Sony Bravia CX523 (KDL-32CX523) LCD TV Review
It's currently going for a song; so will this Sony hit the right notes?
IntroductionThe model under testing here is the Sony KDL-32CX523 32 inch LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Sony KDL-40CX523 40 inch LCD TV with a Freeview HD tuner, which has not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a very similar viewing experience.
You could be forgiven for thinking that LED illumination is all that there is in modern LCD’s but, for now, good old CCFL is alive and kicking albeit routinely in the lower reaches of the manufacturers ranges. And such is the fate of the Sony KDL-32CX523 that sits pretty much last in Sony’s pecking order. It’s not without a smattering of features, however, and it lays claim to a Full HD 1080p panel, Internet TV and a Feeview HD tuner meaning just about all it lacks when compared to the recently reviewed EX723 is 3D capability and Motion Flow processing. With current prices starting from around £300, Sony has a rare entrant in the budget market and if recent experiences are to believed, a worthy one. Of course we’d never judge a display by its heritage and reputation so we’ll be putting the CX523 under the same testing duress as any other; how will it hold up?
Styling, Connections and MenusNot so very long ago the CX523 would have been considered a relatively slimline model but, with the advent of LED illumination, it’s now quite a chunky display with its 5cm wide bezel and 7cm deep chassis. We have no problem with this and if it can help overcome uniformity issues and provide a better audio experience, all the better. As it happens, the CX523’s speakers aren’t too bad at all when compared to those found in your typical budget LED and we’ll deal with any uniformity problems later in the review. As with the EX723, the CX523 sits fairly low on its swivelling base stand but unlike its 3D sibling, the 523’s styling suits the rather squat appearance because of the thicker bezel. There’s certainly nothing flash about it, just about the only the only concession to design sensibilities lays in the bottom portion of the bezel being matt black – rather than the gloss of the top and sides – but it looks no-nonsense, and we like that. The supplied remote fits in to the same category and it’s good to see Sony not passing off poorly constructed handsets, just because it’s an entry level TV. In fact, in essence, it’s the same remote that ships with just about every Bravia with a slightly concave front , nicely spaced buttons and a well designed lay-out.
Connectivity options are anything but entry-level and the CX523 features 4 HDMI ports (3 at the rear and 1 to the side), with HDMI 1 supporting Audio Return Channel (ARC). To the rear we also have Scart and Component terminals; the Freeview HD capable aerial socket; the SPDIF digital audio out terminal and a LAN port. On the side connecting panel there’s 2 USB ports, one of which is intended for use with the in-built PVR functionality plus a CAM slot and a headphone jack.
We’ve had our fair share to say about the merits (or otherwise) of the Cross Media Bar (XMB) as the centre of controls for a television so we won’t labour the point but, in short, we find it clunky, unresponsive and a little sprawling. Were it not for the fact most of the frequently used controls were available through the OPTIONS button on the remote control, operating the CX523 could have been an exercise in frustration.
Top most of the selections available from the OPTIONS button is the Picture Menu from where the Picture Mode, Backlight, Contrast, Brightness and Colour controls make up the ‘first page’ of options. To get the most accurate out of box Picture Mode, you’ll need to use the SCENE button on the remote to select the Cinema mode. It’s a bit of a nuisance that neither of the Cinema modes are one of the stock Picture Modes but at least it’s there.
Below the standard 'front panel' controls, there are settings for Hue, Colour Temperature, Sharpness, Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction and Dot Noise Reduction. Last of the non-advanced settings, is the Film Mode, which will be dealt with in the ‘Test Results’ page.
The Advanced Settings area of the Picture Menu houses White Balance and Gamma controls in addition to the Black Corrector, Adv. Contrast Enhancer, Auto Light Limiter, Clear White and Live Colour options that proved no use for anything. We really like the Sony Electronic Program Guide (EPG) with its 8 channel/2 hour view very clearly presented in shades of grey and, for anyone utilising the PVR functionality, it’s possible to set a recording from it with a single press of the remote.
FeaturesIn addition to the just mentioned USB PVR recording capability, the CX523 comes equipped with plenty of additional features, particularly for a TV in this price range. There’s a Freeview HD tuner on-board for subscription free hi def goodness and it’s also Wi-Fi enabled for internet or networking but owners will need to purchase an USB dongle to take advantage of that; naturally the LAN port facilitates a wired connection. There’s also the option to add the CMU-BR100 camera/microphone attachment for Skype video calling, which we guess may appeal to some – if not us!
