Sony EX723 (KDL-37EX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review

Mark has a look at the first of Sony's new 3D TVs looking for some improvements over last year..

by hodg100
TV Review

Sony EX723 (KDL-37EX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review
SRP: £899.00

Introduction

The particular model put under test in this review was the KDL-37EX723 but Sony offer the EX range in a wide range of sizes with, in size order, the KDL-32EX723, KDL-40EX723, KDL-46EX723 and KDL-55EX723 also available for the UK market.

Our experiences with Sony's first stab at creating 3D Display's were something of a mixed bag. By and large we were all impressed with the 2D performance of the Sony ranges but were less enthused by the images in the 3rd dimension. We also had concerns with both the eyewear and the need to plug in an emitter; we are already aware that the emitter is no more so we'll be looking for the performance of both the glasses and 3D picture presentation, itself, to continue the good tidings.

The KDL-EX723 is Sony's entry-level 3D range and so isn't blessed with the redoubtable good looks of their 'Monolithic' designed TVs. There are plenty of features packed in, however, with Sony now including an Internet Browser and even more video on demand content. Sony have some ground to catch up on their competitors - particulalry in terms of the calibration controls, and aforementioned 3D picture quality. Let's see what they've done to address things...

Styling and Connections

We've made no secret of our admiration for Sony's understated design ethos, in the past, and the KDL-EX723 barely departs from last year's EX713, other than the fact the bottom of the bezel now matches the rest in being gloss black. As we'd expect from an edge-lit LCD, the chassis is fairly slender in measuring just less than 4cm - at its deepest - but it's by no means a record breaker in this respect when you compare to the likes of Samsung's anorexic, D8000 and a few others that are currently hitting the market. There's an extra design touch added to the EX range this year in that they are able to be tilted back on the swivel stand by 6 degrees, which could be useful for those in unusually high seating positions.

Regular readers of our recent reviews could probably write the 'connections' section for the EX723, themselves, as it features pretty much the same selection of inputs every other 1080p display in this day and age supports. There are 4 HDMI ports (3 at the rear and 1 to the side), with HDMI 1 suppoting Audio Return Channel (ARC). Also to the rear we have legacy Scart and Component - with corresponding audio jacks - connections, the Freeview HD capable aerial socket, the SPDIF digital audio out terminal and the audio input for side-mounted D-SUB PC connection or HDMI 2 when used with DVI.

In addition to HDMI 4 and the D-SUB PC inputs, to the side we have two USB ports, one of which is intended for use with the in-built PVR functionality. There's also a CAM slot and a headphone jack, to complete matters.

The remote control supplied feels of a high quality and is of far more manageable proportions than some of Sony's handsets of last year - there's certainly no problem in one-handed operation with this one. We would have preffered the Volume/Channel up and down buttons to be more centrally located but there are no great issues here.

For the purposes of a thorough review, our friends and review sponsors at Multizone AV supplied us with a pair of Sony's TDG-BR100 3D Glasses but they don't come in the box and require an additional outlay. We are very pleased to report there's no need to buy a 3D emitter, this year, as it's all built in to the TV. Common sense has prevailed! The glasses themselves are very blue tinted and feel fairly heavy when compared to the likes of Panasonic and Samsungs' efforts at active shutter eyewear. We'd certainly like to see Sony put their design know-how in to opeartion and make improvements here.

Menus and Set Up

As with many of their competitors, Sony have given their GUI the makeover treatment this year. The essential structure remains largely the same and the Cross Media Bar (XMB) remains at the heart of things but the XMB no longer dominates the screen upon pressing the HOME button of the remote control. 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 on the remote control, from which we can set all Picture, Sound, PiP/PaP and 3D options plus a few others.

There's the usual array of options found under the Picture menu with Picture Mode, Backlight, Contrast, Brightness and Colour making up the first page of picture options. Sony have added an extra Cinema picture preset so we now have Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, presumably to allow the setting of day and night time calibration options, and it's a good move from a manufacturer that is still somewhat reticent to give us a full calibration suite.

