Sony R520/R550 series review: Sony's big-screen bargain

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars 6 user reviews

The Good The Sony R520/R550 series offers excellent value and very good picture quality among its peers; relatively deep black levels; matte screen leads improves bright-room performance; attractive styling with unique stand.

The Bad Even better values are available; colors aren't entirely accurate; the different Smart TV interfaces can be confusing and a little slow; Screen mirroring didn't work on our sample.

The Bottom Line The big-screen Sony R520/R550 series offers the best value you'll see from the company this year.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Value 8.0

While Samsung released dozens of different televisions in 2013, Sony did what turned out to be the right thing by announcing just four series of TVs at the start of the year. Though more followed later on , the initial distillation did lead to a less-confusing lineup in 2013.

The most mainstream series in that lineup are the "R" models, namely the R520/R550. The two are basically identical but for 3D on the R550. The series is solid performer, and while it does have a couple of other gimmicky features, it succeeds in providing excellent bang for the buck.

While the R520/R550 may be in Sony's mid-range, it manages to outperform more-expensive TVs such as Samsung's UNF7100 . The Sony's black levels are pretty good and colors are pleasing even if they're not super-accurate.

On the other hand, competition is fierce. The Sony R520/R550 can't quite match the picture quality of the cheaper Sharp LE650 , our top pick among big-screen LED LCDs. And while Vizio's E1i-A3 can't match either one for picture quality, it's cheap enough to also deliver better overall value than the Sony. On the other hand, the R550/R520 out-styles both, culminating in a package that makes it an easy recommendation for anybody who wants a little something extra in a well-priced big-screen LCD.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sony KDL-60R520A, but this review also applies to the 70-inch size in the R520A series as well as the three sizes in the KDL-R550A series listed below. The only difference between the R520A and R550A series, according to Sony, is that the R550A has 3D capability. Otherwise all sizes in both series have identical specs and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series ( details )
Sony KDL-50R550A 50 inches
Sony KDL-60R550A 60 inches
Sony KDL-70R550A 70 inches
Sony KDL-60R520A (reviewed) 60 inches
Sony KDL-70R520A 70 inches

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Design
Our first impressions after unboxing and setting up the Sony were "nice." The company always has a knack (Get it?) for fetching design, even in a mid-level TV like this. With large screen sizes, a thin frame around the screen makes a TV seem even more impressively "all picture," and the R520/R550 accomplishes this feat with aplomb. The all-black, sharp-edged rectangle contrasts nicely with the rounded chrome ribbon stand. A pleasingly low profile completes the rakish look. Compared to similar large LCDs from Vizio and Sharp, the R520/R550 is in another league.

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Sony's remote is quietly accomplished in its own right, with its trademark friendly ergonomic touches that lend it a premium air. These include the convex surface, the large, finger-friendly cursor control and the distinct, logically arranged button groups. Color is used sparingly but well, from the large red Netflix button to the blue Home key.

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The menu system is refreshingly basic. Instead of the animated, graphics-heavy interface found on step-up TVs, everything is accessed from a simple, text-based menu tree that allows you to see everything at a glance. Shortcuts abound in both the primary and the secondary Options menu, allowing easy access to major functions. Overall the feel is well integrated and logical, if a bit plain-looking.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Active 3D glasses included 2 pair
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: RVU support for DirecTV receivers

Features
When Sony first pitched the R series we were told it was the "workhorse" of the 2013 TV lineup, and that's about right. The edge-lit LED backlight lacks the excellent local dimming and Triluminous technology on higher-end models like the KDL-55W900A and KDL-65W850A, so there's little expectation of similarly premium picture quality. It also doesn't have the so-called "dynamic edge" dimming of the W802A , although that TV didn't perform nearly as well as the W900A in our tests.

Sony's specifications use the term "Motion Flow XR240," but according to a Sony rep we spoke to, the panel has a native refresh rate of 120Hz . The other 120 apparently comes from flim-flammery . Despite the difference of 240 space bucks XR units, and the lack of an "X-Reality PRO" moniker, the R520/R550 demonstrated similar video processing performance to the W802A.

The R550A models support 3D while the R520A models do not. The R550A's 3D is of the passive variety , and like so many other so-equipped sets they include four pairs of 3D glasses. We didn't test Sony's glasses or 3D this time around since we reviewed an R520A sample instead, but we expect it to perform the same as we saw on the W802A.

Sony is touting RVU compatibility on the R series, although for some reason step-up 2013 Sony TVs don't have this extra. Through it, "DirecTV customers with the Genie Whole-Home HD DVR can access their set-top box, DVR, and on-demand services right from the KDL-R550A TV without the need for additional equipment." Sony assured us that DirecTV doesn't charge an additional fee, monthly or otherwise, for the TV to access the box. For more info, check out DirecTV's support page for more; we didn't test it for this review.

In combination with your smartphone or tablet the TV can perform all sorts of futuristic entertainment acrobatics. The R520/R550 can mirror any content on the phone's screen, for example, with the exception of some rights-protected material, via Miracast (Wi-Fi). We tested the screen mirroring function with both a HTC One X+ and a Samsung Galaxy S4 but it worked with neither phone. Luckily, the Sony will also work with Send to TV in supported apps like YouTube.

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Smart TV: Sony is mixing things up (in a bad way) by offering three separate Smart TV interfaces with the R520/R550. The first and slowest is the Sony Entertainment Network which aggregates video content, music and apps on a side-scrolling page. Unfortunately it's painfully slow compared to the other interfaces, so once you discover them, that big "SEN" key on the remote probably won't get used as often.

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The second interface is the best and fastest--so naturally it's also the easiest to miss. Dubbed "Internet Contents," it appears above Applications in the main menu. Shortcuts to major apps like Netflix and Amazon are on tap, and hitting "Internet Video" serves up a large, easy-to-use page with all of the other dozens of apps you can use with this television.

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The third interface is Opera TV, which also offers movies and even more apps, in yet another side-scrolling menu. Some people may want to stick with the main five or so Applications shortcuts -- or failing that, the Netflix shortcut button on the remote.

Compare Sony's apps offering with that of its competition here.

Picture settings: While the Sony comes with the usual Contrast controls, Picture and Scene selection modes, it doesn't come with any advanced color or grayscale adjustments. As such, the TV was quite easy to set up, but this also means it isn't possible to get it as close to "reference" level as you can with more expensive sets. See the calibration notes for more detail.

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