The most used ‘Smart TV’ features by consumers are the video on demand services and, in this area, the Sonys really do offer plenty. As well as the ‘omni-present’ BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps, owners can also benefit from the Demand 5, LoveFilm and MUBI services, plus a couple of dozen more. Sadly there’s no support for our current favourite, Netflix, but it’s surely only matter of time before that’s added.
For those really desperate to access the internet but for some reason have nothing better than a TV to do it from, the CX523 has a built-in web browser but it really is a bit painful to use and there’s no support for embedded video. The experience can be improved, somewhat, for owners of smartphones for which Sony have a free app allowing pretty much total control over the TV, and it’s far easier to use than the remote for entering text in the browser.
Out of Box PerformanceWe were fairly pleased with the default settings in the Cinema mode and the measurements bore out our feeling that things were already close to accurate. As usual we optimised the basic controls to suit the viewing environment and took the following measurements:
Although the blue channel is tracking higher than we’d like (ideally we want the Red, Green and Blue to be together along the greyscale it’s an error our eyes have difficulty in detecting. When we compared the CX523 to a reference calibrated display, we could see that the Sony was just a little ‘cooler’ but, in all honesty, we could have lived with it, as is. A similar error in either/or red and green would have been far less tolerable. The gamma tracking was close to our 2.2 target, chosen for a modestly lit viewing environment but we’d like to iron out the dip at 90% stimulus, if possible. The calibration controls in the Sony’s aren’t the most generous but we’d still expect worthwhile improvements to be possible.
Much as the greyscale tracking was good to the eye, so appeared the colour reproduction:
Our biggest issues here in attempting to hit the Rec. 709 target points are with the off hue red and green primary’s. Again, we’ll be totally honest, it was difficult to eyeball any colour issues and it needed direct comparison to something that was spot on to see anything was amiss, with real world material. The fact that general luminance of both primary and secondary colours was close to perfect is a big help in ‘fooling’ our eyes here and we’ve no CMS to play with, so it’s a good job too! We should be able to improve the slightly off hue magenta and cyan with the greyscale calibration but we’re unlikely to see any major improvements in any of the primary’s. Still, with overall Delta Errors almost all under the level at which they’re noticeable to the eye, it’s an excellent performance from the little Sony.
Calibrated ResultsSony’s White Balance controls aren’t the greatest; they lack the flexibility of other manufacturers' implementations and are extremely coarse, low down, but we can’t really complain if they’re capable of achieving the desired results. Such was the case here…
Although the sliders don’t allow for absolutely ruler flat tracking, it’s close enough not to matter and Delta E’s are under 3 throughout the greyscale. Our colour temperature is very close to 6504K, where it had been running almost exactly at 7000K prior to calibration and we’re all but bang on the x,y coordinates corresponding to D65 on the CIE diagram. Let’s see how the colours fare on the same chart:
As we’d hoped, the greyscale calibration did have the positive side-effect of aligning the secondary colours, on hue, and we were able to further saturate green and red using the Colour slider, although there wasn’t much improvement in eithers hue results. No matter, really, we’re almost hitting reference readings and for a budget TV, it is an exceptional performance.
Picture ProcessingThere were to be no unwelcome surprises in this section of testing. Both scaling and deinterlacing performance with standard definition signals were very creditable and, with the Film Mode set to Auto, both the most common film cadences were detected in an interlaced signal.
With your player set to 1080i the CX523 will correctly deinterlace and display both the video and film resolution tests, when Auto Display Area is set to off in the Screen section of the Display menu. The Sony also exhibited good scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. Blu-ray 24p content was handled without induced judder, as expected.
Gaming PerformanceThe CX523 performed well enough for the casual gamer but a lag of around 40milliseconds is perhaps beyond the tastes of the competitive player. We were expecting slightly better out of the CX523 here, so it’s probably not the one to go for if video games will be a big part of the intended use.
Energy ConsumptionWith manufacturers put under ever increasing pressure to produce low energy consuming products, this area of testing gives one of the reasons they’re shifting to LED en masse. The CX523 in its calibrated mode took an averaged 55W and, in its out of box mode, 59W.
