Secrets Q & A

Do You Recommend the Vizio XVT3D580CM?

Question:
I would like to get the 58-inch Vizio XVT3D580CM CinemaWide HDTV with a 21:9 aspect ratio. I'm sure it will be great watching Blu-ray discs, but I'm concerned that it might be a disappointment with 16:9 content from my HD cable provider and over-the-air local channels. Can you give me the advantages and disadvantages of this TV, and if you've reviewed it, can you tell me what you think?

- Jay Nesbitt
Chula Vista, CA

Answer:
I haven't reviewed it myself, but Tom Norton at HomeTheater.com has, see that review here. Ty Pendlebury also reviewed the XVT3D580CM for Cnet, see that review here. When you read those reviews, you'll see that Tom liked the set more than Ty.

To summarize this unusual LED-edgelit LCD flat panel, it is said to have an aspect ratio of 21:9, or about 2.33:1, though it's pixel resolution is 2560x1080, which translates to an actual aspect ratio of 2.37:1. This is very close to the widescreen aspect ratio of many movies made today (typically 2.35:1 to 2.4:1). When you play such a movie on this set, you see no black letterbox bars above and below the image as you do on a conventional 16:9 HDTV.

However, 2.35:1 high-def movies have a pixel resolution of 1920x817, and the remaining 263 vertical pixels (out of a total of 1080) are used to form the black letterbox bars. With a pixel resolution of 2560x1080, the Vizio CinemaWide TV must upscale 2.35:1 movies both horizontally and vertically to fill those pixels. According to Tom Norton, it does so very well, with outstanding detail and smoothness.

When 16:9 and 4:3 images are displayed, they are normally accompanied by black "pillarbox" bars on the sides. The set provides some zoom modes to stretch and/or crop these images to fill the screen, but this distorts the picture, and I certainly don't recommend using these modes.

Both reviews point out that there is no manual 21:9 mode that forces the TV to display everything in that aspect ratio. Normal mode is supposed to display images in their native aspect ratio, but it doesn't always work correctly. For example, according to Ty Pendlebury, "...the TV could 'lose' hold of the signal and revert back to presenting it in a 1:1 ratio—which would mean black bars around all of the movie. This usually occurred when changing aspect ratio, but on a couple of occasions (and ones I could not replicate with further testing) it happened during normal 21:9 material. After a couple of seconds, it would then revert to full-screen, but the effect was quite jarring and pulled you out of the movie you were watching. This happened a couple of times during our testing, but it's hard to say what the cause of this was—the PS3, the HDMI switcher, or the TV itself. Suffice to say that a dedicated 21:9 mode would fix this potential issue."

Tom Norton encountered similar problems: "In the Auto Aspect setting of the multiple-position Wide (aspect ratio) control, the set switches automatically between 2.35:1 and 16:9 by sensing the presence or absence of black bars. This takes a second or two to accomplish, and with menus, trailers, and FBI warnings in a blizzard of aspect ratios stacked up before the main feature, the picture size can bounce around like a Whack-A-Mole. The set also doesn't respond well to some films with non-standard formatting, such as mixed-aspect films (currently rare, but including The Dark Knight and Tron: Legacy). These and other nonstandard aspect ratio films were sometimes displayed at full-screen width with geometric distortion or other oddities, regardless of the setting of the Wide control. Our review sample, however, was an early production model. Vizio says it's working on ironing out these kinks as I write."

Ty also noted that the pop-up menus of many Blu-rays are displayed in the lower letterbox bar, which is eliminated on this set. As a result, you must change the aspect ratio to see these menus.

What about movies with an aspect ratio wider than 2.35:1? As Ty recounted, "I checked how the TV would deal with aspect ratios larger than 2.4:1, which is a consideration if you're a fan of Hollywood golden-age blockbusters like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. I figured that the TV would stretch the 2.7:1 aspect of Ben-Hur to fill the screen [horizontally]; it didn't even try, making it sit in a small rectangle in the middle of the screen."

Then there's the issue of image size with 16:9 material, which has the same active image area as a 46-inch 16:9 TV. And since the vast majority of high-def content is 16:9, that's a pretty small TV for $2000, not to mention how tiny a 4:3 image will look.

Like all LCD TVs, this one's image quality suffers when you move off axis—in particular, the apparent black level rises, reducing the contrast. But with such a wide screen, if you sit close enough, the blacks at the sides of the image appear lighter than those in the center.

Can I recommend the Vizio XVT3D580CM? Reservedly. If you watch mostly 2.35:1 movies, you really hate black letterbox bars, and you can live with the set's quirks, you'll probably love it. Otherwise, I recommend a good 60-inch or larger 16:9 set, which will give you a bigger 16:9 image with fewer quirks. Yes, there will be letterbox bars on 2.35:1 movies, but if the set's black level is low enough, you'll soon forget them as you get lost in the story.