Last Updated: November 2, 2013
2011 Sony LED TV Lineup
Full Product Evaluation - Part 1
A massive line of LED HDTVs characterized by
extensive features and a performance one expects from
a major TV maker
Since the release of the superb XBR8 LED LCD TVs in 2008, Sony has been among the most preferred LED HDTV brands by demanding home theater enthusiast despite that a year later, it did miss the LED TV bandwagon completely. However, with its 2010 lineup, Sony did more than made up for its absence from the LED TV market the year before by presenting an extensive line of LED TVs complemented by innovative features and a great picture.
The lineup of Sony LED TVs for 2011 continues to build on last year's success, with numerous models ranging from entry-level LED LCD TVs but that still boast of Internet Video services and excellent energy efficiency, to the XBR-HX929—one of the very best LED LCD TVs with full array local dimming. A classy slim styling is also on offer on all Sony LED HDTVs, complemented by Sony's monolithic design for premium LED TVs, active 3D, built-in Wi-Fi, and more.
We go through the full 2011 Sony LED TV lineup to discover what exactly is on offer. We highlight the pros and cons of each LED TV series and then pick those that in our opinion are the best Sony LED HDTVs for 2011.
You may also join our discussion by filling the submission form at the end of this article.
A no ordinary HDTV capable of improved color accuracy thanks to the new Triluminous Quantum Dots backlight technology
Introducing the latest Sony LED TVs
The 2011 line of Sony LCD TVs covers 31, 25 of which use some form of LED backlight technology instead of CCFL. This shift towards LED HDTVs is in line with the latest trend where CCFL LCD TVs have become a minority—generally featuring only entry-level and step-up HDTVs up to 46-inch.
Sony LED TVs span over eight series, seven labeled as KDL and one as XBR. As with previous years, the XBR-tag is reserved only for Sony's flagship HDTVs. Screen sizes range from affordable 32-inch 60Hz LED TVs, to massive but very expensive 65-inch sets within the KDL-HX729 and the XBR-HX929 series. The latter is one of the few LED TV series for 2011 that still come with the superior full LED array with local dimming backlight. Sony XBR-HX929 HDTVs use the latest Sony derivative, called Intelligent Peak LED backlight. The HX929 also supports the new Media Remote application for iPhone, iPod Touch or Android; this gives full remote capabilities apart from using the mobile device keyboard for Web browsing.
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Evident on all 2011 Sony LED TVs is their slim stylish design complemented by a relatively thin bezel. We still think Samsung has an edge over other TV makers when it comes to TV aesthetics. But the latest minimalistic design employed by Sony on its LED TVs has a lot to like. In particular, Sony's Monolithic design featuring a dark Gorilla Glass from edge to edge on premium models looks superb. These Sony HDTVs employ some new features including the use of a dual chip video processing engine—termed X-Reality PRO on high-end series for improved picture performance.
Internet streaming is high on the Sony agenda—with all Sony LED TVs being equipped with the latest Sony Bravia Internet Video. Equally high on Sony's feature list is 3D, with a total of 16 LED TVs being 3D-capable; these spread over five series—all premium HDTVs and the KDL-EX720 step-up Sony LED TVs.
Price-wise, the latest Sony LED TVs fall within the same price bracket as corresponding models from Samsung and LG when taken on a feature-list basis. It is only at the entry-level TV category that Sony HDTVs tend to be somewhat more expensive, but then entry-level LED TVs from Samsung and LG miss on the Internet TV suite.
2011 Sony LED TVs are characterized by extensive features and innovative technology; this applies irrespective of whether it is a premium model or an entry-level HDTV. Features like Sony's Light and Presence sensors, extensive connectivity completed by four HDMI inputs and Internet streaming are available on all Sony LED TVs. Move further up the lineup and there you have 3D, built-in web browser, and a superior video engine.
