Sony HX823 (KDL-55HX823) 3D LED LCD TV Review
Not quite the flagship but certainly one of the pride of Sony's Fleet. Will the HX823 float Mark Hodgkinson's boat?
IntroductionThe model we have for review is the Sony KDL-55HX823 55 inch Full HD LED LCD TV with Active Shutter 3D, a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Sony KDL-46HX823 46 inch Full HD LCD LED TV which has not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a similar performance.
We’ve seen virtually all Sony have had to offer in terms of their display ranges this year, from the cute little EX320 to the extremely impressive VW95 projector and they’ve garnered an almost as extensive range of verdicts from the AVForums review team. Consistently letting the side down, early in 2011, was Sony’s efforts in producing an effective 3D presentation mechanism whilst charging comparatively premium prices for the privilege of purchasing products performing sub-par for extra-dimensional purpose. Things on that front have been on the up however, in the latter half of the year, and we’ve been consistently impressed by the, all-important, 2D images.
With the Winter Sales upon us and Sony offering a potential £150 cashback against the product, the Sony KDL-HX823 might prove something of a bargain. Just because we’re in the Festive Season doesn’t mean we’ll be unnecessarily charitable as we’ll be putting the Sony through the usual punishing work-out; can it hold up or will it flounder on the AVForums treadmill?
Design and ConnectionsWe have many televisions pass through our doors and, contrary to rumours, some friends that do the same too. Now this might be unscientific in the extreme – although appreciation of design is a matter of subjectivity – but we’ve never known our gaspometer to register quite so many high readings from our visitors, especially whilst switched off. For the Sony HX823 is a triumph of the Japanese manufacturers ‘Monolithic’ design ethos – it’s big, black and beautiful with the one-sheet-of-glass design virtually seamlessly blending the gloriously dark gorilla glass into the surrounding ‘bezel’. The bezel itself is not especially slim, by today’s standards, but the chassis is impressively slender and sits on top of the supplied swivel stand imposingly. It is, in fact, not only possible to swivel on the horizontal plane but it’s also possible to tilt back the panel by 6 degrees to suit seating positions above the middle of the screen. Should owners want to increase the style factor, Sony manufacturer a purpose built brushed aluminium SUB551SU Monolithic TV stand that contains a 2.1 speaker set up but it has a rather steep retail price of £200 and above. The only caveat we’ll place on the overall design is that it is very reflective, although Sony employ a very effective filter that maintains contrast in challenging environments and a decent anti-glare coating that does all that it can to keep out reflections but don’t expect not to occasionally see yourself on TV if you place it opposite a window.
The remote control is of typical Sony design and features a slightly concave front and a curiously located standby button to the back. In all honesty we don’t find it particularly comfortable to handle but it is well laid out and undaunting to use. We do wish the ‘EXIT’ button was more effective however and rather than acting as second ‘RETURN’ key, it should actually bring you out of the GUI entirely rather than taking you one layer back, as it often does in practice. There’s no backlight unfortunately (we wish they were on every remote) but there are a couple of interesting selections in the TrackID and i-MANUAL buttons. Pressing the TrackID button whilst there is music playing on-screen – be it TV or Movie based - will send the HX823 in to a search of the gracenote database to seek out the details and it actually works; sometimes. We probably don’t need to tell you what the i-MANUAL button does, so we won’t, but – HINT - it’s handy for when you can’t find the user manual!
According to Sony’s website, the KDL-55HX823 does not ship with any 3D eyewear and we can confirm there were none provided with the review sample. If this is the case, it’s disappointing as we’d expect a £2,000 3DTV to come with the necessary equipment to function as such. For the purposes of the review, we were left with our ‘trusty’ TDG-BR100’s to fulfil duties and they remain a disappointment due to the well-documented problem of them losing synch with just a tilt of the head. Sony have at least recognised the issue and is offering owners the option of an additional filter to cure the problem. On the plus side, the specs are reasonably tint free although we do find them quite heavy and uncomfortable to wear for long periods. There have been several updated versions released since the BR100’s but we’re not in a position to comment if they’ve improved matters.
Moving to rear of the HX823 and we have the unofficial ‘standard’ 4 HDMI ports, with 2 facing down, on the rear connecting panel, and 2 that are side mounted about 10cm from the edge, meaning those with robust HDMI cables may need to consider angled adapters. The side panel also features a D-SUB (VGA) PC in; a headphone jack; 2 USB ports (one for PVR duties); digital audio out and a CAM slot. Completing the connections on the rear facing panel, there’s the Freeview HD capable antenna input, a LAN port and inputs for the breakout adaptors that take care of Component and Scart sources.
