Sony EX524 (KDL-40EX524) 40 Inch LED LCD TV Review
Steve Withers takes a look at Sony's entry level LED LCD TV
IntroductionThere was a time when a 40 inch screen would have been considered huge but these days you probably couldn't even find a plasma that small. For this reason the 40 inch and smaller market is almost exclusively made up of LCD screens which come in two flavours, those that use the more traditional CCFL backlighting and those that use the more recent LED edge lighting. The question of which to choose has been rendered somewhat moot by the manufacturers current obsession with ultra-slim chassis which has resulted in LED edge lighting dominating the market. The alternative approach of using CCFL backlighting has fallen out of favour because it results in a slightly deeper chassis but those of you who can remember the days of CRT TVs will no doubt think they still look pretty thin.
Thankfully for anyone who is trying to decide which type of LCD to choose, Sony actually provide both varieties within their entry level 52 series, the KDL-40CX523 and the KDL-40EX524. Whilst the two models share an impressive list of features including internet capability, Freeview HD and the new X-Reality video processor, the KDL-40CX523 uses CCFL backlighting and the KDL-40EX524 uses LED edge lighting. Since we tested the KDL-40CX523 last month, this will provide us with an opportunity to compare the performance of the two differing approaches to backlighting. So let's take a look and see how the KDL-40EX524 measures up to its CCFL counterpart.
Styling and ConnectionsThe design of the KDL-40EX524 is identical to the KDL-CX523 with a gloss black bezel at the top and sides and a brushed metal finish along the bottom. Whilst it won't be winning any design awards we actually favour a black bezel on a TV for reasons of image quality and overall this is a reasonably attractive display. The bezel measures 3cm at the top and sides and 5cm along the bottom which is also where the speakers are hidden.
Given the entry level status of the KDL-40EX524 there is a decidedly plastic feel to the entire chassis but the build quality is reasonably good. The stand is made of metal and gloss plastic and the central metal column is tilted back at a slight angle and can be swivelled from side to side.
There are a reasonable number of connections at the side and rear, including four HDMI inputs - three rear facing and one side facing. Also at the side is a VGA D-sub connector, two USB 2.0 sockets, a headphone socket and a CI (Common Interface) slot. In addition to the three HDMI inputs there are is also a rearward facing SCART socket, an optical digital out, an aerial socket, component video in, stereo analogue in and a LAN connector. Whilst some people might complain that rear facing inputs make the KDL-40EX524 harder to wall mount, we prefer it to the current trend of having inputs at the edge which results in cables poking out the sides.
The provided remote control is the same design that Sony has been using for a couple of years and we would like to see it revised. Whilst the buttons are sensibly laid out, the shape of the remote makes it quite uncomfortable to hold and it has a cheap plastic feel to it. As with many other manufacturers Sony now provides an application that you can download to your smartphone or tablet that turns it into a remote control. This application is freely available and once installed it can be used to provide full control over the menu functions.
Menus and Set UpThe KDL-40EX524 uses Sony's latest version of their cross bar menu system with the various menu options along the bottom and up the right hand side and the picture on the upper left hand side. The new menu system is faster and more responsive than last year's but it can be frustrating having to scroll through the various menu options to get to the one you want.
The first menu option on the KDL-40EX524 relates to all the TV functions, the display is easy to tune in and the resulting Guide is one of the better versions that we've seen. The information is clear and sensibly laid out and there is a thumbnail image with audio in the top left hand corner.
The KDL-40EX524 is easy to setup for networking and you can either connect to your router with an ethernet cable or use the USB Wireless LAN Adaptor (UWA-BR100) which is sold separately. Since the KDL-40EX524 is one of Sony's entry level Internet TVs it offers an impressive level of internet and media capability. First of all there is Bravia Internet Video page which offers a large variety of video on demand services and is reasonably fast in operation. Since this is a Sony product there is also their Qriocity functionality for movies and music on demand via their Music Unlimited page, as well as their Gracenote functionality which provides information on any music tracks that might be playing.
The Widget page allows you to access specific applications such as Facebook and Twitter and the Applications page includes other features such as an internet browser and Skype, although that will require an optional camera and microphone. The Media page allows you to browse videos, music and photos from your home network or a via USB.
Other useful features include feature include twin view for watching two different sources next to each other, a PVR function for use with an external HDD, a presence sensor that turns the TV off if you leave the room and full DLNA functionality.