The only thing that is lacking on Sony HDTVs—even on high-end models—is the comprehensive list of user-adjustable picture controls found on the competition. Case in point is the absence of fine judder control present on Samsung and LG HDTVs, as well as the lack of a 10-point white-balance control and advanced color management. However, despite the limited set of user-adjustable picture controls, it is still possible even for demanding videophiles to enjoy excellent picture quality especially on premium models; partly, the reason are the relatively accurate primary and secondary out-of-the-box colors.
A Slim Minimalistic Design
A common feature on all 2011 Sony LED TVs is their minimalistic yet pleasing design, characterized by a thin bezel, a slim panel profile, and a panel that sits low atop the provided TV table stand. The overall result is a compact look. The TV stand on all TVs provides a ±20 degrees swivel action and a rather unique +6 degrees upward tilt.
Premium Sony LED TVs are 1.1-inches deep while Sony's flagship has a depth of no more than 1.5-inches despite its full LED array using local dimming backlight. This represents quite a significant achievement for such a LED backlight even though it is not as slim as the recently released LG LW9800; the latter uses Nano LED, the latest derivative of a full LED array with local dimming backlight from LG.
Sony BRAVIA XBR55HX929 with the latest Monolithic Design: More information under part 3 of this review article.
All entry-level and step-up series use a matte screen while premium series HDTVs have a glossy screen. Furthermore, selected premium Sony LED TV series come with the latest refined styling using Sony's Monolithic design.
Originally introduced in 2010, this consists of a single pane of Corning’s Gorilla Glass that extends to the very edge of the TV and that covers the black frame underneath. The use of Corning's Gorilla Glass allows for a for thinner, lighter, and stronger screen material.
All entry-level and step-up series use a matte screen while premium series HDTVs have a glossy screen. Furthermore, selected premium Sony LED TV series come with the latest refined styling using Sony's Monolithic design. Originally introduced in 2010, this consists of a single pane of darkened Corning’s Gorilla glass that extends to the very edge of the TV and that covers the black frame underneath. This makes the TV looks completely black when switched off. The use of Corning's Gorilla glass allows for a for thinner, lighter, and stronger screen material.
Sony LED TVs with the Monolithic panel incorporate an 'Opticontrast' filter to the glass panel to reduce reflections and glare while helping in maintaining black levels even in a bright environment. However, the Monolithic panel remains a shiny screen and is still prone to annoying reflections under bright light conditions.
All front controls on these Sony LED TVs come as concealed touch sensor controls instead of the traditional buttons. Combine this with the ultra-slim inch-thin profile afforded by edge-LED lighting and there you have an extremely stylish design.
Sony's Bravia Internet Video: Instant Access to Online Entertainment
All Sony LED TVs including entry-level, come with the Bravia Internet Video, a solid suite of Internet-enabled TV streaming services originally introduced in 2010. It is the equivalent to what Samsung and LG are calling Smart TV.
This means that all LED TVs provide instant access to the unlimited world of online entertainment when connected to your broadband-enabled home network. More than half of the 2011 sets come with built-in Wi-Fi which apart from saving you the cost of the USB dongle, it also leaves you with an extra USB port on your TV.
Available streaming services include Sony's Video On Demand and Qriocity which now also includes a subscription music service, as well as Netflix, Pandora, HuluPlus, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Slacker Internet Radio, Crackle and Blip.tv; new for 2011 is the addition of the Time Warner Cable VOD service.
Missing is Vudu. This is may not be much of an issue unless you are after 3D on-demand content; no other service currently matches Vudu's 3D on-demand or the superior image quality of Vudu HDX.
Premium models include a built-in web browser but web browsing on these Sony HDTVs is too slow—significantly slower than the LG or Samsung versions—leading to a rather frustrating browsing experience.
All Sony LED TVs come as Skype-enabled; this means that when equipped with the Sony CMU-BR100 Skype Camera and Microphone kit, it is possible to enjoy free Skype-to-Skype calls straight on your big screen TV.
In addition, DLNA-certified network connectivity is available on all Sony LED TVs to access your PC's personal media—downloaded music, video, and photos—and enjoy these on your TV without the need of a wireless media player.
Improved 3D Experience but...
