Sony KDL-32EX524 £550
23rd Jun 2011 | 13:18
Don't let the size or price fool you – this TV is packed with clever features and delivers decent pictures
Sony KDL-32EX524: Overview
Sony's KDL-32EX524 is described as a 'great all-rounder' and 'family friendly'. This is normally a euphemistic way of saying that there aren't many flashy features on board – but that's not the case with this impressively specified little TV.
Sony has stuffed it full of features but kept it at a reasonably wallet-friendly price, which gets even friendlier if you shop around online. And it certainly is a great all-rounder, able to deliver hi-def pictures and play content from a variety of sources including USB devices and Blu-ray players – as well as providing access to online content through Sony's magnificent Bravia Internet Video portal and streaming content from other devices around the home.
The KDL-32EX524 is one of four 32-inch sets in the latest EX range, alongside the KDL-32EX523, KDL-32EX723 and KDL-32EX724.
The difference between the 32-inch '523' and '524' models is that the latter adds the new Presence Sensor feature and USB hard-disk drive (HDD) recording, while the step-up KDL-32EX724 throws even more features into the mix for a £200 premium, including 3D support, MotionFlow XR 200, 100Hz processing, S-Force Front Surround, built-in Wi-Fi and smartphone control.
If you want to go even bigger, try the KDL-37EX524, KDL-40EX523, KDL-40EX524 or the 46-inch KDL-46EX524.
Although it lacks the wow factor of Sony's high-end 'designer' sets, the KDL-32EX524 is still a good-looking TV. Slim and fitted with a sleek black bezel, it looks suitably modern without going overboard, and particularly nice is the shimmering brushed finish below the screen that houses the LEDs and IR sensor.
There are no touch-sensitive controls, though, so the row of buttons tucked away around the side is your only means of up-close control, which is difficult to access when it's tucked in a tight space. The supplied swivel stand takes minimal effort to attach, although its plasticky build is below par.
On the back, Sony has provided a tidy selection of sockets. There are three HDMI inputs – a fourth is found on the side – as well as component, Scart, analogue stereo and PC audio inputs and an optical digital audio output. Joining the HDMI on the side are two USB inputs, which is very useful, given that Wi-Fi support requires a proprietary dongle – when connected it leaves the other USB port free for multimedia playback. A CI slot, headphones output and 15-pin D-Sub PC input completes the lineup.
Sony KDL-32EX524: Features
As mentioned, the KDL-32EX524 is equipped with a healthy array of features for a reasonably priced TV. First up, let's talk screen technology – it is of course, a full HD affair that uses Edge LED backlighting, which facilitates those super-slim dimensions and light weight.
Driving the set is Sony's new single-chip image processor, X-Reality, which analyses and selectively processes the picture to sharpen it up, boost colours and contrast and get rid of noise. It's designed to grab blocky, low-res web video by the scruff of the neck and get it looking halfway decent – in theory, at least. The TV is 50Hz though, so look elsewhere if you want 3D.
The KDL-32EX524 is part of Sony's wide selection of internet-enabled TVs and therefore boasts a top-drawer selection of web content and networking features. To access these you can either hook it up via Ethernet cable to your router or purchase Sony's optional USB Wi-Fi dongle (UWA-BR100) and go wireless.
The most compelling of these features is Bravia Internet Video, which offers an unrivalled selection of applications. These include TV and movie services like BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, Qriocity Video on Demand, Love Film, Eurosport and YouTube, plus music and radio services and Picasa photos. You can also poke, throw sheep and tweet thanks to built-in Facebook and Twitter access, both of which became available as onscreen widgets after a firmware update.
But that's not all. The Skype feature enables you to make video and voice calls on your TV, although this requires Sony's optional CMU-BR100 voice control camera and microphone (£89) and a firmware upgrade (which is available now). And on another phone-related topic, another firmware upgrade enables you to use your smartphone to control the TV or use it as a second screen for watching video-on-demand.
And if you're the sort of person who laps up trivia and facts about movies and TV shows the search applications will be very welcome. The Gracenote-powered Music and Video Search features enable you to look up detailed information relating to songs, movies or cast members by entering a keyword.
Then you can search for content related to the results across all applications. There's even a Track ID button on the remote that calls up information about song info while you're watching a programme – we hit it during a Snoop Dogg video being played on MTV and lo and behold up popped info about the song as well as a Snoop Dogg bio. Clever stuff.
