April 20, 2009, 4:47 PM — The Vizio VF550XVT isn't much of a bargain, despite the reasonable US$1800 price tag (as of April 16, 2009). Assorted problems with image quality, weak sound, and clumsy menus, along with a lack of interesting features, make this set difficult to recommend.
The VF550XVT performed unspectacularly in our testing, and had serious pixelation problems. One judge noticed heavy pixelation around cars in a wide shot during our 720p NASCAR racing clip. Tom Cruise appeared to be encased in a bubble of pixels as he ran up a brick wall in a 1080p scene from Mission: Impossible III. The TV also has some problems with color accuracy, displaying some scenes with a yellowish, smoggy cast.
The audio wasn't very good either, despite what appeared to be a sound bar mounted below the main unit. (This mounting left a gap wide enough to see through along the width of the TV, giving owners one more surface to dust.) Listening at a quite loud 60 percent, I heard strong stereo separation between the three front tracks--better than usual on a standard, two-speaker TV --but only the slightest hint of emulated surround. A big blast of organ music was barely louder than the dialogue that preceded it, and the audio suffered from weak bass, as well.
At first glance, I liked the on-screen menu--a smart-looking, 3D black box--very much. It's easy to read and attractive to look at. But I soon discovered just how unintuitive and unhelpful the menus are. For example: Select an item and press Enter, and nothing happens--you're supposed to press the Left arrow button instead. Also, there is no small, convenient menu for gaining quick access to frequently changed options.
The programmable remote has very useful backlighting. Press any key and all of the others light up. Most of the labels are on the buttons, which makes them readable in the dark. But the remote is big and clunky, and several commonly used buttons (including Menu and Inputs) are small and easy to miss.
The VF550XVT has picture-in-picture, which works fine as long as you've turned off the parental control Rating option. And there's a PIP button on the remote, unlike with Samsung's recent PIP-equipped TVs (such as the LN55A950, the LN46A650, and the PN50A760).
In my experience, Vizio TVs usually deliver very good pictures at a reasonable price, but I was quite disappointed by the VF550XVT's performance. Let's hope it proves to be an aberration.