Whilst we’ve almost uniformly been impressed by Sony’s efforts in producing televisions with excellent 2D performance, we’ve largely been disappointed with their initial efforts in making the jump to the third dimension. Sony is certainly amongst the manufacturers that still charge a premium for this latest ‘must have’ feature and, along with Panasonic, are probably doing more to push 3D than any other, so it’s important their 3D TVs can start to match (or even surpass) the competition. Phil certainly saw some progress from the Japanese giants in his HW30 Review so let’s hope this translates over to the NX723 as there’s so much else to like about the Bravia’s. Will it or wont it? There’s only one way to discover.
Styling, Connections, Menus and Setup
The remote control is fairly standard Sony issue with a concave face and, as a result, not particularly comfortable to hold – we think it would have been better if the rear was concave as well or instead. There’s also a definite sense that Sony are cutting costs in the materials used for its construction as it’s far lighter than the handset supplied with last year’s equivalent – in fact I took off the battery cover to insert some thinking there were none fitted when there, such is the lightness. Still, it looks pretty good and we’ve no serious quibbles with the lay-out.
For the purposes of the review Sony were good enough to provide us with a set of the TDG-BR100 3D eye-wear but these aren’t supplied in the box, requiring an additional cash outlay. The glasses, themselves are reasonably free of tint but they do feel quite heavy, especially compared to the Samsung eye-wear. Thankfully, as we’ve seen in other samples, the blasted 3D emitter of last year’s ranges has now been banished!
In terms of connection placement the NX723 is slightly unusual, not that it eschews the almost de rigeuer 4 HDMI ports, just that there’s 2 facing out, on the rear connecting panel, and 2 that are side mounted a measly 10cm from the edge, which will mean angle adapters may be required for some, to retain the clean edges. Also on the side connections panel we have a D-SUB PC in; a headphone jack; 2 USB ports; digital audio out and a CAM slot. Completing the connections on the rear facing panel, there’s the antenna input, capable of receiving Freeview HD, a LAN port and inputs for the breakout adaptors that take care of Component and Scart sources.
As we’ve seen from the other Sony’s, this year, the GUI has been given an overhaul. The overall structure remains much 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 button on the remote control, from which we can set all Picture, Sound, PiP/PaP and 3D options plus a few others.
There's the standard 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, allowing for the setting of distinct day and night time calibrations.
Below the standard 'front panel' controls, we have options 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 needed for more advanced calibration with the White Balance and Gamma controls being the most critical. 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 bizarrely named, Skin Naturaliser set to their 'Off' position. We knew before receiving the NX723 that there would be no CMS available but here is the most pertinent place to lament its absence and urge Sony to have one implemented in their TVs, going forwards.
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.
Sony's Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is an 8 channel/2 hour view affair with a video window and is extremely easy to follow. We have to say Sony’s menus aren’t our favourites
Once connected, owners will have the choice of a number of catch-up and VoD services with the likes of the (almost) mandatory BBC iPlayer and YouTube services together with Demand 5, LoveFilm and Sony's own Qriocity on demand service - soon to be labelled under the unified world of the ‘Sony Entertainment Network’. Sony have added a ‘lite’ Web Browser to the portfolio of ‘Smart TV’ options but it doesn’t support embedded video. On the plus side, with latest firmware installed, the Bravia range now caters to the owners of Smartphones with an App for both Android and iPhone/iPad that should provide a better alternative to using a TV remote for internet navigation.
New, since last we ventured in to the video streaming options, is Sony’s 3D Experience service that offers on-demand 3D footage – ranging from footage shot at the last Football World Cup, in South Africa, to promotional clips from Sony and Discovery. It’s a nice, if soon exhausted, addition to the portfolio and more content will surely follow.
The NX723 is Windows 7 certified and DLNA compliant and it worked quite nicely with PS3 Media Server although owners with large collections of MKV files shouldn’t get too excited as support is very limited. The 40NX723 was speedy in navigating through folder structures, however, and is plenty good enough to use as a digital photo album or for music streaming, if that floats your boat.
The USB 2 connection can be used with an external hard drive to act as one-tuner PVR or, alternatively, for the playback of media files; with the other USB slot existing solely for the purpose of playing media files.
