With the LCD TV world captivated by the market for LED edge and backlighting, the humble old CCFL backlit LCD has been more or less forgotten about. With CCFL you cannot get a super slim chassis design and with the current craze for size zero TVs it seems its days are probably numbered. Indeed, looking at the LCD line-ups from all the major manufacturers you will not find any medium to high-end models sporting anything but LED edge lighting. So, does that mean that LED is the superior backlight of choice to improve image quality?
What we have here for review today is Sony’s entry level internet connected HDTV the KDL-40CX523, a CCFL backlit LCD which boasts interactive features and the new X-Reality video processing technology. Although it is an entry level model in the Sony range, it still carries a slightly premium price tag when compared to some competing models out there. The CX523 model line includes a 32 inch version the KDL-32CX523 and this 40 inch model the KDL-40CX523 which at the time of writing come with 5 year warranties. So, does it produce pictures to rival the current trendy LED lit sets? Does it feature enough interactivity to keep you entertained? And, is it worth the slightly high price tag? Well with our normal line up of testing routines we are about to find out. The full review follows the summary and scores.
Design, Connections and Menus
The design of the CX523, like any other TV out there, is very much a personal preference. The use of a plastic body that looks like brushed metal is an interesting concept that from a suitable distance can look appealing. It is very much a basic look that might appeal to those who are tired of the usual black gloss finish which dominates the current market. Overall there is not much to shout about in terms of design flair, but there is also not a lot to dislike about the looks of the CX523.
In terms of connections, we get a good selection with four HDMI slots (one side mounted), one set of component sockets along with one scart and composite legacy connections. Also present is an RF connector for TV signals and a PC/VGA D-sub along with two USB 2.0 connections for digital devices and one LAN slot for network connection. In terms of audio we have one input with digital and legacy phono outputs and a headphone jack.
The remote control supplied with the CX523 is a design we have seen for a couple of years now and is made from plastic. The layout is logical and well designed with good placement of the more important buttons, but I did find the remote didn’t quite sit in the palm of your hand with ease. It did feel a little large and the sculpted back felt uncomfortable or just plain awkward on occasions. However, one plus point with the Sony is the use of mobile applications to turn your smart phone or tablet into a remote control for this TV. On selecting the app it automatically found the model of Sony TV I was using and within seconds I had full control over all the menu functions. This is not an exclusive Sony function as other brands offer similar interfaces but I did find this particular app worked extremely well with the CX523.
Menu wise the CX523 uses the new design of cross bar and I find this approach almost as much of a backwards step than the new LG menus system. I find the fact I have to scroll through numerous pages to find the picture controls a bit of a pain. I am very much of the old school where pressing the menu button should bring up the picture settings on the first page and not require numerous button clicks just to find them hidden behind internet applications. However, once into the picture set up we are given quite a generous amount of flexibility. My only major gripe with Sony is the lack of full picture calibration controls which are now standard fare on brands like LG, Samsung and Panasonic, to name three. Adding a full 3D Colour Management System (CMS) would round off the picture set up options nicely, in my opinion, and offer all the tools necessary to get the CX523 looking nice and accurate to the industry standards.
The picture modes available on the CX523 are not available just through the picture menu, in some cases you have to use the scene mode button to select options like Game and Movie presets. Of those available on the CX523, Vivid, Standard, Custom, Photo-Vivid, Photo-Standard, Photo-Original, Photo-Custom, Cinema, Game-Standard, Game-Original, Graphics, Sports and Animation, phew! We found that Cinema offered the best overall out of the box preset towards the industry standards. You will, like me, take some time to find exactly where all these settings are, but you can save time and just select Cinema mode, set it up correctly and forget all the others. When it comes to the colour gamut selection this is named Wide and should be set to normal for Rec.709 which is the standard for Blu-ray (and can also be used with SD PAL signals as they are so similar that there is no perceivable difference).
Thankfully the Sony does track greyscale very well out of the box (that is the colour of grey from black to white made up of red, green and blue mixed at determined amounts to create white. When we take away luminance (brightness) we get the various shades of grey.) We have access to a two point white balance control for calibrating the greyscale to achieve our image backbone (or canvas) within the Sony’s menu system. Also selectable is the Gamma curve although this is at various fixed options and not a manual control. Sadly, as I mentioned above, there are no controls for calibrating the colour gamut so it would be nice to see Sony catching up with everyone else and adding this on future models.
