displays offered very pleasing, though very different looking images. The Samsung KS9000 lacked the black level depth of the Vizio, and the edge-lit back light even washed out slightly the black in the bars at the top and the bottom of the frame. But I could see every detail in the black corners of the screen along with deeper and punchier oranges and yellows in the camp fire flames on the KS9000. Those elements didn’t exist as far as the Vizio was concerned without HDR-10 capability.
In Rec. 709 mode, gamma measurements varied wildly according to window size and gamma setting point with local dimming turned on.
Below was the best gamma measurement on the P50-C1 in calibrated mode, when set to 2.2 measuring at a 10% window in a dim room. (See below).
The gamma shifted dramatically when changing to a 100% raster window. (See below.)
Another promising new capability of next-generation 4K Ultra HD displays is the ability to produce color gamuts as wide as the Rec. 2020 standard used for professional video cameras and other production gear. Currently no consumer display can achieve the full Rec. 2020 gamut, so the industry has used coverage of 90% of the Digital Cinema Initiative’s (DCI) P3 color gamut, recommended for professional movie projectors. The 90% coverage of P3 is specified in the UHDA’s Premium certification.
Our measurements for color gamut were made using a center-weighted D65 P3 target and an L20 window size, which produced an 84.6 percent P3 coverage reading. The display was set to Vizio’s “Calibrated Dark” picture mode measuring in a dark room.
Note: Our limited time with the P50-C1 test model prevented us from running our own full calibration as we normally would, so we deferred to Vizio’s Calibrated and Calibrated Dark picture modes to take our measurements and play our test material.
Boosted by the rich black levels at their base, the colors in images were sufficiently warm and satisfying to the eye, for the most part.
CIE 1931 chart with a 10% window in Calibrated mode.
CIE 1931 chart with a 100% window in Calibrated mode.
In calibrated mode, colors were pretty close to hitting all of the marks in the CIE 1931 chart for Rec. 709 (see above).
Where the image was affected to some degree was in the display’s back lighting system which presented some issues in uniformity when displaying a single solid color across the screen. Using 100% white and black screens we saw some dark blotching, with a prominent thin horizontal band running across the top half of the screen. Switching to 100% gray screen we saw the dark horizontal band continued, though less evident than on the white screen. In both cases we also saw faint vertical jail bar patterns starting at the bottom of the screen and fading out before mid screen.
With a 100% white screen, we also saw some evidence of color shifting, with a distinct shift to pink/red moving from the center screen to the left side. Some red shift was also seen on the opposite side but to a lesser degree. The 100% gray screen also exhibited a general greenish tone even looking dead on center.
When checking for clipping we saw distinct pink tones in white step patterns. When viewing actual images, however, little of these flaws was evident.
Vizio’s upscaling system was less than stellar. Viewing our sample copy of a the black-&-white Raging Bull DVD (played back on the Samsung K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player) revealed heavy amounts of mosquito noise in bright white curtains in the kitchen argument scene between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Some elements of the picture become almost unwatchable as additional bright white details filled the background. Adjusting for block noise and signal noise improved the picture some but did not entirely remove the buzzy background distractions.
The 50-inch P Series model we reviewed had only a native 60 Hz refresh rate (all of the larger models have native 120 Hz refresh rates), augmented with Vizio’s motion compensation technologies. We found these to be an insufficient substitute for duplicating a full 120 frames every second, as native 120 Hz refresh rate displays do. We can only assume that the 55-inch and larger P Series sets handle motion better with their 120 Hz panels, compared to this 60 Hz unit.
With the P50-C1, some motion artifacts were prevalent in most of the motion compensation and upscaling tests in the HQV Blu-ray Test Disc Vol. 2.
We did notice that the P50-C1 handled the soap opera effect pretty well, without a lot of adjustment.
Don’t Tune Me In
When it comes to viewing over-the-air TV channels, Vizio’s 2016 P Series 4K Ultra HD “entertainment displays” (in addition to select E and M series models) change things up.
By U.S. Dept. of Commerce regulations these “displays” can no longer be called “TVs” or “television sets,” because they lack ATSC broadcast tuners, technically making them “displays” or “monitors”. Vizio calls them “home theater entertainment displays.”
The company said it elected to do away with tuners because fewer and fewer people are even bothering to hook up antennas to their sets anymore. Instead, most elect to use a cable or satellite service and over-the-top streaming apps, like Netflix. It also saves a few bucks, helping to make the displays little less expensive. Purchasers are advised they can buy external tuning devices if they still watch free OTA broadcasts.