Menus and Set UpSet up of the Sony KDL-HX823 takes a little longer than the average TV but so long as you answer the various questions accurately and honestly (Santa’s watching!), it’s unlikely to present any problems. The entire process probably took around 10 minutes but, by the end, we were fully tuned and connected to our home network.
We’ve never been terribly keen on the deployment of the Cross Media Bar (XMB) in to the Bravia TV range but at least its overbearingness has been toned down, somewhat, and it no longer dominates all the screen real estate. Instead it now scrolls along the bottom of the screen, with the currently highlighted feature running down the right hand side; a large window with your currently viewed input occupies the majority of the left hand side of the screen. Absolutely everything you need is accessed from the XMB but we still find it more convenient to navigate to key functions by using the OPTIONS button on the remote control, from where you can set all the important Picture and Sound options.
The Picture menu houses all the usual Picture Mode, Backlight, Contrast, Brightness and Colour settings that comprise the first page of picture options. As we’ve seen with other 2011 TVs from Sony, they’ve added an extra Cinema picture preset so we can now, thankfully, calibrate a day and night time mode from the most accurate starting point; and given the calibration controls on offer, it’s a welcome addition. Below the standard 'front panel' controls, there are settings for Hue, Temperature, Sharpness, Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction and Dot Noise Reduction. We never found any cause to engage any of the noise reduction options, the colour temperature of Warm 2 proved most accurate and a sharpness setting of 20 was appropriate for HD sources. Options we didn’t see on the various 723’s we’ve covered, included the ‘Reality Creation’ sliders for Resolution and Noise Filtering plus the Smooth Gradation choices of OFF/LOW/MED/HIGH. We certainly never found a good application for the Resolution slider, that added ever increasing amounts of edge enhancement to images; whilst the Noise Filtering proved fairly ineffectual in doing anything other than removing high frequency ‘noise’ from pictures and about the only use for HD material would be in removing intentionally added film grain. We guess some aren’t keen on that particular artistic feature so, perhaps, they might use it. Using a greyscale stair step pattern we checked the effects of the Gradation options and, at least on paper, it lived up to the billing making transitions from one shade to another very smooth indeed. Unfortunately any practical use for it was negated by the creation of picture noise in the blacks so its promise wasn’t really fulfilled. Further down we have our 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 houses the controls required for calibration of the KDL-HX823. We have controls over white balance and Gamma. Virtually every other option we found was either detrimental to picture quality or redundant, save for the LED Dynamic Control that was fairly tame in lowering black levels but harsh on shadow detail set anything above Low. We'd advise leaving Black Corrector(misnomer), Adv. Contrast Enhancer, Auto Light Limiter, Clear White, Live Colour, Detail Enhancer, Edge Enhancer and, the terribly named, Skin Naturaliser set to their 'Off' position.
We mentioned the i-MANUAL button of the remote control earlier and that’s probably just about the best way to explore the enormous amount of settings and options contained in the XMB, as we’re certain you don’t want to read 4,000+ words on Menus; but it’s worth mentioning the Display settings of the XMB allow for a target ‘Colour Matrix’ to be set for various input signals. For Standard Def 480i/p and 576i/p these are defaulted to ITU601 but a better option is set this as ITU709, as it’s a much closer match to the PAL colour gamut and the ITU601 setting is ‘NTSCenntric’.
Whilst we do find the XMB to be something of a chore to navigate, we do like Sony's Electronic Program Guide (EPG) with its 8 channel/2 hour view and video window, it's very easy to read and responsive to move around.
FeaturesAlthough it’s not a flagship product, the HX823 is certainly one of the pride of Sony’s fleet and is decked out with just about everything Sony have to offer, in terms of bells, whistles, tinsel and baubles. There’s built in Wi-Fi allowing DLNA streaming that offers a pretty generous selection of file support. In terms of video, the manual lists AVCHD, MPEG2, MPEG1, MP4 (AVC), MP4 (MPEG4), DivX, WMV but, as ever, some experimentation will be needed; Photo’s are limited to JPEG over the network but USB connected devices will be able to display 3D MPO files, whilst MP3, linear PCM, WMA are the possibilities for music.