Equally high on Sony's feature list is 3D, with a total of 16 LED TVs being 3D-capable; these are spread over all premium series and KDL-EX720 HDTVs.
Unlike LG, which opted for passive 3D-glasses technology all the way including on its flagship LG LW9800 model, Sony—like Samsung—is still fully committed to active 3D-glasses technology. Active glasses 3D technology - while making use of slightly heavier and more expensive glasses, delivers superior 3D image detail. A recent review of the LG LW9800 on FlatpanelsHD.com shows that passive 3D TV technology as implemented on the LG delivers one of the best implementations of 3D, with a great 3D picture that is flicker and cross-talk free apart from the more comfortable 3D glasses. But the half image resolution supported by passive 3D glasses systems leads to a softer 3D image especially at larger screen sizes.
This is a real issue with 3D since as further explained in our 3D TV Viewing Distance article, optimum 3D viewing calls for a closer seating position than 2D.
Despite using active 3D glasses technology, the new Sony 3D glasses are much lighter and more user comfortable than the 2010 version. Many customers agree that the new glasses present no issue with user comfort even after a 2-hour movie.
Sony's new TDG-BR250/B Rechargeable 3D Glasses
Equally important from a user perspective is that these come much cheaper than earlier versions - selling at under $55 on amazon.
Another improvement to 2011 3D Sony LED TVs is the use of panel drive enhancements that deliver quicker response time to help reduce crosstalk, 5:5 pull down for a more realistic cinematic movie experience, and built-in 3D emitters on all 3D models; the latter is a most welcome improvement over 2010.
Overall, the Sony 3D TV experience can be classified as good, with a bright image, accurate colors and relatively minimal crosstalk, but the latter is more of an issue with Sony LED TVs than with active 3D glasses TVs from other brands. As with most LCD TVs, you need to keep facing the TV screen straight; the problem with the Sony 3D TVs is that even with minimal head tilt, 3D image quality deteriorates fast, faster than on Samsung and LG 3D TVs. This applies to all Sony 3D TVs, including the very expensive flagship.
In addition, if you turn MotionFlow (dejudder) off, 3D viewing on the Sony will be hampered by excessive image flicker; unfortunately, you have to leave MotionFlow on to be able to watch 3D movie content on these 3D Sony LED TV, even if you do not like the resultant artificial smoothness over the natural cadence of 1080p/24 film material.
Three Forms of LED Backlight Technology
Since the first LED TVs appeared on stores shelves in 2008, there have been numerous LED backlight implementations for LCDs by TV makers in their efforts to come up with the best compromise between picture quality, panel slimness, power efficiency, and cost.
For 2011, Sony is using three different LED backlights on its HDTVs. Entry-level and step-up series get the cheaper standard Edge-LED backlight, premium series use what Sony is referring to as Dynamic Edge LED, while the Sony flagship XBR-HX929 use the more expensive Intelligent Peak LED backlight.
Sony's Dynamic Edge LED is the equivalent of Samsung LED Micro Dimming and LG LED Plus backlight technologies. It introduces a reduced number of independent dimmable picture zones to improve the black levels in the picture—a most important aspect in picture quality.
These LED backlight technologies are not capable of the same level of localized control as found on sets using the more expensive full LED array backlights with local dimming, yet they do provide significant picture quality improvement for less, and this apart from improved energy efficiency. The price to pay is the presence of some visible blooming between picture zones apart from the relatively dimmed highlights when these fall in predominantly dark scenes.
Intelligent Peak LED is Sony's 2011 derivative of a full LED array backlight technology with local dimming. This more expensive technology provides superior picture quality. For 2011, apart from the HX9292 Sony LED TVs, only a few high-end Vizios and the recently released LG 55LW9800 with its Nano LED use this kind of backlight technology.
Unlike edge-LED derivatives which mount the light-emitting diodes around the edge of the LCD panel, Sony's Intelligent LED Peak backlight used on the HX929 consists of an array of LEDs placed directly behind the entire panel. In addition, the screen is divided into a larger number of independent backlight zones which can be brightened or dimmed independently according to the brightness of the corresponding areas in the picture.
