It’s been a long time coming but finally Sony’s flagship TV has dropped anchor in Port AVForums. With CES 2012 just passed it would seem the HX923 will remain at the vanguard of the fleet for the foreseeable future as Sony announced no new full array local dimming LED TVs at the show, only edge lit. Much of the criticism we’ve levelled against the recent Sony’s has centred on the uniformity issues created by the edge-mounted LEDs not allowing for a satisfactory dispersion of light, whilst also giving evidence of the panel structure behind the glass due to the extreme slenderness of the chassis, and we’re hoping the Sony KDL-46HX923 can at least go some way to improving matters in that regard. We’ve also had mixed experiences with the 3D presentation but, if the owners thread on the forums is a good barometer, we’re expecting a more positive experience here too.
If the HX923 can manage to solve the major issues – without introducing any new ones, of course - then Sony will undoubtedly have one of the premier televisions on the market; but if full array local dimming doesn’t prove the panacea some hope for, they’re going to struggle to justify the top-end price ticket. So how will the KDL-HX923 stand up to our usual full scrutiny? Jump aboard to find out.
Design and Connections
We can’t help feeling a little disappointed that the base stand of the KDL-HX923 is hewn of - albeit high-grade - plastic and we’d have preferred something in metal or glass but its brushed effect looks the part and swivels generously. In fact it even tilts back through 6 degrees and, if you prefer, Sony produce a purpose built brushed Monolithic TV stand containing a 2.1 speaker set up that not only ups the wow factor but should also improve the audio performance that is already well above average when compared to the typical flat panel. The slightly concave fronted remote control is typical of just about every Sony we’ve seen this year and we’ve no real concerns over its operational merits, being well laid out and clearly labelled whilst reasonably comfortable to operate with one hand. Those using it for extended periods may find it a little uncomfortable and we’d have preferred the concavity to be rear side but it’s a minor complaint and only likely to apply to calibrators, those using the web browser extensively or serial tinkerers. As ever we’d like to see a backlight as many of our operations take place in darkness, or near to it, but there are a couple of interesting additions in the TrackID and i-MANUAL buttons. Pressing the TrackID button whilst there is music playing on-screen will embark the Sony in to a search of the gracenote database to seek out the track details.
The Sony KDL-46HX923 comes with two pairs of TDG-BR250 3D eyewear in the box and they’re certainly an improvement on the first gen BR100’s we’ve previously been supplied. The new glasses are altogether more comfortable to wear being more lightweight and featuring a much softer compound of rubber used in the nose rest – no more pinching or unsightly red marks after an hour's use! They don’t stop you looking a berk wearing them, however. The new specs also have a more sensible and prominent location for the on/off button and can now be recharged via a (supplied) USB cable. The problem of the glasses losing sync when tilted still persists and we hope Sony find an on-board solution for the year ahead now they’re in league with Real D, Samsung and Panasonic to produce a standard for home use. Owners can contact Sony, however, to obtain extra filters that alleviate the problem.
There’s no surprise to the back and sides of the HX923 with a pretty much standard set of connections. What is not so standard is the fact that two of the four HDMI ports are downward facing, and one of those (HDMI 1) has ARC (Audio Return Channel) properties meaning a very sleek wall-mount potential for those routing sources through a receiver or video processor. Along with the ‘HDMI’s’ on the down-facing connections panel there’s inputs for your aerial and LAN connection together with inputs, via supplied adapters, for legacy SCART and component sources. Joining the HDMI ports on the side connecting panel are a CAM slot, D-SUB PC in (with audio jack) and SPDIF and headphone audio outputs. We also have 2 USB ports with one specifically assigned for PVR duties, whilst both play media files. As we’re commonly finding, the side facing connections are located perilously close to the edge of the bezel which might spoil the clean lines if your cabling is on the chunky side.
Menus and Set Up
Initial set up of the HX923 takes around 10 minutes if you elect not to skip any options, which is a little longer than some but no great adversity, in the scheme of things. The overarching nature of the Cross Media Bar (XMB) might be a little daunting for unaccustomed users, given the sheer amount of options available, but fortunately most of the key menu items are accessible with just a tap of the OPTIONS button on the remote control. It’s also worth noting that the easiest way of enabling the most accurate picture preset(s), Cinema 1 and 2, is by a press of the SCENE button, although it can be done more cumbersomely by other means. Other than to access some of the ‘Smart TV’ features we rarely found the need to traverse the XMB, that as well verging on being sprawling can also feel rather lethargic in operation, which is a pity when you consider the processing power inside the HX923.
