Sony KDL-40HX723 £1300
11th Jul 2011 | 10:24
Edge-lit LCD with superb 2D and 3D pictures and the excellent Bravia Internet Video service
Sony KDL-40HX723: Overview
The KDL-40HX723 has an ace up its sleeve with the potential to improve dramatically on the poor 3D efforts of the EX723 series. Motionflow XR 400 claims to deliver a processing-driven equivalent' of 400 frames per second, which ought to bode well for three-dimensional playback.
Unlike many of Sony's previous screens, the KDL-40HX723's 3D transmitter is built in, but no glasses are included with the set.
Other key features of the KDL-40HX723 include dynamic edge LED lighting, offering a degree of local dimming to the picture's illumination, Sony's Bravia Internet Video online service and an open internet browser.
You can also use Skype via an optional camera and the TV's pictures are knocked into shape by the highest ('Pro') level version of Sony's new X-Reality processing, which is designed to improve the appearance of low-quality source material such as stuff streamed from the internet.
The only other model confirmed in the HX723 range at the moment is the 46-inch KDL-46HX723. For other Sony choices you're looking at the step-down NX723 series, which introduces Sony's Monolithic design concept, but only offers MotionFlow XR 200 processing. Or further up you can find the NX823 series, which among other things adds built-in Wi-Fi to the KDL-40HX723's spec sheet and a super-slim chassis.
The KDL-40HX723's design, by comparison, is less dramatic, featuring a normal raised black bezel given a little added appeal courtesy of a metallic-looking (but rather plasticky feeling) finish to the bottom edge. A slightly more heavy-duty build-quality wouldn't have gone amiss on a £1,300 40-inch TV, but the KDL-40HX723 certainly can't be considered remotely ugly.
Sony KDL-40HX723: Features
The chief attraction of the KDL-40HX723 is its combination of integrated active 3D with a much faster claimed refresh rate.
It's a pity, however, that the set doesn't underline its potential 3D appeal by providing any active shutter glasses for free, thereby adding a couple of hundred quid to the set's already high cost.
The KDL-40HX723 doesn't ship with built-in Wi-Fi or the USB dongle with which you might add it, so you'll need to find another £80 or so if you want to go wireless.
From here on in, though, the news where features are concerned is mostly good. As well as the promising 3D and refresh rate stuff, the KDL-40HX723 is extremely well equipped for multimedia. The Bravia Internet Video service enables you to jack the TV into your network via a provided LAN port (or the optional Wi-Fi dongle) to enjoy a startling amount of video streaming from Sony's online servers.
Highlights include the BBC iPlayer and Channel Five Demand 5 catch-up services, a World of Sony channel providing instant and free access to a varied array of classic Sony-backed TV shows ranging from Rescue Me to Diff'rent Strokes! and an interactive Sky News channel providing on-demand to headlines and key video news packages. You'll also be able to download LoveFilm movies, watch Eurosport and YouTube and avail yourself of Sony's Qriocity servers, which offer a subscription model for accessing films and music.
There are dozens of other video providers for you to explore on Bravia Internet Video and you can use Skype if you add an external camera (yes, another optional add on). Finally, there's an open web browser, which works well enough, though navigating sites via a TV remote is never a pleasurable experience.
The KDL-40HX723 can connect up to a DLNA PC for straightforward streaming of video, photo and music files, or it can play such files directly from USB storage devices via its two USB inputs.
The USBs also permit direct recording of whatever's showing on the integrated Freeview HD tuner - though while the picture quality from these recordings is impressive, you shouldn't expect the same sort of flexibility you would get from a dedicated external recorder.
Joining the USBs and LAN port among the KDL-40HX723's connections are four HDMI inputs for your digital/HD/3D sources, plus the staple connections you'd expect of any self-respecting TV. A surprising number of these connections, including three of the HDMIs, face directly out of the TV's rear, though, which isn't very helpful to anyone thinking of wall-hanging a KDL-40HX723.
Exploring the picture adjustment section of the KDL-40HX723's onscreen menus reveals an intimidating amount of options - many of which are related to the extensive processing tools.
When it comes to noise reduction, for instance, you get separate standard NR, MPEG NR, and Dot NR options, all with multiple levels of potency.
Then there's Sony's Reality Creation system, designed to adjust detail and noise levels to make pictures look more realistic. There are multiple levels to this processing and you can adjust its resolution and noise filtering elements manually.
