Since the release of the superb XBR8 in 2008, Sony kept confirming year after year its ability to deliver the best LED TVs, making the Sony brand among the most in demand in the LED TV market. The exception was the year 2009 when Sony missed the LED TV bandwagon completely. Yet, Sony did more than make up for this absence in the years that followed, by delivering among the best LED TVs for home entertainment.
2012 continues to build on this success, with sets such as the EX640 and HX850 HDTVs being rated by both consumers and professionals as among the best LED TVs within their class for overall value.
In this TV review, we discuss the latest Sony LED TV lineup, focusing mainly on the EX640 and the HX850 series, highlighting the pros and cons of each. We then pick those that in our opinion are the best Sony LED HDTVs for 2012.
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2012 Sony LED TVs: A compact lineup of valid HDTVs…
During these last few years, we got accustomed to major brands competing with each other as who will deliver the most extensive lineup of HDTVs. This is not the case with 2012 — at least not with Sony. In fact, for 2012, Sony released just 13 different models in contrast to the 25 for 2011. It is a relatively compact lineup for a major TV maker, especially when taking into account that three of the LED TV models for 2012 are in effect re-proposals from 2011.
Equally significantly is that for 2012, Sony is not presenting any new features over 2011 HDTVs. Partly, this is the result of the bad economy and the budget cuts required to maintain lower costs by among others cutting on the necessary R&D to develop new features and new models.
As has been the trend during these last years, CCFL LCD TVs are a minority; for 2012, Sony has just three models, the 32-inch KDL-32BX330 720p HDTV, and the BX450 1080p entry-level series with its 40-inch and 46-inch HDTVs; and as expected, these Sony LCD TVs are just bare bones HDTVs. You need to move to the Sony LED TV lineup to enjoy step-up and premium features like 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates with Sony’s Motionflow technology, X-Reality picture engine, 3D and Sony’s Smart TV suite.
The 2012 Sony LED TV lineup consists of ten models. As indicated, three of these HDTVs are in effect 2011 HDTVs, which have been brought forward to 2012. These are the 65-inch KDL-65HX729, and the 55-inch and 65-inch XBR-HX929 flagship sets. The HX729 is a ‘budget’ premium HDTV that offers practically the same features and performance as the more expensive series, but without the refinement of Sony’s Opti-contrast panel and the Corning Gorilla glass found on premium and flagship HDTVs. On the other hand, HX929 flagship HDTVs are among the very few that come with a full LED array backlight with local dimming technology, referred to by Sony as Intelligent Peak LED. More information on these Sony LED TVs is available in our 2011 Sony LCD TV review article here.
Main features for 2012
No new developments here! It is not just the HX729 and HX929 LED TVs from 2011 that are carried to 2012. Sony 2012 LED TVs still make use of the same LED backlight technologies — Edge-LED, Dynamic Edge-LED, and Intelligent Peak LED — we encountered during 2011.
In a similar manner, this year Sony LED TVs also make use of the same X-Reality picture engine from 2011, with its PRO and standard versions. The main difference between the two engines is that the PRO gets a dual-core processor. The Sony picture engine is capable of doing a great job both in optimizing HD and SD content, and also in removing most blockiness from low resolution Internet content.
Sony’s Motionflow dejudder technology is another proven technology from previous years. Yes, it is a proven dejudder technology, but it is also one that keeps missing the customizable dejudder settings found on Samsung and LG HDTVs; these enable the user to adjust the smoothing effect brought about by the higher 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates. Instead, Sony’s implementation settles for a few dejudder preset settings. This means that if smoothing of 1080p/24 film content is not for you, you will have to set Motion Flow to off – with all the implications that this brings in terms of a reduced motion resolution.
Sony’s MotionFlow comes in three versions – XR240, XR480, and XR960; 2012 entry-level LED TVs get the XR240 label while step-up and premium series get XR480 and XR960 Motionflow technologies respectively.
XR240 is a 120Hz refresh rate technology that use backlight scanning to deliver improved 120Hz performance. The addition of a scanning backlight over standard 120Hz refresh rate makes it possible even for 120Hz Sony LED TVs to deliver the proper cadence of 1080p/24 film based 3D content. It also delivers superior motion resolution with both 2D and 3D content, supporting up to 1080 lines with 2D when Motion Flow is set to either Clear or Clear Plus; these two settings activate backlight scanning to improve motion performance. This motion resolution is the same as that achieved with standard 240Hz refresh rate systems.
