So what is that they have changed in the 2011 Bravia Range? Well let’s start with the prices; the Sony KDL-55HX853 has a suggested retail price under £1,800 and is already available at near £1,500 at some retailers so it’s much more in line with the competition and, even at full SRO, is a staggering £1,200 less than the extremely disappointing LG LM960 Steve Withers reviewed recently. It’s also around £500 less than the Samsung 55ES7000, £700 cheaper than the Samsung 55ES8000 and £500 and £900 less expensive than the Panasonic TX-L55DT50 and Panasonic TX-L55WT50, respectively. In short, Sony’s Flagship TV of the moment is extremely competitively priced. It's refreshing to see them accept the fact that the name alone no longer justifies a price premium. Sony will be releasing a full array backlit TV later in the year, in the HX953 but, for now, the HX853 is the poster boy for Sony’s reinvigorated assault on the market.
It’s sad, we know, but one of this reviewer’s personal highlights, from CES 2012 at the turn of the year, was the announcement that Sony would be concentrating their efforts into producing televisions with a much better degree of screen uniformity, not a series of Size 0 fashion victims . All too often we find ourselves faced with LED TVs with either panel banding, dirty screen effect or light pooling and often a combination of all three; so if Sony have solved any - or hopefully all - of these problems, we’ll be very happy indeed. It’s new territory for Sony, can the HX853 plot the course with aplomb? Read on to find out.
Design and Connections
Floating stand aside, as that will divide opinions, the Sony KDL-55HX853 is another stunner from Sony. There’s a single sheet of gorilla glass at the front and a silver trim along the outer edge with its gloss black bezel around the screen that is about 3cm wide to the top and sides and nearer 4cm at the bottom. As well as the gorilla glass, the HX853 includes the Opti Contrast ambient light filter, which is designed to improve the perceived contrast in brighter environments and it seriously works. We think there’s sometimes not enough attention paid to the quality of the filters deployed in a display. Not everyone watches in very low lighting conditions and, in some cases, how good the filter is at giving the impression of a deep black level is as important as the actual black level reading itself, if not more so. The overall look of the HX853 is consistent with Sony’s new design philosophy and the gloss black of the panel chassis is contrasted with the brushed aluminium ‘floating stand’. The stand is designed to give the appearance that the panel is floating above it, creating ‘a light and airy’ presence. We’re not sure if ‘light and airy’ is how we’d describe it, ‘beautifully modern’ is what we’d say and we’ll settle for that. As Barry White would say, ‘Don’t go changing…’
It looks as though there has been a degree of cost cutting with the remote control and it’s a bit smaller and lighter than in years gone by. It’s by no means a poor effort though and is not quite as steeply concave as the last generations and a little more comfortable to handle as a result. The standby button on the rear has also been banished in a show of common sense and there’s a new SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) button above the directional keys to take you in to the heart of Sony’s online offerings without the need to enter the XMB (Cross Media Bar). Which is always a bonus. Layout of the buttons is coherent and well considered but we’d prefer the exit button to be bigger, better placed and more effective. If you are more than one ‘layer’ down in the menus, a press will mean you just revert to the menu above. Exit should mean getting out of the menus altogether, you already provided a RETURN Button for skipping back Sony.
The 55HX853 doesn’t come with any 3D eyewear as standard but we were provided a set of Sony’s TDG-BR250’s for testing. They sure aint pretty but we don’t care because all the bulkiness has been used to provide protection against ambient light hitting the lenses, and it that way they are successful, meaning a definite reduction in flicker in less than ideal viewing conditions. The BR250’s are quite heavily tinted blue with head kept straight; move a few degrees over to the right and they look far more neutral; move to the left and they become ever more blue. Not ideal and even calibrating that out with a meter would be very difficult as you would need to ensure the exact same angle of tilt (or otherwise) between placement during calibration and when being worn. Even a small movement affects things greatly and the fact the 3D viewing experience puts pressure on you to maintain statuesque levels of motionlessness is restrictive. We think Sony need to further rethink their 3D eyewear but the fact they are USB rechargeable and connected by RF, rather than infra-red, is a plus.