The rest of the menu system is dedicated to the interactive features available on the CX523 and how those are controlled by the TV. Like many such functions there are short cut keys on the remote control which can be used instead of entering the menu screens, but some functions will require a little more time, such as the network playback settings for example.
As the CX523 is Sony’s entry level internet TV we find a whole host of online applications available at our fingertips. These obviously need a connection to the internet and the TV has a wired LAN connection (which we used) as well as wireless capability when you add the optional UWA-BR100 USB wi-fi adaptor.
Just like every other manufacturers Smart TV set up we find a good number of useful and not so useful applications available with the Sony. The most useful apps to me personally are the video on demand services such as the BBC iPlayer and Demand Five, for example. With time shifting very much a modern day habit for TV watching I do find these services (and the others like them) invaluable for catching up with those shows I have missed. The CX523 does a good job running these varied applications and is not overly slow in selection or operation. When you add an optional camera and mic set up the Sony also offers Skype functionality. I also guess that it wouldn’t be a Sony product if we didn’t have the full Qriocity functionality for movies and music on demand when you sign up for a subscription and there's also Gracenote functionality for finding out what the music track is playing in the movie you’re watching as well as .
Other features available are twin view for watching two different sources next to each other, the PVR function when used with an external hard drive (not tested but available), a presence sensor that turns off the TV if you leave the room, full DLNA functionality, plus two HDMI connectors that offer full CEC control.
For an entry level model the Sony KDL-40CX523 does offer a good amount of extra flexibility and applications to expand your TV watching, so let’s move on to the most important part of any TV, smart or not, the picture quality…
Measured Results out of the box
As always in this part of the review we measure all the possible picture set up options to find those which produce picture quality close to the industry standards. This is a bench mark to see if the HDTV can resolve the colour of grey from black to white correctly (greyscale) and then check that the colour gamut matches that of the content you will be watching on the TV. This way we can see if the Sony can show film and TV material the way it was intended to be seen.
The out of the box greyscale results from the CX523 in the Cinema 1 mode and white balance selected as Warm can be described as very good. Red, green and blue are tracking in a uniform manner with errors less than 5% and deltaE results just peaking at 5. For an out of the box preset on a consumer panel like the Sony this is impressive and visual errors with onscreen material are hard to pick out. Gamma also does a decent job if just under our desired 2.2 reference point.
Looking at the out of the box colour gamut results is also refreshing as the Sony makes a decent stab at trying to replicate the Rec.709 standard. It is not perfect, far from it, with errors on all primary and secondary points. However, these errors can be considered overall to be the types of errors we could live with for the vast majority of content end users will watch, with just the occasional slightly odd looking hue tone. This is a far better result than the usual wide gamut seen on most entry level LCDs which at least attempts to try and get to where it should be. Sadly with no CMS on-board we will not be able to do much to improve this result.
Because we have white balance control available, with the Sony, we can at least attempt to correct the greyscale and try and reduce our overall errors. We are going to struggle to do much to correct the colour gamut results other than seeing how the secondary colour react to a corrected greyscale and if there is anything we could do with the colour decoder.
Looking at the greyscale we were able to make corrections and hit deltaE errors well under 1 in general, which will mean that errors are not perceivable to the human eye. The only negative is that the white balance controls are coarse in use and as such care needed to be taken during the calibration to achieve the results above. This may well vary from panel to panel. We also couldn’t get gamma to track close enough to 2.2 for our liking, but the overall result of this did not impact too hard with onscreen material and the results here can be considered reference due to the low errors.
Correcting the greyscale helped bring the secondary colour points back towards where they should be and with careful use of the tint control we were able to remove some of the hue error. Sadly that was about as much as we could do here, but those small changes did reduce the overall errors to under 4 deltaE. We would encourage Sony to look again at adding a Colour Management System to align themselves with their competitors.