There are two ways of accessing the Picture controls, one is via the menu system which can be time consuming and the other is via the Options button on the remote. Unlike some of the higher end Sony displays the KDL-40EX524 does not include a Theatre button on the remote control which engages a pre-calibrated mode similar to the THX mode on other TVs. However there are a large number of other presets including Vivid, Standard, Custom, Photo-Vivid, Photo-Standard, Photo-Original, Photo-Custom, Cinema, Game-Standard, Game-Original, Graphics, Sports and Animation - although some of these can only be accessed by using the Scene button on the remote control.
Within the Picture menu there are the standard controls for Backlight, Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Hue, along with colour temp, Sharpness and various Noise Reduction functions. There is also a sub-menu called Advanced Settings where you will find controls gamma and white balance. The Gamma control provides for different preset gamma curves and the White Balance control allows for two point calibration of the greyscale.
As we have mentioned in previous reviews one of our major complaints about Sony displays is the lack of a CMS and we would like to see them address this. Most of their competitors include a CMS, even on some of their entry level displays, and many also include 10 point white balance controls as well.
Measured Results Out of the BoxIn this section we measure the out-of-the-box performance of the KDL-40EX524 against a series of industry standards. We start by choosing the Cinema preset which should provide the most accurate out-of-the-box measurements. We also chose the Normal colour gamut and a colour temperature of Warm 2 and turned off any unnecessary features, which sadly these days means most of them. We then used test patterns to ensure that the contrast and brightness controls were correctly set for our viewing environment.
As you can see from the chart above the greyscale performance of the KDL-40EX524 was actually very good with all three primary colours tracking in straight lines and both blue and green near the target of 100 and red tracking about 5% below. This resulted in DeltaE (errors) of below 3 at most IRE points and below 5 at all but 100 IRE which is very good but ideally we want the combinations of red, blue and green to be as close to each other as possible, which will result in errors below 3 and thus eliminate any discolouration as black goes through grey to white. The gamma measurements were also very good with the curve measuring at our target of 2.2 and overall this was an excellent out-of-the-box performance.
The out-of-the-box colour gamut wasn't quite as impressive but Sony has still done a reasonable of job of trying to replicate the industry standard of Rec.709. There are still errors however with cyan in particular showing a large error in hue (tint) and both red and green showing errors in terms of colour and luminance (brightness). Unfortunately because there is no CMS we can't do much to correct these errors but thankfully the errors in cyan aren't especially noticeable and the under saturated luminance offsets any over saturated colour.
Calibrated ResultsAs previously mentioned there is a two point white balance control which we can use to calibrate the greyscale and in the absence of a CMS we will try and use the Colour and Hue controls to improve the colour accuracy.
Thanks to the two point white balance control we were able to calibrate the greyscale on the KDL-40EX524 resulting in a reference performance. The errors are now less 0.5 in most cases which is imperceptible to the human eye and the resulting greyscale shows a smooth transition from black to white with no discolouration. The gamma curve is also still tracking at our target of 2.2, except for a small drop at 10IRE but this has no impact on the overall image and overall this is a superb performance.
Thanks to the reference greyscale performance the colour accuracy immediately benefited from the lack of discolouration and as you can see on the CIE chart the colour of white is now measuring at the industry standard of D65. We were able to use the hue control to correct the errors in hue which improved the accuracy of cyan and we managed to make some additional improvements using the colour control. Unfortunately, due to the lack of a CMS, this is the best result we can get but thankfully the errors tend towards being slightly under saturated which makes a nice change from the massively over saturated colour gamuts that we often see on modern TVs. Sony are to be congratulated for at least trying to provide a colour gamut that is close to Rec.709 and with actual material the errors were largely unnoticeable with colours that looked quite accurate.
Video ProcessingWe put the KDL-40EX524 through its paces with our usual battery of video processing tests and on the whole it performed very well. The performance on the standard definition scaling tests was reasonably good, although we have seen better from other manufacturers. However the KDL-40EX524 performed very well with cadence detection and had no problems correctly detecting 2:2 and 3:2 cadence. The TV also had no problems displaying video text over film material and also performed well with the colour bar and detail tests.
The KDL-40EX524 also handled high definition material very well, correctly deinterlacing 1080i material and again displaying video text over film material without any problems. The TV could also correctly display 24p material without introducing judder or resorting to unwanted processing. The KDL-40EX524 also performed well on all the tests on the Spears & Munsil disc correctly showing the video levels up to peak white and down to black. However we noticed there was initially some scaling affecting the resolution tests but we corrected this by ensuring the Auto Display Area was turned off and the Display Area was set to Full Pixel.