Below the standard 'front panel' controls, there are settings for Hue, Colour 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 minimum sharpness setting was appropriate for HD sources. 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 has the controls we'll need to attempt calibration of the KDL-EX723, with the White Balance and Gamma controls to the fore. Absolutely everything else, in this area, we found either unnecessary or detrimental to picture quality so 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.

The 3D menu has options for setting 3D display type, a depth adjustment selection, 'strength' of the simulated 2D>3D conversion and Auto, Low, Medium and High choices for 3D Glasses Brightness - the higher the setting the more light is let in and with it a commensurate increase in crosstalk, we advise leaving at Auto.

With the number of options available under the XMB, we could probably write an information booklet but fortunately Sony beat us to it in providing an instruction manual!

Sony's Electronic Program Guide (EPG) has always numbered amongst our favourites and seeing as no change has been made to this area of the GUI, it remains so with its 8 channel/2 hour view and video windowed appearance

Features

The KDL-EX723 has plenty of extras to keep owners occupied besides the increasingly ubiquitous inclusion of 3D technology. New for 2011, Sony have provided a web browser that functions reasonably well given the contstraints of using a TV remote for internet navigation. For owners of Smartphones, Sony have released an App for both Android and iPhone/iPad that should alleviate some of the frustration. Sony's Bravia Internet video services has seen a number of additions since we last checked and there were 27 offerings available at the time of writing but still the most notable, and probably most used, are BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Demand 5 and LoveFilm in addition to Sony's own Qriocity on demand service - thankfully PSN had come back on line by the time of writing.

For anyone that wishes to add Skype video chat functionality to their KDL-EX723, there's an optional video cam/mic attachment available and the same principle applies to owners wanting a WiFi connection to their home network, with a separate USB dongle available as a peripheral. For those that do connect to their network, DLNA certification is provided and although that's no absolute guarantee of success, we found our connection to be robust, with the rather excellent PS3 Media Server playing quite nicely for streaming duties.

We alluded to the PVR functionality when discussing the connections and it's the usual single tuner offering, as we've seen from Panasonic and Samsung in the past. It's a definite nice to have for when your dedicated machine is not available.

Amongst the slew of energy saving options available with the EX723 is a presence sensor that will automatically put the TV in to standby - at a pre-determined point - when it detects nobody is watching it. The timer is set to 30 minutes, by default, and caught us out initially but it's a sensible idea from Sony although we were surprised it didn't kick in whilst we endured Eurovision, as our souls certainly left our bodies during viewing.

If all that weren't enough for you, there's a couple of extra goodies with a TRACK ID button that will attempt to search for details of whatever tune is playing during your viewing material (not that we had any success with a 'data not found' message appearing on the 10+ attempts we made); and there's a similar ability to search for imdb style data in a Video Search function. The EX723 can also display 3D and panaromic photos when connected to a suitably equipped camera.

Test Results

Measured Results Out of the Box

We know from past experiences with Sony TVs that the Cinema picture mode has always given the results closest to industry standards and our evaluation confirmed the suspicions it would be the case here. In most cases we've also found a colour temperature of Warm 2 yiled the most accurate greyscale - although we have seen Warm 1 as the best base for a calibration but that was more as a result of the idiosyncratic white balance controls than anything else. Sure enough, Warm 2 was the winner on the EX723 and having appropriately set Brightness and Contrast controls we obtained the following set of results:

This certainly isn't the most impressive out of box set of graphs we've published and on-screen material suffers a distinct cast of yellow - which is precisely what you get when you mix red light with green light. The lack of blue only compounds the issue so we've some very worthwhile work to do with the White Balance controls. In the interests of maintaining a neutrality to the 'base' of the picture from black to white, we really want to have the red, green and blue lines, in the tracking much closer together on the RGB Balance graph.