Picture QualityWe were in a position to side by side compare the CX523 with the more illustrious EX723 during the review process, and the benefits of CCFL over a LED, as a mature illumination technology, were immediately apparent. Whilst we can’t claim perfect uniformity for the 523, it was a darn sight more even than that of the 723. This translated directly in to conveying more convincing blacks and darker shades, and an improved contrast performance, as a result. Shadow detailing wasn’t of the highest order but then show us an LCD that performs excellently in that department, without haloing artefacts. Off axis performance was comparable to that of the EX723, in that anything over 30 degrees out of the sweet spot resulted in noticeable wash out and blacks took on more of a blue tinge; so a corner placement may be the most forgiving location for the CX523. That, or at the end of the bed!
We wouldn’t want to watch all our high definition on a 32inch TV but we do it for you and the CX523 provided fair compensation for our sacrifices. With its virtual reference calibrated results, our Blu-rays were presented in fine order and the 523 didn’t show any undue problems in keeping up with the relatively low frame rates the medium typically delivers. There’s no Motion Flow frame interpolation sorcery on board the 32CX523 and this is perhaps the one area where it loses out to its 3D sibling. Sony’s ‘Clear’ setting does a very good job with fast moving video content and the 523 does exhibit a fair amount of blur with that type of material. Just how much it will bother you is an individual thing but we did find ourselves wincing during some of the Six Nations games. That said, we’re on the look out for issues, rather than just trying to sit back and enjoy and we guess it will go unnoticed by the majority, especially on such a modestly sized display.
Viewing angles aside, the Sony KDL-32CX523 puts many of the far more heralded LED illuminated TVs we’ve seen to shame. No array banding, no flash-lighting, no haloing. Enough said.
- Screen uniformity far better than almost all LED TVs
- Excellent blacks and contrast performance
- Out of box accuracy looked good
- Lots of features - video on demand services in particular
- Better audio than comparable LED TVs
- Calibrated to virtual reference results
- Contrast washes out off-axis
- Blurs fast moving action
- Input lag is not the best
- XMB is a chore
Sony Bravia CX523 (KDL-32CX523) LCD TV Review
For its current entry price, somewhere around the £300 mark, the CX523 represents excellent value. Prospective owners can put concerns over a host of uniformity issues, associated with LED technology, to bed with this little Sony. Throw in excellent contrast performance, able picture processing, a Freeview HD tuner and plenty of connected features and the 523 becomes a compelling prospect for those looking for an end of line bargain. It’s not perfect, of course, viewing angles are limited, fast moving action blurs and gaming responsivity isn’t the best but we’re far more able to tolerate these ‘traditional’ LCD weaknesses than put up with the panel banding, dirty screen effect, flash-lighting and haloing deficiencies commonly present in the average ultra-slim LED. Were we looking for a ‘second’ TV for a bedroom or kitchen, we wouldn’t cast our eyes far beyond the Sony KDL-32CX523.
Its looks might not please everyone, it is after all undeniably chunky by today's standards, but the Sony CX523 has a good feeling of solidity about it. The relatively stout chassis houses some above average speakers, for this price bracket, and the remote control is beyond the quality of many other entry level TVs too. We’ve aired our grievances, at length recently, over the inadequacies of the XMB as a valid control system for a TV so we won’t labour the point. But we’re not that keen, if you haven’t already got the idea.
Whilst the 523 might lack a few of the options the menus in the higher end Bravia’s carry, it’s not short of features; the highlight of which, for us, is in the large number of video on demand services available. There’s also USB PVR recording functionality, the option for Skype video chat and DLNA networking too. Unfortunately there’s no Wi-Fi built in but you can’t expect the world on a stick at this price point.
The out of box accuracy of the CX523 was excellent and the calibrated results even better, in fact far beyond what we’d expect at this level. Video processing was Sony’s customary success story with excellent scaling, deinterlacing and cadence detection. We did miss the Motion Flow options for some of the sports action we tested on the 523 but at 32 inches, most won’t pay much attention to the blur.
Based on the all-round picture performance and feature set of the CX523 - which are excellent at this price point - we’ve no hesitation in bestowing a Best Buy Award but you’d best grab one fast if you don’t want to miss out on this particular end of line bargain.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £449.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
Ease Of Use5
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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