Sony HX803 (KDL-40HX803) 3D LCD TV Review
Mark Hodgkinson takes a look at Sony's entry-level 3D Ready LCD.
IntroductionRepresenting, along with their own KDL-NX713, Sony's entry level 3D LCD the KDL-40HX803 still comes with features such as Bravia Internet Video and 200Hz MotionFlow and is part of Sony's Cinematic range. The KDL-40HX803 is equipped with LED sidelighting, for better or worse, and their 'Deep Black' panel that promises a decent contrast performance. Along with the 40 inch version, there's also a 46 inch variant in the shape of the KDL-46HX803.
Although things are about to change, the entry level 3D Television market isn't one that's heavily populated but the HX803 finds itself in competition with the likes of Samsung's LE40C750, the LG 42LX6900 as well as Sony's aforementioned KDL-40NX713. It's also up against a couple of plasma's, with the Panasonic TX-P42GT20 and Samsung's considerably larger PS50C680 in more or less the same price bracket.
Styling and ConnectionsDespite the use of LED sidelighting, in terms of depth, the Sony KDL-HX803 certainly isn't the most slender television around. It does, however, feature a very sleek frame around the screen. Refreshingly the frame isn't entirely made up of gloss black plastic and has a strip of gun-metal grey running along the bottom with the Sony logo taking centre stage. When switched off, the screen is strikingly jet black which, I'm informed, is a result of a black resin being injected in to it. In short, I'm fan of the HX803's understated looks although the same can't be said for the supplied swivel stand that's fashioned from lightweight gloss black plastic and doesn't seem in keeping with the general feel of accomplished build quality the rest of the unit exudes.
The remote control maintains the impression of quality and has that 'just right' weightiness to it. The face of the remote is concave whilst the back is flat and I think, perhaps, Sony has that the wrong way round in terms of comfort whilst being held. The button layout is non-cluttered with the most used functions placed sensibly. There's a standby button on the rear that's also well placed but 'out of sight is out of mind' and I didn't once remember to use it.
The review sample was sent with 2 pairs of active shutter glasses and a transmitter that are needed to enable 3D viewing. It's probably worth mentioning here that these are not supplied in the box and require additional outlay if you wish to experience the extra dimension. I found the glasses were fairly light and not uncomfortable but they did let in a little too much ambient light. There's a choice of wearing them in either conventional or 'wraparound' fashion and that's a decision totally governed by user preference - for what it's worth, I preferred wraparound. The emitter is a disappointment in its very existence as well as being obtrusive particularly as attempting to hide the wired connection, to the TV, was difficult.
The Sony HX803 features pretty much the usual array of connections we'd expect from a television in this price bracket but, for completeness' sake, they are as follows: 4 x HDMI; 2 x RGB Scarts; PC D-sub; 1 x Component; 1 x Composite; 1 x USB slot; 1 x Ethernet; 1 x SPDIF(Optical) Audio Out; 1 x RCA Stereo Out; 1 x Headphone Jack. It's a shame Sony have seen fit to postion only 2 of the HDMI inputs to the rear, with two to the side. Despite the fact the side inputs are fairly well recessed, cables still look unsightly when connected this way and it certainly does no favours for those looking to wall mount.
Menus and Set UpJust as it should be, setting up the KDL-HX803, for the first time, was a completely painless affair and the scanning for digital services was done in a matter of minutes. Once the channel scan was complete, I was greeted by a well laid out and clearly presented EPG(Electronic Program Guide) with a generous 8 channels per page in view. There's also a window, top left, displaying the currently viewed service. There is absolutely nothing to complain about in the implementation and it's probably my favourite EPG amongst the TV manufacturers.
As with all Sony products, the main centre of operations is provided by their XMB(Cross Media Bar) - for the initiated it's a GUI that scrolls both horizontally and vertically with various sub-menus available under broad headings. I'm well versed in its operation having used it frequently over the last few years but, for those that aren't, it takes a little getting used to but once you're au fait with the logic, it will become second nature. Fortunately there's also an Options button on the remote control that acts as a shortcut to the most used area's of the XMB. I have to report that the operation of both the XMB and Options menus are very sluggish and both can take a couple of seconds to come up from sending the instruction via the remote. One thing I did like in the XMB was the fact the Bravia Internet Video services were all available separately, rather than having to go through a portal and then selecting the particular service you wanted, as I've experienced with Sony's competitors' implementations.