At the same time, we cannot but remark that this improvement in motion resolution brought about by the scanning backlight over standard 120Hz refresh rate HDTVs is difficult to discern with the unaided eye, especially with normal program content.
XB480 and XR960 are both 240Hz refresh rate technologies; XR480 is the XR240 but with a 240Hz refresh rate panel while the XR960 makes use of a 240Hz refresh rate panel but doubles the rate of the scanning backlight for improved motion resolution. Improvement brought about by XR480 and XR960 technologies over XR240 is impossible to discern without the use of special test patterns — mainly because XR240 technology is already capable of the full 1080 line supported by the 1080p HDTV standard with the backlight scanning activated.
Instead, new for 2012 is Sony’s Smart TV suite which comes with a new interface called Sony Entertainment Network, or SEN.
This is a collection of apps, music and movies stores that are easily navigable through Sony’s unique XMB user interface. You can access apps like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, YouTube, Facebook and more; the popular Netflix service is also accessible direct via the Netflix button on the TV remote.
Included as part of the Smart TV suite is a TV browser but as with most present TV browsers, the Sony TV browser is far from practical for regular use.
The new Sony LED TVs in detail…
New Sony LED HDTV series for 2012 are the entry-level EX640 LED TV series with its 40-inch, 46-inch, and 55-inch HDTVs, the HX750 mid-tier Sony LED TVs which come in two screen sizes, 46-inch and 55-inch, and the HX850 premium series already referred to earlier on in this write-up.
EX640 – Sony’s Entry-Level LED TV Series:
The EX 640 is a basic feature LED TV series that comes with 120Hz refresh rate and XR240 technology, and standard edge-LED backlighting.
It misses on 3D but at the targeted price ($1,450 for the 55-inch), 3D is probably not a most important feature for the LED TV buyer.
Instead, it includes the more important Smart TV suite with the new Sony Entertainment Network. It also comes with a Wi-Fi adaptor, and extensive connectivity complemented by four HDMI inputs; the latter represents one more than most of the plasma competition for entry-level and mid-range HDTVs.
One final feature present on these Sony LED TVs is Sony’s Clear Resolution Enhancer picture engine; this represents an improved picture engine over what is available on CCFL LCD TVs.
EX640 Picture Quality
Picture quality is good for an LED TV at this price bracket, with relatively accurate color and grayscale. Color temperature tends to err a bit towards the cool side for most of the spectrum; this is typical of Sony HDTVs as is typical the somewhat lighter shade of black at this price bracket. The EX640 screen supports good viewing angle, doing better here than most LED TVs. Motion resolution is what you expect from a 120Hz TV but would fall to a disappointing 300 lines with Motionflow deactivated.
However, the real problem with the EX640 Sony LED TVs is not motion resolution but the lack of screen uniformity across the entire screen area, with a uniformity that gets worse towards the corners. This screen uniformity problem becomes mostly visible with dark content. It is a typical issue with most standard edge-lit LED TVs but this Sony LED TV series seems to do worst than others in this respect. Mind you, we do not think it is a deal breaker even though this is not the type of TV you will want to have in the darkened environment of your home theater; but it will surely find good use in general home entertainment applications.
Best-selling model within the series is the 46-inch KDL-46EX640, which at just $1,000 is one of the best ‘cheap LED TV’ options from a major brand for 2012 within this price bracket. So far, this is also the best-selling Sony LED TV for this year despite it is not the best customer-rated Sony LED TV for 2012. Main competition is from Samsung ES6100 2D LED TVs, and LG’s LM6200 and LM6700 series; the latter two add 3D.
Sony’s Mid-range 2012 LED TV Series: HX750
Next in line is the Sony HX750 series with its 46-inch and 55-inch; complementing this series is the 65-inch HX729 from 2011 which comes with a very similar feature set.
HX750 HDTVs exhibit a rather stylish design despite not being slim, complemented by a thin metallic accent around the set black bezel.
Main premium features over the less expensive EX640 are 3D, Sony’s X-Reality picture engine, Dynamic edge LED backlight technology, and 240Hz refresh rate using Sony’s Motionflow XR480 technology.
Enjoying these extra features calls for a $400 premium over the more affordable EX640 series, rendering the HX750 a relatively expensive HDTV option at this category.
