Sony Bravia EX723 (KDL-32EX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review
Mark takes one of Sony's smallest 3D TVs for a spin.
IntroductionThe particular model put under test in this review was the KDL-32EX723 but Sony offer the EX range in a wide range of sizes with, in size order, the KDL-32EX723, KDL-40EX723, KDL-46EX723 and KDL-55EX723 also available for the UK market. Whilst there may be some differences in the panels used in the larger sizes, we expect the viewing experience and features to be broadly similar.
With the new ranges from all the manufacturers nearly upon us, the savvy shoppers out there will be aware that there may be some end of line bargains to be had; although, at the time of writing, we struggled to find this model for anything less than £450. Still, for that price, you will get a Full HD panel with an array of features, including 3D. Sony's TV business is struggling and they can no longer rely on their, once strong, Bravia brand to guarantee sales. Steve Withers' recent trip to Japan with Sony brought up some interesting points from the manufacturer, not least of which was that in a survey commissioned by them, picture quality was said to be the number one deciding factor, for consumers, when choosing a new TV. This is encouraging for us as enthusiasts and we've some fairly high hopes for the 2012 Bravia's but since there's still seemingly plenty of 2011 stock around, and as we wait the first of the new ranges, let's see if the Sony Bravia EX723 can represent a worthwhile purchase.
Styling, Connections, Menus and SetupPerhaps it’s the reduced proportions but the Sony KDL-32EX723 doesn’t quite strike a pose in quite the same alluring way its larger counterparts do, in fact it looks rather squat on its swivelling base stand which looks a little oversized for the panel. Still, we generally like the simplicity of the plain gloss black bezel that is singularly adorned with the SONY logo, bottom centre. The general build quality doesn’t feel up to that of its bigger brethren, either, but once set up and at placed at normal viewing distances, you would never know.
We didn’t get sent a remote control with the review sample but fortunately we’ve stacks of TVs laying about the place and one of the happened to be another Sony that was replete with a handset. Whilst it was not the exact model quoted, by Sony, as shipping with the EX723, we’d struggle to tell them apart, with its slightly concave fascia and simple button lay out. We think there’s probably a standby button on the back of the version that comes in the box but since we were never keen on that idea, we didn’t miss it, one bit. It’s not the most comfortable remote to handle but unless you intend to use the (pretty poor) web browser extensively, it shouldn’t cause too many problems. The Sony EX723 doesn’t ship with 3D eyewear in the box but we happen to have a set of the first gen BR100s, on hand, to test out this area of performance.
For a television of this size, the EX723 certainly has plenty of connectivity options with 4 HDMI ports (3 at the rear and 1 to the side), with HDMI 1 supporting Audio Return Channel (ARC). Also to the rear we have legacy Scart and Component - with corresponding audio jacks – connections; the Freeview HD capable aerial socket; the SPDIF digital audio out terminal; a LAN port and the audio input for the side-mounted D-SUB PC connection or HDMI 4 when used with DVI. On the side connections 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. The side mounted HDMI input is extremely close to the edge of the bezel so anyone thinking off hooking up a permanent connection to HDMI 2 should probably consider angled adapters to hide the unsightly cable.
After we got through the, fairly lengthy, set-up process we were presented with Sony’s familiar Graphical User Interface (GUI) that is largely based on their trademark Cross Media Bar (XMB) that scrolls, horizontally, along the bottom of the screen with the currently highlighted feature running vertically down the right hand side; with a large window that displays your currently viewed input, to the left side of the screen. As we said in the HX923 Review we’re becoming increasingly disillusioned with the XMB as a control interface for television. It’s fragmented, sluggish and sometimes terminally tedious to navigate but at least a press of the OPTIONS button, on the remote control, brings up the majority of the most used - and useful - options.
Before we go in to greater detail on the extensive selections available in the menus, we’d like to mention the built-in i-manual that can be accessed with a single click of the remote. It truly is excellent and houses just about everything you could ever wish to know about the operation of the EX723.
As ever our focus here is primarily with the picture altering settings and under the Picture menu we have all the standard Picture Mode, Backlight, Contrast, Brightness and Colour controls comprising the ‘first page’ of options. To get the most accurate out of box Picture Mode, the owners is necessitated to go through the rigmarole of using the SCENE button on the remote to select the Cinema mode. It’s silly that it doesn’t form part of the default Picture Modes but at least we now have Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, to allow for distinct ‘day’ and ‘night’ calibrations.