As with most Sony displays their video processing can usually be relied upon to offer good scaling and deinterlacing performance and the CX523 is no exception. SD material was handled well by the X-Reality engine with no signs of ringing or loss of detail. The jaggies test was passed without any major issues and cadence tests were also successful at 2:2 and 3:2.
HD material was also handled well by the CX523 with no induced judder within 24p content and no unwanted processing taking place. The only slight negative with real world material was a slight instance of black trailing with some animated content, but this was not visible during casual viewing of other live action based material.
With an excellent greyscale, good colour gamut and acceptable gamma results under its belt along with good quality video processing, the CX523 provided a very decent viewing experience with SD and HD material. With a good bitrate broadcast channel the SD performance was very good with no signs of any issues with unwanted artefacts caused by the TV. Black levels were impressive and only occasionally looking a little purple than true black, a common issue with backlit TVs. Also impressive was the screen uniformity with only slight instances of coning or light bleed being visible in low light viewing. Move off axis however and the SPVA panel reverts to the usual LCD trait of image washout over the 30 degree point. Careful positioning of your seating will be required to get the best from this TV.
With good blacks and screen uniformity there were also marks given for the colour performance, even though we were not able to hit Rec.709 completely. Skin tones were very good with no obvious signs of overly red cheek bones and with the greyscale tracking well; we had no instances of colour shifting or unwanted tint. In the past Sony models have had a rather slight yellow tinge even when the greyscale had been corrected, but I am happy to report that is not the case here. Only the slight issue with gamma was visible to well accustomed eyes with images just appearing to be ever so slightly washed out. However, for the majority of end users, this Sony produces some very appealing images at the price point and has no major issues that would concern us in any way (accepting the obvious LCD technology traits). Well done Sony.
Well not being the most adept or even interested of gamers I didn’t find gaming on the Sony slow or inactive and our results returned on average results between 18 – 29ms response to lag measurements. I was unable to double check this with a CRT with no lag, so you can apply some caution to those results and take your console with you to check for yourself if you are interested in this model.
This is an LCD strong point and the Sony produced decent results averaging 89w in calibrated mode at various luminance points.
- Freeview HD tuner
- CCFL backlight produces good panel uniformity
- Out of the box greyscale is excellent
- Out of the box colour gamut is good
- Video processing is very good
- Internet features are good, especially on-demand services
- Use of mobile apps to control the TV
- Qriocity is an interesting feature for track ID information
- Power consumption is good
- Good value for money
- Build quality is not the best at the price point
- The design is very much personal preference
- Remote control feels dated and plastic
- Lack of full calibration control compared to rivals
- No Colour Management System
- Some signs of edge smear on fast moving motion
- Off axis viewing over 30 degrees is poor with gamma shift
Sony CX523 (KDL-40CX523) LCD TV Review
Sony entry models are never priced at the point you would assume for such a model. Sony obviously live on their reputation going back to the days of Trinitron and making good quality TVs in the public’s eye, and that is perhaps where the confidence in pricing comes from. The CX523 is not an overly expensive TV for what is genuinely on offer, but is perhaps at the higher end of this market point. Never the less the CX523 has managed to leave us impressed with what it does offer the end user.
The use of CCFL backlighting over the option of LED edge lighting has helped the CX523 to produce images with very few uniformity issues, so there are not any visible light corners or patches of light associated (and tested) with the LED models higher up the range. There can still be some small instances of this issue when watching in very dark conditions, but it never distracted in the vast amount of time we tested this TV and the result was consistent image quality. Calibration control could be better and Sony really need to play catch up over the opposition in this area, but with a little care and using what control we did have, produced a reasonable image quality. Blacks were impressive and the greyscale tracked well, even out of the box with no colour casting seen. Even with a colour gamut that was not perfectly matched to the HDTV standards, we were not overly concerned when it came to absolute colour accuracy in the image, with only the occasional instance of an error to well accustomed eyes. In general use to the vast majority of end users the CX523 offers generally appealing images with a strong uniformity in the image that in our opinion, beats some higher priced LED models.
Overall, with all its extra features and a generally pleasing image quality when set up correctly for the environment it is used in, the KDL-40CX523 offers end users a good quality LCD TV that we would be hard pushed not to recommend adding to your demo list if LCD is the only option for you.
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