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Sony KDL-55HX823 Expert Review

Sony KDL-55HX823

Rating: ★★★★☆

Treated to Sony’s much trumpeted, but really rather bland monolithic design (plain gloss black with no embellishments), the chief feature of many on the KDL-55HX823 is its unusual 55-inch size, which seems ripe for lending 3D that all-important immersive edge.

Despite the likes of LG, Toshiba and Philips moving towards the cheaper passive 3D system that requires £1 3D specs, Sony has decided to stick with the trusted – although pricier and somewhat inconvenient – active shutter 3D system on the KDL-55HX823, which arrives with one pair of 3D glasses.

But could this be one of Sony’s last efforts at active shutter 3D before it follows the others into the passive 3D TV arena?

It’s hard to see how the KDL-55HX823 could justify its huge price tag while carrying a passive 3D system, since the active shutter goodies inside this HD TV are astonishingly effective.

A built-in 3D transmitter accompanies a Wi-Fi receiver that enables wireless hook-up for the KDL-55HX823′s not insubstantial online dimension. During our test it included on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, LoveFilm, Eurosport, YouTube, blip.tv, DailyMotion and even a 3D samples service. It’s constantly being updated, and currently includes 27 apps.

The smaller 46-inch version, the KDL-46HX823, which sells for £1,799, is also available. Both are ranked slightly below Sony’s ultimate 3D flag-wavers, the HX923 series TVs. These also include 46 and 55-inch TVs – the £2,500 KDL-46HX923 and £2,999 KDL-55HX923.

The only major differences between the HX823 series TVs and the HX923 series models are the latter’s gifts of a laid-back (as in, angled) design and a higher-spec Intelligent Peak LED panel complete with 800Hz.

Features

Sony kdl-55hx823

The smart TV features of the Sony KDL-55HX823 are laudable, but just as important as the content is how a TV treats low-resolution fare from YouTube, especially on a 55-inch set.

Sony’s X-Reality PRO dual-chip image processing engine is a very welcome addition to the KDL-55HX823; we’ve seen previous incarnations work wonders.

Powered by a 14-bit (output) multi-frame video data analysis, X-Reality PRO upscales poor-quality sources – common on YouTube and elsewhere online – to fit the large screen. It also works well with still images, and can be applied to any video source.

Panel-wise, the KDL-55HX823 uses an Edge LED array around an OptiContrast panel, which sees lights on the left and right of the screen. Sony insists that the way the light works is much the same as a full (and therefore fatter, which explains its absence) LED system, where lights are clustered all across the panel.

What Sony is saying here is that the KDL-55HX823 is capable of “local dimming”, despite not having local lighting. What it boils down to is a more precisely controlled backlight, although whether the end result is any nearer to a plasma (the intended result of most LED tech) will be the ultimate test.

Sony kdl-55hx823

Another panel-related feature of note is a 400Hz mode, labelled by Sony as Motionflow XR 400. That’s a relatively high-end feature, and it should be more than enough to cope with image lag and motion blur issues.

If Freeview HD adds some versatility, four HDMI inputs extend this further, one of which including an Audio Return Channel. That’s crucial for anyone with a pre-3D HDMI-equipped AV receiver or home cinema that can’t pass 3D images and sound over HDMI.

There’s also Ethernet LAN connectivity for a more reliable wired connection to a broadband router, although the Wi-Fi method worked fine in our tests. Other ins and outs include a set of component video jacks, a headphones slot, a VGA connection for a PC or laptop, a minijack for audio and a digital optical audio port.

Crucially there are two USB slots – one for playing digital media from a thumb drive, and one able to record from the Freeview HD tuner to a hard drive.

Ease of use

Sony kdl-55hx823

Sony’s refreshed user interface puts all the choices and services (and there’s a lot of them) along the bottom of the KDL-55HX823′s screen. It can seem crowded as you flick past options to access the USB stick, fire up Sony’s online Qriocity music/video service or simply activate a specific HDMI input, but it’s easy to understand and works quickly enough.

Over to Freeview HD where a clean, precise and, crucially, lightning-quick electronic programme guide governs. Below a small thumbnail of the live programme – complete with sound – the screen includes programme information for eight channels across two hours.

Recordings can be made to an HDD attached via one of the TV’s USB slots, but Sky+ this is not – it’s one programme at a time. Picture quality is pleasingly identical to the original broadcast, though. Browsing the EPG is quick and the Sony KDL-55HX823 is responsive to commands from the remote.

Not quite so speedy in its workings is the Bravia Internet Video platform that lends the Sony KDL-55HX823 smart TV status.

Probably the most exciting addition of late has been the Sony 3D Experience app, which hosts a series of Sony-made shorts, film and games trailers and music videos. Everything is from the Sony stable, amounting to adverts for its entertainment arm, but the tennis and World Cup 2010 clips in 3D are worth watching.

During our tests there was no sign of the indie/world film streaming service Mubi, despite the software being updated prior to our review.

Sony kdl-55hx823

There’s some software confusion surrounding digital media, that’s for sure – we couldn’t get MKV video files to play from anything, although a mixture of DivX and MPEG (including MOV and MP4) files played from a USB stick, and just MPEG files played from a networked PC.

Picture settings on the KDL-55HX823 include Sony’s Reality Creation system, which is all about striking a balance between extra resolution and the TV’s noise filtering system. It can be left on auto, or manually adjusted.

X-Reality PRO’s Smooth Gradation option, although designed to improve the quality of the likes of YouTube videos, can be applied to any input so its off/low/medium/high settings can help improve a dodgy Freeview channel.