Under the basic picture 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, as per last year’s HX823. Next comes the set of controls under the ‘Reality Creation’ heading where there are sub-settings for Video Area Detection, Resolution and Noise Filtering. The Reality Creation ‘suite’ is only of real benefit with very low quality sources, we found, but we try and avoid feeding a 55” TV with tripe when possible, and we’d advise you to do the same. The Video Area Detection setting betrays the fact it’s aimed at embedded video from the Web so, if you do use your big screen for surfing - and it’s sometimes good to get that YouTube video for the whole family to see - experiment away but the vastly varying quality of online video will mean you’ll be forever tinkering with those sliders. You have been warned. The Smooth Gradation feature actually works quite well, at least on test patterns, and kept in its low setting didn’t cause any issues with real world content. Further down there are options for Motionflow and Film Mode but we’ll cover those in other sections in more detail.
The apps section is a broad church. Headliners include the usual suspects of BBC News and iPlayer, Demand 5, Facebook and Twitter. Slapped in the middle of their icons is an explanation of the Home Theatre Control option. No, really. Delve deeper and there are dozens of video on demand services including Love Film, EuroSport, You Tube and Netflix. For users of the latter service, it’s disappointing that picture options can’t be changed when using it and Motion Flow seems locked in to the Smooth, i.e. most aggressive, setting. It doesn’t seem to be the case for other VoD services so we hope that can be fixed. Sony’s 3D Experience streaming service has added quite a bit more content since we last checked in and there’s a decent variety of sports, video games and nature clips to see plus some music videos, Harry Potter, Travel and ‘World Heritage’ material. Along with Panasonic, Sony have an advantage here in that they are involved with the production of 3D as well as the manufacturer of equipment to film it.
Just launched is Sony’s new Homestream service, a piece of software you can download to Mac or PC that is specifically designed to act as a media server to Sony Bravia TVs, Blu-ray Players and the PS3 console. We were only notified of it very late in the review process but our first impression is that it is remarkably similar to the Servio media server software we have running on our Windows 7 PC which, in itself, does a very good job with Sony products. In fact, on further checking, Homestream is indeed based on the Servio platform with some tweaks for compatibility with Sony products. Whilst both Homestream and Servio provide a very nice interface and excellent indexing of content, we still prefer the unofficial PS3 Media Server software for transcoding files the devices don’t natively playback, and we’re specifically looking at mkv files where PS3 Media Server definitely outshines either. For more ‘everyday’ file types the better interface of Homestream and Servio win out. All in all, it’s a comprehensive set of features from Sony but more thought is needed to give them greater coherence and connection.
Sony don’t seem to have made any great changes to their X-Reality Pro engine but there wasn’t any great need to as the 2011 TVs scored very highly here in any case. Beginning with the standard definition film cadence detection tests, with Film Mode set to Auto 1, the HX853 immediately found and locked on to the PAL 2:2 and NTSC 2:3 cadences, and this was true at both 480/576i and 1080i. A combination of mixed film and video content is always a stern test of a display's cadence detection abilities but the Sony didn’t bat an eyelid with video encoded text over film based material either horizontally or vertically scrolling. Scaling of standard definition signals was also excellent with all the fine detail in the SMPTE 133 pattern resolved without blurring or ringing.
Deinterlacing performance was also excellent in both high and standard definition. Using the HQV disc tests, jaggies only appeared when the line was at an acute angle in the first test and in the second, the motion adaptive deinterlacing was also very good with only slight jaggies appearing on the bottom bar of the three moving bars. The jaggies test on the Spears and Munsil disc provided similar impressive results. With Blu-ray player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided the Full Pixel option is enabled. The location of this setting is a bit obscure, Sony really should provide a Full Pixel option from the Aspect Ratio options presented when the appropriate button of the remote control is pressed. To avoid scaling, the user will need to enter the XMB, scroll to Settings – Display – Screen and then switch off Auto Display Area and then enable Full Pixel. Which is a nonsense in this day and age.
Once 1:1 pixel mapping had been enabled, the HX853 was able to display all fine luma and chroma details. One improvement over last year - and again possibly as a result of a new panel – was in the ability to display peak white along with just above reference black with no clipping or crushing. It extends the dynamic range of images but the HX853 does clip some colour detail at very high levels but then only the higher end Panasonic’s have aced that test so far.
