Vizio to Bring Dolby Vision to Home Theater


On April 13th, Vizio issued a pair of press releases on its Reference Series LCD displays and its partnership with Dolby. The partnership with Dolby will allow Vizio to incorporate Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) technology into its displays. According to Vizio, these are the first Dolby Vision-enabled televisions. That evening, I attended the Vizio Spring Showcase in New York and had a chance to learn more and see the demonstrations.

In addition to Dolby Vision, the two announced Vizio Reference Series televisions with 65” and 120” diagonals include additional advanced features and are, of course, UHD resolution. Both include full-array local dimming backlights with 384 active LED zones in a 16 high x 24 wide rectangular array. This backlight system enables several things. First, it allows brighter images with a specified 800 nits output, compared to typical LCD TVs with 400 – 600 nits. It also enables the wider color gamut needed for Dolby Vision, although the exact color gamut of the two systems was not specified. In any event, it is larger than the Rec. 709 HD specification but smaller than the Rec. 2020 specification, which essentially requires a laser backlight, not an LED one. While the Rec. 2020 color gamut is the nominal gamut for future UHD transmissions, the Vizio representative said no one was currently mastering content to match the Rec. 2020 primary colors. He did say the LEDs in the backlight use high-performance phosphors but not quantum dots. The LEDs in the backlight generated white light which was then modulated by the RGB sub-pixels on the UHD panel.

Side-by-side comparison of a Samsung 65” 8550 UHD (left) Vizio 65” UHD Reference Series (center) and a Panasonic Kuro 1080p Plasma display (right). The photo does not do justice to any of the displays.

One reason the Reference Series needs higher than normal output is to accommodate the HDR features of Dolby Vision. “High dynamic range” could, in theory, either boost the high light brightness or improve the ability to reproduce multiple shades of grey in the dim regions. But people want bright TVs, so the highlights it is. Dolby Vision demonstrators have had up to 4000 cd/m² of highlight brightness, well beyond the 800 cd/m² from the Vizio 2015 Reference Series. Maybe next year?

According to Vizio, “The 2015 Reference Series was designed for the cinephile, pushing the boundaries of brightness, color and contrast and featuring an integrated home theater system to perfectly round out the consumer experience”. The 65” system was shown in a side-by-side comparison with a Samsung 2014 65” 8550 4k LCD and a Pioneer 60” Kuro 1080P plasma panel that was several years old. The Vizio rep said that this plasma TV had been very well reviewed and was still a favorite with cinephiles. The Samsung and Pioneer sets were showing normal (i.e. Rec.709 HDTV content, upscaled for the 4k set) while the Reference Series display was showing the same content that had been re-mastered for the wider color gamut and higher dynamic range. The Samsung set had edge lighting and 8 zones: four horizontal bars that were lit separately from the left and right. The plasma set, of course, had no backlight or backlight zones.

I would say the performance improvement of the Vizio set was, at best, only a marginal improvement over the performance of either the Samsung LCD or the Pioneer plasma set. When the representative freeze-framed the image on an explosion, you could see details in the explosion you could not see in the other two sets. At normal speed, however, you didn’t really see this detail anyway. The content Vizio showed as demo content included lots of explosions – the Dolby Vision HDR is intended to show highlights like bright explosions better than conventional technology.

Perhaps the star of the show was the 120” Vizio Reference Series display. It dominated the main room and if you are a cinephile who wants direct view instead of projection for your large screen, this may be your answer.

Vizio_VUDU_resize.jpgSome Dolby Vision/UHD movies available from VUDU, Walmart’s video streaming service

The Vizio Reference Series gives consumers access to Ultra HD streaming content. This will include an initial slate of Warner Bros. 4k Ultra HD Dolby Vision titles that will be available through VUDU, Walmart’s over-the-top (OTT) video streaming service. Consumers can find an ongoing list of upcoming Warner Bros. titles in Dolby Vision at Initial Dolby Vision content will include Into the Storm, The Lego Movie, Man of Steel and Edge of Tomorrow. While these movies were originally produced for normal 4k, they were remastered for the wider dynamic range and expanded color gamut of Dolby Vision. Portions of these movies were used to demonstrate both the 65” and the 120” Reference Series displays.

The Vizio Reference Series TVs have not been launched yet but are expected to be available later this year. – Matthew Brennesholtz

Analyst Comment

Matt mentions the 4,000 cd/m² that Dolby has shown, but it seems to me that somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 cd/m² may be practical for consumer products. Dolby showed a 2,000 cd/m² 32″ display exploiting the efficiency of quantum dots off-site during the IFA show. (BR)