By: John R. Delaney
November 17, 2009 

Best known for its rock-bottom prices on HDTVs, Vizio continues to deliver
the latest technology affordably with the VF551XVT. This 55-inch LCD model
features LED backlighting and 240Mhz technology, and costs just
$2,199—around the same price other manufacturers charge for 40-inch
LED-backlit LCD TVs. This HDTV is very energy efficient and picture quality
is generally good, although the panel does produce some background noise and
has a minor viewing angle flaw. Also, it's not the prettiest or the slimmest
TV you'll find, but a very attractive price makes up for all that.

Clunky Design, Ports Galore
At five inches deep, the VF5510XVT may seem
thick for an LED-backlit HDTV, but that's because it uses Vizio's TruLED
backlighting technology, which is comprised of 960 LEDs spread across 80
blocks to deliver uniform backlighting across the entire screen. Thinner
models, such as Samsung's Series 7 LED models, instead use edge
backlighting, which allows them to maintain a very slim profile.

As with the VF550XVT we reviewed earlier this year, the VF551XVT sports a
relatively wide (1.8-inch) black bezel around its massive 1920-by-1080-pixel
LCD panel. The 2.5-inch-high silver speaker bar positioned below the bottom
bezel sticks out like a sore thumb; a matte black finish would give the set
a more elegant look. Despite its flashy looks, the speaker bar delivers very
good audio quality with deep bass and a realistic surround-sound effect
courtesy of SRS Tru-Surround. You can select one of five audio presets
(Flat, Rock, Pop, Classic, or Jazz) or create your own custom sound with the
built-in equalizer. A sturdy rectangular stand doesn't swivel, but provides
adequate support for the 78-pound cabinet.

Thankfully, Vizio hasn't tinkered with the design or functionality of the
remote controls it ships with its HDTVs. The 8.6 inch wand is a glossy black
with a silver base and a band of silver trim on the sides. A polished chrome
rocker switch makes it easy to navigate through the settings menu, and all
the keys are well marked and backlit. It can be programmed to control up to
four devices, including the VF551XVT.

Connectivity options on this set are plentiful; on the rear are four HDMI
ports, a 15-pin PC (VGA) connector and a mini audio port for the PC sound
card, composite and component video and stereo audio ports, one optical
SPDIF output, two sets of analog audio jacks, and a coaxial cable/antenna
jack. A fifth HDMI port is located on the left side of the screen along with
another set of composite and component A/V inputs and a USB port for viewing
photos and playing music and video from a USB key or thumb drive. Above
these ports are Power, Channel, Volume, and Input-Selection buttons. There's
also a Menu button that takes you into the on-screen menu system where you
can adjust basic picture settings such as brightness, contrast,
backlighting, color, tint, and sharpness.

Advanced picture settings include Noise Reduction, Smart Dimming
and Color Enhancement switches. Smart Dimming is a process wherein the
backlighting is raised and lowered according to the video content to provide
deeper black levels. With the feature enabled, the panel did indeed deliver
very deep blacks, but the subtle change in backlighting can be distracting,
and in some cases, the blacks are too dark. During a scene in the Blu-ray
version of Mission: Impossible II, where Nyah is in a darkened club (trying
to lift a diamond necklace), the Smart Dimming feature resulted in a
noticeable loss of background shadow detail. Disabling the feature allowed
me to see more detail, but the picture appeared a bit duller. Other advanced
settings include Color Temperature and Smooth Motion, which uses 240MHz
technology to combat blurring and other motion errors. The feature did a
good job of eliminating jaggies on the HD HQV three-bar deinterlacing test,
but some images appear a bit too smooth around the edges when this function
is enabled, even when using the lowest setting.

After a basic darkroom calibration using images from the DisplayMate HDTV
diagnostic suite, the VF551XVT turned in an average contrast ratio of
1173:1, which is slightly higher than the 1101:1 contrast ratio achieved by
its predecessor, the VF550XVT. Still, it can't match the 3,148:1 contrast
ratio of the pricier Samsung LN55A950.

Colors were accurate and flesh tones were natural looking after a bit of
tweaking (I suggest disabling Color Enhancement to achieve the best overall
picture). My biggest gripe with the VF551XVT's performance has to do with
background noise while viewing 1080p content; during scenes with very light
or white backgrounds, there were noticeable artifacts in the lighter areas.
Enabling the Noise Reduction feature helped, but did not entirely eliminate
the flaw. I was also disappointed with the panel's viewing angle
performance; Vizio claims a viewing angle of 178 degrees, but I observed
color shifting at around 165 degrees. Standard- and high-definition (720p
and 1080i) picture quality using signals from my DirectTV set-top box was
generally good; the aforementioned artifacts were still present but not
nearly as noticeable as with the 1080p content.

One of the more energy-efficient big-screen HDTVs you'll find, The VF551XVT
uses an average of 168 watts of power, which means it'll cost $3.00 per
month to run (based on 5 hours of daily use at a cost of $0.1135 per
kilowatt hour). This tops the already-very-efficient VT550XVT ($3.22 per
month) and Samsung's LN55A950 ($3.17 per month), easily earning our
GreenTech stamp of approval.

Yes, the Vizio VF551XVT has its flaws, but it offers a big screen, plenty of
ports, and cutting-edge technology—all at a very aggressive price. A
not-so-sleek, uninspired design and minor background-noise and viewing-angle
issues notwithstanding, this model delivers an overall solid picture and is
one of the best HDTV bargains you'll find. And, it won't boost your electric