Perhaps the most interesting new addition to Sony’s video processing engine is in the new Impulse option under the Motion Flow settings. Whereas all the other options seem to use frame interpolation to varying extents, Impulse looks to be different. The first thing most will notice is the immediate dimming of the picture and then it’s likely they’ll notice a major increase in flicker. We think that Sony really must only be intending for it to be used with 24p content as it uses a black frame insertion technique at 48Hz when fed a 1080p Blu-ray disc, similar to the technique used in cinema projectors; so it pulls down two frames inserts a black frame pulls down another two frames and so on, ad infinitum. With the lights down very low it works quite effectively but since, without any Motion Flow settings engaged, the HX853 copes perfectly well pulling down 4 frames at 96Hz we can’t really see the point. Besides which the Clear Plus setting uses 4:4 pulldown with a black frame insertion technique that flickers considerably less. It may be a touch more cinematic but why play away from a natural strength? It’s something interesting to experiment with but ultimately we foresee most trying it once and then promptly forgetting about it.
Our new lag test device has been throwing up some illuminating readings and the trend seems to be that the numbers are a little higher than previously thought. The device measures lag plus panel response for a more realistic number, after all we can’t react to something on-screen before we see it, and with LED/LCD panel response is more of a concern than it is with plasma. That said, we measured the Sony HX853 at 42.7 milliseconds making it a more responsive gaming panel than the 2012 Panasonic Plasma’s we’ve tested so far. We never found it an issue but serious gamers might want to take their consoles down to a friendly dealer to check it’s suitable for them.
The 55HX853 produced some very impressive figures here and we took an averaged reading of 89W in calibrated 2D mode and 101W in 3D Cinema mode, at default settings. Those are excellent numbers for a 55 inch display.
Picture Quality - 2D
Speaking of plasma, the Sony HX853 is interesting in the way it delivers its pictures. Get up close and you will notice the modulation of the edge-lighting gives a much stronger impression of dither than other LED TVs. From normal viewing distances this has no real net effect for the viewer other than when it introduces some noise in to dark areas of the picture, mostly near the bezel and thus the edge mounted LEDs. Typically it will be seen when there’s a mass of bright content in the middle of the screen with dark to the perimeters and it can be momentarily distracting. Occasionally we would also notice a bit of discolouration in the blacks to the edges, for instance when a close up of a face against a largely black background, there was a peachy tone to the blacks at the sides. Since are eyes are drawn heavily in to the centre of the screen, most are unlikely to notice but it does happen. Interestingly, and we guess not surprisingly, the sense of dither is increased as the Smooth Gradation control is put up through the gears. The smooth gradation control is intended to minimalise colour banding (posterisation) and works pretty effectively but can add to the ‘noisy blacks’, although the way the panel is driven means it will happen anyway and it does contribute to give a slightly more analogue feel to the pictures when compared to the typical LED/LCD TV.
We don’t want people to latch on too heavily to the noisy blacks term, it really doesn’t intrude very much and the black levels themselves are very respectable indeed. With or without the local dimming LED Dynamic Control being used. Sony have simplified their local dimming techniques this year and it’s certainly better than last year’s mediocre attempts. The 55KDL-HX853 utilises 8 dimming zones running horizontally across the panel. On the face of it that doesn’t sound very many but as the dimming works from both left and right sides, you can effectively double that number. Which is still not very many compared to around 2 million ‘local zones’ employed in a 1080p plasma display but the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we were happy to have it on its highest setting of Standard that gave a better depth to blacks whilst not producing a bright glow around objects on a dark background, more a faint milkiness. With the LED Dynamic Control set at standard, we took a measurement of 0.052cd/m2 from an ANSI Checkerboard pattern with our Klein K-10. It’s no competition for the 2012 Panasonic plasmas but we weren’t expecting it to be and the generally excellent uniformity and clear shadow detailing set it apart from most other LED TVs that can reach comparable levels of blackness. Of course, we don’t want the black level measurement to be taken as definitive but it was taken with the same equipment, under the same conditions as the 65ST50 and 42GT50 and using the same software. Shadow detailing is marginally compromised when eye-level isn’t above the centre of the screen, which is just about the only impact we found with the angle at which the HX853 rests against the stand.