The Advanced Settings area of the Picture Menu houses the white balance and gamma controls we’ll need for calibration but almost every other option in the Advanced menu we found was either useless or counterproductive to image quality. Some may want to play around with the LED Dynamic Control and, again, we’ll make our comments on this later. Everything else, i.e. Black Corrector; Adv. Contrast Enhancer; Auto Light Limiter; Clear White; Live Colour; Detail Enhancer; Edge Enhancer and, the almost spookily titled, Skin Naturaliser can cheerily be left disengaged. I mean, come on, naturaliser isn’t even a real word!
Noted in the Connections section, the Sony HX923 provides 2 USB inputs and they can be put to separate uses, with USB 2 able to record programming from the internal Freeview HD tuner as well as playback video, music and audio files. Recordings can be set from the EPG or manually to a hard drive that needs to be formatted by the TV and that possesses 32GB, minimum, storage capacity. In terms of video file support, because that’s what most are interested in, the 923 coped with most of the test mkv’s we have on USB storage but our collection is far from exhaustive and if playing ripped files is of major importance, we’d always advise seeking out a dedicated media playing box. Listed file support for video files are AVCHD, MPEG2, MPEG1, MP4 (AVC), MP4 (MPEG4), DivX, WMV but we couldn’t possibly guarantee 100% success with any. Via USB, in addition to standard jpegs, 3D MPO photo files are able to be displayed but that doesn’t hold true when streamed through DLNA. We can’t claim to have exhaustively tested a raft of music files – there’s such little incentive to listening to music through the TV – but we’d assume MP3 wouldn’t give any issues and further support in linear PCM and WMA are listed.
As we mentioned in the HX823 review, ‘shepherds’ of small children may rejoice in the the Intelligent Presence Sensor functionality that, amongst other things, will detect if a small child is too close to the TV and issue an on-screen warning whilst emitting an intermittent warning sound. All I can say is that it worked on my nipper although we think Sony could make the alarm ever so slightly more intimidating. The sensor also acts as an energy saving tool by detecting when nobody is watching and shuts down the video. Additionally, the 923 is clever enough to know where viewers are sat and will adjust the stereo balance to compensate for those off-axis and it’s moderately effective.
Social networking addicts needn’t feel disconnected just because they stepped away from their PC/Tablet/Smartphone for a moment as internet widgets include Facebook and Twitter. Do significant amounts of people really use this stuff on their TVs? It seems the manufacturers are convinced they do but we’re not quite so sure. Anyhow, should the remote control prove too much of an obstacle for tweets or status updates, owners of smartphones and mobile devices (iOS/Android) can use them instead, once an app is downloaded. The same goes for the very limited web browser too but it begs the question, why not just use the mobile device in the first place and cut out the middle man? On a more positive note, the HX923 ships Wi-Fi ready with decent signal integrity and range.
As we commented in the HX823 review, Sony could really do with taking a leaf out of the books of other manufacturers in grouping all their smart functions together and, as it is, the XMB doesn’t do any favours in making things seem accessible. They’ve gone some way to acknowledging this by allowing for the creation of Favourites and giving them their own tab on the XMB, e.g. you could favour the Facebook Widget, iPlayer app, TV Channel, or whatever, and have much speedier access to them through the Favourite tab; but why create the need for that added process in the first place? It’s a nice to have but investment in a more user friendly GUI is a must for Sony to keep pace.
Measured Results Out of the BoxWe were far from shocked to learn that the Cinema pre-sets afforded the closet measurements against the industry standards but it appears blue is the new red, for Sony, when using the Warm 2 colour temperature. For a while we’ve been used to seeing the Cinema/Warm 2 combo portray an excess of red in the greyscale but recent examples have bucked that trend. To be fair, it’s better to have an excess of blue, rather than red or green, and the most notable problem was the blowing out of the high tones with them looking rather bleached. Other than a kink toward greater accuracy at 30% stimulus, the RGB channels were out linearly so even the rather clunky White Balance controls on board the HX923 should make short shrift of the calibration.
Once again, in the absence of a Colour Management System (CMS) we’d be hoping for very good out of box colour reproduction as we would be limited in what we could do to correct any errors. Fortunately, this proved to be the case:
Within the CIE diagram the triangle represents the extent of the HDTV Rec 709 colour gamut. Outside of the triangle represents the extent of the spectrum of colours visible to the human eye, so perhaps the industry should be looking at widening the colour gamuts as much as concentrating on increasing resolution. Nevertheless, with all round Delta Errors almost all below the threshold we can perceive, this is a very good performance from the HX923. We’d expect some slight improvement after greyscale calibration too.
