Sony KDL-32EX723 £749
21st Apr 2011 | 14:36
Crisp pictures and neat tricks from this mid-range smart TV
Sony KDL-32EX723 review: Overview
It's been a long wait – made longer by production delays caused by Japan's earthquake – but at last the first of Sony's eagerly anticipated 2011 Bravia TVs is here, and comes internet, 3D and full HD-ready.
The 32-inch KDL-32EX723 is a great starting point for getting a handle on how Sony's 2011 TV range might shape up in the weeks and months to come, since it sits more or less in the middle in terms of cost. Priced at £750, it's the most affordable Sony TV this year to carry active 3D capability, and far more affordable than the Sony KDL-46NX713.
Aside from its headline 3D talents, the 32EX723 features Sony's new, improved Bravia Internet video platform, a full internet browser (the first time we've seen this on a Sony TV), Motionflow XR 200 motion processing and the new X-Reality picture processing engine.
The 32EX723 doesn't benefit from one of Sony's striking Monolithic designs, with their ultra-slim profiles and single-layer, glass-like finishes. But this doesn't mean it's an ugly TV by any means – the left, right and top edges of its bezel are slender and glossy, and the bottom edge offers a cute contrast in metallic-looking grey. But it's certainly a lot more ordinary-looking than the Monolithic sets, and its build quality feels a touch plasticky for a mid-range TV.
It joins the 55-inch KDL-55EX723, 46-inch KDL-46EX723 and 40-inch KDL-40EX723 to form the EX723 series.
Above the EX723 in Sony's extensive new TV range is the NX723 series, which delivers Sony's sleek Monolithic design, an ultra-slim LED panel and built-in Wi-Fi on a higher level. Take one step down from the EX723 series and you get to the EX524 models, which crucially don't have 3D capabilities or sport the EX723's MotionFlow XR 200 video processing.
Sony KDL-32EX723 review: Features
The 32EX723 is very well specified indeed for what's ostensibly a mid-range model. Clearly the highlight – especially as it's still quite rare on 32-inch TVs – is its active 3D playback. The transmitter is built-in too; there's no need to purchase an optional £50 external 3D transmitter like there was with some of Sony's 2010 range.
However, you don't get any Sony 3D glasses included for free. Sony's new TDG-BR200 models, with their rechargeable batteries and lightweight design, will likely set you back around £100 a pair. This could make the 32EX723 a more expensive proposition than its £750 basic price if you've got a 3D-loving family to cater for, especially with glasses-free 3D technology growing.
As you might expect of a TV with online services, the 32EX723 is chock full of connections. There's the LAN port for accessing the online Bravia Internet video service and for file streaming from networked DLNA PCs. You can make the TV Wi-Fi ready by adding an optional extra USB dongle, too.
Other USB functionality includes playback of video, photo and music files from USB storage devices, and the ability to record from the integrated Freeview HD tuner to USB HDDs. The increasingly inevitable four HDMI outputs (one on the side, three on the rear) are on hand for HD video duties, alongside a D-Sub PC port and an optical digital audio output.
Sony's latest online services available in the 32EX723 boast a new, generally improved interface, discussed in the Ease of use section. Also intriguing are its new video and music search utilities. The first of these searches an online database for any programme name, cast or crew member you type in. The music search tool is even cooler – just press the remote control's TrackID button when a piece of music is playing in a film or TV show, and the engine will find information on the track.
It would be easy to be sceptical about this feature. But it works mind-bogglingly well, managing to detect that Homes Under The Hammer was playing a short excerpt of the opening piano section of The Feeling's Rosé while one of the presenters was waffling on over the top of it. Geek heaven!
There's also a decently flexible new open internet browser on board the 32EX723, though it doesn't support embedded video playback. The most interesting thing about Sony's Bravia Internet video service is that it hasn't changed that much. Other brands have taken a smartphone-style apps approach lately, but Sony continues to focus on video and music.
Sony's approach feels logical. As noted in the Samsung UE46D7000 review, the only online TV service offerings that feel useful are those that fit most closely with what you normally use a TV for – namely, watching video. Many other apps just feel like unnecessary clutter.
The on-screen instruction manual on the 32EX723 does mention a Bravia Widgets feature, however, but we couldn't get this to work on our review model.
Video content already available features services including BBC iPlayer, Sky News, LoveFilm, Sony Entertainment Television, EuroSport, YouTube and DailyMotion. Non-video online services include Picasa, Moshcam for music concerts and the National Public Radio server for finding podcasts. It will also support Skype if you add a voice control camera and microphone, but again, we couldn't find this during our test.