So, with our excellent blacks and video processing plus reference level colour reproduction and refreshingly good levels of screen uniformity we could get on with enjoying some action. With all those ingredients in place it should come as no surprise that the Sony 55HX853 could deliver an outstanding picture; and even less surprising is that it was with high definition material that it truly shone, with every detail revealed with glorious, lifelike colour fidelity. Not that standard definition content looked too shabby on the 55ich screen and the already excellent scaling can benefit from a bit of Reality Creation magic but, as we warned earlier, the differing qualities of the sources mean you could spend more time optimising pictures than actually watching them.
In terms of motion clarity, panel response isn’t particularly remarkable and there is visible blur with faster paced video content but for this type of material we weren’t ashamed to engage Motion Flow at its Clear setting. We don’t like what it does to film but the subtle artefacts it produces with rapid moving sport, for instance, were preferable to the blur. Viewing angles are also nothing to write home about and there is a definitive contrast drop off and colour wash out at anything beyond about 30 degrees off centre but moving further out from that point didn’t degrade the picture noticeably more. Just sit yourself dead centre and let the rest of the household find other seating positions. They’ll never know the difference.
Picture Quality - 3D
When it comes to 3D the biggest potential enemy is crosstalk. There’s nothing more jarring than seeing ghost images dotted across your screen and it has us switching back in to 2D mode quicker than you can say Meet The Robinsons. Thankfully, crosstalk is pretty much banished and only shows its face(s) in those most challenging of high contrast scenes. We’ve just acquired Happy Feet 2 in 3D which provides many opportunities to trip up the processing, all that black and white is a torture test and the HX853 came out creditably. We noted particular problems with 50Hz Side by Side (SBS) material on the 2011 TVs but we’re happy that they have also largely been remedied. This is particularly important when you consider absolutely all broadcast 3D in the UK is delivered that way.
And then there’s the flicker. This reviewer has a particular predisposition to sensing flicker with just about every active shutter 3D display, save for the rather luscious triple flash projectors from SIM2, so it’s with that caveat you should take the following. For some reason the HX853 activates my flicker sensor circuitry just that bit more than most other TVs. Sony have said the HX853 is equipped with a 200Hz scanning panel to combat the problem, which should mean it’s capable of delivering 96Hz per eye for 3D Blu-ray and 100Hz for 50Hz 3D content but, if it was, something is amiss. Engaging Motion Flow definitely helped, which for both varieties delivers 60Hz per eye, so the suggestion is that it’s 48Hz per eye for 1080p Blu-ray and 50Hz for SBS material. We actually didn’t mind having Motion Flow on for Blu-ray, it does give a slight soap opera feel but then we (I) find it all a bit unnatural in any case. For 50Hz SBS, it was a different story, as the interpolation was poor and smacked of a bodged 50Hz to 60hz conversion process.
Don’t be put off though, the moral of this story is that you really need to go and check one out for yourselves, if 3D is a consideration. If you’re not blighted by flicker, this Sony will provide an excellent 3D experience with all the depth and pop-out one would expect. Motion handling is good and, provided you keep your head in the right position, colours look quite natural in the default Cinema Scene settings. As we mentioned earlier, the 3D glasses are still a disappointment and we really would like to see a complete rethink form Sony on them, both in terms of tint and tilt issues.