Calibrated ResultsAfter a little to-ing and fro-ing with the White Balance sliders we were able to achieve excellent results:
Save for a downward spike in blue at 30% stimulus, we’ve achieved almost perfect tracking in the greyscale and pulling up a greyscale stairstep confirms the charts, with just a tiny hint of yellow to the thirty percent step. Despite the spike, our delta errors are all below 3 and we now have the perfect base on which to overlay the colour information. Let’s see if improvements in the white balance have brought about any benefits to colour performance:
The already excellent results are now very close to reference with really just the off hue green and under saturation of cyan worth remarking on; and then only barely worth a mention. In reality errors are now so low that only by comparing directly with a reference display would one be able to discern any difference. Overall, it’s an excellent set of results but we’d still like Sony to add more in the way of calibration controls, especially considering the processing power of the HX923.
Video ProcessingWith 14 bits of processing grunt the HX923 should have made short work of our battery of tests and, well, it did. We found scaling of standard definition content to be more than adequate with no noticeable loss of detail or unwanted ringing artefacts. Both of the most common film cadences – PAL 2:2 and NTSC 2:3 – were locked on to in timely fashion and motion adaptive deinterlacing was of a similarly high standard.
We didn’t expect any issues with Blu-ray 1080p material shot at 24 frames per second and provided Motionflow was left disengaged, we didn’t have any. Whilst Sony’s frame interpolation system is certainly amongst the best, with CLEAR or CLEAR plus selected, it does noticeably artefact from time to time and we definitely prefer film content left unsullied. With fast moving video based material, it can have its benefits as the panel will exhibit some blurring but, again, the HX923 will throw out some artefacts and it’s up to the individual to experiment with what works best for them. In the end, all things considered, we left it off.
High definition interlaced content was handled very nicely and well mastered 1080i material was shown with full resolution in both the film and video tests. The HX923 scored very well indeed when it came to dynamic range and was able to show all the way up to peak white with ne’r a sign of clipping, and all that with the Contrast control almost maxed out.
All in all, the Sony KDL-HX923 provided some top notch picture processing and even an unusually good added extra in the ‘Smooth Gradation’ options. We never thought we’d see the day!
Picture Quality – 2D
On a positive note, the poor uniformity that is almost ubiquitous with Sony's edge-lit LED TVs is improved by the ‘full array’ backlighting but it’s certainly not perfect. There are still instances of bleed from the corners and some light pooling, although the latter is almost totally invisible with real world material. Panel banding is also greatly diminished but our conservative backlight setting certainly helped here and it is still possible to see in solid patches of colour, in particular. Despite the full array billing the 46HX923 has only 75 zones for ‘local dimming’ and when you compare to the 2 million, or so, in a plasma it’s easy to understand why uniformity is such an issue. We also found the local dimming (labelled LED Dynamic Control) of the backlighting of no use whatsoever as the haloing around objects induced by using it are unacceptable, even on Low. For any owners unsure what haloing is, watch for the Sony logo on firing up the TV – it’s not supposed to have all that illumination around it! It’s a shame LED Dynamic Control doesn’t function accurately enough as there’s a definite improvement in black levels and contrast when it’s on. That said, blacks are convincing enough, if a little blue tinged, although they do wash out from just a few degrees off axis; colours, on the other hand, don’t degrade to the same degree and it makes the HX923 perhaps the best - non IPS – LED around at the moment, in terms of viewing out of the sweet spot.
One aspect of the picture performance was very disappointing and probably the only potential show stopper, for us. Commonly referred to as Dirty Screen Effect (DSE), it’s seen mainly with panning shots or objects moving rapidly in the foreground and manifests with a blotchy pixelation to images; it’s as if the TVs processing is struggling to keep up. We tried the various Motionflow options, together with just about everything else, to try and eradicate it but it still persisted. It’s one of those things that if you do spot it, and likely most wont, you’re put on subconscious standby alert waiting for its next occurrence. In terms of frequency, it happens reasonably regularly but far from all the time.
All things weighed up and given all the other qualities of the HX923 – not to mention every TV has at least one potential deal-breaker for somebody – we’d put Sony’s high-end offering right up with the best we’ve seen this last twelve months, in terms of outright picture quality.
