Special thanks to Vizio for providing a free sample of the Vizio M50-E1 for review.
Description and Features
The M50-E1 features a relatively standard design. The panel itself measures 49.5" diagonally, with bezels that are 1/2" thick on all sides, but because of the slim strip of black area on the outer margin of the panel, the effective bezel is a bit wider, more like 5/8". The M50-E1 is 25.6" tall and 44.5" wide according to our tape measure, and is a rather chunky 2.9" thick. The metal loop feet add an additional 2.4", making the set exactly 28" tall when assembled on a stand rather than mounted on the wall. Notably, the feet are very wide-set, at 38.5" end-to-end, meaning you'll need a stand that's at least 40" wide to ensure that the M50-E1 doesn't slide off the edge when bumped. This is in contrast to a lot of more expensive models that use a center-mounted foot design, which allows the user to set the TV on top of a stand that isn't nearly as wide as the TV itself. While it could be argued that having a TV overhanging your stand isn't aesthetically pleasing, it's always nice to have the option, and unfortunately you really don't have that with the M50-E1.
In terms of connections, the M50-E1 is fairly complete, with a notable exception. Along the side of the frame, it has a USB input, component video along with stereo inputs, plus an HDMI port. On the rear, facing downwards (ideal for wall mounting), you have Ethernet, two more stereo jacks (these being for output to a receiver), a digital optical out, and three more HDMI ports. So this is all very good, but the one issue is that there's only one HDMI 2.0 port (labeled HDMI 1), which is thus the only port capable of accepting true 4K signals. That's of course the one you'll need for high dynamic range (HDR) content as well - the M50-E1 is very cutting-edge in that regards, supporting not just HDR10 but the superior Dolby Vision also. Plus, you must go into the VIZIO display’s Input settings to enable the "full UHD color" function, which turns on the 10-bit signal from UHD content and provide full color and dynamic range.
HDMI port #1 happens to also be the audio return channel (ARC) port, used to send audio from the TV to a receiver, as you'd use for media streamed through the TV itself. This becomes a bit of a problem, as you can only get 4K video into the TV through that HDMI #1 port, but you may also want to connect it through the receiver to get audio out. That's going to cause some issues for anyone without a circa-2016 high-end receiver that can pass UHD HDR video. The vast majority of receivers cannot do this, which means you'll need to connect a 4K HDR source, like a 4K Blu-Ray player, into HDMI port #1, but can't get audio out of it to your receiver. A lot of buyers of the M50-E1 won't realize the limitations the set has until they go to hook up true 4K equipment down the line, like HDMI 2.0-equipped gaming PCs, game consoles, or 4K Blu-Ray players.
In addition to buying a third-party device, there are three ways to get streaming content from the M50-E1: the Vizio "StreamCast Mobile" app for smartphones, the new-for-2017 built-in "SmartCast TV" apps, and Chromecast, which uses third-party apps with built-in support for casting via Google's Chromecast system. To a certain extent, there's a lot of overlap between these functions, and in our opinion, if the M50-E1 had a full suite of built-in apps, there just wouldn't as much need for the SmartCast mobile app. Alas, Vizio's built-in apps are quite limited, and one of the biggest, Amazon Video, was just recently added (the other big ones included being Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and Crackle). A few apps that are notably missing are YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and HBO Now, but these are all available in the mobile app. Basically, users are going to have to do a bit of hunting around if they frequently use various media sources.
The first thing you may notice about the M50-E1 is that it boots into a live smart screen. This is a huge advantage in a day and age where so many users are getting their content from something other than an antenna or old-style cable box (which, notably, the M50-E1 does not support, as it has no coax input). Too many modern TVs, including our 2014 Samsung 4K model, default to static if you don't have one or the other attached, and even our 2016 LG OLED reference model defaults to a screensaver. We'd really like to see statistics on how most media is being consumed today, but we'd guess it's not cable or antennas, especially in the young, savvy, cost-conscious market that Vizio is targeting. Now, one major drawback of Vizio's approach is that the welcome screen takes a lot of time to load. Even in "quickstart" mode, the TV took 13.75 seconds to turn on, and in "eco" mode it took 15.5 seconds. Given how close these two are, we'd just as soon leave it in eco all the time for the energy savings while off. We think the slow startup really stems not from the power-up delay, but from the slow processor that Vizio has built into the M50-E1.
We tested the M50-E1 using a variety of 4K sources, including Amazon Instant Video via the built-in SmartCast TV app, YouTube via the SmartCast Mobile app, as well as 4K discs via our Oppo UDP-203. Overall, we were very impressed given the pricepoint. No, it won't match an LG OLED when it comes to color and contrast, and it's not as bright as LEDs from Samsung and Sony that cost twice as much, but it's very good, certainly good enough to be someone's first 4K display. HDR content, like Planet Earth II and the science-fiction film Arrival (which uses lots of panning shots) looked great, and John Wick 2, which has among the widest dynamic ranges you'll find in any movie, looked fantastic. Furthermore, we believe Vizio has struck a pretty good compromise in terms of its motion handling in films, avoiding excessive smoothing while still offering decent 3:2 pulldown to avoid excessive judder.
Alas, we were disappointed to find that watching content tagged as HDR through the built-in Amazon app did not properly display as HDR10 (as indicated by the lack of an HDR10 notification in the "info" panel), and defaulted to standard 4K content. Our guess is that this is a limitation of Vizio's app, and we hope Vizio can work with Amazon to bring this great source of 4K HDR10 streaming content to consumers.
While we wouldn't judge a display for its audio, we found the built-in speakers on the M50-E1 surprisingly good. It helps that the display isn't particularly thin, which gives the set the ability to produce a bit more bass then paper-thin models. The only weakness we found was that dialogue could get lost amidst sound effects and music in complex surround soundtracks, which no doubt is a result of trying to do a bit too much with a set of stereo speakers. That being said, the M50-E1 actually provided a pretty good approximation of surround sound, and overall, we don't think anyone would be disappointed in the audio. Serious audiophiles will of course get a separate AV anyway, but it's not critical if you're just building out your system.
There's just no other way to say this: the M50-E1 is a great deal! Given its $600 retail price, it packs in tons of features, including a variety of ways to enjoy streaming content, aided by a user-friendly interface that puts streaming content front and center when the TV is powered on, plus comprehensive HDR support. There are just a couple things we would change about the M50-E1. The startup time is notably slow, the multiple overlapping methods of getting streaming content to the TV provides plenty of options but can be confusing, and the styling and stand design could use a bit of work. Put another way, the M50-E1 is perhaps a little rough around the edges, but we think that's reasonable - this model is designed to hit a pricepoint, a very competitive one at that, and shouldn't be mistaken for a luxury model.
Note: this review is adapted from one that originally appeared on The Tech Buyer's Guru website.