While Bravia Internet video might not have changed much, picture processing in the 32EX723 has. The new X-Reality system adds sharpness and detail – especially to standard definition content – without exaggerating source noise. Another noteworthy feature is MotionFlow XR 200 motion processing (at 100Hz, plus a scanning backlight). You can choose between Standard, Smooth and Clear options for this, with Clear generally being your best bet, as it doesn't make the image look too processed.
Further picture adjustments – once you've tracked them down in the hard-to-find Display menu – include a black corrector, gamma adjustment, Sony's Live Colour processing, a white level booster and separate MPEG and dot noise reduction systems. Plus in the White Balance menu you can fine tune the gain and bias settings for red, green and blue, boost detail levels and edge sharpness, use the seemingly ineffectual Skin Naturaliser and manually tweak the TV's interlaced-to-progressive processing.
The screen itself is lit via edge LED illumination, and carries a Presence Sensor eco feature which detects if anyone's in the room and turns the picture off if not. The 32EX723 also has the distinction of being the first TV that's arrived with a European Energy consumption sticker. It achieved a B grade, based on a 59W running power and 86kWh/annum consumption.
Sony KDL-32EX723 review: Picture quality
Sony's 32EX723 is massively off the pace with its 3D performance. The main problem is that old issue of crosstalk noise, where the panel's inability to refresh itself fast enough to keep up with the alternating frame rate of the full HD left and right eye images causes double ghosting in the picture.
This sort of noise was common to all 2010 LCD TVs, but so far in 2011 it's been substantially reduced on the Samsung UE46D7000's 3D LCD screens and all but completely removed on Panasonic's ground-breaking DT30 LCD series. Plus it's seldom apparent on LG's 55LW650T. Yet on the 32EX723 it's still there, seemingly every bit as severely and distractingly as it was on Sony's 2010 models, such as the KDL-46NX713.
This affects the clarity of almost every 3D shot to some extent, and makes some scenes – including the notorious sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge in Monsters vs Aliens – borderline unwatchable.
It's especially bad because your eyes already feel strained by watching 3D on a screen as small 32-inches. As with Panasonic's otherwise impressive TX-L32DT30B, the 32EX723 shows again that 32-inches isn't big enough for 3D unless, perhaps, the TV is going to be used in a small bedroom or study, where you'll sit close to it.
Turning on Sony's active shutter glasses also causes a heavy drop in brightness and colour saturation compared to the Samsung and LG 3D TVs, plus a little more flickering than you might feel comfortable with, particularly if you've got a very bright room. These two issues wouldn't stop the pictures being enjoyable, though, if it wasn't for the unacceptable amounts of crosstalk as well.
As a final blow, the crosstalk seriously reduces the impact of the extra sharpness and HD detail that active 3D was developed to deliver – especially as the impact of this detailing is reduced by the smallness of the screen.
For the record, Sony's onboard 2D to 3D conversion is one of the more effective around, in terms of adding depth without causing depth errors. But thanks to all the crosstalk, you still wouldn't really want to watch it.
Shifting quickly to 2D, things improved markedly. The fuzzy mess of 3D is replaced by a pleasingly crisp picture in both HD and standard definition mode, the latter immediately proving the worth of the X-Reality engine. The resolution enhancement system is so sophisticated at boosting perceived resolution, without making the picture look noisy, that you might even want to try out the Detail Enhancer system.
Sony's MotionFlow system plays a part in clarity too, reducing juddering and blurring without making the picture look artificial, or causing side effects like flickering edges or haloes around moving objects. Just be sure to stick with the lowest power Clear setting.
The TV's black level response is good too. It takes a little work; you should try and keep the backlight set as low as you sensibly can, and while the Black Corrector and Advanced Contrast Enhancer can help, only use them on their very lowest settings, unless you want shadow detail to take a massive hit. As long as you follow these basic rules, black colours look surprisingly deep and convincing.
Backlight levels are mostly consistent too. Sure, you can make out faint light shooting in for a slim inch or two from the screen's corners, especially the bottom ones, but this is seldom visible under normal viewing conditions, and the amount of screen space affected is relatively minor.
When it comes to colour, the 32EX723 lacks the aggression and dynamism found with some rival sets, such as the Samsung UE46D7000. But while they might not explode off the screen at you, they're deftly rendered in terms of subtle colour shifts and blends, and generally look natural in tone. The colour balance is good too, with no particular hues tending to stand out from the others too much.
If you're a gamer, you'll feel reasonably pleased with the 32EX723's 40ms input lag time, which, while far from the lowest around, shouldn't cause you too many missed Guitar Hero notes or unnecessary Call of Duty deaths.