As usual, Sony does not divulge how many picture zones it employees on the HX929 but we estimate there are about a couple of hundred picture zones, this in view that the LG equivalent, Nano LED technology use 288 independent zones.
Driving the Picture
Sony is using a new video engine to drive its LED TVs. Premium Sony LED TVs come with the new X-Reality PRO Engine, a two-chip digital video processor that optimizes high definition content, compressed HD signals, standard definition, and other sources including low resolution Internet content, in which case, it will clean
up most blockiness. Instead, entry-level and step-up series come with the less powerful single chip X-Reality Engine.
New Menu Structure and TV Remote
If you were expecting to find the usual Sony's Play-Station style XMB menu interface, well, you are in for a disappointment. For 2011, Sony has taken a new direction in this respect by completely re-designing its menu interface.
The new interface is based on a main horizontal bottom row and a right-hand vertical column set around a smaller, inset TV image. The menu shows all of the horizontal options at once, nine in total ranging from Settings and TV to Internet Content, Media, etc. Scrolling on any of the horizontal menus will open its corresponding vertical column sub-menu. Unfortunately, horizontal menu options are not labeled until selected; this may make menu navigation a bit frustrating till you get used to the meaning of the different icons. However, overall navigation is relatively easy and intuitive.
Unlike the menu interface, things with the new Sony TV remotes did not change much. These still feature the same general button placement as before, with a big cursor button surrounded by six large keys.
What's new is the red-colored Netflix button that gives immediate access to Netflix Instant Watch service.
Other dedicated keys give you direct access to 3D, Qriocity, Internet Video, TrackID and I-Manual.
Qriocity is Sony's on demand entertainment service while TrackID enables Bravia TVs to search for and attempt to identify any song playing on your television at the time regardless of source.
As to the built-in Sony I-Manual, this is one of the best-ever implemented on any TV.
Apart from the supplied remote, it is also possible to use your iPhone or Android phone as a versatile TV remote with full QWERTY keyboard when you download and install the free Media Remote app. This also makes for a smoother web browsing experience on compatible Sony LED TVs.
The New Sony TV Remote
Sony LED TVs - Series Overview
Sony LED TVs for 2011 falls under three main ranges
Essential range: This is characterized by a standard Edge LED backlight and is denoted by the label EX. This covers entry-level series KDL-EX520 and KDL-EX523, and step-up series KDL-EX620 and KDL-EX720; the latter is Sony's cheapest 3D TV line. All EX series come with a matte screen and a stylish all-black compact design with a thin 1.1-inch bezel and a panel depth of 1.7-inches. Yet there is a lot more to Sony's least expensive LED HDTVs.
We discuss entry-level and step-up Sony LED TVs in the second part of this article, covering both available features and performance issues.
Presence range: Main picture-quality improvement over the less expensive Essential range is the use of Dynamic Edge LED backlight. This range is denoted by the label NX and covers one series, the KDL-NX720. This is the series that represents Sony's most affordable HDTVs with the premium Monolithic design.
Cinematic range: Denoted by the label HX, Cinematic range HDTVs also use Dynamic Edge LED backlight except for the flagship which uses the new Intelligent Peak LED technology. Series covered include the KDL-HX729 and KDL-820 premium Sony LED TVs, and the flagship XBR-HX929 HDTVs. The HX729 comes with a shiny screen but lacks Sony's more refined Monolithic styling; the latter is reserved for the HX820 and HX929 HDTVs.
We discuss in detail Sony's Presence and Cinematic HDTVs in the third part of this Sony LED TV review.
We conclude this Sony LED TV review by picking those that in our opinion are the best Sony LED HDTVs for 2011 at the different budget categories; in the process, we explain what makes the selected HDTVs the best Sony HDTVs within the respective price range.
Should you desire, you may join this Sony LED TV discussion by filling the submission form at the end of this review article.
Are you looking for a Sony LED TV?
Amazon.com offers an extensive range of Sony HDTVs, often at significantly reduced prices.