Perhaps something that will prove popular with parents of small children is the Intelligent Presence Sensor that, amongst other things, will detect if a small child is too close to the TV and issue an on-screen warning whilst emitting an intermittent warning sound. Ideally the alarm would be far more intimidating and, instead of a written warning, a picture of a scary monster would probably prove more effective in making the infant reassess their televisual proximity; but it does work and my 2yr old won’t go within 5 foot in fear she’ll never see Peppa Pig again. The presence sensor will also readjust volume balance, dependant on viewers seating position, as well as dimming/cutting the video feed when it ‘realises’ nobody’s been watching for a while.
The internet features on offer are certainly reasonably generous although what we would say is that, despite the fact there’s plenty of content, there’s a feeling of fragmentation to it all. Under the XMB there are both options for BRAVIA Internet Video as well as Internet Widgets and we can’t help feeling as though it would be preferable to unify all internet content under one heading. With CES just around the corner and Google TV set to be one of the major stories, it’s just possible future BRAVIA’s may see a turn for the better in terms of the interface. Once you get over the fact that navigation of the content could be better, the number of video services available should be nearly 30 from all the usual suspects - BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Demand 5 and LoveFilm etc.
Common to many mid to high-end TVs, the HX823 allows for recording to external USB storage and it’s certainly a ‘nice to have’ as a back-up to a dedicated PVR. Recordings can be set from the EPG or manually (if you could be bothered) to a hard drive that needs to be formatted by the TV and that possesses 32GB, minimum, capacity. Similarly prevalent in this sector of the market is the ability to hook up a camera/microphone attachment to allow for use of Skype video or voice calling. How useful this is to the end user may well be dictated by the attractiveness – or otherwise – of their friends and family.
Last but not least, and probably something we needn’t point out, the Sony KDL-55HX823 is a 3D TV with support for frame packed, side-by-side and over-under as well as featuring a 2D>3D conversion feature. We’ll go in to more detail on the 3D performance later but the 2D conversions were the usual disappointment and a waste of battery power for the most part.
Measured Results Out of the BoxHaving ascertained that the Cinema preset (accessed by using the Scene button of the remote control) together with a Colour Temperature of Warm 2 provided the most accurate out of the box settings we then optimised the Brightness, Contrast and Backlight to suit the viewing environment and took the following readings:
We probably could have predicted the RGB Balance graph as skin tones were orangey pink in the mid and low tones whilst blown out by the excess of blue in the brighter range. Delta Errors are mostly well above the threshold of 3 - where we can notice without measuring - and real world material more than backs up that opinion. On a positive note, the greyscale is out in a very linear fashion and gamma is tracking very close to our 2.2 target, chosen as a value suitable for the typical living room in evening viewing conditions. The Sony White Balance controls are typically a little coarse in their implementation but we’d certainly hope for major improvements post calibration.
Moving on the HX823’s unaltered colour reproduction and we were met with some very reasonable results:
As Sony have yet to see fit to include a Colour Management System in even their higher-end TVs, it’s fortunate the KDL-55HX823 is producing colours that so closely match the Rec.709 standard. We’d like to see Cyan, Green and Magenta – in particular – more on hue but there’s already a believability to the palette and a greyscale calibration should only improve matters.
Calibrated ResultsDespite our (continued) complaints over the paucity of the calibration suite provided in Sony TVs, one thing we will say is that it certainly doesn’t take very long to get the best out of 2 point white balance controls; and only having Tint and the global Colour control in lieu of a CMS makes for a speedy – if not as accurate as we would like – calibration. With just a few clicks here and there, mostly concentrating on the Gain controls, we were able to bring our greyscale to this standard:
With delta errors all below 1 and gamma keeping, almost perfectly, to target we can safely put a tick in the Reference box here and cross our fingers the greyscale calibration has reaped dividends with the secondary colours’ accuracy…
…And it has. We love it when things pan out as per theory and the accurate ‘canvas’ has brought about an improvement to both Cyan and Magenta. Luminance errors are the ones most noticeable to our eyes and the, already excellent, performance is augmented by the fact hue errors have largely been obliterated. It’s another notch in the Reference column and perhaps the time to lay off Sony in beseeching them for the lack of controls available. Nah, that’s not going happen – come on Sony, up your calibration game!
Video ProcessingContinuing the uniformly excellent processing we’ve seen from the Sony displays this year, the 55HX823 showed itself to be a more than capable entrant to the AVForums VP stakes. The SMPTE 133 pattern displayed excellent SD (576i and 480i) images with no blurring or unwanted haloing. The HX823 dealt credibly with video deinterlacing and jaggies only appearing when the line was at an acute angle in the first test on the HQV disc and, in the second test, the motion adaptive deinterlacing was also very good with only slight jaggies appearing on the bottom bar of the three moving bars.