Out of the Box MeasurementsHaving established that the Cinema picture preset, in conjunction with a colour temperature of Warm2, yielded results closest to Industry Standards we set the front panel Brightness and Contrast controls together with the Backlight to suit the viewing environment. It’s perhaps worth mentioning here that the Sony’s don’t go particularly bright in Cinema mode so a fairly high backlight setting will probably be needed for most rooms. In our review sample, a Backlight setting of 7 gave 35ftL reference white output, and with it maxed out, just over 41ftL. With our basic parameters set, we took the following measurements :
With red and blue both running slightly high and green low, skin tones had a rather purple tinge to them and images, as a whole, were looking a little dim but Delta Errors were of, hopefully, manageable proportions and fairly linear. Gamma response was actually very close to our targeted 2.2 value, at default, so the lack of 10 point White Balance controls – or indeed multi-point gamma controls - shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance.
Moving on to the colour gamut performance in relation to the HD Rec. 709 standard and we were presented with the following :
Fortunately the NX723’s out of the box colour reproduction was pretty respectable with the lack of CMS in mind. Luminance errors were all slight and only the hue errors of yellow and green noticeable with normal viewing material. We may be able to use the Hue(tint) control to some benefit and we’d hope correcting the greyscale would also help.
Calibrated ResultsThe Sony white balance controls are little unusual in that they can only be used subtractively higher in the greyscale. It’s not usually a problem and it can have its merits in preventing accidental clipping but a curious approach nonetheless. Fortunately the controls gave us sufficient latitude to flatten the greyscale despite the coarseness of their nature low down; in fact we only made a one click adjustment to the Bias controls, instead using the Gains to affect the lower portion, and with excellent results :
No complaints here, we’ve comfortably achieved our target of getting DeltaE’s below three throughout the scale. Every other face that comes on screen doesn’t look like it belongs to someone with a heart or lung condition and we’re tint free, brighter and good to move on to colour calibration. It’s a small shame that gamma has taken a hit but it’s tracking pretty much linearly so only of minor annoyance. All in all it’s a borderline reference performance here from the KDL-40NX723.
We expected only minor improvements in colour performance and so it proved, in fact it was mostly done using images rather than patterns to improve picture quality rather than relying on the graphs.
Ignoring white, over all DeltaE’s were only down by about 0.25 but bringing magenta on-hue using, you guessed it, the Hue control brought about another improvement to skin tones and green and yellow were closer to target as well. We’d adversely affected the blue and cyan performance, slightly, but real world material was certainly looking better, and that’s what counts!
Picture ProcessingWe’ve seen enough of the recent Sony’s to expect a mostly excellent set of results in this area of testing and the NX723 didn’t disappoint. Firstly looking at the, increasingly less important, area of standard definition performance, we’re happy to report the Sony displayed excellent scaling of both 480i and 576i signals with full detail reproduction and haloing about as non-existent as we could expect from a television’s video processing. Deinterlacing of SD signals was also handled very nicely and fine details rarely broke down in to jaggies, even under movement.
High Definition 1080i material was also treated well, displaying full resolution when the Full screen format is selected. Owners that connect up a PC by HDMI to the 723 may find they need to go in to the Screen section of the Display Menu of the XMB to set Auto Display Area to off to prevent overscan, however. We, again, found no problems with the deinterlacing of 1080i signals with excellent directional filtering. It was good to see a TV that passed the most common film cadence tests too, with the NX723 correctly identifying both (PAL) 2:2 and (NTSC) 2:3 cadences and locking on immediately, in either film mode. Blu-ray 24p material was handled well with no undue judder, provided MotionFlow is left alone.
Speaking of MotionFlow, Sony’s frame interpolation engine, it’s a bit of mixed bag. Sony provide you with 4 levels of interpolation (Clear Plus, Clear, Standard & Smooth) and we’d certainly advise you leave the latter two alone, altogether, as they both produce noticeable artefacting and the smoothed out soap effect. Clear and Clear Plus are a little more interesting in that they don’t induce the soap effect but they clearly (no pun intented) show some artefacting from time to time. How much the individual will notice it will definitely vary so it’s one to experiment with in the home and we can see that it’s worth consideration for fast moving video based action.
The only outright fail the 723 returned was in displaying video based text over film material, with it shredding quite badly when scrolling vertically but it was fine when scrolling horizontally. So it’s a tick in the excellent column here and on to sitting down to enjoy some real world content.
Gaming PerformanceBefore unsheathing the stopwatch we found ourselves gaming away happily on the NX723 and measurements confirmed a – what we’d consider very acceptable - latency of between 30 and 32 milliseconds against our CRT referenced laptop. As usual, tolerances vary but those that would consider that figure beyond acceptable are likely to be in a huge minority.
Energy ConsumptionThe NX723 was typically, for LED lit, parsimonious in sucking up the juice by consuming an average of just 57w, calibrated, and 74w in 3D mode.