Casting In With Google Cast
Vizio started a new trend this year by dispensing with its traditional built-in smart TV software system in favor of having its displays stream movies, music and other content via Google Cast, using a separate Android-based tablet and Vizio SmartCast App to store streaming service apps and control the content selection and playback processes. Those who have used Google’s Chromecast media streaming dongle will find the Google Cast system very familiar. Others will find the system takes some getting used to.
As mentioned, Vizio is shipping an Android tablet with each television to control both the display and the apps through the Google Cast system. In this way, the content is delivered from the streaming service in the cloud directly to the television, freeing up the tablet for various second-screen duties.
A Vizio SmartCast app can also be downloaded to smartphones to perform the same tasks.
Unlike the Chromecast dongle, the P-Series TVs can stream 4K and HDR from supporting streaming services. To stream a program, the user opens an app for their favorite streaming service, selects a title to stream; taps the Cast icon, and the content begins to stream down from the cloud directly to the big screen display.
Vizio pre-loads the SmartCast app on the tablet which enables switching sources between HDMI inputs, adjusting the picture modes and controlling volume.
We found the process was less responsive and simple to use than advertised. In our run-through, we found controls for switching things like gamma settings, for example, occasionally stuck in cycling mode for 15 to 20 seconds before the TV verified the setting had been made – if the setting was made at all. Holding the tablet vertically, as it seems to be positioned for most commands, required not very intuitively swiping the screen upward to get the tablet in operable mode.
Similarly, casting content selections from apps didn’t always engage on the first try, leaving us reaching for the conventional remote more and more to perform basic actions.
You will also need another remote for your cable or satellite box to change channels and operate the DVR, since the SmartCast App is not yet able to make those changes. You can download a separate app to the tablet or smartphone to control the cable or satellite box and keep everything in one device, but this will require getting out of the SmartCast app and calling up the separate app for the source component, which is cumbersome to say the least.
The old fashion button-style remote that comes in the box will control channel changes, volume, source switching, and picture setting modes. Frankly, we can see a lot of Vizio P Series customers eventually ditching Google Cast and moving to Roku or Fire TV boxes or dongles along with a more consumer friendly universal remote.
Like most 4K Ultra HD displays this year, the flat-screen P50-C1 has a thin aluminum bezel with perforations on the sides, presumably to help with ventilation. The appearance is attractive and upscale. Vizio has elected to color the bezel silver, which is more or less standard in higher-end TV lines this year.
For a stand, Vizio offers a pair of V-shaped silver feet at the far left and right ends of the screen to give the set relatively safe stability in tabletop placements.
As with most LCD TVs, off-angle viewing issues were prevalent on this TV – all but the 55-inch unit use VA panels while the 55-inch uses an IPS panel. All of these could be problematic if wall mounted at high angles to the viewer. It’s best to keep these sets at eye level while seated and the viewer in center screen.
Vizio adds five HDMI inputs to the P Series models, but four of these are HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 and one is HDMI 1.4 with HDCP 2.2. Reportedly, the four HDMI 2.0 inputs will be updated to HDMI 2.0a when the alleged firmware update to HDR-10 is delivered later this year. HD Guru promises nothing.
Also included is a set of component video inputs, two USB inputs (one with version 2.0 and one with version 3.0), an Ethernet LAN port, optical digital audio output and stereo audio output.
Vizio’s 50-inch P50-C1 has an impressive black level performance which produces rich, colorful images. At this price, the display offers a good value, but we see its primary target being shoppers who care more about the price of the display than the actual performance. Understandably, at a $999.99 suggested retail price for a 50-inch 4K Ultra HD HDR display it’s going to be hard for a lot of people to walk away. But upon closer scrutiny, issues with uniformity, upscaling, motion compensation, and some color shifting in uniformity tests leave room for improvement, especially when measured against “premium” — and more expensive — models from Samsung, Sony, LG and others.
UPDATE: On Aug. 10, 2016, Vizio officially announced release of a firmware update bringing support of HDR-10 from external sources, such as Ultra HD Blu-ray players, to this model. This is a long-awaited welcome addition, which we applaud for bringing owners of all 2016 P- and M-Series displays access to a wider range of compelling new content. We will attempt to get another review sample in the future to test how this model handles HDR-10.
Based on our original analysis, we awarded the Vizio P50-C1 three and a half out of five hearts.
The Vizio P50-C1 was obtained via a retail purchase.
By Greg Tarr
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