Motionflow, rated at 400Hz here, can be set to four powers, confusingly labelled Standard, Smooth, Clear and Clear Plus. The latter drastically reduces brightness – is Sony trying to lessen the blur by switching off the lights? It’s a novel approach indeed.

An accompanying Film Mode has two settings in its quest to bring some extra fluidity to 24p fare on Blu-ray.

There are all manner of advanced settings bunched together, although Live Colour aside it’s best to take care with tweaks to most of the rest. Experimenting with the Detail Enhancer and Edge Enhancer should be only be entertained once you’ve got a stance on Motionflow, X-Reality PRO and Reality Creation.

It takes some time setting up and a lot of care, but a customised picture can be created on the Sony KDL-55HX823, and pleasingly, assigned to individual inputs.

Picture

Sony kdl-55hx823

Put to work with online fare from the Bravia Internet Video platform, the Sony KDL-55HX823 spits out excellent upscaled images.

Although we did notice the odd jagged edge or an overly soft picture on a number of occasions, the Smooth Gradation setting always produces a clean and highly watchable picture.

If that’s a crucial part of the TV’s appeal as an all-rounder, so too are the Sony KDL-55HX823′s 3D pictures. During a run through of the Wimbledon men’s final from a Virgin Media Tivo box recording, what was most striking was the lack of ghosting and crosstalk. Given LCD tech’s somewhat chequered history with 3D, this is something of a relief, although there’s still the issue of greatly reduced brightness.

The good, clean work continues with some sequences from last year’s football World Cup, although the odd echo was evident in some of the more fast-moving passages of play (not when Spain were playing, then).

Those bright and breezy outdoor scenes in the African sunshine excel, even if the 3D-ness doesn’t always (the only truly impressive depth shots are from behind the goal and from other odd angles), but it’s a different matter with Avatar on Blu-ray.

Take the attack sequence on the tree; the gunships, fireballs and explosions are all displayed with noticeable depth and, despite the odd echo attached to flying debris, are clean and comfortable to watch. Then, as the Na’vi run from the falling tree and the smoke starts to sink, the entire film takes on a blacker look to the extent that a lot of foreground details are tricky to make out. Any areas that are dark and dingy fade into one another.

It’s not enough to put us off active shutter 3D, since the detail – especially on a panel as big as this – is exceptional, and far surpasses passive 3D TVs we’ve seen.

All but the most muted passages are imbued with vibrant yet natural colours, and Motionflow 400Hz smoothes out pictures very effectively. So well, in fact, that we can’t really see the point of the 800Hz system employed by Sony on the Cinema HX series-toppers.

These same strengths uphold an admirable 2D performance, with the exception of good, but less-than-plasma ultimate black levels, which can cause greyness in some scenes.

The LED backlight isn’t as tight as it needs to be – we noticed some light leakage in all four corners of the panel, with clusters visible in the lower left-hand side.

Sound and value

Sony kdl-55hx823

Sound

As well as two 10W speakers in the TV’s undercarriage, there’s a third speaker on the back of the Sony KDL-55HX823. We obviously weren’t able to test the behaviour of this trio while wall-mounted, but when placed close to a wall on its desktop stand it did seem to add a little power to our TV’s sound.

Tested at loud volumes, the slim cabinet doesn’t rattle, and while dialogue is handled best of all, we were reasonably impressed by the Sony KDL-55HX823′s overall performance with both music and Avatar‘s soundtrack.

Value

Yes, there’s a lot more to the KDL-55HX823 than its 27mm slim cabinet would suggest, but with perfectly respectable 50-inch plasma TVs from the likes of Samsung and Panasonic selling for half the cost, it’s hard to justify – especially with Panasonic’s identically sized and similarly priced TX-P55VT30B plasma TV in the running.

Verdict

Sony kdl-55hx823

Offering a slinky, slim design, a versatile attitude to multimedia and online content galore, this high-spec LED-backlit LCD TV from Sony is nevertheless an expensive option.

We liked

The huge 55-inch size of the Sony KDL-55HX823 is hard to miss, although that could theoretically bring problems for watching YouTube and similar online videos. It doesn’t prove troublesome though, thanks to some superb X-Reality PRO upscaling.

Film and TV in 2D sparkles and 3D is clean and convincing, with 400Hz tech chipping in. The presence of BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and a 3D showcase app are welcome, too. The Freeview HD interface, meanwhile, is the finest around. Period.

We disliked

That 3D app is primarily an advert for Sony, which is hard to stomach when you’ve just spent this kind of money on one of its products.

Ultimate black levels could be more convincing, while scrolling along the central user interface to locate specific services or inputs can be a little tiresome.

We’ve also got a sense that what we’re being asked to pay for here is slimness; there are 3D plasma TVs out there that are just as capable, and much cheaper – and only a little fatter.

Sony KDL-55HX823

Pros

  • BBC iPlayer
  • YouTube upscaling
  • Smooth, no blur
  • Clean and comfortable 3D

Cons

  • High price
  • Black levels
  • Crowded user interface

Verdict

With smooth and clear 3D that isn’t blighted by crosstalk, blur-free 2D detail and a packed and nicely upscaled Bravia Internet Video smart TV service, this 55-inch LED-backlit LCD TV hugely impresses.

Whether it’s more capable than a much cheaper plasma TV is questionable, but one thing is for sure; the remarkably slim Sony KDL-55HX823 blurs the lines between the two technologies with rare sharpness.


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