Sony KDL-32R400A review: Jack of all trades, master of none

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

2 stars 1 user review

The Good The Sony KDL-32R400A has solid black levels, shadow detail, and color saturation for a small, budget TV; it handles 1080p/24 properly; it has very good sound quality for a TV of this size; and its design is sleek and modern.

The Bad Its so-called 120Hz refresh rate does almost nothing to improve picture quality; it has more blurring than competing sets; inaccurate colors and sparse features.

The Bottom Line The Sony KDL-32R400A is the closest you'll get to a jack-of-all-trades performer in a 32-inch television.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 5.0
  • Performance 6.0
  • Value 8.0

If you're looking for a small TV for a bedroom or game room, it can be tempting to simply buy the cheapest thing you can find, but it's worth shopping around a little. While some people would discount Sony for being unnecessarily expensive, the KDL-32R400A demonstrates the company can make an affordable TV that still performs well.

Despite a couple of drawbacks, its picture quality, led by black levels and shadow detail, is quite good overall for a small, budget LED LCD. Moreover its sound is among the best we've heard at the price. It's not quite the value proposition of a set like the Vizio E320i-A0, since it lacks smart TV among other features. Still, the TV's benefits outweigh its negatives, making the R400A an excellent buy for small-screen TV seekers who prioritize performance and design.

For a cheap TV, the R400A certainly doesn't look like one -- a little old-school, perhaps, with its mirrorlike touches and piano-black bezel, but not "cheap." Compared with last year's Toshiba 32C120U with its thick, thick bezel, the Sony looks positively svelte. It looks very similar to the Samsung EH4000, in fact, with the addition of a mirrored panel at the bottom and a bifurcated stand.

The remote is compact with fairly high usability and even has a dedicated set of play controls for the onboard media player.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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Sarah Tew/CNET

With its lack of smart-TV features, the Sony menu system is fairly skeletal with a standard white-on-black look. Apart from the Scene functionality, which is only accessible with the Options button on the remote -- and is needed for Game mode -- most features are available from the Home menu.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Full-array
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV No Internet connection No
3D technology No 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes, No
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: 720p resolution

The Sony R400A is a 720p television with very few features to speak of, which is quite understandable for a model selling under $300 on the street. That 720p resolution is fine for a TV this size; 32 inches is too small to take advantage of 1080p.

The R400A uses a direct LED backlight that doesn't make for a better picture than standard LCD. "Direct" refers to the fact that the LEDs are placed behind the screen, as opposed to along the edge. Fewer LEDs are required, which is one reason why direct sets are cheaper than edge-lit ones.

Despite a supposed 120Hz refresh rate, the R400A behaves much like a 60Hz TV. Like the "120Hz" Vizio E01-A1 and Toshiba L2300U, the Sony also neglects to include smoothing/dejudder processing. You might not like the so-called Soap Opera Effect such smoothing induces, but with most other 120Hz TVs it's an option you can turn on or off. With the Sony, it's simply not available.

Since the R400A lacks the smoothing and motion resolution performance we expect from a 120Hz TV, we're sticking with the 60Hz specification in the table above, despite what Sony says.

The R400A includes a USB port for playback of MPEG movie files (though not MP4), MP3 audio files, and JPEG picture files.

Picture settings: You get the usual Standard, Vivid, and Custom picture settings with this TV, with the addition of the customary Scenes, but they are hard to find (you'll need to hit the Options button). Despite working well on most other Sony televisions, Cinema actually restricts some options here and isn't any more accurate than the General mode. There are no tweaking options beyond the standard Brightness, Contrast, Color, and so on.

Connectivity: The KDL-32R400A has "three HD inputs" according to the marketing blurb, which in practice means it has two HDMI ports (including one MHL for screen mirroring and charging a smartphone) and a component input. In addition to these you get a composite input, a USB port, and a digital optical output.

Picture quality
For a television of its size the Sony KDL-32R400A boasts very good black levels and shadow detail. It did very well in providing blacks equal to or deeper than those of last year's best 32-inchers, the Samsung EH4000 and Toshiba 32C120U.

Where it fell down, though, was in color fidelity; while greens and skin tones were natural, in yellow and cyan the picture noticeably suffered. Cyan was rendered as blue and yellow was more of an orange.

It wasn't even color that was the worst part, but movement. While Sony has tried to amend this with the LED motion feature, the TV looks appreciably soft when movement occurs onscreen, whether the feature is switched on or off.

Sound quality was a highlight, with one of the best sound systems I can recall in a 32-inch TV. No replacement for a two-channel system, of course, but plenty good enough for the panel's intended purpose as a bedroom or game room TV.

Comparison models (details)
Toshiba 50l2300u 50-inch edge-lit LCD
Samsung UN32EH4000 32-inch full-array LCD
Toshiba 32C120U 32-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P50S60 50-inch plasma
Vizio E420i-A1 42-inch direct LCD with local dimming
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

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