- Impressive black levels and contrast
- Very good uniformity
- Excellent colour reproduction out-of-the-box
- Reference colour and greyscale post-calibration
- Picture processing is of a very high standard
- Beautiful design, as ever
- Extremely competitive pricing
- Lots of Video on Demand content
- You don't need to access the XMB so much
- Speaker stand may put some off
- Some noise in dark areas of the picture
- Edge lighting can get caught out near the perimeters of screen
- Occasional banding and DSE witnessed
- Fractured feeling to feature set
- 3D Glasses are still not good
- Viewing angles could be better
Sony HX853 (KDL-55HX853) 3D LED LCD TV Review
The KDL-55HX853 is a thoroughly welcome return to form from Sony and, what’s more, the once all-conquering giants of the TV world have managed to achieve a display of all round excellence at a price that should have their competitors seriously concerned. No longer are customers forced to pay premium prices just for the privilege of having the Sony logo adorning their TV. The Sony HX853 manages to pack in high quality pictures with convincing contrast performance, natural colour tones and top-notch picture processing for a sum that won’t break the bank. Perhaps the best thing of all is that Sony seem to have devoted plenty of resource in to producing a panel that doesn’t often offend with picture spoiling uniformity issues so common in LED TVs. It’s not perfect but the HX853 is certainly on the right path and at a level we would consider comfortably tolerable for most. The Badge award represents a bit of a conundrum, we'll admit it. Having scored the mid-range Panasonic Plasmas at Highly Recommended, it would be logical to score the HX853 at Recommended as we feel both the ST50 and GT50 have the edge over the Sony but we would certainly rate the HX853 over the Panasonic LED TVs that mostly scored a solid Recommended. We also realise that plasma technology isn't for everyone and has its own set of shortcomings and picture traits that some find intolerable. With all that in mind we think the Sony KDL-55HX853 is deserving of our Highly Recommended Award and it’s good to have you back Sony!
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to the HX853 attaining the kind of sales it deserves comes in the shape of the speaker stand, or tray as some have uncharitably labelled it, which will mean you’ll want an AV unit that is at least equal its 130cm width to avoid unsightly – and potentially perilous – overhang. Those not wall mounting are forced in to using the stand and made to watch with the TV tilting at 6°. We never had a huge problem with the tilt but it does mean the HX853 is ideally suited to sitting on low slung furniture but other than a very slight reduction in shadow detail we found no other detrimental effects to picture quality with it placed on a rack of more conventional height. The sound from the speakers built in to the stand was a bit of a disappointment and we really think Sony would be best offering the option of a more conventional swivel stand at retail to widen the potential customer base.
Sony have also been busy improving the online experience too and the new SEN interface is a big improvement over the previous method of accessing content, even if we would like more screen real estate devoted to the GUI. As ever there are dozens of Video on Demand services plus a web browser and Sony's own Music and Video Unlimited services. We really would have preferred Sony to make all the other features – Skype, PVR, Media Streaming – accessible from the SEN interface too. As it is, users will need to delve in to the ‘dreaded’ XMB to get at those.
Sony haven’t added any more calibration controls to the menus but the natural panel characteristics together with the white balance controls meant we able to extract reference greyscale and colour reproduction from the HX853. Once calibrated, images took on an incredible believability and no little depth with the deep and relatively uniform blacks underpinning it all. The excellent video processing helps, even if most of the multitude of processing options need to be disabled to achieve picture fidelity. The new Impulse setting for the Motion Flow processing provides an interesting option for those wanting to emulate the cinema experience at home but ultimately we found it flickered just that bit too much for our tastes.
When it comes to LED LCD TV technology, it's impossible not to discuss the subject of screen uniformity and the Sony HX853 is about as impressive as it gets in that regard. We did observe some very minor light pooling from the bottom corners, at times there was a degree of banding/dirty screen effect, particularly with very pale colours and/or under rapid pans but - and we're very picky about this sort of thing - we never found it reached the levels where we would loose immersion out of sheer irritation; something that can't be said for a lot of LED TVs out there. At times the limitations of the edge-lighting system became apparent with some discolouration at the perimeters of the screen and the backlight modulation, which shows quite a heavy dither look viewed at close quarters, will introduce a little noise in to dark areas of the picture but, again, these phenomena were rarely, if ever, content spoiling. That's a long way of saying, uniformity is very good but we can't stress enough what an important factor that is and had it not been the case, all the rest of the qualities of the HX853 would have been easily undone.
One of the biggest improvements Sony have made since last time around is with their 3D processing; it’s no longer a cause for embarrassment and the Sony HX853 can hold its own with most of the other 3D displays out there. As ever, we’d urge anyone interested in the 3D element to go and check one out for themselves as we could perceive a high degree of flicker without Motion Flow engaged in 3D mode. Single player video gamers shouldn’t find the input lag of around 43 millliseconds too prohibitive but competitive online players might want to look elsewhere. Meanwhile the ECO conscious will welcome the low energy consumption of the HX853 that we averaged to be drawing 89W in calibrated 2D mode and 101W in 3D Cinema mode.
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
Our Review Ethos
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