Naturally, here at AVForums, the area of the menus we're most interested in is the Picture options to see what controls are available for extracting maximum performance through calibration. As well as the standard Backlight, Brightness, Contrast and Colour controls there's also Tint and Colour Temperature options. For the record, evaluation proved the colour temperature of Warm2 to provide the closest match to industry standards. There's also options for Sony's 'MotionFlow' frame interpolation system - which I'll cover in more depth later on; Sharpness, Mpeg Noise Reduction and Film mode plus Advanced controls.
The Advanced picture sub-menu houses a couple of controls we'll need for in-depth calibration, namely white balance and gamma. Additionally there's options for Black Correction, Adv.Contrast Enhancer, Clear White, Live colour and Dynamic LED control - after careful evaluation all these were set to off. I'll go in to more detail on the Dynamic LED option in the Picture Quality section(s).
As with most televisions, these days, the KDL-HX803 has an absolute wealth of menus and sub-menus, I'll just mention the Screen menu contains a couple of imortant controls that will affect picture quality. Display Area is best set to Full Pixel for correct mapping of HD sources and we'd advise setting the ambient sensor to Off to avoid unnecessary brightness fluctuations. As this is a review and not an instruction manual, we'll leave it there with the main options affecting picture quality covered.
FeaturesSeemingly every television I some across nowadays is equipped with at least USB playback of media files, most also feature DLNA compliance and Internet connectivity and the KDL-HX80s does nothing to buck that trend. Sony's Bravia Internet Video features, amongst others, streaming services from LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and also provides access to YouTube as well as a number of Internet Radio services. The HX803 can also be hooked up to your home network wirelessly although, like the glasses and 3D emitter, you'll need to fork out extra for a dongle.
Very worthy of mention is the inclusion of a DVB-T2 tuner capable of receiving over the air HD broadcasting through the freeview platform. At present, these services number BBC1 HD and BBC HD, ITV1 HD and Channel 4 HD. It's a welcome addition for those that want to see programming in high definition without paying subscription fees.
Two features that Sony like to market having direct bearing on picture quality are the MotionFlow 200Hz Pro interpolation engine and the KDL-HX803's 'Dynamic' LED sidelighting. Again, I'll cover these in the Picture Quality' section of the review.
Measured Results Out of the BoxAs well as the three picture presets available in the Picture Menu - Standard, Custom and Vivid, the HX803 has a range of different configurations under the Scene button of the remote control. One of these is Cinema which testing proved to be the best starting point for calibration as it was closest to the standards we're hoping to reach. Sony have even made the Cinema mode more accessible by providing the Theatre button on the remote which will afford a pretty reasonable 'one-touch calibration'. Of course, better results will be obtained with good measuring equipment and test patterns but, we realise, that's not for everyone. Now we've ascertained our best starting point, and having set the basic controls of Backlight, Contrast and Brightness, let's see how the out-of-box measurements stack up, starting with the greyscale and gamma.
Aligining red, green and blue across, from white to black, ensures we'll be overlaying the colours on to a neutral palette. Results here were far from bad but there's a little too much blue in the mid-scale, and a touch too much red at the upper end. Having an excess of blue in the mid-range was really wasn't overly problematic to picture quality but the resultant image was a touch to cool and the excess of red, higher up, lent the faintish tinge of pink to white.
Gamma should be set on the basis of what the room lighting allows. In an ideal viewing environment, i.e one with very low lighting and none hitting the screen directly, we can aim for high values. Conversely, in a brightly lit room, lower values are preferable in order detail isn't obscured in the darker areas of the image. In an ideal world, we would have day/night options, for calibration, to cater for displays that aren't situated in a room with consistent lighting but that option is lacking with the HX803. As I had the HX803 in a room that is fairly dark, for 'critical' viewing, anywhere between a vaule 2.2 to 2.3 is ideal. At the default setting, the gamma was tracking a little low meaning would should be able to extract some added depth to the image through adjustment.
Next we'll take a look how our primary (red/green/blue) and secondary (cyan/magenta/yellow) colours match up to the standards we're aiming to hit.
The small squares on the triangle, that represents the HD Rec. 709 colour space, are the points of hue and saturation, for both the primary and seconday colours, we'd ideally be hitting. Not shown in the CIE Diagram, and of more crucial importance, are the desired levels of luminance but as we can see from the the Gamut Luminance and Delta L graphs, deltaE aren't significant in this area - any errors under 3 are basically indetectable to the human eye. In fact, overall colour performance was very good with only the hue error in Magenta being detectable to the eye. Unfortunately, Sony haven't provided a colour management system in their TVs, again, so we're left with only the tint control to fix Magenta.
