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Sony EX703 (KDL-40EX703) Review

Phil Hinton puts the LED edge lit Essential screen from Sony through its paces.

by Phil Hinton
TV Review

Recommended
Sony EX703 (KDL-40EX703) Review
SRP: £1,300.00

Introduction

We look back to the Sony Essential range of HDTVs for our next review here at AVForums. Having looked at the very impressive budget CCFL based EX403 a few weeks ago we turn our attention to the EDGE LED KDL-40EX703 model.

So with features like Internet TV, Bravia Engine 3 processing and it’s EDGE LED backlight technology just how will this mid-range HDTV measure up? Let’s find out…

Design and Connections

As you would expect with an LCD using edge mounted LEDs for its backlight, the Sony EX703 is a slim HDTV. It follows the design of their Essential range with its black gloss bezel and off silver bottom layer. This gives the set a sleek, designer look that will appeal to many users. Obviously design is a very personal thing, but Sony has worked hard to make this model an item that would stand out as an object of designer flair. I am, however, sure that there will also be those who will dislike the looks. Using Edge LED technology means that the depth of the TV is just 200mm at its widest point. This will, no doubt, add to the set's appeal given that the CCFL Essential models are a good deal chunkier in comparison.

The EX703 is supplied with a table top stand within the box and it only takes a few minutes to set this up and attach it to the bottom of the TV. The design of this stand follows that of the main unit with a black plastic base. The TV is low enough in this stand to hide the connection between the set and the stand. This provides it with a high quality appearance when sat in the corner of the living room.

The remote control also supplied in the box is identical to the models we have already reviewed here at AVForums, with a sleek, plastic cover and slightly curved face. Again it is a personal thing but I happen to like the look and feel of the remote control and it is very easy to use and intuitive in its layout. Everything is provided on the remote to allow full control over the TV without it feeling crowded or too busy. The main controls for every day use are placed towards the top of the unit and this makes things easy to find quickly. The plastic back that hides the batteries and includes an extra power button is a unique touch, if a little redundant in actual use.

The connections for your sources are placed on the rear and side panel of the TV and offer up a wide selection of options. Chief amongst these are the four HDMI slots with two positioned on the rear panel and two on the sides. Also here are two RGB Scarts, a PC D-sub slot, one set of Component and Composite inputs along with a USB slot and Ethernet connection. There are also a host of audio inputs and outputs and the TV is even wireless ready.

Whatever connection you would require for your home cinema set up can be catered for with the EX703 including DLNA. The only downside to this design with the slim panel is that it will be difficult to wall mount due to the way the connections face outwards at the back. This will mean that even though the panel is slim, it will have to stick out of the wall by some distance with cables connected at the rear. The side panel connections also don’t help much here either as a decent HDMI cable is going to stick out by some margin.

Features

The main difference between the EX703 and the previously reviewed EX403 is the use of LED edge backlighting. Sony is renowned for using the term Gigacontrast when explaining their LED technology but we have no idea what that actually means. It is no doubt yet another marketing term that had been made up to sound ‘mega’ or in this case ‘Giga’. The obvious advantage of the Edge LED backlight, as explained above, is the slimness of the TV case. But will it improve the image quality? More later…

Included with the EX703 but absent from the EX403 is the Motionflow 100Hz picture processing with Blur Reduction. Unlike the traditional 100Hz technology that just doubles the 50Hz frames, the motionflow technology uses motion compensation frame interpolation to create new frames that are inserted to create smoother motion. As always we will look at this technology in detail along with Bravia Engine 3 processing later in the review.

There are also a number of further features that deal with picture quality, if not always to the benefit if the image. First we have the ambient sensor which allows the TV to automatically detect the brightness and colour temperature of the lighting in your room and adjust the picture quality to match. This is a technology that has been seen on a number of TVs up to this point and as always, it sounds impressive, but the reality is somewhat different. Like the Live Colour and Cinema Modes also present as features on the EX703, you really only need to calibrate your TV to the standards for playback and leave it well alone afterwards. There is no need to continually switch between picture settings depending on material (with the exception of gaming), so these features are pretty redundant but look good on the marketing material.

When it comes to added entertainment with the EX703, we have full DLNA compliant streaming of video, pictures and audio via the Ethernet (or optional wifi) connection. This feature works straight out of the box when connected to your router with no set up fuss. Also included is the new Internet Video service supplied by Sony. This includes video streaming from Demand Five and You Tube, plus features like internet radio stations. There is a very decent line up of existing services with promises of added content over the next few months.

Yet another new feature is the presence sensor. This is designed to detect movement in front of the TV and when you leave the room for any extended period (or fall asleep watching – something I did a number of times), the TV will automatically switch itself off. If you fancy wall mounting the EX703 you can also have a picture frame when you are not watching the set. Just select a wallpaper and then set to picture frame mode.