Gamma is probably the least understood and most controversial area of calibration and its setting is down to viewing conditions and an individual televisions capabilities as well as, dare we say it, a small element of personal taste. As a general rule, we'd advise trying to avoid going much below a value of 2.2, unless viewing conditions are bright - and then we'd probably tell you to dim your environment for critical viewing! As the EX723 was tested in a variety of lighting conditions, we chose 2.2 as a basis for calibration but at default the performance was sorely lacking. In addition to the yellow cast, we'd also noticed a very waxy look to skintones and the Gamma Point Graph's spike down between 50 and 70 IRE might show the reason why. As with the majority of displays, the gamma control is global and the white balance controls are 2 rather than 10 point, so we'd need to look at the contrast control, in case of clipping, in addition to the gamma and white balance controls to improve the response.

Performance here is, on paper, roughly equivalent to those of the greyscale, i.e. just above average, but in actual fact real world material doesn't suffer so much due to them. Colours are somewhat muted due to the under luminance, across the board, but a few clicks of the colour control would make a significant improvement. In fact, owing to the continuing lack of CMS in Sony TVs, we'd be fairly reliant on the global Colour control together with hoping improvements to greyscale would bring our secondary colours (cyan/magenta/yellow) in to closer proximity of the small squares along the perimeter of the triangle that represents the Rec.709 gamut. We'd have less chance of affecting the primary (red/green/blue) colours' hue and saturation targets -that form the points of the triangle - but as long as we could get close to the luminance targets, shown in the Gamut Luminance bar graph, it's likely images would still be pleasing.

Calibrated Results

We'll make no bones about it, we're not fans of Sony's White Balance controls. Not only are they potentially hamstrung by their inability to increase Gains, that affect points higher up the greyscale, but the Bias controls, which perform the opposite to the Gains, are extremely heavy handed - with drastic changes occurring with just a single click, here or there. Given our criticisms, we manged to obtain significant improvements:

Whilst by no means perfect, very dark areas of the picture were slightly red tinged, over all the greyscale calibration had worked wonders. We'd eliminated the nasty nicotine tinge to our pictures and there was a satisfying sense of neutrality. Gamma had been flattened to a very acceptable degree thanks in equal part to the Gamma and Contrast sliders. There was a very definite sweet spot for setting contrast on the EX723 and it's a control that should never be overlooked when trying to iron out issues. The graphs never tell the full story, of course, but if anything the improvements made to images were by some degree more impressive than the 'before' and 'after' charts reveal.

As we'd hoped, improvements in the greyscale had dragged the secondarys more in to line and we sacrificed the luminance of blue at the sake of getting green and red bang on for luminance as our eyes will pick up errors in red and green more readily than in blue. To be fair, most would have few problems with the colour performance of the EX723, when tweaked but we really hope Sony are taking on board the importance of providing a decent set of calibration tools as they slip another year behind most of the competition

Video Processing

The majority of manufacturers are getting it largely right in this area nowadays and it's no great surprise that Sony continue to be one of those whose picture processing ticks most of the boxes.

Scaling duties for standard definition material are handled extremely well by Sony's X-Reality picture engine with no undue loss of detail, ringing or any other unpleasantries brought to the table. The better SD channels looked very good indeed and this, of course, proved true for DVD content.

Deinterlacing of video content was also handled with aplomb with very little in the way of jaggedness in the fine detail on either static or moving images. Not only is the EX723 adept at deinterlacing video content, it's also equally proficient in recognising when not to apply deinterlacing, i.e. when progressively shot film material is sent in an interlaced signal. With Film Mode engaged (which it is by default in Cinema mode), the Sony handled both the PAL 2:2 and NTSC 2:3 cadences without hesitation and never lost the lock.

