Last Updated: November 2, 2013
2011 Sony LED TV Lineup
Full Product Evaluation - Part 3
Premium and Flagship Sony LED HDTVs
In this third part of our Sony LED TV review, we discuss Sony's premium and flagship HDTVs. These come with extensive features complemented by a solid suite of Internet streaming services, built-in Wi-Fi and Web browser, 3D, Sony's monolithic design, and more. Add Sony's Intelligent Peak LED backlight and there you have Sony's flagship!
There is no doubt Sony's top LED TVs are among the most sought-after HDTVs by demanding home theater enthusiast and videophiles looking for the best in picture performance.
Since the release of the superb XBR8 LED TV in 2008, Sony has always managed to deliver solid LED TV performance despite these lack the extensive picture controls found on premium Samsung and LG HDTVs. It is not that we consider this an issue—what matters in the end is the TV's ability to deliver a great picture. The whole issue is...
What exactly is on offer and how do these premium Sony LED TVs perform? Read here to discover more.
A no ordinary HDTV capable of improved color accuracy thanks to the new Triluminous Quantum Dots backlight technology
Sony Premium LED TVs: NX and HX Series
Sony's premium HDTVs fall within the so called 'Presence' and Cinematic' ranges. As we have seen in the first part of this Sony LED TV review, these comprise the NX720, HX729, HX820, and the HX929.
Main upgrade over the EX range is the presence of an improved LED backlight technology that takes the form of Dynamic edge LED except for the HX929 series; the latter makes use of Sony's 2011 version of a full LED array with local dimming backlight termed 'Intelligent Peak LED'.
In addition, all except the HX729 series feature Sony's stylish Monolithic design, characterized by a single pane of darkened Corning’s Gorilla glass that extends to the very edge of the TV; the end result is an extremely stylish design.
As expected, Sony premium LED TVs do not come cheap but they are not selling at a much higher price than the competition.
Rather, at this high-end category, the 55-inch Sony XBR55HX929 flagship LED TV is selling at a significantly cheaper price than the LG equivalent—the 55-inch LG 55LW9800. The latter also uses the superior full LED array with local dimming backlight but comes with an incredibly thin panel profile that is more typical of edge-LED TVs than sets using full LED array backlights.
Sony KDL-NX720: More refined styling and superior performance for less
The 55-inch KDL-55NX720 - Sony's best-selling 55-inch LED TV for 2011
The Sony NX720 series come in three screen sizes, 46-inch, 55-inch, and the second 60-inch Sony LED TV for 2011. This is the least expensive range of Sony LED TVs that come with Sony's Monolithic styling and the much touted OptiContrast panel.
As expressed under part 1 of this Sony LED TV review, Sony reserves this more refined styling to its premium LED TVs only.
The NX720 is in effect an upgraded EX720 series in that while both HDTV series come with 3D, Motionflow XR 240 dejudder processing, and built-in Web browser, the slightly more expensive NX720 HDTVs add a few important extras apart from the Monolithic design already referred to above.
Most important is the use of Dynamic Edge LED backlight technology; this helps deliver an improved picture thanks to deeper blacks than those possible on EX720 HDTVs. This makes a whole lot of difference in the overall picture performance of NX720 Sony LED TVs over the less expensive series.
Included is an integrated built-in Wi-Fi which apart from eliminating the expense of the Sony wireless USB dongle, leaves the user with an extra free USB port on the TV for other purposes.
One final extra is an Intelligent Presence Sensor with face detection. This sensor goes a step further than the ordinary presence sensor found on less expensive Sony HDTVs. It automatically optimizes the picture and sound by detecting the viewer position. This sensor also uses face detection technology to turn the TV off if no one is watching; once the Distance Alert is activated, it disables the picture and emits a warning sound if a child approaches the screen.
Jumping onto the NX720 Sony LED TV series calls for an extra $200 over corresponding EX720 Sony LED TVs. Whether this extra expense is worth it depends on what exactly you are after but for many looking for a premium Sony LED TV, it definitely is. In fact, the NX720 HDTV series is one of Sony's most popular premium LED TVs—in particular with those looking for a 55-inch or larger TV.
The NX720 main edge over most of the competition is its deep blacks - thanks to Sony's dynamic edge-LED backlight technology. The deep blacks help render richer, more saturated colors. As with the EX720 series, once calibrated, color accuracy is very good—with natural looking colors—despite the absence of advance color management settings as found on Samsung and LG HDTVs. Equally good is grayscale tracking across the entire brightness range except for the darkest areas which exhibit a slight bluish tint.
Dynamic Edge LED—while responsible for the NX720 deep blacks, do introduce some blooming due to the limited local dimming functionality associated with dynamic edge LED backlights; however blooming is minimal and certainly not a picture quality issue.
Best out-of-the-box picture preset is Cinema but the image is too bright for a dark room home theater setting and shadow detail is a bit lacking especially in the darker parts of the image. Once properly calibrated, it is possible to achieve a fairly accurate average gamma across the entire range, delivering good overall shadow detail except in the darkest parts of the image.