Film detail tests showed no cause for concern and the KDL-55HX823 comfortably locked on to the image resulting in no aliasing. Cadence detection tests showed the 823 had no problem in locking on to both the 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) formats. Video encoded text over film based material also caused no issues in either horizontal and vertical scrolling with no blurring or shredding.
With our player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests when Auto Display Area is set to off in the Screen section of the Display menu. The 55HX823 also showed good scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. Blu-ray 24p content was handled, unsurprisingly, with aplomb and the 823 is capable of displaying the signal all the way to peak white without clipping.
We've had some fairly complimentary (by our standards) things to say about Sony's Motionflow frame interpolation engine when set to Clear and we’re fairly impressed by the 823’s XR400 engine. The Clear setting still provides a helping hand to fast moving video content, without overly smoothing the picture or causing obvious artefacting but it's not without the odd hitch when sudden changes of pace occur. In that situation the HX823 took about a second to catch on resulting in the odd stutter here and there. It’s certainly one to experiment with, for end users, but we found the balance of lack of blur vs artefacting to be too close to call and ultimately its use is probably best decided on a case by case basis, although for film based material it really should be disengaged.
Gaming PerformanceNot the best but certainly not the worst here, the KDL-HX823 returned an averaged input lag figure of 30milliseconds when compared to our CRT referenced laptop display. That kind of figure doesn’t trouble us but then we’re not ultra-competitive online gamers. For those whose focus is on the single player, we really don’t think they’d notice.
Energy ConsumptionThe HX823 may be big in stature but it’s not large in appetite and consistently showed power consumption of only 88w in its calibrated 2D state. For 3D images, a little more was required and the average was 103w. In standby, the number was a barely noteworthy 0.5w.
2D Picture QualityOn paper we have pretty much all the ingredients necessary to produce excellent 2D images - near reference greyscale and colour reproduction, top notch video processing with very solid black and contrast levels and, at times, the KDL-55HX823 delivered truly excellent results. Naturally with a display of this size, you’d want to be feeding it high definition signals for it to look its best but the 823 coped surprisingly well with SD material, especially DVDs and the higher quality Freeview channels. Blu-ray presentation was truly engaging with every last detail superbly represented and the accurate colour production shining through.
If you were sensing a but, top marks for observation as there are a couple. Firstly, and one to be expected with the panel fitted in the 823, off-axis viewing quality is not of the same standard as when the viewer is sitting flush to the display. Both contrast and colour begin to wash out at around 45 degrees but, that said, we’ve seen worse and it doesn’t continue to degrade dramatically at more acute angles. Another common drawback of the technology involved is poor uniformity as the diffuser struggles to produce even light distribution across the screen and although the KDL-55HX823 is by no means the worst offender we’ve had pass through the doors, there was evidence of light pooling and flashlighting – particularly in darker scenes – and inevitably this was mostly toward the corners of the panel. We could probably have forgiven those, reasonably minor, transgressions were it not for the final issue and that was the panel (array) banding that blighted almost all content, whether in dark or light scenes. We were almost permanently reminded of this common LED shortcoming as it was visible as patches so often, particularly when solid blacks of colour were on screen. Again, this is as a result of the LED edge lighting struggling to cope with the demands of illuminating the whole screen uniformly and the fact that this particular display was so large only adds to the problem. We can’t wait to see what Sony can do with LED backlighting (rather than edge) and hopefully we’ll have a HX923 in soon to discover.
There will be some that won’t be bothered with the issues raised and, for them, the HX823 will serve their needs very well, indeed, as at its best it certainly produces some very fine pictures indeed.
3D Picture QualityWe’ll admit to being a little flummoxed by the 3D performance of the HX823. After seeing improvements in this area from both the last 723’s we’ve covered, we were expecting the same or better from this more illustrious set. But it wasn’t. The side by side (SBS) performance was especially poor and in a word unwatchable with crosstalk ever rearing its ugly and distracting head. Add in some parallax issues that gave artefacting to objects at the rear of images and you could pretty much count it out for Broadcast 3D duties, for now. At least 3D Blu-rays provided some relief but that’s not to say they were anything like top class. There wasn’t as much crosstalk as with the SBS presentation but there was still plenty when compared to the likes of Panasonic and Samsungs’ efforts. The glasses are still a pain in losing sync when tilted but we’re sure Sony will address this in the year ahead, especially as they’re now in league with Samsung and Panasonic to produce a standard for consumer 3D eyewear.