Calibrated ResultsHaving made adjustments to the two point white balance controls available in the Advanced Picture Menu and having changed the global gamma preset, we're presented with the following improvements:
All greyscale errors are now below the magic number of 3, across the board, and the effects were apparent to the eye. Detail in the mid-range was now unobscured from the excess of blue with the pink tint, in bright areas, removed with white pretty much hitting D65.
It would have been nice to have a multi-point control over the gamma to flatten out the response but, given the viewing environment, there was little cause for concern. It was possible to flatten it out a little using the Brightness control but I felt the diminshed deep levels of black and near black not worth the sacrifice.
As I mentioned earlier, there was very little direct control over the colour gamut so what improvements could be made would likely be marginal and reliant on improvements in greyscale and the, rather coarse, Tint setting helping out. So, after some minor adjustments, we have these results.
As expected, changes were minimal but there was a small improvement overall. Getting Magenta more on hue was worth the effort and now Blue had a luminance error of below 3, it would be difficult to spot any errors other than for those with a very well trained eye. We'd really like to see Sony improve the suite of calibration options available as per their competition!
Video ProcessingIn past years Sony televisions have performed well in this area, the HX803 whilst a reasonable performer did have some shortcomings.
Scaling of standard definition was certainly one of the strong points. With no obvious loss of detail or unsightly ringing, both 480i/576i signals were handled very well under testing and these results were borne out in viewing of SD TV and DVD's. There was just the slightest hint of softness but, to be honest, that does the vast majority of SD broadcast material no harm whatsoever.
Cadence detection was not quite such a happy story. The process is an attempt to lock on to material shot on film to avoid unnecessary deinterlacing - in the process throwing away resolution and causing jaggies. The primary two cadences of concern are 2:2(PAL) and 2:3(NTSC) and whilst the KDL-HX803 did manage to lock on to both, it frequently lost them. Fortunately, Blu-ray 24p material was detected and displayed without a hitch and free of any extraneous judder.
The KDL-HX803 has a number of tiers of Sony's MotionFlow frame interpolation system available. Whilst the full-blown Smooth setting was the usual artefact ridden, highly unnatural, shot on a cheap videocamera looking fare, the Clear setting did provide some help to fast moving action whilst keeping artefacting errors to a minimum. I wouldn't recommend using it on Blu-ray material but it did impress me overall.
Gaming PerformanceAs someone that has been a regular gamer for over 75% of my life, I prefer to rely on my experience rather than take too much heed of input lag figures. My subjective testing - using the power bar in Everybody's Golf as a guide - told me the HX803 was by no means a bad performer, with response to my button commands registering in a satisfactory way. For comparison, it appeared roughly on par with the 2010 range of Panasonnic Plasma's, a little worse than a Samsung LEC530 and streets ahead of the Samsung LEC650, I recently tested.
For those that like the figures that this problematic area of testing threw up, the KDL-HX803 was lagging between 35-40 milliseconds. I found it very difficult to test for 3D gaming but it certainly felt less responsive than in 2D. One thing I will mention is that I was much more aware of the activity of the shutter glasses, during gaming, but this is something that's almost certainly down to the individual. As in all cases, we strongly recommend for people to go out there and test for themselves, where possible
- Standby: 2W
- Average: 75W
2D Picture QualityWhilst contrast performance - albeit with unavoidale clipping - and black levels were certainly impressive, all pluses in this area were totally undermined by the quite abysmal backlighting inconsistencies apparent in the the review sample of the KDL-HX803 sent to us. Had it been a television I'd purchased for myself, it would have been repackaged and sent back to my retailer within the hour. The photograph below will give you some idea as to the extent of the problem, with only the smallest hint of exaggeration caused by turning up the backlight to maximum in order the camera could catch it.
To be fair, the bright light, bottom left-hand corner of the screen, is the flash of the camera but the rest is a fair representation of the clouding issues seen in this particular HX803. All dark scenes were throttled by the issue but, at an angle, the effect was also clearly visible with brighter content. To add to the 'fun' of off-axis viewing, at approximatley 50 degrees off-centre, blacks turned deep purple. If any reader is familiar with a 'Guinness 'n' Black', they'll know the shade I'm referring to.
Putting the clouding aside, the KDL-HX803 looked good with Standard Def content and excellent with High Def material. Shadow detailng was above average for an LCD, with good gradations near black with the proviso that the Dynamic LED settting was turned off. Even with it set to low, the now you see it now you don't - Tinkerbell Effect - was much in evidence. Having seen some impressive CCFL only backlit televisions, of late, I'd have to call in to question the need for this particular televsion to employ LED's at all, especially as the form factor wasn't overly slim.
