For quite some time the 42″ flat panel TV was the default — in much the same way as the 19″ color TV had held sway. The reasons for this at the time involved cost — 42 inches was considered “big” and the scramble was on to make the price attractive for this new chapter in TV viewing. Now there are flat panels 55 inches and larger — and at prices compatible with what a 42″ display used to cost. So why get excited at Vizio’s M4221 42″ M-Series Smart LED HDTV? It’s because it provides such a good picture.
Assembling the M422i was easy and straightforward — the base attached to the panel with four solid screws. The set’s fit and finish are top notch, with the svelte appearance and thin bezel one now expects with an LED set. The overall feeling is of a solid, not flimsy, chassis (having a very stable base that doesn’t wobble aids in this). There are multiple audio, video and data inputs: 4 HDMI inputs, Component, Composite, USB, analog and digital audio — making enough for any kind of modern-day or Jurassic video source. The multiple HDMI inputs means that there’s plenty of room for a video game console to be plugged in, alongside that of a cable box or satellite receiver, Blu-ray player or a device pass through (i.e., that from a sound bar). I fired up the satellite receiver and watched a few TV shows with the M422i at its “default” settings and wasn’t disappointed with the image. But this 42” HDTV screamed to be tweaked, so I went into the menu settings and fiddled with brightness, contrast, color temperature and others so as to make for a more dynamic and personally acceptable image. By doing so I was able to tap into the excellent black performance that this TV generates — dark areas hold detail well and they don’t appear off-gray or “muddy” to the eye. To further test this, I put in the Blu-ray Disc of 300: Rise of an Empire and gave more attention than was good for eye-strain to those dark scenes wherein CGI mixed with real and can often result in a “blending” that makes both look bad. Didn’t happen here — those shots of the raging sea held their realistic (if barely) look of water, ship and people. Speaking of which — flesh tones were also excellent and there wasn’t any color banding when highlights hit foreheads.
I also put the M422i through its “speed” pacing by running Non-Stop (Liam Neeson action flick) — here I was concerned whether the TV could keep pace with the action and not give in to blurring or any of the artifact issues that can occur when the HD rez of a Blu-ray disc is providing massive details in minute areas that blast back and forth from light to dark. That the M422i performed admirably was evident by my ignoring the study of “how” the image looked and instead I just got sucked into watching “what” was going on on the display. But it did occur to me that that the M422i displayed its imaging more dynamically than that of a similarly sized LG flat panel that I had recently seen.
But one needn’t stop with “standard” settings changes, since the M422i provides a number of specialty modes for servicing the display’s image. One of these takes into consideration multiple active zones as a way to improve image contrast — the effect is very subtle on the image however. Another mode is the Professional Settings video options — these allow for tweaking each color in a matrix fashion to set the colors to professional standards. This mode also includes a color bar generator for fine-tuning the color. Those who expect/prefer the TV to automatically handle everything will at first find this perplexing (or boring), but its addition to the control over the display is worth hand clapping. Sound also has many adjustments but the built-in speakers hamper the quality of the result due to their minute size and minimal wattage. The surround effect that is psycho-acoustically created fails to impress since the small speakers are unable to emit really effective low-end bass. This is not surprising and is a problem shared by other TVs much larger in size. Hence the reason for the proliferation and success of the 2.1 sound bar.
The M422i is also a “smart TV,” which is something that the 42″ displays of old had no inkling of. There is online access and apps — accessible by running a cable from the TV to a router or through the use of the built-in WiFi antenna and enacted from a sensible and highly functional remote which features a mini-keyboard on the backside. Three leading on-demand services (Netflix, Amazon, and M Go) have their own dedicated buttons on the remote so that you can jump right to them as if they were simply other TV stations. By pressing the “VIA+” button on the remote, some of the most popular apps appear as icons along the bottom of the screen. You can jump right into the app by simply scrolling to it and selecting it, also as if it were a channel. In addition, you can launch the App Store which has four pages of pre-installed apps to choose from as based on the Yahoo App Store. This is all helped along by a redesign of the user interface as it applies to the “Smart TV” platform. Examples are that of a bottom-located dock that holds apps in a ribbon-like fashion that makes for easy access and which can be quickly launched (brought onscreen by pressing the “V” dedicated button on the remote. Accessing the apps full screen provides movement-navigation through categories allowing for apps to be added, removed or relocated relative to others. All of this is provided to the viewer in a seamless, intuitive fashion that makes it seem like the apps are just a natural extension of the television channel lineup.
Another addition is the “Second screen” capabilities — these don’t provide additional content but lets the same content be controlled and “thrown” from mobile device to the TV (the same for iOS and Android devices). For this to work, both the mobile device and TV must be running the same app (currently this is only available for YouTube and Netflix). Its use can be quickly established, especially once the short learning curve has been loaded into “muscle memory.”
Bottom line: $499.99 buys you the Vizio M422i 42″ M-Series Smart LED HDTV and the VIA Plus Smart TV platform — which is really the heart of what makes this set stand out. It provides a smooth, seamless interface for playing content from many internet sources, making them almost appear as if they were TV channels. The interface is very simple and easy to use to play content from not only the obvious locations such as Netflix and Amazon and Hulu, but also from one-button web channels “apps” like Funny or Die, and also from streaming music services like I Heart Radio. Vizio I think finally figured out how to make a compelling viewing experience for the consumer and, combined with the easy-to-use QWERTY keyboard and simple navigation, makes the Vizio VIA Plus a great media viewer/TV set to own and enjoy.
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Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.