Finally the EX703 is equipped with a Freeview HD tuner which will allow owners in areas where there are HD transmissions to receive BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD. The reception of HD channels covers about 50% of the UK at the moment, but the entire country should be receiving the services by the time of the London Olympics in 2012. The tuner automatically tunes in to your local services on initial set up of the TV.

Menu System

Moving on to the menu, and we are greeted with the now familiar Xcross menu system that originally debuted on the PSX and was first seen on these shores in the PSP. If you are not used to the way the system works, it will take a while to get your head around where to find the options you need for picture set up and so on. However, with some practice, I happen to find this menu system quite intuitive and could navigate quickly between the various options available.

The GUI for digital TV is well designed and straightforward to use, with all the relevant information you could possibly need to hand on one screen page. Moving between favourites, or just surfing the channels is straight forward and as easy as any stand alone box option. Unlike some manufacturers' systems, the Sony also doesn’t try to sell you anything in the process. There are no adverts or banners.

Moving to the main picture menu and we have a good selection of options available. We have three picture mode options - Vivid, Standard and Custom. Plus if you select the orange Theatre button, or press Scene on the remote control, we have further picture mode selections. These include the Cinema mode which is the most accurate out of the box. Also in the main menu are the front panel controls - Backlight, Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Hue and Colour Temperature. We have a choice of Cool, Neutral, Warm1 and Warm2 in the colour temperature area of the menu, with Warm2 providing the most accurate of these settings against our desired picture standards.

Further selections include a Sharpness control, Noise Reduction, Mpeg Noise Reduction, Motion Flow, Film mode and Advanced controls. These are pretty much self explanatory and we will look at Motion Flow in more detail in the picture processing area of the review. Next we move to the Advanced menu.

Within the advanced menu we find quite a number of selections such as Black Correction, Adv.Contrast Enhancer, Gamma, Auto light limiter, Clear White, Live colour and White Balance. The most important of these selections are the Gamma and White Balance options. I found no use whatsoever for the other selections here, which just add image inconsistencies or appeared to make no difference at all. I decided to leave them all disabled. With Gamma we have seven selection points which adjust the gamma curve. I found that +1 was the closest to the desired 2.2 point. Finally the White Balance controls allow a two point Greyscale correction using high and low adjustments. A metre and software is needed for this process as one cannot set the White Balance by eye.

Other selections in the menu that may affect image quality can be found in the Screen menu, and of course, an on/off switch for the Ambient sensor. As I explained in the features section there is no need for such a sensor on a TV set and as such I left this switched off. This control basically adjusts the image brightness and colours by measuring the ambient light and colour temperature of the room and adjusting the TV to suit. The Screen menu contains a few aspect ratio controls with the most important being the Display Area control which should be set to full pixel to avoid overscan with HD sources.

The remainder of the menu selection include options that control the built-in audio, plus 'set once and forget' controls for internet connections, streaming, external inputs and tuners.

So with the EX703 set up and sources connected, it is time to measure how it performs out of the box.

Test Results

Measured Results

In this section of the review we find the picture modes that look to be the most accurate out of the box and also set the front panel controls using the normal test patterns. This is how the vast majority of users will set up the TV and it doesn’t involve the use of any meters or software. With the Sony we found that the Cinema preset with the Warm2 colour temperature setting, and the contrast and brightness set for our viewing room, offered the best image quality, by eye, towards the industry standards. This is important as you want to see the content you watch as close as possible to how it was mastered. All TV and Film material in the vast majority of cases are mastered to the same standards. So with everything set, just how well did the Sony shape up?

We look at the Greyscale and Gamma first as these are extremely important areas of the image to get right. Greyscale is basically the backbone to your image from black to peak white and every shade of grey in-between. If the Greyscale is correct there should be no colour cast visible with on-screen images and each step of grey should be grey. To achieve a perfect Greyscale the RGB (Red, Green and Blue) elements of the image, should track at the correct mixture level. In the graph above this is represented in the RGB Balance section. Here the three colours should track on top of each other on the 100% line for a perfect Greyscale. As we can see in the chart Blue is about 10% high of the 100% line, with Red between 10 and 5% low and green tracking on the 100% line.

