Sony KDL-55EX723 £1600
14th Nov 2011 | 16:05
App-packed 55-inch Edge LED is hugely impressive with 2D
The Sony KDL-55EX723 is an advanced attempt at a living room all-rounder, with a super-slim 41mm depth, online goodies galore and a 3D mode, though you will have to add the glasses yourself (Sony now sell them for as little as £60); think of it as a chance to upgrade to 3D in the future, and one reason why this is in Sony's 'Essential' Series of Bravia TVs.
That slim depth is down to the employment of Edge LED backlighting, though there are clues as to why this behemoth sits atop Sony's Essential EX Series; it requires a USB dongle to link to a Wi-Fi home network, while the two-tone mirrored metallic/gloss black design doesn't hold a candle to pricier Sony sets. The biggest problem in terms of value, however, it this set's lack of 3D specs in the box.
Sony's use of differently named series of Bravia TVs can be confusing; while this 'Essential' EX723 model includes 200Hz and 3D capabilities, the step-down – but almost identically named – EX524 models, don't have either.
Its stable-mates include the 46-inch Sony KDL-46EX723, 40-inch Sony KDL-40EX723, 37-inch Sony KDL-37EX723 and the 32-inch Sony KDL-32EX723.
The lower-end EX524 Series ships as the 46-inch Sony KDL-46EX523, 40-inch Sony KDL-40EX523 and 32-inch Sony KDL-32EX523. More basic performances comes from the EX320 Series and entry-level CX523 Series.
A class above the KDL-55EX723 itself is Sony's 'Network' NX723 Series, which boast a slimmer panel and Sony's 'monolithic' (i.e. rather plain, black) design as well as an integrated Wi-Fi module and, of course, both Freeview HD and 3D – this time with 3D specs in the box. Sizes comprise the 46-inch Sony KDL-46NX723 and 40-inch Sony KDL-40NX723.
If you want Sony's best value all-rounder at this huge 55-inch size, save up an extra £500 and plump for the KDL-55HX823, Sony's flagship in its 'Cinematic' HX Series that manages a much better handling of 3D material and tougher (read: child-proof) 'gorilla' glass.
For well over a grand we expect more from Sony. The first gripe is a lack of built-in WiFi, which means trailing a cable from a broadband router – or taking the plunge and buying a UWA-BR100 Wi-Fi adaptor from Sony.
The second, and by far the most serious, complaint is the KDL-55EX723's lack of 3D spectacles. Although we were supplied with a pair for the review, it's verging on a scandal that there are none in the box as standard. We imagine most 3DTVs are sold to families, who then have to invest in a few additional pairs – so surely one pair should be included. How does Sony think the nation is going to catch the 3D bug if no one gets to watch it in the first place?
For some, the lack of 3D gubbins won't matter – and given it's actual 3D performance, that's perhaps almost all users.
Being able to spec-up a TV, or indulge in a little plug 'n' play future-proofing as and when it's affordable lends expensive items like the KDL-55EX723 a modular feel that we like, in theory, but it's just not fitted with the necessary hardware for that to happen.
If you spec-up the KDL-55EX723, its two USB ports start to look a little scant. The Sony-made CMU-BR100 webcam and mic kit for Skype attaches via USB, 3D glasses are rechargeable via USB, a hard disk to record from Freeview HD uses USB (a specific one, no less), and that Wi-Fi adaptor … you guessed it. At least the KDL-55EX723 does have a 3D transmitter inside, unlike last year's Bravias, saving a possible fifth USB-connected add-on.
Accessories aside, the KDL-55EX723's ins and outs are on the money, although the rear's connection panel itself isn't recessed enough to make us 100% confident that wall-hanging won't cause some inconvenience. Back there is the Ethernet LAN port, an RF input for the Freeview HD tuner, an RGB Scart, component video, a digital optical audio output (for hooking-up the KDL-55EX723 to a AV receiver), and three HDMI inputs (one of which is Audio Return Channel compatible).
Very close-by, but recessed into the KDL-55EX723's slim side are two USB slots, a Common Interface module, a fourth HDMI, a headphones slot and, oddly placed – but in a good way – a 15-pin D-sub connection for a PC.
We'll delve into Sony's smart TV hub, Bravia Internet Video, in the next section, but for now, know that it's one of the best around – largely thanks to the appearance of BBC iPlayer, Sky News, LoveFilm and Eurosport. Surfing the net on the TV is an option, as is the streaming of digital files from both USB sticks and computers on the same home network.
Picture-wise, the KDL-55EX723's X-Reality picture processing suite includes various strength settings for MotionFlow XR 200 (an anti-blur feature that consists of a 100Hz refresh rate and a scanning backlight), some digital noise reduction options (primarily for Freeview) and calibration-friendly tweaks to both gamma and individual colours.
Key to the KDL-55EX723's success or otherwise against those cheaper, only slightly smaller plasmas is its behaviour with 3D. That's where it falls down – and not just because of the lack of 3D specs.
Our run-through of Avatar on 3D Blu-ray caused too many double images and ghosted edges to make this a candidate for a 3D home cinema. That's a real shame since Edge LED panels have generally caught-up with their plasma brethren in 2011 in producing highly watchable 3D images – including on Sony's other TVs – but here it's a bit of a mess.
Switch to a selection of Sony-made clips and trailers on the TV's 3D World app and it's the same story; sequences from Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows were cleaner and more watchable, but lacked much depth, while footage from the 2010 World Cup was just horrible; anything not in immediate focus was blighted by a double image; Capetown's Green Point Stadium appeared to contain 60,000 spectators and at least the same again in ghostly figures.