Video processing is very good but as with the rest of the Sony HDTV lineup, NX720 HDTVs fail to de-interlace 1080i film-based material correctly. On the other hand, they can correctly display 1080p/24 content.
Equally good is the NX720 motion resolution with Motionflow activated—especially with one of the two 'Clear' settings as further detailed for the EX720 series. The problem with Motionflow is the artificial smoothness introduced when handling 1080p/24 film content.
Screen brightness uniformity is another big plus for the NX720, doing significantly better than other edge-lit LED TVs. The Opticontrast screen is capable of preserving the picture black levels quite well in bright environments. And if energy efficiency is of interest, these are among the most energy efficient LED TVs for 2011.
On a negative note... As with most edge-lit LED TVs, NX720 Sony LED TVs lose their deep blacks fast from a wider viewing angle. Reflections off the glossy screen of the Monolithic panel can also be an issue under bright lighting.
But worst of all is Sony's 3D TV performance—with visible flicker when deactivating Motionflow. With Motionflow activated in 3D, the flicker disappears but there are some visible image artifacts that appear during camera pans. However the real issue is 3D image crosstalk with head tilt; these Sony LED TVs are less tolerant to head tilt, with a 3D image that deteriorates faster than on Samsung or LG 3D HDTVs. These 3D issues are not just with NX720 HDTVs but with the full 3D Sony LED TV lineup.
The 3D image on Sony LED TVs is still watchable, with relatively accurate colors and a bright picture; keep your neck straight and you will enjoy good 3D performance with minimal crosstalk. But 3D viewing on these Sony 3D TVs is an uncomfortable experience since it forces the viewer to stay with the neck straight to enjoy the best 3D performance. Crosstalk on Samsung active 3D sets is not much better but if you are after 3D, Samsung and LG deliver superior performance; in particular, the LG passive 3D glasses system is much more tolerant to head tilt.
Overall: There is definitely a lot to like about the Sony NX720 LED HDTVs. This is the series that in our opinion delivers the best overall value within the full 2011 Sony LED TV lineup if a rich feature set and premium picture quality are your primary interests.
It does not deliver the same deep blacks as the Sony HX929 flagship though it definitely comes close—too close to justify the extra expense of the flagship, nor it is capable of the same level of shadow detail as the flagship series but then NX720 HDTVs are $1,000 cheaper than corresponding flagship HDTVs!
And at this cheaper price tag, you will enjoy an HDTV that practically comes with the same feature set of more expensive HX820 Sony premium HDTVs and the same refined styling of the flagship series.
Best-selling NX720 Sony LED TV is the 55-inch KDL-55NX720 which at under $1,550 is one of the most affordable premium LED TVs from a major brand. The massive 60-inch KDL-60NX720 Sony LED HDTV ($2,400) is also among the most popular HDTVs with those looking for massive screen sizes. The latter is Sony's best-selling LED TV at the 60-inch plus category.
Sony HX729 and HX820 Series: A different packaging for the same product!
Stepping into the world of the HX series would reveal two almost identical series with the only difference being that the cheaper of the two, the HX729 does not come with Sony's Monolithic styling though it still has a glossy screen; all other features are exactly the same. This saves you around $200 over corresponding HX820 HDTVs. This price difference means that the HX729 is selling online at the same price of corresponding NX720 HDTVs.
The HX729 covers three screen sizes, 46-inch, 55-inch, and the first of two 65-inch LED HDTVs. Instead, the HX820 covers two of the most popular screen sizes, 46-inch and 55-inch.
The only upgrade feature over the NX720 Sony LED TV series is the 240Hz refresh rate panel found on HX HDTVs. Sony's uses the term XR 480 for its Motionflow dejudder processing, this in view that it combines the panel 240Hz refresh rate with a scanning backlight to obtain improved motion performance. Sony also uses an upgraded dual-chip video engine termed X-Reality PRO instead of the X-Reality engine found on less expensive series. This is required mainly to support the higher panel refresh rate and improved dejudder processing.
However, as with other 240Hz HDTVs, it is hard to tell the difference with the unaided eye between 240Hz and 120Hz HDTVs especially when viewing normal program content.
In other words, the extra $200 for the HX820 over corresponding NX720 HDTVs would not give you any noticeable improvement in picture performance, or any added features to justify the price difference. This in our opinion makes the NX720 series the obvious choice between the two for those looking to get the best deal for their money. And if budget is an issue but still want a 240Hz HDTV, then the HX729 represent a better deal as it gives you the same features of the more expensive HX820 albeit the absences of the more pleasing Monolithic design.
Despite their appealing price tag, HX729 series 3D Sony LED TVs are not attracting much interest among those in the market for a premium HDTV. In fact, the only model that is drawing some consumer attention is the 55-inch KDL-55HX729 LED HDTV. It seems that at the premium HDTV category, many are ready to pay extra to enjoy the more attractive styling of the HX820 HDTVs.
As to the latter, again, it is the 55-inch the best-selling HDTV within the HX820; rather, the Sony BRAVIA KDL-55HX820 is at the time of this review the best-selling 55-inch Sony LED TV for 2011.