3D Picture QualityA 40inch television doesn't provide the best platform for 3D, you really need bigger, but I was able to get my recliner close enough for the effect to work - and it did. For an LCD display, the levels of crosstalk present were far from distracting. I'm lucky enough to have a copy of Avatar 3D available, as a reference, and the scenes I watched all impressed. Likewise the Grand Canyon Adventure 3D Blu-ray provided a good showcase for 3D visuals with some impressive screen popping moments. I also did a little 3D gaming, on PS3, trying out Motorstorm and Killzone 3 and whilst the HX803 didn't particulalry falter badly, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by the experience.
There were two problems I had with the 3D performance of the KDL-HX803, one being the transmitter and the other, more seriously, the glasses. The very fact the 3D emitter wasn't built in to the television is bad enough but the problem of the glasses losing synch with any degree of head movement was a major annoyance. I'm not given to jigging around in my chair but I frequently found the 3D effect completely lost with so much as a minor loll to the side. I almost became tempted to put a sticker on the frame reminding me not to move but thought better of it. This television would certainly not be recommendable as a family 3D set, save for those with the most docile of offspring.
- Solid 2D/3D Performance
- Excellent Black Levels
- Freeview HD Tuner
- Reference Greyscale Performance - Calibrated
- Beautiful Design
- Motion Handling
- Dismal Backlight Uniformity
- 3D Glasses Lose Sync Easily
- Blacks Turn Purple - Off Axis
- Sluggish Menus
- Lack of CMS
- Unsightly 3D Emitter
Sony HX803 (KDL-40HX803) 3D LCD TV Review
If ever there was a case for a 'Recommended with Caveats' award, the Sony KDLHX803 is surely it. Any notions that we ever receive the 'Golden Sample' from manufacturers can also be put to bed with this 3D LCD too. So beset with backlight uniformity issues was this television that I've had to think long and hard before bestowing the AVF 'Recommended' badge to the KDLHX803 - and I probably wouldn't if it weren't for the low prices this set can be had for at the time of writing this review.
If you're lucky enough to receive a HX803 without serious clouding issues, you'll be treated to a television that's a pleasure to the eyes, switched off, and one that performs, for the most part, creditably in both 2 and 3 dimensions when turned on. It's certainly a relatively inexpensive 'toe in the water' television to join the 3D revolution. The fact the shutter glasses lose the effect when you so much as move your head is certainly a major nuisance but the relatively small amount of crosstalk, for an LCD, is worthy of mention.
The understated design of the KDLHX803 provides, at least some, respite from the endless stream of gloss black televisions we are sent and is accompanied by a stylish looking, well built remote control that perhaps would have better being concave to the rear, rather than the front. There are ample options for connection but did Sony really need to place two of the HDMI inputs to the side? Considering the obvious effort that went in to designing the TV, perhaps they could have thought ahead as to its appearance, in the home, with unsightly leads protruding around the side. The KDLHX803 menus are logically laid out but very sluggish to respond, Sony's XMB again takes centre stage and will be second nature to those already familiar with their product range.
The 'Theatre' button on the remote control provides a relatively accurate one-touch calibration tool and once in the Cinema preset, contrast performance is good with impressive black levels that stay impressive until about 50 degrees off-axis, at which point they become deep purple. It would have been nice to see Sony include a Colour Management System to keep up with the competition but out-of-the-box performance is fairly good in any case.
The video processing of the Sony KDLHX803 is slightly patchy but the scaling of Standard Definition signals is generally excellent. I also became a fan of Sony's 'MotionFlow' frame interpolation engine, when set to 'Clear' with it's almost artefact free improvement to motion handling
As a television for gaming, I wouldn't have any real issues in recommending the HX803. Input lag is certainly not a major issue and, of course, the fact you can start enjoying the ever-growing amount of 3D titles is a bonus. There are some issues with blurring, particularly on high contrast images but most probably wouldn't notice
My advice to anybody considering the Sony KDLHX803, as a purchase, would be to ensure they choose a retailer that can be trusted to not put up a fight should it need to be returned. If anyone were unlucky enough to receive a HX803 beset with the backlight issues the review sample had, I'd imagine most would be seeking instant replacement or refund. That said, there aren't too many 3D ready televisions, in this price bracket, so it might be worth a gamble.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,029.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.