All a bit of a letdown, though there's little to complain about when it comes to 2D. Standard definition channels are really enjoyable, with the KDL-55EX723 upscaling well to produce plenty of detail, albeit within an occasionally noisy image. We watched BBC1's Football Focus, which was strewn with low quality archive FA Cup footage, and although we spotted artefacts the picture never once become ugly or unwatchable. On a 55-inch screen that's really quite something.
Hi-def channels sparkle, with a higher degree of detail and some awesome colours – 3D might be underwhelming, but the set's X-Reality picture processing is something of a 2D magician. It's the panel that's responsible for decent contrast – both peak whites and deep blacks – though it's the colour palette that reigns during Bad Teacher on Blu-ray, with skin tones sparkling, colours well saturated and subtle shades carefully melded.
Despite the 200Hz failing to help much with 3D, it cleverly prevents much in the way of blur or loss of detail and edge definition. We were also impressed by the lack of judder and general fluidity of sweeping and immensely detailed panoramic sequences in 24p material on Blu-ray.
Sound, value and ease of use
The KDL-55EX723 comes with an optical audio output for taking sound from the Freeview HD tuner and iPlayer to a home cinema system, Use it – the onboard speakers are woefully thin. Able to muster just about enough for clear dialogue, high volumes merely serve to underline how incapable of bass and mid-range the stereo 10W speakers are.
Let's not pretend this is a cheap TV; selling for £1,599 on Sony's website, we found it online for as low as £1,240 at the time of writing. Either way the KDL-55EX723 is an expensive choice, but good value? We're not so sure about that.
With no Wi-Fi module or 3D specs, there are far better value options around if both are important to you.
Ease of use
We don't care too much for the 'new and improved' user interface on the KDL-55EX723. The familiarity of the Xcross Media Bar found on the PlayStation 3 has here been sacrificed for a string of identical icons and shortcuts along the bottom.
Each contains a pop-up list of choices as it's scrolled over, but actually finding what you want can take some time – especially as the carousel of icons reverts to a default start point every time it's returned to. The aim of this design is to give some screen real estate to whatever live source you're watching, but it's a sacrifice too far in our opinion.
Unlike its core GUI and mixed bag of pictures, the KDL-55EX723's online dimension is as good as it gets – and is perhaps the set's highlight. As well as the standard Bravia Internet Video platform, Bravia Widgets are also in place. Despite the later only consisting of Facebook and Twitter feeds that occupy a portion of the screen alongside a live channel, the service as a whole is nothing short of outstanding – and it's not just because of the genuinely engaging content.
It's the gorgeous design that we love best about Sony's broadband-powered efforts; a simple grid template is applied to each and every service to the extent that everything works in a uniform manner, and once one app has been mastered, operating another is easy.
One widget we're not that enamoured by is the KDL-55EX723's open web browser, which is slow to operate and doesn't play web-based Flash videos.
It's better handled by the MediaRemote app for iPhone, which allows far easier URL entry and general text. Although the app proves useful for surfing, the physical remote isn't in dire need of a digital upgrade; its unusual concave design, button placement and good build quality make it one of the best around.
Track ID is a nice feature that integrates with the Bravia Internet Video platform; press a button on the remote whenever music plays during a live broadcast and – if connected to a router – the KDL-55EX723 will find the track details from the Sony-owned Gracenote database.
In our test it correctly identified the tiniest snippet of intro music from a BBC HD broadcast as Shining Light by Ash. Once it's found the title, track and associated albums, it's then possible to search the apps in Bravia Internet Video – the KDL-55EX723's smart TV platform – for any mentions. You can even Tweet the track title, though we seriously doubt whether anyone ever has.
It works, but only by keywords; we were presented with nine results for 'Ash', 'Shining' and 'Light' keywords in the Moshcam app, 64 in Dailymotion, and three in blip.tv. A sole clip from Moshcam of the Irish Britpoppers live in Sydney's Metro Theatre was hidden among short videos of the Northern Lights, a promotional video for a torch-light and some footage of, err, some geese. In flood-light. Nice idea in theory.
Sony's treatment of Freeview is also worth noting. It's immaculate, and though it can be a tad slow to respond to commands from the remote, it's clean, easy to understand and simply integrates the basic recording features.
At 55-inches we're firmly in plasma territory, but can this Sony knock the original gas tech from its perch?
That could be tricky; this 55-inch LCD TV is a step-up choice in terms of size, but only five inches bigger than a host of 50-inch plasmas from the likes of Panasonic, Samsung and LG, many of which sell for as little as £800. Crucially, all of them offer better 3D experiences, and for as little as half the outlay.
Access to BBC iPlayer is just the start; the KDL-55EX723 adds some excellent apps and functionality to Bravia Internet Video, but the way it upscales to fit this 55-inch panel is extraordinary.
Add a 2D performance that is as close to perfect as on any TV this size and the KDL-55EX723 could be the answer for those after a cinematic, versatile TV to wow in the living room.
No 3D specs? No Wi-Fi? The KDL-55EX723's stature isn't matched by the contents of its box, though arguably this is a 3DTV only in name – it's 3D pictures are either so underwhelming, or so uncomfortable, that we'd recommend you head elsewhere for any kind of 3D action.
Expensive, but worth it for 2D performance, the KDL-55EX723 is nevertheless not the all-rounder we'd hoped for. An engaging online dimension, some awesome 2D Blu-ray and notable upscaling aside, the picture performance is blighted by some troubling 3D images.
Elsewhere it falls short of its modular design by making it tricky to accessorise, but the main problem is a lack of 3D glasses, which for this kind of money is hard to understand.
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