Below the standard 'front panel' controls, there are settings for Hue, Colour Temperature, Sharpness, Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction and Dot Noise Reduction. We never found much cause to engage any of the noise reduction options, other than with low quality sources which we try and avoid, where possible. The colour temperature of Warm 2 proved most accurate and a sharpness setting of 20 was appropriate for HD sources. Further down we have options for Motionflow and Film Mode, both of which we'll cover in more detail later in the review.
The Advanced Settings area of the Picture Menu has the controls we'll need to calibrate the EX723, with the White Balance and Gamma controls. Absolutely everything else, in this area, we found either unnecessary or detrimental to picture quality so we'd advise leaving Black Corrector (misnomer), Adv. Contrast Enhancer, Auto Light Limiter, Clear White, Live Colour, Detail Enhancer, Edge Enhancer and Skin ‘Naturaliser’ set to their 'Off' position.
The 3D menu has options for setting 3D display type, a depth adjustment selection, 'strength' of the simulated 2D>3D conversion and Auto, Low, Medium and High choices for 3D Glasses Brightness - the higher the setting the more light is let in and with it a commensurate increase in crosstalk so we advise leaving at Auto.
Sony's Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is perhaps our favourite example built in to a TV with its 8 channel/2 hour view very clearly presented in shades of grey. We wouldn’t mind if a few manufacturers chose to ‘emulate’ Sony’s EPG design but we guess they may feel differently.
FeaturesAs the Sony KDL-32EX723 is Sony’s premier 32 inch TV, it’s no surprise that it comes feature packed. Right at the top of the list, as far as we’re concerned, is Bravia Internet Video which has, at the time of writing, 35 on-demand services, including their own ‘3D Experience’ containing mostly Sony produced content including movie trailers, music videos and game trailers. Sony are in a fairly unique position of owning or producing a lot of their own content and it’s an advantage they’re keen to press home going forwards so it might be an idea to redesign the GUI to make it easier to find. We know they have Google TVs in the works but we hope the promised ease of use translates down to the standard Bravia range in the near future.
Unfortunately there’s no Wi-Fi capability built-in to the EX723 but owners can opt to purchase a dongle to facilitate a wireless connection, if they can’t go wired. We’d anticipate a fair number of TVs of this size are destined for use away from the home internet connection so we’d hope their future 32 inch TVs will carry built in Wi-Fi in the 2012 range. Complaint aside, once connected to your home network the EX723 allows DLNA with decent file support. In terms of video, the manual lists AVCHD, MPEG2, MPEG1, MP4 (AVC), MP4 (MPEG4), DivX, WMV but we can’t guarantee universal success.
The Sony EX723 allows for recording to an external hard drive, via USB, with recordings set from the EPG or manually but be aware you’ll need a minimum of 32GB capacity. Owners can also purchase an optional camera/mic attachment for Skype calls should they not mind being interrupted whilst they’re trying to relax in front of the telly. It will be a cold day in hell…
Last, but not least, the EX723 is a fully equipped active shutter system 3D TV with 2D>3D conversion processing but, don’t worry, we’ll get to that later on.
Measured Results Out of the BoxIt was easy enough to identify the Cinema mode as providing the most accurate images, by eye, and once our measurements confirmed it, we optimised the Backlight, Brightness and Contrast controls for our viewing environment. Having set the basic controls, we took the following measurements:
As the RGB Balance Graph shows the greyscale is tracking fairly well for the brighter elements of the picture but below 50% stimulus, frankly it’s a bit of a mess. Darker shades are heavily blue/green tinted and shadow detail is murdered as a consequence. We’re accustomed to seeing LED’s produce bluish blacks but this is a whole new ballgame. The Sony White Balance controls are notoriously cumbersome at the bottom end so we’re probably going to be required to engage in a fair amount of toing and froing to get anything like an acceptable balance. From 40% stimulus the EX723’s [tip=gamma]gamma[/tip] tracking is very close to our 2.2 target which suits a fairly dimly lit room but, low down, the luminance of the greyscale (that’s what gamma is, in this context) is far too dark but we should see improvement if we can get red to track closer to blue and green.