Just at the end of the review process a software update was issued by Sony. We don’t know, at this stage, if any improvements in 3D performance will come as a result of it but since we still have it, we’ll do our upmost to test again in the new year, should logistics allow.
- Reference Calibrated Greyscale and Gamut
- Picture processing
- Beautiful design
- Loads of video content through Bravia Internet Video
- Very decent contrast and black performance
- Panel uniformity is poor and distracts from pictures in a big way
- 3D performance has taken a backwards step
- 'Smart' content is difficult to find
- XMB is clunky and not suited for a television's GUI
- Calibration controls are Lacking
- Quite expensive compared to some of the competition
- No 3D glasses in the box
Sony HX823 (KDL-55HX823) 3D LED LCD TV Review
Whilst the Sony KDL-55HX823 has much to admire, equally it has the ability to frustrate. On the one hand we have a beautifully crafted display capable of producing reference colours and top-notch processing to lend a hand in providing rich, convincing images. On the other, panel banding is almost ever-present and it’s distracting; poor uniformity at the corners blight movie viewing and dark scenes in general. If we add in the ‘lesser sins’ of disappointing off-axis viewing and surprisingly poor 3D and it becomes a difficult one to recommend to put atop the demo list. In all fairness we could have written the same about any number of edge-lit LCD’s but we can only review what’s put in front of us. If you can manage to bag a HX823 with better uniformity than our review sample you’re mostly in for a treat, otherwise you may be left wondering what the competition has to offer.
Tastier than my Mum’s mince pies (note to Mum: only kidding) the HX823 is a true triumph of Sony’s Monolithic design ethos, with its gloss black screen melting in to the bezel. It’s very slender too and the fact Sony have seen sense in providing down-facing HDMI ports means it can be considered for a very sexy wall-mount set up. The remote control is adequate, it’s not especially comfortable to handle and nor is it particularly special to look at but, you know, it works and there’s no real annoyances to report. The connections provided are what we’d expect in this price range with 4 HDMI inputs (and the other usual suspects) so it’s unlikely anyone will find themselves wanting more; and it’s not as though any other TV will give you any more, in any case.
We’re not massive fans of the XMB and it can feel laborious to navigate but at least a press of the options button brings up most of what you need on a day to day basis. Menus can be a little sluggish but nothing that will annoy unduly and the EPG is excellent to read and navigate. Where the XMB does get in the way is in the navigation of all the many features on offer and there’s a feeling of fragmentation to all the added content. With 29 Bravia video services available alone, it no doubt warrants its own ‘department’ but it should at least be grouped in some way with the other apps and extras and we hope CES 2012 will see some major refinements from Sony, if not a whole new GUI. There’s Wi-Fi built in; home networking and USB media playback options; an intelligent presence sensor will kill the action when a small child stands too close; and you can record programming to USB storage. In short, it’s packed full of options but some might never discover they’re present unless they read – the rather excellent – iManual from the XMB.
Out of the box, pictures were beset with a pinkish orange tone that gave an unnatural look to flesh-tones, in particular, but although we often bemoan the lack of calibration options available in the Sony’s, it’s possibly a little harsh in this case as we were able to produce nigh-on reference greyscale, gamma and gamut performance following the calibration process. Video processing was of an extremely high calibre and most of our scaling, deinterlacing and cadence detection tests were passed with ease.
If it weren’t for the uniformity issues, 2D viewing would have been an absolute pleasure, with very decent black levels and contrast performance underpinning the calibrated colours to great effect to give a great believability to images. And let’s be honest, the 55” screen also helps. It’s a shame that Sony seem to have taken some backward steps with the 55HX823 with side by side material particularly sub-par and frame packed displaying more crosstalk than we’d like. Perhaps the recently released software update may have done the trick and we’ll report back on that if we are able.
In terms of gaming and energy consumption, the KDL-55HX823 scored well with numbers of 30 millisecond input lag and 88w draw and we certainly enjoyed our gaming time with it. It’s not one for tournament players but, then, it’s not designed to be.
At the end of the day, buying an edge-lit LCD can be a bit of a lottery when it comes to getting one with excellent uniformity but at least the odds are better than 14 million:1; that said the ticket costs considerably more than a pound so we’d advise a thorough demo before taking a punt. If your ticket comes up, consider yourself the owner of one the better televisions out there but if your luck is out, you’ve probably spent unnecessarily when competing TVs do the same for less.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,000.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality5
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money6
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