Away from web-related stuff, you can record programmes from the built-in Freeview HD tuner on an external HDD (again, with a firmware update) and there's a Presence Sensor on board that can detect body heat and movement, switching the picture off when you leave the room but keeping the sound going to save energy.
There's a fairly decent array of picture tweaks, too. On the most basic level, Scene Select (activated at the touch of a button on the remote) provides a list of presets that cater for different types of material – General, Cinema, Sports, Music, Animation, Game – but the Auto setting saves you the hassle of choosing.
Dig a little deeper into the setup menu (scrolling down past the usual backlight, colour, contrast, brightness, sharpness, hue and noise reduction settings) and you'll find an Advanced Settings menu. This opens up adjustments like Black Corrector, Advanced Contrast Enhancer, Live Colour, Gamma and various image enhancements - the sort of detail that'll keep picture perfectionists very happy indeed.
Sony KDL-32EX524: Picture
It may not set a new picture benchmark for 32-inch LED TVs, but the KDL-32EX524's performance is still impressive for a £550 set. There are some obvious flaws, but on the whole your hi- and standard-def sources are in good hands.
Images from the built-in Freeview HD tuner look crisp and precise, showing precious few signs of stepping along edges, pixellation or block noise. Detail shines through from every inch of the screen, whether you're ogling the textured green grass of Wimbledon's Centre Court or the suburban London surroundings of Lead Balloon. It's a great advert for hi-def, even on a screen of this size, and shows that the new X-Reality chip is no slouch when it comes to sharpening up detail and removing noise.
Switching over to a Blu-ray disc – in this case Children of Men – the KDL-32EX524 continues its good work with more scintillating detail and deep, natural colours. However, the movie's gloomy settings and subject matter means dark scenes are frequent, and here we find the KDL-32EX524 slightly struggling – instead of deep, inky blacks you get a sort of misty grey/blue and the backlight seems uneven, with pooling down the left and right sides.
We also ran Samsung's HD Reference Software evaluation disc through the KDL-32EX524 and with the black level test patterns found it hard to define the outlines of black objects set against black backgrounds, and although contrast is good, it lacks the punch and breadth of a good plasma, or the best full LED sets. You can get some joy playing around with the Black Corrector and Advanced Contrast Enhancer, but it's never fully rectified and doesn't really improve the detail within blacks. Brighter Blu-rays like Wall-E or Legends of the Guardians look much better though.
The other major flaw with the TV's picture is motion blur. It's highlighted most clearly on our evaluation disc's Motion test patterns, showing fast camera pans over the front of a building and a map. The image is beset by smearing, which makes text on the map difficult to read, plus the image judders uncomfortably.
During movies this blur interferes with the clarity of fast-moving scenes. With no frame insertion technology to iron this sort of stuff out it's fairly inevitable, but might encourage some to fork out more for a 100Hz sets from the Sony 724 series.
Back to the positives, and Sony makes good its promise of improving web video. We watched zombie film Day of the Dead (1985) on BBC iPlayer and were enormously impressed by the lack of artefacts and buffering delays with this 26-year-old movie. Horrible Histories also looked superb: it was just like watching an SD BBC One broadcast on Freeview.
Sony KDL-32EX524: Sound, value and ease of use
The KDL-32EX524 packs 20W of audio power, invisible speakers and plenty of sonic technology, including S-Force Front Surround – a virtual surround mode that attempts to trick the ears into hearing surround effects using four different presets. There are also several presets (Dynamic, Standard, Clear Voice).
Surprisingly, all of this contributes to some reasonably hearty and open sound quality – Children of Men's end shoot out is peppered with beefy explosions and sharp gunshots, while dialogue is delivered with body and excellent clarity, although we won't pretend that your enjoyment wouldn't be enhanced greatly by a separate home cinema system.
Judged purely from a features point of view, the KDL-32EX524 offers tremendous value for money. Granted, you miss out on bells and whistles like 3D support and 100Hz processing, but the inclusion of DLNA support, two USB ports with media playback and TV recording, a Freeview HD tuner, Skype, smartphone control, a wealth of web content and the eco-friendly Presence Sensor is a lot more than some people would expect for £550.