Gaming PerformanceThe KDL-40EX524 comes with a Game mode that is optimised to reduce the input lag when the display is being used with game consoles, we therefore used that mode and made sure all the processing features turned off. The average input lag measured was between 20 and 30ms which should be sufficient for all but the most demanding gamers.
Energy ConsumptionThis is an area where LCD panels have a distinct advantage over the higher consuming plasmas and it is also an area where displays using LED lighting have an advantage over those that use CCFL lighting. The KDL-40EX524 produced excellent results with an average energy consumption of 74W in its calibrated mode at various luminance points.
Picture QualityA display's image is a combination of a number of elements that when combined correctly can result in an accurate and pleasing image. As we have mentioned many times before the most important element is the greyscale because if this isn't accurate it will adversely affect everything else. Thankfully the KDL-40EX5234 has a very accurate greyscale that forms the canvas on which the rest of the image can be added. Whilst the colour gamut isn't as accurate as we would like due to the lack of a CMS it is none-the-less quite good and the resulting images do have a pleasingly natural feel to them. Once you add in the highly capable video processing you have a combination of factors that can produce very impressive images, regardless of whether the content is in standard or high definition.
The KDL-40EX524 was also capable of both good black levels and a wide dynamic range that resulted in images that were quite impressive especially in rooms with a degree of ambient light. However there were issues once you started watching in a dark room as the black levels didn't look quite as impressive and problems with backlight uniformity became readily apparent. Unfortunately as is always the case with TVs that use edge LED lighting the backlight uniformity was very poor, resulting in extensive clouding that was immediately obvious in darker scenes. Another area where the KDL-40EX524 struggled was in its off-axis performance, which resulted in a loss of dynamic range and washed out images once you moved off-centre. This is a common problem with LCD TVs that use SPVA panels and as a result careful positioning of the display will be required.
- Out-of-the-box greyscale is excellent
- Calibrated greyscale is reference
- Out-of-the-box colour gamut is good
- Video processing is good
- Internet features are very good
- Qriocity shows some potential
- Mobile application for TV control
- Power consumption is excellent
- Very uneven backlight uniformity
- Poor off-axis performance
- No Colour Management System
- Uncomfortable remote control design
Sony EX524 (KDL-40EX524) 40 Inch LED LCD TV Review
Overall the KDL-40EX524 is a very capable display that offers both an accurate image with an impressive array of features. The greyscale is excellent both out-of-the-box and after calibration and whilst the display lacks a Colour Management System (CMS), the out-of-the-box colour performance is reasonably accurate and thankfully free of any over saturation. The video processing also proved to be very capable and as a result the KDL-40EX524 was able to produce images that were pleasing for both standard and high definition content.
As part of Sony's Internet TV range the KDL-40EX524 has a host of features for internet browsing as well as video on demand and social networking, not to mention Sony's Qriocity music platform and search capabilities. You can also share different content via DLNA streaming and access photos, video or music either via USB or your home network. The menu system is quick to navigate, the EPG is sensibly laid out and easy to read and the power consumption is excellent. Whilst the Sony remote control remains uncomfortable and would benefit from a redesign, the smartphone/tablet remote application is free and actually works very well.
There were a few other minor issues with the KDL-40EX524 including a rather plastic chassis and a price that appears to be at a premium when compared to the competition. In addition the off-axis performance was rather poor and thus we would suffest careful consideration when positioning the display. However, the biggest issue with the KDL-40EX524 related to the use of LED edge lighting which resulted in very poor backlight uniformity. It is unfortunate that all the manufacturers seem so obsessed with ultra-thin displays because we have yet to see a display that uses LED edge lighting but doesn't suffer from problems with backlight uniformity. Whilst this is a criticism of all manufacturers, and not just Sony, it is a shame that such excellent performance has been compromised for the sake of fashion. The irony is that the KDL-40EX524 isn't actually that thin and since the KDL-40CX523 is only 2.9cm thicker we would suggest taking a look at that model instead. It is not only cheaper but has almost exactly the same features and performance and thanks to its use of CCFL backlighting it doesn't suffer from the same uniformity issues.
Ultimately the KDL-40EX524 is a very capable display with much to like about it, including an accurate image and excellent internet and media capabilities. Unfortunately problems with backlight uniformity prevent us from fully recommending it and as a result we would suggest you take a look at Sony's KDL-40CX523 as a better alternative.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £749.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level6
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money6
Our Review Ethos
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