Also worth tinkering with is a Smooth Gradation system. Part of Sony's new X-Reality Pro engine, designed to improve the appearance of low-quality video sources, the Smooth Gradation system attempts to deliver the equivalent of 14-bit colour processing (meaning no striping in colour blends) in an 8-bit output signal.
MotionFlow is one of the most important processing features. There are multiple settings, the default level being Standard, though you'll probably be safer switching to Clear, as it reduces judder and blur without causing too many processing side-effects.
Then there's a black level corrector, an advanced contrast enhancer, various gamma settings, the ability to turn on or off dynamic control for the LED lighting… a white booster, an edge enhancer... the list goes on.
This is all well and good, although a lot of the options are concerned with tweaking levels of processing, and, as such, demand a bit of care in order to strike the right balance between improving the image and making it look worse; the last thing you want is to make your pictures look over-processed.
Final bits and bobs worth running by you are Twitter and Facebook apps held within the Bravia Widgets section of the onscreen menus, and a fun bit of fluff called TrackID, which can analyse with remarkable accuracy even a very short bit of music playing on a programme you're watching and tell you the artist and track.
Sony KDL-40HX723: Picture
Given the problems with the EX723 series' 3D pictures, it's a huge relief to find that the KDL-40HX723's 3D abilities are in a whole different class.
The main reason for this is that they suffer far less from the dreaded crosstalk double ghosting noise. In fact, with bright scenes there's practically none of it; the Wimbledon finalists during the BBC's 3D Wimbledon footage looked crisp and ghost-free while the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge in Monsters Vs Aliens were free of echoes.
The situation isn't so impressive during dark scenes. The current classic scene for revealing dark crosstalk is the lantern sequence in Tangled, and there was some evidence of ghosting around some of the lamps and around the spires of the distant castle.
However, no TV has so far been able to show this scene without any crosstalk at all and the amount generated by the KDL-40HX723 is low compared to many of its rivals.
Not having to squint through reams of ghosting noise makes it easier to appreciate the other strengths of the KDL-40HX723's 3D picture quality. For instance, it's easy to see the benefits of Blu-ray's full HD 3D system, even on a screen as relatively small (by 3D standards) as this.
Also, while Sony's bulky but acceptably comfortable 3D glasses do take quite a lot of the brightness out of images, the set's edge LED lighting delivers enough punch and vibrancy to counter this. Colours are more natural and dynamic than they tend to be with 3D footage.
Motion occasionally looks a touch juddery during 3D viewing for some hard to fathom reason, but for the most part the KDL-40HX723's 3D pictures are very accomplished.
The KDL-40HX723 is also a useful 2D performer. Fine detail, propelled by the impressive brightness, is terrific and clarity takes only a minor hit when there's a lot of motion to handle, though you do need to engage the motion processing to get the best from the set.
Colours with HD and standard-def footage alike are vibrant and natural after a little tweaking (the main presets leave skin tones looking rather ripe and the overall tone a touch warm), and blends are immaculate, even without calling on the Smooth Gradation processing.
The KDL-40HX723 also makes a better job of upscaling standard-definition material, particularly low quality stuff from the web, than any set we've seen, presumably thanks to X-Reality Pro, which was expressly designed to get the most from online video.
Black level response is usually a tricky area for edge LED technology, but the KDL-40HX723 handles it very well for the most part. Blacks are impressively dark, so long as you don't leave the backlight setting too high and that profundity doesn't come at the expense of too much shadow detail.
One final positive about the KDL-40HX723's picture performance finds the set running with an input lag of between 39-41ms when using its game mode. This could be better, but it's unlikely that such a figure would lead to any significant detriment to your performance when playing console or PC games.
The main flaw in the KDL-40HX723's picture is that the backlight can look a bit uneven – particularly in the bottom corners – if you don't calm it down considerably from its preset level. Patches of extra brightness can also occasionally be seen when watching 3D, thanks to the extreme brightness the screen defaults to in 3D mode. The good news is that you can iron out the vast majority of these inconsistency issues without over-compromising dynamism.
Another issue is that the KDL-40HX723 does demand considerable effort to consistently get the best from its picture potential, thanks to the numerous processing options available. It's tempting just to turn every bit of processing off, but if you do it quickly becomes apparent that some of the tools - motion compensation, advanced contrast and some elements of the noise reduction in particular - can really improve the way pictures look.
