January 15, 2009

By Ken Werner
Senior Analyst and Editor

Last Saturday in the Vizio suite at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Ken Lowe was enthusiastic. Lowe — Vizio’s Vice President and CTO, and a company co-founder — seems to take genuine delight in cramming interesting technology into the company’s products for improbably low prices. And now that Vizio has its premium XVT series, Lowe has a somewhat wider playing field.

Top of the line will be the 55-inch VF551XVT LCD-TV, available this summer. The set will have a 120Hz refresh rate and motion estimation and motion compensation (MEMC) to control both motion blur and judder. A direct white-LED backlight with local area dimming has 240 LED zones and, I’d guess, a bit over 2000 W-LEDs. Moving picture response time (MPRT) is 6ms; luminance is 500 nits; color gamut is 77% NTSC, and dynamic contrast ratio is a claimed million to one. (In general, I take these very high contrast-ratio numbers with some skepticism, but the black levels on the Vizio set were certainly very dark.) Vizio has said the set has an in-plane switching panel, so, by comparing specifications, it’s not hard to guess the panel is from LG Display.

This fall, a version of the set — along with other members of the XVT family — will offer IPTV functionality, which Vizio is calling its "Connected HDTV Platform." In addition to having a socket for an Ethernet cable, these sets will come with 802.11n wireless connectivity. As Lowe commented, most people don’t have a broadband connection where they have their main TV set. The remote control for these sets will be Bluetooth, not infrared. The IPTVs will not adopt a “walled garden” approach, but will be open to a limitless number of IPTV program sources. Yahoo Widgets will be available, but widgets are not limited to Yahoo’s, and the widget bar can be edited by the user. Among the content and service providers working with Vizio are Adobe (for their Flash Players), Amazon Video on Demand, Blockbuster OnDemand, Flickr (on-line photo and video sharing), Netflix, Pandora, and Rhapsody. Widgets are currently being developed for CBS, Showtime, Twitter, The New York Times and MySpace.

The VF551XVT also comes with 5 HDMI sockets, and a USB port. Lowe says he insisted that a FAT32 codec be included, along with the more expected MPEG-2, H.264, WMV9, JPEG, and MP3 codecs. As a result, a hard drive or solid-state drive can be plugged into the USB port. (This applies to all new models in the XVT series.) A 1GB thumb drive with 1080p content is included with the set. And the set comes with an integrated soundbar and SRS TruVolume for intelligently maintaining constant volume.

But here’s the big surprise. Vizio’s MSRP for the VF551XVT will be $1999.99. For a 55-inch, FHD, 120Hz, MEMC set with direct LED backlight and local area dimming, that’s startling.