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VF551XVT Features and Build Quality

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I'm a big fan of LED TVs when they are done right – and Vizio seems to really be getting the hang of this new technology. Their latest heavy hitter, the VF551XVT, has very consistent brightness uniformity – something that is lacking in many of the new LCD-backlit displays. It also reproduces blacks with an uncanny darkness that all but mimics the drool-inspiring qualities of much-heralded plasma displays. For just over $2000, this television is well above average in its value and something that will bring years of quality enjoyment to many homes.

Vizio is enjoying a lot of success in the TV market, shipping more LCD HDTVs in the U.S. then any other TV company last year. Vizio’s shipment of LCD TVs surged 92.1 percent in 2009 from a year ago to 5.92 million units. This means they beat out Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and LG in the numbers game. It's impressive, but what's even more impressive is that Vizio seems to be dumping a lot of its hard-earned capital back into R&D. One company behind Vizio’s success is Taipei-based AmTran Technology, a contract manufacturer that specializes in computer monitors and televisions. AmTran owns a 23% stake in Vizio and connects the brand with key component makers in Japan, Taiwan, China and Korea. And lest you think they only service "budget" manufacturers, AmTran also makes products for Bang & Olufsen. That's not such bad company to be in.

Any day now Vizio is slated to introduce some new televisions with Internet apps and Bluetooth remotes with an integrated QWERTY keyboard. The TVs will be internet-connected with 802.11n dual-band wireless and will be able to utilize web applications through the Yahoo Widget engine. This will include Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Blockbuster On Demand, Flickr, Pandora, Rhapsody and more. For now, however, we got to experience Vizio's latest technology, sans apps. The VF551XVT 55-inch LED backlit LCD offers a lot of compelling features – especially given a street price that's (far) less than $1800:

  • LED backlighting with local ("Smart") dimming
  • 240Hz SPS with "Smooth Motion" processing
  • 5 HDMI and 2 YPbPr inputs (one of each on the side)
  • Integrated ATSC/Clear QAM tuner
  • SRS TruSurround HD & SRS TruVolume
  • Operates at 50% below Energy Star 3.0 guidelines

Build Quality

The Vizio VF551XVT LED LCD television is ginormous. That's right, I said it and I'm not letting spell check  take it back. For someone who has a 94-inch reference projector screen, 55-inches shouldn't seem like much... but the BOX. The box was huge when it arrived and as I removed the television from its packaging I knew I should have double checked the shipping dimensions before agreeing to let this monstrosity into my home. My coworkers chastise me for being the only male on the planet who will complain about a TV or projector screen being too big. I admit it, it's nice to have a big screen – I just wasn't expecting 55-inches to be so... encompassing. From someone who has spent a lot of time in the 42- and 50-inch world, wrapping those extra 5-inches around the outside of the screen really contributes a lot to the size of the display.

The display itself is really nice looking. It has an unusual configuration in that the bezel is black, as you'd expect, but the bottom sports a "floating" speaker that is offset by a glass panel which is partially illuminated to show off some of the more advanced features of the TV. It's actually an elegant design and one that I haven't seen before. The only unfortunate thing is that the speaker cannot be removed from the display – in fact it's part of the one-piece rear chassis. A common complaint I have is that televisions which integrate separate speakers underneath or to the sides should always make them removable. There are pros and cons here, but if the speakers were removable, then this would remove the biggest con and make a more useful and flexible product. After all, if I'm intent on using my advanced audio system at all times, why should my television be any larger than it needs to be. Of course the super-thin models do away with this entirely by hiding the speakers on the back or otherwise routing audio similar to how laptops do it.

The rear of the television has a recessed area on back for making cable connections, similar to previous Vizio models. As televisions get flatter (the VF551XVT is about 5-inches thick), manufacturers are having a harder time figuring out how to position the connectors such that the cable bend radius clears the back of the TV. Vizio doesn't have too much of an issue with this, largely due to the size of the set (they have a lot of space to work with) and its depth (since its 5-inches doesn't qualify it as a "super-thin" model). If you utilize a standard wall mount you should be fine with the amount of clearance given by the VF551XVT.

The connections provided include four rear-mounted HDMI inputs, component video, composite video, S-video and HD15 (VGA) inputs. There is also an RF (ATSC/QAM/antenna) input and TOSlink S/PDIF and analogue outputs. Each of the video inputs also has a stereo pair of RCA connections (composite and S-video share theirs), and the HD15/VGA input utilizes an 1/8-inch mini connection. Even the HDMI section can utilize a single RCA pair for audio if needed. This is handy in the event you are utilizing an A/V receiver with your television and want to use the Vizio's speakers, even though you have the system configured to pull audio from HDMI. Typically, an A/V receiver can either strip the audio off HDMI, or pass it through to the television. With this stereo RCA connection, you can alternatively feed a second analogue audio output to the television as a backup – say, from your satellite receiver or Blu-ray player - giving consumers the option to use the TVs speakers without having to turn on the receiver.

rear connections

One more HDMI input than the SV471XVT

Aside from the rear connections, the Vizio VF551XVT also gives you an HDMI side input and a component and composite video input. We find that a side HDMI input is excellent for when you want to  use your laptop to stream online media like Netflix or Hulu. Combine this with an iPod app like Logitech's Touch Mouse and you'll be controlling online media from your couch in no time.

 

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