Sony XBR-HX929 Flagship Series: TV performance at its best
The XBR-HX929 represents Sony's flagship line for 2011. Sony has always reserved its XBR label to its top-of-the-range HDTVs, and the HX929 is definitely one of the few high-end HDTVs for 2011 that should be of interest to videophiles and demanding home theater enthusiast looking for very best in picture performance.
HX929 HDTVs comprises three screen sizes: 46-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch. As detailed under part 1 of this Sony LEWD TV review, main upgrade over HX820 premium HDTVs is the use of a full LED array with local dimming backlight. This is one of the very few LED HDTVs for 2011 that use full array local dimming backlight technology. Only a few high-end Vizio HDTVs and the recently released the LG 55LW9800 with its Nano LED, use this backlight technology.
This LED backlight technology is capable of superior picture performance thanks to its ability to achieve exceedingly deep blacks that are unmatched by any other TV technology except the very best plasma TVs. However, nothing is perfect and so is the case with these local dimming LED backlights; these suffer from some blooming issues and a picture that deteriorates fast with off-angle viewing. The HX929 Sony LED TV series is no exception though blooming artifacts are minimal and many pro reviewers agree this is definitely not a picture quality issue.
The only other less significant upgrade over the HX820 Sony LED TV series is what Sony defines as Motionflow XR960. This implies that the effective panel refresh rate on the HX929 series is equivalent to 480Hz. We use the term 'effective' as the flagship still makes use of a 240Hz panel refresh rate like that found on the less expensive HX820 series. However, it also employs a higher scanning backlight frequency to obtain improved motion performance.
This implies that apart from the use of frame interpolation between real content to achieve the 240Hz panel refresh rate, scanning backlight technology is used to modulate the frequency of the backlight by switching each section of the backlight 'on' and 'off' in sequence in such a manner that is unnoticeable to the human eye. This backlight modulation neutralizes the sample-and-hold effect in the LCD panel and to a certain extent is more important than the higher 240Hz panel refresh rate. The latter is one of the primary reasons for blurry images on LCD TVs during fast action motion.
The irony is that even at this high-end level, Sony continues to fail year after year in providing the end user with the ability to adjust dejudder or smoothness processing independent of blur reduction. This independent dejudder/blur control is important as the extra smoothness brought about by the higher refresh rate is not for everyone.
The main problem here is that even with Motionflow set to its lowest setting 'Clear 1' (apart from the 'Off' position), smoothness is still discernible with 1080p/24 movie content; this is undesirable. Having independent dejudder/blur controls as implemented by Samsung and LG on their much more affordable HDTVs would have made it possible for the viewer to get zero smoothness with film-based content while still enjoying the benefits of improved motion resolution resulting from the higher refresh rate.
On the other hand, the Sony LED TV flagship comes with extensive video processing options. But there again, this is another area in which the Sony flagship fails to deliver enhanced color management and 10-point grayscale adjustments as found on the less expensive competition.
However, unlike the absence of independent dejudder and blur controls, the lack of color management and white balance adjustments are not an issue on the Sony flagship series. These Sony LED TVs are still capable of achieving superior picture quality with excellent colors and accurate shadow detail across the full brightness range, something which literally makes such advanced picture controls on the Sony flagship rather redundant.
Other features include a stylish slim profile that is no more than 1.5-inch deep despite the full LED array backlight, and Sony's Monolithic design characterized by the one sheet of Gorilla Glass. As with the less expensive premium Sony LED TV series, HX929 HDTVs include Sony's solid Internet TV suite with Web Browsing, are Skype-ready, come with built-in Wi-Fi, and 3D.
However, as further detailed earlier on in this Sony LED TV review, 3D is not Sony's best feature—with an image that deteriorates fast with head tilt. But as stated for the NX720, as long as you keep your head straight, 3D image performance is relatively good with minimal image crosstalk.
Overall: The Sony XBR-HX9292 is the series that delivers one of the best 2D TV pictures irrespective of brand and display technology. Picture quality is excellent, characterized by extremely deep blacks that are only equaled by a few high-end plasmas, and superb color accuracy and excellent shadow detail.
On the other hand, 3D image quality is definitely not on par with that of the competition though the image is still watchable; but if you are after 3D, look elsewhere. And as with the rest of the Sony LED TV lineup, while HX929 HDTVs can handle 1080p/24 content correctly, these flagship HDTVs still fail to de-interlace 1080i movie content correctly.
Yet the real problem with Sony's flagship is neither 3D performance nor correct 1080i de-interlacing but the very expensive price. As expected, superior performance does not come cheap, and the HX9292 is the most expensive line of Sony LED TVs. However, these are also among the most expensive HDTVs for 2011 irrespective of brand. Suffice to note that the smallest in the series, the 46-inch XBR46HX929 is presently selling online for just less than the Sony 60-inch KDL-60NX720. Move to the largest in the series and expect to pay some $5,500 for the 65-inch version!
However, interesting for would-be buyers is the present reduced pricing on the 55-inch XBR55HX929, with an online price tag that varies between $2,400 and $2,800. Though still very expensive, this 55-inch Sony TV represents a more attainable flagship HDTV option to the average home theater budget than some of the competition.
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