Picture Quality – 2D
Whilst general uniformity was as good as we could hope for, there was one issue that we weren’t expecting form the NX723. We’ve seen a lot of talk in the HX923 forum about what has been labelled the ‘crease’ which appears to be a problem in manufacturing that has seen some of the models leave the factory displaying a vertical line, close to the edge of the screen, either darker or lighter dependent on content. It was a surprise to see the same problem manifest on the NX723 and it’s one that will be a deal-breaker for some. The fact that it’s close to the edge of the display is the only saving grace as it’s ever-present and highly noticeable when solid patches of colour are on display (see photo). Now, our eyes are heavily focussed toward the centre of television pictures so it’s something that’s generally only in the viewer’s peripheral vision but we’d have to question how a 40inch TV costing the best part of £1,200 can ship with such a defect.
It’s a shame about the crease as we liked the images the NX723 produced with, as you would expect, hi-def material a real joy, from straight in front. Motion resolution was, to the eye, reasonable and shadow detailing very decent for LCD. As we mentioned earlier, the NX723 doesn’t go particularly bright in its most accurate modes so it is, unusually for LCD, not one for a very bright room. The fact that it’s highly reflective doesn’t help either.
Picture Quality – 3D
On a personal note, I find Sony’s 3D presentation to be the most ‘flickery’ and find myself needing to take frequent breaks. We also ran a 3D .mpo testcard (kindly supplied to us by Cold Fever from Hi-Fi Forum.de) through HDMI to the NX723 and found it unable to resolve full detail but it didn’t seem to affect video content unduly.
All in all, we found the NX723 to produce a pleasing 3D experience but it’s still behind that of their main competitors. By the time the 2012 range is launched, they need to have nailed it!
- Excellent calibrated 2D images
- Very decent black level
- Good video processing
- Extensive video on demand services
- Beautiful design
- 3D is still inferior to the competition
- The 'Crease' will be a deal-Breaker for some
- Calibration controls could be tighter and more extensive
- Glasses losing sync
- Off-axis viewing not great
- Sluggish menus
Sony NX723 (KDL-40NX723) 3D LED LCD TV Review
The Sony KDL-40NX723 is part of their Monolithic Network range and it looks gorgeous. The one sheet of glass design is extremely sleek and the tinted swivel stand looks and feels impressive. Sony seem to be skimping on the materials used in the construction of the remote and it remains unergonomic but it's fairly well laid out and only a minor negative, overall.
The XMB interface is still a little daunting for the uninitiated, despite its relocation, and menus in general are rather sluggish to respond. The quick fix option of using the Option button, on the remote, remains our favourite alternative but there's still no signs of a CMS and the white balance controls could be more granular.
There are plenty of features present in the NX723 but they're a little fragmented throughout the XMB and we'd like to see a more connected structure in next years models. The variety of video on demand content remains the highlight of Sony's 'smart' offerings and it's good to see some 3D content with Sony's 3D Experience service.
The pre-calibrated image of the NX723 was noticeably off and greyscale calibration brought rich dividends to skin tones, in particular. Colour calibration was a balancing act that saw us need to rely on real world material, rather than graphs, to achieve improvements. Video processing duties were very well handled with the Sony displaying excellent scaling, deinterlacing and passing the most common cadence detection tests.
We very much enjoyed the calibrated 2D image of the 723; deep blacks - on-axis - complemented the calibrated greyscale to produce a picture rich in contrast and not short of shadow detail. General uniformity was good, for an edge-lit LCD, but a problem that has been widespread on the flagship HX923 showed up on its less heralded brother. A thin vertical line was ever-present on images, with the term commonly applied being a 'crease'. Individual tolerance to the issue will vary - we do concentrate our vision largely to the centre of the screen - but it's an annoyance, for sure, and not something we should be seeing in a TV of this price.
Whilst the 3D performance has shown some improvement since last we saw, it still lags behind that of Sony's main competitors. There's lots of crosstalk in objects far in the background and the glasses need to be kept very straight to prevent loss of sync plus massive colour shift. All that said, we did find ourselves able to immerse in the NX723 3D experience, albeit with frequent breaks required to prevent eye fatigue.
When you take a look around at what some of the competition have to offer, at this price-point, the NX723 is hard to recommend. Sure the 2D performance is generally very good but, if we consider that many manufacturers are no longer charging a premium for 3D and yet deliver a better performance in that area, we don't consider the 2D sufficiently good to warrant the cost. It looks great, it calibrates well, it's capable of high contrast pictures but so are plenty of other TVs costing far less.
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
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