Sony R520/R550 series review:

Sony's big-screen bargain

If you're a gamer, you will be interested to know that the dedicated Game scene (accessible by pressing the Options key) offers the least input lag.

Connectivity: For an inexpensive model, the company provides you with sufficient connections for most home theater setups. First is a generous four HDMI ports (one with MHL), followed by two USB inputs and a hybrid composite/component jack. Wired and wireless internet connectivity is also offered.

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Picture quality
The Sony R520/R550 may not have the most accurate color according to the graphs, but it had a very pleasing color balance all the same, with the gentlest red push in skin tones. Black levels were good, but not spectacular, while shadow detail was actually quite good. Video processing was about where it should be for a TV at its price level, and bright-room performance was solid. Overall this is a very good performer compared to its competition.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Sharp LC-60LE650 60-inch LCD
Samsung UN55F7100 55-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P65S64 64-inch plasma
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch local dimming edge-lit LCD
Vizio M551d-A2R 55-inch local dimming edge-lit LCD
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 65-inch plasma

Black level: The Sony mustered a decent depth of black, but in our tough lineup it was defeated in this regard by everything else except the Samsung 7100. Blacks were also a little blue compared to the competition, with the Sharp LE650, for example, giving a much more neutral and also deeper shade of black.

The Sony had one of the better shadow detail performances in the opening shot of Chapter 12 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," however, with more of the valley behind the army visible. On the other hand, the faces of the wizards didn't pop quite as much as on the superior Panasonic S64 plasma.

In other scenes the blacks and shadow detail were similar between the Samsung F7100 and the Sony R520, with the Sony just getting the edge. At the 50:37 mark, Neville Longbottom stands on a bridge watching the dark wizards come out of the mists and the Sony was able to give better shape to the approaching shadowy figures versus the Samsung's whose combatants were still lost in brown soup.

Color accuracy: The colors of the R520 were fair, with just a little bit of a red push to skin tones, and while this was actually quite a pleasing effect, in other ways red could appear reticent. At the beginning of Chapter 4 of the visually stunning "Samsara," you see two Tibetan monks welcoming the day while overlooking a valley, and the vermillion of the monks' robes stood out best on four of the assembled TVs, with the Sharp and the Sony R520 looking a little unsaturated.

The flesh tones of the R520 were very pleasing, whether it was the weathered skin of a Tibetan mother or the pasty white flesh of an infant ("The Tree Of Life," 39:19) the Sony didn't tip into ruddiness or unnatural pinkness whereas the M-series Vizio did. There was a family resemblance between the two Sony TVs for skin tones with of Jessica Chastain's mother in "The Tree of Life" looking very similar on both the R520 and the more expensive W900, but when it came to other colors it was easier to see the turquoise of her dress on the costlier television.

Green response also differed depending on the film' where in "The Tree of Life" the grass that sprouted out so abundantly in each scene looked similar on both Sonys and the Panasonic plasma, the green of the mural in "Samsara" (10:37) looked a little oversaturated on the R520 compared to the other televisions.

There was one artifact we noticed on the R520 and it's one it shared with a 2012 Samsung TV. Last year we looked at Samsung's UN40ES6500 and noticed that when there were moving images in front of a gray background the edges of the object would bleed blue. We hadn't seen this issue again until the appearance of the R520, when during Chapter 12 of "Deathly Hallows" the Sony showed the exact same issue: as Potter ran between columns trying to talk to the Grey Lady, the edges also trailed. As with DLP's rainbow effect, once you notice it, you start looking for it, but in our experience with the Sony it happens much more rarely.

Video processing: The Sony was decent but not spectacular in this category, and as usual with Sony you'll have to choose between maximum motion resolution and correct 1080p/24 film cadence.

The TV was able to get 1200 lines of resolution with Motionflow engaged in both Standard and High, but in addition to the soap opera effect, both modes exhibited significant artifacts such as blurring and "twinkling" in the cross-hatched patterns. Without Motionflow's smoothing enabled, the R520 only managed 300 lines of resolution, but did correctly handle 1080p/24.

When watching films, the Sony is able to resolve 1080i content quite well with only some very minor shimmering artifacts with the 1080i Film Resolution Loss Test, and no moire in the stands.

If you're using this screen for gaming, then enabling Game mode will reduce the lag to 31.9 milliseconds which is a "Good" result compared to other flat-panel TVs. The Sony W900 and X802A scored significantly better, but 31.9 isn't half bad.

Uniformity: There were some minor black uniformity issues with the model we received on the bottom left hand side, but these were only visible on a pure black screen, not during program material, not even "Harry Potter." The otherwise superior Sharp LE650 had worse uniformity issues than this television, with more visible blotchy patches.

Off-axis was pretty good on the Sony, with only a slight loss of contrast and decent, if not worse, black levels when viewed from the sides.

Bright lighting: Among the group the R520, was one of the least reflective, with the Sharp being ridiculously anti-reflective and matte. The Samsung F7100 had the brightest picture, but at times, even in a lit room that sets uniformity, problems such as spotlighting in the corners would be visible on a black screen.

The R520 has a better bright room picture than the Sharp with better brightness and contrast.

Sound quality: The R520's speaker system was reasonable and, as with most televisions, it sounded better with dialogue than it did with music. When playing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand," we identified a lack of bass response which caused the propulsive bass guitar line to become lost. Nick Cave's voice was also shrouded and not very present -- but even so, the overall effect was much more pleasant than the Samsung 7100 with its flatulent bass.

Lastly, one of the best things about the Sony's sound, apart from decent amounts of dynamics in action movies, was that it goes a lot louder than its competition (Sharp, Vizio) without exhibiting distortion.

3D: As mentioned above we didn't review the 3D portion of this TV's picture quality, because our review sample was a non-3D R520A model, not the 3D-equipped R550A. That said, we expect the TV to perform as well as the KDL-W802A in this category. See the 3D section of that review for details.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.008 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.3 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.182 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.603 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 2.538 Good
Avg. color error 4.209 Good
Red error 5.716 Poor
Green error 4.527 Average
Blue error 1.706 Good
Cyan error 6.275 Poor
Magenta error 1.589 Good
Yellow error 5.443 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 31.9333333333333 Good

Sony R520 calibration notes

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