We've had some fairly complimentary things to say about Sony's Motionflow frame interpolation engine in the past - when set to Clear. Nothing much has changed in 2011, 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, the XR 200 engine takes about a second to catch on which results in not so much a skip but a stutter. It doesn't happen too frequentlty but there will be some that will be bothered by this. In actual fact, motion resolution performance was reasonable by LCD standards, without interpolation, and to save the need for turning Motionflow 'on' an 'off', depending on content, we just left it 'off'.

Gaming Performance

Back to happier news, and we found the EX723 to be a more than competent display for gaming duties. With Game mode enabled, we repeatedly found input lag to sit somewhere between 16 and 32 milliseconds at 60 frames per seconds, i.e. between 1 and 2 frames. This shouldn't prove too much of an obstacle for even the sensitive gamer and it was certainly good enough for us. We haven't found a reliable way of testing for 3D input lag but as the same issues beset 3D games as with other 3D material, we wouldn't be rushing to use the facility in any case.

Energy Consumption

The Sony KDL-37EX723 is no power hungry television and barely registered any consumption whilst in standby. The calibrated 2D image drew an average of 54w with 3D images asking a little more at an average of 85w.

Picture Quality - 2D

With the very good calibrated greyscale, excellent video processing/scaling and respectable black levels there was no reason to expect anything other than a pleasing 2D picture performance - and this was certainly the case for the EX723.

On-axis viewing provided the best showcase for the 723's strengths with good shadow detailing complimenting the more than adequate black levels. Black levels held up reasonably well, at an angle, with just a tinge of purple when compared to some of the 2010 Bravia stable. Unfortunately they didn't hold up too well, for an LCD, in a brighter viewing environment and the matte screen, whilst competent at dispersing reflections, wasn't equipped with a particularly efficient filter to reject ambient light.

We had our fair share of Sony's with backlight uniformity issues, in the recent past, but we are happy to report the EX723 fared better in this area. The now familiar trait, for edge-lit LCD, of light bleed appearing in the corners opposing the side from which it's viewed was again in evidence but this only proved an annoyance in the darkest of images. When viewed from straight on, the EX723 certainly engaged in ideal - low-lit - viewing conditions and we'd be happy to recommend the TV for late night 2D film watchers, particularly as the handling of 24p Blu-ray's was the expected success story.

Picture Quality - 3D

There were some harsh words said about Sony's attempts at 3D in the 2010 ranges, they were a little late to the party and we suspected that the sub-par presentation was perhaps as a result of rushing 3D product to the market. The clunky add-on IR transmitter won no friends, the glasses lost sync with each tilt of the head with the prominent crosstalk and blurry backgrounds particulalry exposed at larger screen sizes. This is now 2011 and therefore the 2nd generation of 3D TVs are upon us, we've seen improvements virtually across the board from other manufacturers so why have Sony not moved on?

We avoid sensationalist reviewing here at AVForums so it's with a certain trepidation that we declare the EX723s' 3D experience 'a mess'. We were almost certain Sony would have addressed the issue of the glasses losing sync with head movement - we were 100% incorrect in that assumption. Just the slightest degree of tilt and colours shifted alarmingly with the image separating in to its left and right components. So, whist we've lost the unsightly emitter, the glasses remain an unsolved problem that we suggest is an unsurmountable one for those considering the EX723 as a family 3D TV. Kids dont tend to stay sat still for very long, perhaps it's different in Japan? Whilst we're having our say the glasses themselves are considerably heavier than most of their rivals' and not at all comfortable to wear for the duration of the average movie.

So on to the crosstalk and blurred background problems and again Sony seem to have made no progress - if anything they've made retrograde steps. If we can inject just the merest hint of positivity to this section, foreground performance was quite impressive, at times, there was some crosstalk evident but generally not at a level we'd consider distracting, the same, however, could not be said of the presenation of background images. It would probably incorrect to describe the background problems as crosstalk, in the tradtional sense, the issue was actually more akin to a complete breakdown in the 3D processing. Where foreground images generally retained their integrity, the backgrounds frequently split apart and this was especially the case with faster moving action sequences. It was almost as if the 723 was half working, for 3D, it would possibly be more accurate to say it's a 2.5D TV and that simply doesn't cut the mustard.

