Vizio’s SV420M isn’t the least-expensive HDTV in Vizio’s current 42-inch lineup. But this 42-inch, 120Hz, 1080p LCD model won’t break the bank either, and it delivers midrange image quality and excellent usability, plus one feature (picture-in-picture) that you typically don’t find at its price point.
Vizio also touts the set as exceeding Energy Star 3 requirements, and in our tests we found that it did fall on the lower end of power consumption.
The SV420M landed roughly in the middle of the pack in our juried image-quality tests in our lab. Judges found its colors generally pleasing but complained about loss of detail in some dark areas, as well as about artifacts such as moiré on a suit in The Dark Night and shimmering bricks in Mission: Impossible III (both on Blu-ray Disc).
The SV420M’s industrial design is simple; the basic black bezel is fairly narrow, and its inputs are easily accessible on the back (three HDMI, one RGB for PC hookup, one composite/S-Video, one component, and coaxial for DTV antenna or cable) and side (one HDMI and one composite). The set does not, however, offer a network hookup for Internet features or a USB port or SD Card slot for viewing of content stored on external media.
The first-time wizard includes a retail-versus-home-use option along with the usual settings for language choice and video source, followed by automatic channel tuning.
The main menu offers lots of picture-mode presets, including separate ones for four different sports (football, golf, basketball, and baseball) on top of the more conventional options for standard, movie, game, and vivid. You can also create one custom preset with your preferred brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpness settings.
In the advanced video settings, you’ll find noise reduction, color enhancement, advanced adaptive luma (which, when turned on, is supposed to improve details in dark areas, though we noticed no huge difference), backlight control, color temperature, smooth motion level, and real cinema mode; the last two items seek to smooth out jerkiness that can occur with certain types of content, including movies. Vizio helpfully provides a convincing smooth-motion demo option that creates a split screen showing duplicate content, with the effect applied on one side.
On the audio menu are several music-type presets (rock, pop, classical, and jazz), as well as the rather unappealing-sounding “Flat” setting. The SV420M also has a rather unusual feature for synchronizing audio to lip movement when the two don’t match, but I didn’t encounter any such problem in my hands-on tests. I found the audio quality acceptable, but was unimpressed by the surround-sound simulation: Audio from the Blu-ray version of The Phantom of the Opera didn’t sound as three-dimensional here as it did on some other sets.
The picture-in-picture option lets you view images from two video sources, a TV channel and a Blu-ray disc, for example. (You’d need two tuners to toggle between two channels, so that isn’t an option.) A menu item allows you to set up the two sources as well as to control the size and position of the superimposed picture, a convenient customization option. Another nice option is the ability to create your own input labels of up to eight characters, using the remote to scroll through the alphabet and numerals; this lets you distinguish, say, a Blu-ray player from any other HDMI-connected peripheral (which would otherwise be labeled simply as HDMI1, HDMI2, and so on).
The compact remote has a minimalist design, with no options for controlling other home theater components. That limitation aside, all of the controls are easy to find and clearly labeled, with oversize volume and channel-changing rockers and separate buttons for four input types (TV, composite or S-Video, component video, and HDMI). Alternatively, you can access inputs via a dedicated Input button, which brings up a complete list of video sources to choose from. The remote’s Guide button provides channel-specific information such as screen resolution, audio type, and station.
Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor
How we tested. We evaluate HDTVs based on the way a typical person would, day in and day out. The HDTVs are calibrated using only controls available to consumers, and we also use a Sencore OTC1000-CM (Optical Tristimulus) Colorimeter and Sencore MP500 MediaPro Digital Audio/Video Generator and HDMI Analyzer (both connected to an HP notebook), Sencore ColorPro by CalMAN software, and transparent color films from the HD Digital Video Essentials consumer calibration kit. We evaluate HDTV image quality using juries of editors, writers, and labs analysts, using a test script developed by the lab. All content is distributed to the HDTVs using a Radiient HDMI 2:6 HDTV Distribution Amplifier. Results of the subjective tests are averaged to produce final rankings. More details on our testing methodology are available for your perusal.
Vizio’s printed documentation is first-rate, consisting of a large and colorful quick-start sheet and a more detailed printed manual. At this writing only the quick-start sheet was available online, however.
Macworld’s buying advice
Overall, the SV420M seems designed to please people in search of a value HDTV set with plenty of user-customization options and decent (though hardly outstanding) image and sound quality. At its price, that’s about as good as it gets.
[Yardena Arar is a contributing editor for PC World.]