So what does this mean? If we look at the graph we can see that from black (0 IRE) to peak white (100IRE) on the bottom line of the graph, blue is consistently high and red low, with green pretty much correct. If we look at an on-screen grey ramp pattern (11 point) with this result we would see too much blue and a slight green cast at almost all points on the ramp within the grey to white boxes. This would also be seen with normal material playing on the TV, most noticeably the high blue in white objects on-screen. We can also see our gamma curve results in the relevant boxes on the graphs. Here we want gamma to track in a straight line at 2.2 from black (0IRE) to white (100IRE). Above the line gamma gets darker and below it gets lighter. As we can see out of the box it tracks between 2.15 until around 20IRE then darkens to just shy of 2.3 until dropping again from 80IRE to just below 2.15 again. On-screen this would be shown with the darkest area of the image being just a little too light in brightness and then the mid section of the image being a little darker before going back again at the high end. This wouldn’t cause too many issues with normal viewing. The final area to check is the DeltaE box. This area is a numerical results of any errors we have within the Greyscale and whether they are noticeable to the human eye. Usually anything under 2 is invisible to most viewers, but the higher the number the more that error may be seen. Our results here are pretty average for an out of the box set up. We should be able to correct most of the issues we have found as Sony has provided a white balance menu and controls.

The next part of the results we look at are the colour gamut points. This tells us where the main primary and secondary colours are in terms of saturation, hue and brightness against the colour standard for HD and Pal content. The vast majority of the content you watch on TV has been mastered so the colours are correct to the standard we use (known as Rec.709). So if the TV can match the colour points and brightness to the content standards, we see everything as it is intended to be seen.

If we look at the Gamut CIE chart we can see a triangle that represents the Rec.709 standard in 2D space – saturation and hue. The third element is the Gamut luminance (brightness) chart. Looking at the CIE chart we can see that on the triangle are six boxes which show where the colour points should be to match the standard. The black dots are the results of our measurements and show where the actual colours are on the Sony. The black curved line and the black dot that sits on or close to this, is our white point. We saw this in the greyscale results and it shows white has too much blue. If we look at the primary colour points, (Red, Green and Blue), we can see that Green is outside the triangle and is over saturated. Red has a similar position but to one side which indicates a hue error. Blue is almost where we would like it to be. The secondary colours are a little better in their placement with magenta towards blue, this is a hue error. We can also check our findings in the CIE against the DeltaC and DeltaH graphs. These display the numerical error for Colour and Hue and match the CIE. The final parts to look at are the Gamut Luminance and DeltaL graphs. This indicates how bright the colours are compared to how bright they should be. This is a very important area to check with any results, as the saturation and hue results of the colour points could be ideal on the CIE chart, but the brightness could be too high or dim which will affect the on-screen appearance of the colours.

It is extremely rare to find the colour gamut matches up out of the box, so the results here from the Sony are very good indeed. There are errors but we have no Colour Management System (CMS) with which to correct them. However by correcting the greyscale in our calibration we might be able to pull Magenta back to where it should be. Plus we can use some very subtle adjustments with the main colour control to balance the errors slightly better. It would have been nice if Sony could have added a full colour management system for adjustment of the colour points for hue, saturation and brightness as we could have obtained almost perfect results.

Calibrated Results

With the out of the box measurements done we set about with a full isf calibration. This requires the use of an accurate meter and software as it cannot be done by eye.

As we can see in the RGB Balance chart some adjustments at the high and low ends of the greyscale using the included white balance controls gave us an excellent result. All three colours are now tracking from 20IRE to 100IRE in almost the correct amounts. The errors are so low (DeltaE graph) that we will not be able to see any colour casts in a grey ramp test pattern or on-screen with normal viewing. White and greys no longer have too much blue visible and are correct to the D65 white point. This has also improved the gamma tracking which is now almost perfectly tracking at 2.2 with just two slight dips introducing some added brightness at those points. Overall the results here are very good.

Moving to the Colour Gamut we have also been able to balance the points a little better than out of the box results. The eagle eyed amongst you will see that some areas have risen in terms of errors, but this is balanced across all the points now (although there was nothing to do with red, yet its on screen result is not pronounced). We could have left things as they were out of the box, but just by balancing the results, we get a more fluid look to colours without any one main error that would be obvious on screen. It is not perfect, but without a CMS control its as good as it gets with this Sony and unless you have a reference monitor sitting side by side, most folk will never notice any of the slight errors. So overall it’s a good all-round result from the Sony for those wanting to watch content correctly. All the other picture presets are too bright with large blue errors that ruin detail and image balance.

Video Processing

Looking at Standard definition material first the EX703 offers good scaling with no signs of artificial edges or ringing. The de-interlacing is also average to good with only slight jaggies visible on the bottoms bars in the HQV tests. The SD image holds up well and can be considered serviceable. Moving to cadence detection and the Sony managed to lock on to the main 2:2 Pal and 3:2 NTSC cadences with a very slight lag initially. Obviously this requires film mode to be switched on in the menu system.