The Sony HX750 offers a solid picture with excellent color accuracy and relatively good shadow detail. What disappoints with HX750 HDTVs is that these Sony LED TVs fail to deliver the deep blacks one would expect at this price bracket — with all the implications that lighter blacks have on the overall picture quality. Unfortunately, this is a very important picture quality parameter where most 2012 LED TVs fail to deliver. In this respect, the premium price tag of the HX750 does not equate to what one gets in return.
Main competition for HX750 Sony LED TVs come from the slightly more expensive Samsung ES7100 series LED TVs and LG’s more affordable LM7600 series. Best-selling HX750 Sony LED TV is the 55-inch KDL-55HX750 which at the time of this write-up is selling online at $1,900.
Sony’s Premium HX850 Series
At the top of the list among the new offers is the HX850 series; this in our opinion is the best Sony LED TV for overall value and picture quality for 2012 — doing even better in the overall ranking than the flagship series. It is therefore not surprising that the HX850 is also doing better at both the 46-inch and 55-inch than the less expensive HX750 Sony LED TVs.
This is not because the HX850 is capable of a better picture than the flagship even though the Sony premium series comes with a picture quality that it is very much in line with that of the more expensive Sony flagship HDTVs. Rather, it is because for the features on offer, excellent set design and picture performance, the asking price equates to better overall value than corresponding flagship sets.
This is practically the same situation we experienced with this year plasma TVs from Samsung and Panasonic where premium and mid-tier series ranked higher in overall value than the respective flagship series within the same plasma TV lineups.
Mind you, the HX850 is not one of the best-selling HDTVs within its price bracket; at $2,300 to $2,400 for a 55-inch, it is not cheap. Moreover, at a time when consumers have become extremely price sensitive, more are reverting back to plasma to enjoy the benefits of a superior picture and a larger screen size for less. But… if you are one of those plasma TV phobics, then the HX850 is without doubt the best LED TV option for 2012.
Main HX850 Features
Main upgrades for the HX850 series over the $500 cheaper HX750 is Sony’s Monolithic design with the single pane of darkened 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 thinner, lighter, and stronger screen material.
HX850 Sony LED TVs also incorporate the ‘Opticontrast‘ filter, which helps reduce reflections and glare while maintaining black levels even in a bright environment. The Monolithic panel is still a shinny screen and prone to reflections under bright light conditions, meaning you need to be cautious about your TV placement and seating position; for more information on TV placement, please check our LCD TV mounting guide here.
Directly related to the set design is the HX850 thin profile that at less than 1.5-inches deep is almost one inch slimmer than the HX750 series HDTVs, and a TV stand that provide both swivel action, and 6° upward tilt for a more natural viewing angle with low TV placements. The latter is a rather unique feature to Sony LED TVs, originally introduced with the first monolithic sets in 2010.
One final feature upgrade of less essence is Sony’s Motionflow XR960 instead of the XR480, a feature whose improvement is almost impossible to discern over the HX750 XR480 technology with or without the use of special test patterns.
What is missing on the Sony premium series are the more advanced user adjustable picture controls found on corresponding Samsung and LG HDTVs, like the full color management system and the 10-point white balance. At the same time, one has to remark that these Sony LED TVs do not need much tweaking; the Cinema picture mode on the Sony HX850 comes with one of the best out-of-the-box picture settings.
HX850 Picture Performance
Performance wise, the HX850 series represents a very capable TV, with a 2D picture quality that while fails to match that of the significantly cheaper Panasonic ST50 or Samsung PNE6500 and PNE7000 series, it is still one of the very best among the latest LED TVs and possibly the best LED HDTV series for 2012 for overall value, given its features, performance, and price.
The HX850 picture exhibits relatively accurate colors, very deep blacks and subtle shadow detail. The latter is partly due to Sony’s excellent dynamic edge LED backlighting system, which is able to correctly display adjacent bright and dark areas on the screen with hardly any light bleeding both in the dark areas or through the display corners. In this respect, the HX850 screen does not exhibit any of the non-uniformity issues found on the EX640 series.
Video processing is clean without any noticeable artifacts. These TVs are also capable of correctly rendering both 1080p/24 and 1080i film-based content.
With 3D, these Sony LED TVs are among the best 3D TVs using active 3D glasses technology — with a 3D picture that exhibits minimal crosstalk, though with a more subtle 3D effect than most of the competition.
Best-selling model within the HX850 series is the 55-inch KDL-55HX850. It is also the Sony LED TV for 2012 that is enjoying the best ratings among both professional TV reviews and consumer feedback.