We're also massive fans of the tweaked operating system and some of the new web features, plus if you're a regular BBC iPlayer viewer then the excellent web video quality is a real boon. The motion blur and contrast issues do dock it some value points, and it lacks the rock solid build quality you'd get further up the range, but on balance it's money well spent.
Ease of use
Sony has made some major changes to its TV operating system this year, and they're for the better. Don't get us wrong – we love Sony's old-style Xross Media Bar but it was definitely time for a refresh and – thankfully – this new operating system is equally intuitive.
The main menu, accessed by hitting the Home button, abandons the cross axis layout for a row of icons along the bottom of the screen, while live TV plays in a box large above. Highlight one of the icons and the corresponding list appears to the right of the live TV box.
These are grouped into things like Media, Internet Content, Widgets and a very useful Favourites that remembers your last-used inputs and TV channels. It uses the same colour scheme fonts and icons as before, just arranged in a different way, but it still operates with the sort of slickness we've grown used to from Sony AV products.
This new layout also addresses another problem – on the previous menu, Bravia Internet Video's list of applications was starting to make the vertical axis too long to scroll down quickly, but now the various BIV services are laid out in a grid of thumbnail icons, again split into Video, Music and Photo, and it takes no time to find the one you want.
Using other widgets and web-enabled services like Music and Video Search, Skype and media streaming caused no major confusion, although the full-screen web-browser isn't much cop and entering text using the mobile phone-style multi-press system isn't ideal, but could be worse.
The set's EPG is a little cluttered but easy to work with. Eight channels are displayed at once in the timeline grid, but it leaves enough room for live TV, a synopsis and a cluster of colour-coded options at the bottom.
If you have a HDD connected (32GB or over) then recording programmes is an absolute cinch, thanks to straightforward, PVR-like dialogue boxes. The onscreen info banners also convey details clearly, although they're limited to now and next info. Of course, the single tuner setup is a drawback as you can't change channel while recording.
It's not all plain sailing though. We couldn't get the TV to stream music from our Windows 7 laptop (it wouldn't appear in the list) but worked fine with video and photos. The KDL-32EX524 streamed our AVCHD, WMV and DivX files smoothly but turned its nose up at hi-def AVI files. We were also able to play MKV, DivX HD, XviD, MP3, WMA, WAV and JPEG from a USB stick.
Sony hasn't fiddled with the remote control formula too much, going for the same long black zapper with a ring of menu controls surrounded by the most-used buttons like Guide, Options and Home. There are a few buttons of note, such as the dedicated keys for TrackID, Internet Video and the i-Manual (an onscreen help guide). Its only foible is that the Return key is placed slightly too close to the 'left' button, which caused a few slip-ups.
Sony KDL-32EX524: Verdict
The KDL-32EX524 has all the hallmarks of a budget, no-frills set – the price, size, its billing as a 'family' TV and the compromised build quality – yet in actual fact it's more special than that.
There's a feast of features on board, ranging from flashy DLNA, Skype and Bravia Internet Video to the Presence Sensor and USB HDD recording. Yes, there's no 3D or 100Hz, and you have to make some picture quality sacrifices, but it's still a decent performer – particularly when it comes to Freeview pictures and web video.
Web videos look great on the KDL-32EX524 thanks to X-Reality's miracle-working, and despite some motion blur and contrast issues picture quality is at an acceptable level.
The improvements to the operating system are a triumph, making the wide range of functions even easier to access than before. The EPG is slick and cleverly laid out, with crisp graphics and a large live TV box.
Despite the lack of 3D and 100Hz processing, there's a wide range of features on board that make the KDL-32EX524 feel like solid value for money. Highlights include Bravia Internet Video (which thanks to the inclusion of several catch-up TV services is still the best web portal of any manufacturer), DLNA, USB recording, smartphone control and Skype.
Motion blur, judder and average contrast prevent this TV hitting the heights of other LED sets, with fast moving objects losing clarity. Detail during dark scenes also loses some definition.
Although the set's black bezel and brushed bottom section are easy on the eye, build quality is merely adequate, particularly the supplied stand.
A few operational niggles, like our inability to stream music and play some hi-def AVI files, might be a turn off, plus the additional hardware required for Skype and Wi-Fi will add quite a chunk onto the price.
See past the picture flaws and missing features and the KDL-32EX524 is a very attractive LCD that punches above its price point with a generous array of features and decent picture performance, which should make you, and the whole family, very happy.
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