Picture Quality – 3D
We first tested side by side performance using our usual array of patterns and broadcast material, and we’re happy to report that instances of the chronic crosstalk that plagued the HX823 were greatly diminished; that’s not to say there weren’t some but we certainly found them to be within our (low) levels of tolerance. Quite why there was such a margin of difference is difficult to know, for certain, but there’s a possibility differing panels are employed in the respective TVs and it seems the processing is more optimised for the HX923, rather than HX823.
Moving on to sequential 3D, as featured in the majority of 3D Blu-ray disc output, and the Sony HX923 was here also producing an experience more in line with our expectations of a high-end TV. In the face of stiff competition from the likes of Panasonic and Samsung, the HX923 can almost hold its own with good clarity in motion and a full resolution image complimenting the reasonably tint-free 3D glasses nicely. We do, unfortunately, need to bring up the C(rosstalk) word again, as it’s certainly a flaw of the Sony’s but although it is undoubtedly present from time to time, we didn’t find ourselves wishing to remove the specs and going back to the 2D version as a result.
Bearing in mind that 3D material is unlikely to be the mainstay of anyone’s viewing, we find the KDL-HX923 to be ‘good enough’ in 3D but with room for improvement. It would seem that Sony agree and at CES 2012 they promised to reduce crosstalk by 4X in the 2012 ranges. Sounds fair enough to us Sony.
- Stunning clarity and pop out to HD images
- Some excellent video processing/processing features
- Very good out of box colour performance
- Reference calibrated greyscale and gamma tracking
- Lots of internet video services
- Design is stunning
- Much improved 3D performance
- Speakers actually aren't bad
- Dirty Screen Effect can ruin images
- Screen uniformity is far from perfect
- XMB is sluggish and a chore to navigate
- Using dynamic backlighting control causes excessive halo's
- It's expensive
- Diminished contrast off-axis
- Lack of calibration controls
- Glasses lose sync when tiltled
Sony HX923 (KDL-46HX923) 3D LED LCD TV Review
Once you’ve got your HX923 set up and the fingerprints wiped from the jet black gorilla glass, take a moment to reflect in the elegant simplicity of the design and then congratulate yourself on being an aesthete. When that smug little moment is over, you’ll want to get your kit hooked up and the Sony has the usual suite of connections associated with this end of the market – 4 HDMI ports, a couple of USB inputs, LAN connection, digital audio out etc. Sony have been thoughtful enough to place a couple of the HDMI connections downward facing so a sleek wall mount set up is easily in reach.
It was nice to get our hands on some of Sony’s newer eyewear in the TDG-BR250’s and we did find them, by some degree, more comfortable to wear than the first gen of 3D specs. They’re also less yellow tinted and USB rechargeable to boot. There was no change with the remote control, which whilst not our favourite, works well enough and offers a well-planned design, in terms of button placement. It’s certainly not the fault of the remote control that navigating around the XMB can be cumbersome and sluggish and we’d seriously suggest Sony look in to streamlining the GUI. It would certainly make the generous feature set feel more accessible. In terms of the connected TV experience, the HX923 scores very highly with a wealth of internet video services and easy DLNA streaming through a home network. Other niceties include USB PVR recording, Skype video calling and a presence sensor that doesn’t like small children.
Greyscale tracking was reasonable, out of the box in cinema mode, and the lack of a CMS wasn’t a big deal owing to the accuracy of the native colour gamut but we’d still like more calibration controls. We were able to calibrate greyscale and gamma to reference status and the ‘tuned’ images were at times breath-taking to behold with such a stand out quality that we’re asking ourselves if the X Reality Pro processing is performing some kind of contrast trick with foreground images. Whatever it’s doing, it’s certainly quite impressive. What was not so impressive was the tendency to show a dirty screen effect, particularly evident with panning shots in high contrast scenes but often visible. For us, this was the only potential show stopper with the review sample and one we’d urge prospective buyers look in to prior to parting with the readies.
We were left reasonably impressed with the 3D images and they were certainly an improvement over most of the Sony TVs we’ve had in this year. To be upfront, it’s still not up to the standards of Panasonic and Samsung, in terms of crosstalk, but motion was fluid and the glasses reasonably tint free. Gaming performance was not in the realms of outstanding but plenty good enough for most, we’d think whilst energy consumption was impressively low.
The Sony HX923 certainly isn’t a difficult recommendation, and it's certainly a contender for LED of the year, but there are TVs that perform to around the same calibre, for less. That said, we can understand why people wouldn’t mind spending a bit extra and we bet the other half will love it!
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
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