Having ensured the 723 was expecting to receive a Rec. 709 colour gamut in the Display Menu of the XMB we took these readings:
We had already noted the colour reproduction of the Sony 32EX723 was somewhat on the ‘gaudy’ side and our measurements confirmed over-saturation of just about everything. Ideally we would want the coloured circles in the CIE Diagram to be much closer to the squares around the perimeters of the triangle that represent the REC 709 HDTV gamut, in fact we’d like them bang in the middle. The fact that, unlike most of the competition, Sony doesn’t provide a Colour Management System in many of their TVs certainly doesn’t help our cause here and we’ll be relying on a combination of the greyscale calibration and the Colour and Hue controls to make what amends we can.
Calibrated ResultsWe weren’t expecting miracles with Sony’s white balance controls, which are particularly coarse low down, but we were in for a pleasant surprise:
As an example of how rough and ready the Sony sliders are, the above correction to the greyscale near black was achieved with a solitary click of the remote. Two more clicks, near white, resulted in near perfect greyscale tracking and a, more or less, flat gamma response. We often go against the tried and trusted method of adjusting the high end of the greyscale first, with the Sony’s, and the strategy once again paid rich dividends here. Result, as they say.
We also managed to reign in the gamut reproduction more than we expected and whilst there still were sizeable saturation errors, things were much improved. Most importantly the luminance errors were more or less eradicated to the point where our eyes wouldn’t be capable of detecting them. Still, we could do a lot better with a CMS at hand Sony, and we’d love to see one in your 2012 TVs, although that’s probably a faint hope.
Picture ProcessingIf there’s an area where Sony’s 2011 ranges have performed excellently, it’s here. The EX723 is fitted with Sony’s X-Reality processing chip and so doesn’t feature some of the niceties of found in the 823 and 923 TVs but it still does a very creditable job, indeed. Scaling of SD sources is clear and crisp without excessive ringing. Deinterlacing of video based material is also very good and the EX723 managed the jaggies tests well, only showing artefacting in the bottom portion. The Sony had no problems in displaying a mixture of video and film based content and this excellent cadence detection was mirrored in the SD 2:2 (PAL) and 2:3 (NTSC) film cadences being picked up when sent as an interlaced signal, with the Film Mode engaged.
We don’t see many TVs that struggle with 1080p24 Blu-ray content, these days, and the EX723 didn’t buck that trend with our Blu’s portrayed without undue telecine judder. We certainly wouldn’t recommend engaging the MotionFlow XR200 engine with Blu-ray, or any film based material for that matter, but set at its mildest ‘Clear’ position, its effects on fast moving video were evident and certainly improved the perception of motion resolution, albeit with some occasional artefacting. All in all though, it’s a firm tick in the Excellent category here.
Gaming PerformanceThe results here came as a bit of a surprise when compared to the majority of Sony’s we’ve tested recently, with the EX723 consistently returning 50milliseconds of lag, even in Game mode. Quite why the 32 inch performs so much worse than the larger versions isn’t certain, but some of the other issues brought up in the review would suggest they’re using an older VA type panel.
Energy ConsumptionThe Sony KDL-EX723 isn’t the greenest LED TV we’ve seen either. In calibrated Cinema mode the Sony averaged a 46.5w draw which was only marginally lower than the 49.5w in the out of box picture preset.
Picture Quality – 2DWith the EX723 calibrated we were more than happy with the images it was producing but there’s two large caveats to that. Firstly we don’t expect many owners are going to invest the money in obtaining a professional calibration and the uncalibrated image wasn’t exactly stellar, with its murky green dark tones and oversaturated colour palette so we don’t foresee many owners seeing what it’s capable of. Secondly, viewing angles were very poor indeed with the very good black levels and contrast severely diminished even a small amount off-axis, both horizontally and vertically. The vertical plane is important to consider, particularly when wall mounting and the horizontal limitations will mean a washed out picture for those not plum in front.
Fortunately our testing position is from flush in the middle of the screen and so we were able to enjoy our time with the EX723 (size considered) and of course with High Definition content images were suitably detailed and crisp. The Freeview HD tuner means we can enjoy high resolution content, for free, which is always nice to have. Not that standard definition content gave us displeasure with the 723, as the excellent scaling and deinterlacing, noted on the Tests page (link top and bottom of this page), meant that high quality SD, in particular, looked very good indeed. Of course, a screen of this size is more forgiving than our usual fare.