While viewing angles are inevitably limited versus IPS-Alpha LCD or plasma panels, black levels and contrast aren't affected as severely when viewed from the TV's side as they are with many other PVA panels.
Sony KDL-32EX723: Sound, value, ease of use
The 32EX723 feels pretty average in the sound department. As so often happens with relatively small, flat TVs, there just isn't enough headroom in the mid-range to squeeze in a complex soundstage.
The result is a sound that feels rather thin, compressed and indistinct. It can nudge over into harshness, too, if there's an excess of treble sound information to deal with.
On the one hand, the 32EX723's above-par 2D picture performance and extensive, well-pitched multimedia services look attractive on a £750 TV.
However, it's impossible to shake the suspicion that you're paying at least a little for the TV's 3D capabilities, even though these 3D capabilities are hamstrung by crosstalk noise to the extent that they're almost unusable.
Ease of use
Sony has revamped its on-screen menus, with mostly positive results. Pressing the remote's large, colour-defined Home button shrinks the picture by around a third and moves it into the top left corner, while double-axis menus appear along the bottom and up the right-hand side. The effect is not unlike that seen with the Sharp Quattron LC46LE821E, and is much easier to follow than the cluttered, PS3-like approach used by last year's Sony models.
It's great, too, to find that the online services have been moved into a dedicated on-screen space where you can see and access most of the current options without having to scroll down huge lists like you had to with the previous interface.
The remote control takes a little getting used to, because its layout feels as if some features have just been retrofitted to an old design where buttons were originally intended for something else. But once you've learned your way around, you appreciate how many features you can access directly from a button.
Our two main issues with the operating system concern the iManual and the web browser. The iManual is a standalone on-screen manual, rather than a truly interactive one where you can call up quick explanations of particular features. This makes it quite time-consuming and difficult to find the section of the iManual you want, and makes you wish for a paper manual fairly quickly.
The internet browser's text is just too small to be readable unless you've got your face right up against the screen. This is true even if you adjust the text display option to Large. It's quite bizarre that Sony didn't include a simple Magnify button in the browser controls.
Couple the painfully small text with the sheer tedium of using the remote control to move around a typical website, and the experience becomes one that only a masochist would want to take on very often. Shame.
Sony KDL-32EX723 review: Verdict
Sony's 32EX723 looks on paper as if it's generously specified for a TV that only sits around the centre of its price range. Among its headline-grabbing tricks are 3D playback (with the necessary IR transmitter built in), Sony's impressive Bravia Internet video platform, plenty of multimedia playback support, optional Wi-Fi via a USB dongle, and even a brand spanking new X-Reality picture engine.
Connectivity is prodigious, and its edge LED lighting system helps it deliver an enviably slender form, as well as playing its part in producing a pleasingly contrast-rich image.
Its 2D pictures are generally very likable, with believable and decently punchy colours, only minor motion blur and high detail and clarity levels. However, if you're thinking of getting the 32EX723 for its 3D capabilities, you should think again. As well as its 32-inch screen not being big enough to make the experience come to life, the 32EX723 also suffers quite severely from crosstalk noise, which makes 3D viewing unconvincing and tiring.
The TV's 2D pictures are clean and punchy, with sharpness increased by the new X-Reality processing engine, especially where standard definition is concerned.
X-Reality also does a good job of keeping a lid on video noise, and black level response is unusually good for such a small LCD model.
The new operating system is also a big improvement, the set's multimedia facilities are excellent and the video-centric approach to online features represented by the Bravia Internet video makes a lot of sense.
The amount of crosstalk in the 32EX723's 3D pictures is startlingly excessive, showing little if any improvement from last year.
The internet browser feels pointless, thanks to the smallness of its text and the torture of navigating a busy website via the remote control, and the audio is nothing to write home about.
As a 2D TV, there's much to like about the 32EX723. The new X-Reality processor does a good job of making both HD and standard definition pictures look sharp and detailed, while the Motionflow system stops motion suffering badly with blurring or judder. And it does this without leaving the picture looking artificial.
The edge LED illumination is well controlled too, enabling the TV to combine punchy bright elements with deep black levels without suffering any truly distracting levels of backlight inconsistency during dark films.
Multimedia fans will appreciate the support the 32EX723 gives there, while the Bravia Internet video system delivers a persuasive argument for focusing on smaller but more relevant content offerings.
The problem is that the 32EX723's 3D pictures really don't pass muster at all, making the TV feel slightly expensive for a 32-inch model that's ultimately only recommended for 2D viewing.