Given that tolerances to video processing differ from person to person, the only thing anyone who buys a KDL-40HX723 can do is go through everything one step at a time to see how they feel about what each processing element does.
One last negative concerns the KDL-40HX723's effective viewing angle, as the backlight inconsistencies increase and the overall contrast range decreases pretty rapidly once you start watching from angles beyond 35° or so.
Sony KDL-40HX723: Sound, value and ease of use
The KDL-40HX723's audio performance is acceptable, but nothing special. It sounds absolutely fine under relatively tame conditions, but when pushed by any sort of action scene, the speakers start to sound harsh and compressed, with dialogue sounding shrill or becoming overwhelmed.
There's not enough bass or enough dynamic range in the upper register to handle trebles convincingly at high volumes. At least the cabinet doesn't start to buzz when pushed hard, though.
The KDL-40HX723's £1,300 price tag makes it pretty expensive by 40-inch TV standards, especially when you consider that no 3D glasses or Wi-Fi USB dongles are bundled.
However, although it takes work to get the best out of it, the KDL-40HX723 is an excellent picture performer in both 2D and 3D mode, as well as being fearsomely well equipped with multimedia/online video streaming features and picture tweaking tools.
Ease of use
The KDL-40HX723 is a mixed bag where ease of use is concerned. One of its strongest points is its remote control, which uses an unusual curved fascia and mostly logical button layout to good effect.
The electronic programme guide for surfing the digital channel list is nicely done too. There are no adverts on it and a small version of the picture continues to play while you browse the listings.
The listings themselves are cleanly presented, well organised and respond quickly to commands.
The onscreen menus also have much to commend them. The way the picture shrinks to accommodate twin axes of menus focused around the screen's bottom right corner, for example, is clever, as it enables you to keep watching a full version of the picture while you look for the feature you're after.
The main problem with the menus is that they are difficult to navigate to get to the feature you're after. The icons along the screen's bottom aren't always particularly helpful in explaining what features they lead to and there are too many of them for comfort. Even getting to the basic picture adjustment options is a chore.
The KDL-40HX723 could do better when it comes to explaining its myriad features, too. There's no paper manual to speak of, yet the onscreen one is brief with its explanations, and – worse – it's seldom interactive. In other words, you seldom get an explanation of a feature when you highlight it as you do with recent TVs from Samsung and Panasonic. Instead, you have to manually find a feature in the onscreen i-Manual.
Sony KDL-40HX723: Verdict
Sony desperately needed to get 3D right with the KDL-40HX723 after the mess that was the 3D performance of its EX723 models. So it's good to find the set boasting an effective 400Hz refresh rate that manages to greatly reduce the crosstalk problems of the EX723 models.
The KDL-40HX723 also goes a bundle on other picture processing, including X-Reality Pro to boost the quality of duff source material, multiple noise reduction systems and various contrast boosting circuits as well as a system for improving colour blends and two or three tools for adjusting sharpness.
It's also loaded with multimedia tools, including DLNA networking and Sony's excellent online video-on-demand service.
The complexity of the KDL-40HX723's picture settings makes it a TV that's potentially not for the technologically faint of heart, but thankfully the rewards for your set-up efforts are extreme, with 2D and 3D pictures that are among the best seen to date.
Sony has sorted out its 3D gremlins for the KDL-40HX723, resulting in 3D pictures that are now among the best from any LCD TV. The set is also a mostly excellent 2D picture performer and is especially impressive at upscaling low-quality standard-definition sources. Its multimedia support is good, too, while Bravia Internet Video remains arguably the most watchable online TV service.
While the basic principles of Sony's latest onscreen menu system are clever, the way they're implemented feels long-winded and complicated. This situation is not helped by the fact that you need to spend quite a bit of time in the menus fine-tuning all the video processing tools.
There's a little backlight inconsistency, but you can usually calibrate this down to a very low level. Finally, given the KDL-40HX723's price, it would have been nice to have found at least one pair of 3D glasses bundled.
The KDL-40HX723 marks a considerable and welcome return to form for Sony, firmly putting to bed any thoughts that the brand might have forgotten how to do 3D well. It's a very polished and enjoyable 2D performer, too, and sets new standards when it comes to presenting low-quality sources such as compressed internet video feeds.
Add in comprehensive multimedia and online source support, and the KDL-40HX723 amply justifies its slightly intimidating price tag.
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