The playback of 24p Blu-ray material is also good with no signs of induced judder. Plus there is no added behind the scenes processing or sharpening to ruin matters. Just make sure overscan is switched off with HD images so you get all detail available.
The EX703 also has Motion flow 100Hz technology and like any frame interpolation system it is a controversial feature. With film based content in both SD and HD the Standard and High settings add a sped up ‘soap opera’ effect that ruins the look and feel of film material. It does improve motion but at the same time it also adds some artefacts. Using the system with TV programming and video content produced the same look but was not as jarring as with film material. The obvious upside to this technology is reduced blur within camera pans and fast movement allowing the panel to produce around 600 lines of resolution as opposed to around 400 lines with it switched off. Overall I found that the use of motion flow introduced more negatives than positives when looking for accurate images. You do however have the option to switch it off so the choice will be user dependant.

Gaming

In the games mode the EX703 measured a lag time of 38ms which will affect some gamers. Whilst I didn’t find the lag to interrupt my game play, I am also not the quickest gun slinger out there so it may be a little too high for real hardcore and super quick gamers.

Power Consumption

In terms of Power consumption the EX703 provides fairly static power consumption figures due to being a backlit TV. In the cinema mode we measured the Sony at three points; 0IRE, 50IRE and 100IRE where it consumed a constant 90 watts. In calibrated mode this test was repeated with the result being a constant 101 watts.

Picture Quality

Starting with out of the box settings and the Sony produces a pleasing image that is fairly close to accurate. With both standard definition and high definition material the image in the Cinema mode and colour temperature Warm2 colours appear natural and detailed. Colour gradation is good, but also dependant on source material with some instances of block-like steps with extremely fine gradational changes. This was never an issue with every day viewing in the correct settings. If you change to vivid or standard picture presets, these introduce further issues due to increased brightness and elevated gamma performance.

Calibrated settings improved colour performance and greyscale tracking to provide good accuracy. In both settings the use of the LED lighting should improve dynamic range and contrast within images with a strong black level. This is the case if you watch the EX703 from the ideal viewing angle of straight on. Blacks are deep but with some slight loss of absolute shadow detailing from around 20IRE and below. This does rob the image of overall depth but is not an issue to be overly concerned about. With motion flow switched off the image holds up well with some slight blur and resolution loss on fast moving objects that are more an issue with LCD technology than this TV in particular. This does not detract from watching sports with football holding up well under scrutiny in HD.

However, as with any TV there are some issues to be aware of with the image quality, on the EX703. The first of these is the off-axis viewing angle which whilst not as bad as the latest Samsung Edge LED sets, does suffer the further you move to the sides (or above and below). Colour and contrast do their best to hold up but once over around 40 degrees, they fall off quickly. The second issue is with screen uniformity which can be best described as average on the EX703. Uniformity is the spread of light across the screen which should be uniform. However the Sony does suffer from backlight striping, most notably on the far top edges and bottom corners of the screen. These show up even with very bright on-screen material as dark shadows, or strips. This is most visible when watching material such as football with a noticeable banding of the backlight behind the pitch and action on-screen. Further to this when watching 2.35:1 aspect ratio films you can see the backlight issues in the black bars. This issue can be very distracting and once noticed is always visible. I did try to capture this effect in a photo but was unable to reproduce the visible effect on camera.

So, overall the Sony does a decent job with image quality if you make sure to watch the screen directly straight on with most material. Anyone interested in this model would be advised to demo and check your viewing room layout to make sure the issues mentioned don’t impact too much. Obviously the backlight issues are likely to be a killer for some users, especially videophiles. One final aspect to consider is the reflective nature of the screen surface if you have a particularly bright room.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Good build quality
  • Slim design
  • Good cinema preset with above average image accuracy
  • Excellent greyscale and good gamma when calibrated
  • Strong if not perfect colour accuracy
  • Interesting internet TV functions
  • Strong black levels when viewed direct
  • Good quality remote

The Bad

  • Viewing angle
  • Screen uniformity and visible backlight stripping/banding
  • No CMS system or manual gamma control

Sony EX703 (KDL-40EX703) Review

As with any consumer TV there are major plus points mixed with some negatives. The out of the box image quality is good with accurate enough colours and greyscale performance. There is a slight blue cast to the image but nothing that will stand out for most viewers and consumers. The design is also slick and the added internet features are actual worth spending some time with.

However we balance this with the issues of uneven screen uniformity that does show up even with very bright images. There is a striping effect to the backlight which shows up as slight banding. Plus the off-axis viewing angles are not the widest and image quality does fall off quite quickly as you move to the sides. As always we would recommend you demo this set to see if the issues are important to you and your viewing habits and environment.

Overall the Sony EX703 offers good image accuracy with strong black levels and good dynamic range when set up correctly and viewed direct. The design is also appealing with a slim body and good looks that won’t feel out of place in most living rooms. Plus the addition of a Freeview HD tuner and some genuinely interesting internet video applications make the Sony an appealing proposition and is good enough to bag our recommended badge. However, make sure to note the slight issues mentioned and demo the TV before purchase if it interests you.

Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
7

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Smart Features

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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