So, overall, we’ve mixed feelings here. The 32EX723 will provide rich, accurate pictures but only for single people willing to invest in a calibration. We expect there aren’t too many who fall in to that category.
Picture Quality – 3DIf we don’t feel there are many potential owners that will get the full potential from the EX723, we expect that applies equally to potential buyers that would be specifically looking at it as a 3D display. Surely everyone knows that a 32” at typical viewing distances isn’t going to provide one with a particularly immersive 3D experience? Well, perhaps not, but we’ll go on record as saying it doesn’t; unless you like to watch from very close up. For you, our faithful readership, we go to these lengths (pun semi-intentional) however, and with glasses donned we pulled up the recliner to within 3 feet of the screen to fill our field of view. On reflection, we may have enjoyed the experience more had we maintained our regular seating position, as the crosstalk issues were highly evident from so close. Sony say they will greatly improve on their crosstalk problems in the 2012 and they need to. On the positive side, we didn’t see any of the parallax muddles the 37EX723 displayed and if you’re the type that can abide the crosstalk, or don’t particularly notice it, the Sony is passable but still some way behind most of the competition.
We’d seriously question someone’s judgement in plumping for the 32EX723 as a display intended for showing a lot of 3D material, unless it was employed as gaming monitor but there’s an undoubted premium on the price for the feature being in place.
- Calibrated images were convincing
- Decent blacks - once calibrated and on-axis
- Lots of VOD content
- Freeview HD tuner
- Build quality is not the best
- Off-axis performance is disappointing
- 3D is mediocre
- Out of box images were murky green in cinema mode
- XMB is tiresome to use
Sony Bravia EX723 (KDL-32EX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review
For the single, DIY calibrators out there that aren’t particularly bothered about 3D performance but don’t mind paying extra for the feature, the Sony KDL-32EX723 would be a good choice. For everyone else, we think there are probably better alternatives. The EX723 is certainly capable of producing excellent images, with a natural colour palette (when calibrated) and fairly deep, convincing blacks (again, when calibrated) providing rewarding contrast performance and detailed images in both high and standard definition. Unfortunately, move even a little out of the sweet spot – both horizontally and vertically – and all that washes away. We also have to question the sense of buying any 32inch TV with much 3D viewing in mind, unless you sit particularly close but then the 723 will display its crosstalk problems in full. If you’re the type bitten by the 3D bug, we advise to buy bigger, where possible, and if you’re just after a decent 32inch TV with some Smart features thrown in, you can probably purchase one significantly less costly than the EX723. It’s certainly not without its merits and if you can find one for a bargain price, you could do much worse but, all things considered, it misses out on a recommendation.
For once we weren’t particularly bowled over by the look and feel of a Sony TV as the EX723 gives the impression of having been constructed from low quality materials and the base stand looks too large for the 32” screen, giving a rather squat appearance. The remote control is sensibly laid out and whilst we’re still not particularly keen on the concave fascia, it’s comfortable enough for short durations of use. We hope Sony have a rethink of the XMB and, better still, get rid of it altogether in their Bravia TVs as it’s sluggish, fragmented and bothersome to navigate. In mitigation, the OPTIONS button on the remote control brings up most of the important options more fluently and we really like the built in i-manual which gives plenty of set up information for novice users.
Despite the rough and ready calibration controls on offer in the EX723, we were able to extract a reference greyscale performance and reign in the general oversaturation of the colours but the out of the box images were blighted with a murky green cast to the darker tones. Once calibrated, the EX723 managed some excellent pictures and, provided we sat close enough and straight on, plenty of detail and dynamic range, thanks to a very respectable black level and excellent picture processing. Whilst the 3D performance was far from excellent, it’s a definite improvement over that of the Sony’s earlier software versions. Two areas where we expected better results were in the Gaming and Energy Consumption Tests and the EX723 is somewhat lethargic in its response to controller input and thirsty in its electricity usage, for a display of these dimensions.
If Sony are going to charge premium prices for a product, then it needs to look and perform accordingly. Unfortunately, the Sony EX723 doesn’t quite live up to the billing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £649.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level7
3D Picture Quality5
Ease Of Use5
Value for Money5
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