Whilst we appreciate the vast majority of what people watch is 2D, and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future, the EX723 is sold as a 3D TV with a price premium attached. We can imagine there will be a fair amount of disgruntlement from those that shell out extra for the 3D glasses and perhaps a 3D spinner. Sony really need to get their act together in this area, and quickly.

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Classy Design
  • Improved GUI
  • Calibrated Greyscale
  • Excellent Scaling and Video Processing
  • Gaming Performance
  • Respectable Blacks and Contrast

The Bad

  • 3D Presentation
  • 3D Glasses
  • Calibration Options and Tools
  • Removal of Theatre Button from Remote

Sony EX723 (KDL-37EX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review

The KDL-EX723 is 9/10ths a very good television and normally that would be enough to gain at least a recommendation. Unfortunately, the 10th it lacks is the feature that attracts the highest proportional price premium - 3D - and it falls short in this department by some measure. It's a shame as the 2D experience is excellent, for the most part, but we'd struggle to give a badge to something that really doesn't perform as it should in such a key aspect. To bring it in to perspective, prospective buyers could purchase Sony's own, 2D, KDL-CX523 for approximately £150 less and gain 3 inches of screen real estate.

Sony certainly haven't done anything radical in terms of redesigning the EX7xx range but then why should they? It's an understated design that wouldn't look out of place in any living room so if ain't broke, don't fix it. The remote supplied is not as bulky as some of those we saw from Sony last year and feels suitably well engineered although it's a pity to see the demise of the Theatre button that gave users a fairly decent one touch calibration. The GUI has had a nice makeover, though, with the XMB no longer dominating the screen in the imposing way it once did. The menus are a little slicker in operation, than last year's but we still think there's room for improvement here.

It's good to see a new feature make it in to an entry level range without having to wait a year or two for it to trickle down from the top-tier sets and Sony's new Web Browser works fine as a lite surfing option, albeit with its operation by remote control having you dive for your smartphone with a visit to the app store shortly following. The increasing trend for providing recording to USB storage shows up in the EX723 and that's always a nice to have, as is the Freeview HD tuner. The EX723 networks well although there's no wireless built in; but with over 25 video services available you may not feel the need for much wireless video streaming anyhow. For those that can't (or wont) go wired, there is of course the option to purchase a wireless dongle.

Greyscale performance, out-of-the-box, was fairly average but, more worryingly, on-screen material had a visible yellow cast with an added waxiness to skin tones. Fortunately, despite the rather clunky controls - particularly at the darker end of the greyscale - we manged to dial in a pleasing result with images looking much improved, as a result. Sony continue to neglect calibration professionals and enthusiasts, alike, in not providing a CMS and we'd really like to see them hit 2012 with a whole new calibration suite. It can't have escaped their notice that most of their competitors offer far better tools.

As a result of the very good greyscale and gamma response, coupled with the excellent all round picture processing, 2D images were very nicely realised. Contrast performance was very good with highly respectable black levels that didn't hide too much in the shadows.
It's a real shame we can't be so charitable about the all round 3D experience of the KDL723. Not only have Sony not managed to rectify the issue of the rather uncomfortably heavy glasses losing sync, when tilted, but background images frequently split in to their component left/right facets, particularly as the action speed up. Quite simply put, the 3D performance of the 723 is not worthy of consideration as a feature to base a purchase on.

Provided we stuck to good old fashioned 2D gaming, the EX723 proved a worthy display to while away the hours on with its excellent controller response measuring typically less than 2 frames. Likewise, energy consumption is noteworthy in its relatively low numbers with an averaged calibrated consumption of 54W.
So close...

Scores

3D Picture Quality

.
.
.
.
.
.
4

Sound Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Smart Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
6

Verdict

.
.
.
.
6

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Video Processing

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
8

Screen Uniformity

.
.
8
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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