Sony KDL-32R400A review:

Jack of all trades, master of none

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

Black level: Black levels are definitely the Sony's shining (darkly gleaming?) feature, with pleasingly deep shades of black for a budget TV. True, it can't stand up to more expensive, larger models, but nothing else we've tested in this size can either.

Compared directly against the 32-inch Toshiba and Samsung, the Sony consistently provided better black in dark scenes, with punchier pictures, and was able to perform as well in terms of unearthing shadowy details. On the single most challenging scene in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," (45:55) an army amasses on a hill in almost total darkness. The Sony was one of the better performers, with black bars and enough detail to inform the viewer that there are figures on a hill overlooking Hogwarts. On the other end of the spectrum was the 50-inch Toshiba 50L2300U, where you have to guess what it is that you're looking at: broccoli? A moldy orange? The GEICO gecko in the dark?

Meanwhile, the Vizio E420i-A1 was able to perform better than the Sony here. Of course, the excellent Panasonic TC-P50S60 plasma was able to trump them all, but its shadows were a little green-tinged.

Further evidence of the Sony KDL-32R400A's ability to resolve shadow detail came at the 56-minute mark, when Neville Longbottom sports a sweater with fine detail. While on the neighboring Toshiba 50L2300U any detail is lost in shadow, on the Sony you can make out some of the individual threads. Of the group, the Vizio E420i-A1 was best at this test, with a clear pattern visible.

Color accuracy: Color is fairly problematic for this TV, for while it is a well-saturated set, secondary color accuracy is an issue. Primary tones are very good though, with natural flesh colors, blues, and greens. It's cyan where the problems lie, and this was evident at the start of Chapter 5 of "The Tree of Life" as the mother sits on the grass. While the grass behind her was the same color as on most of the televisions in the lineup and her hair and skin looked natural, it looked as though she were wearing a blue dress instead of a turquoise one.

Switching to the sumptuous visuals of "Samsara," with its gold-encrusted temples, the Sony's issue with yellow also manifested itself. While on the Vizio and Panasonic TVs gold actually looked yellow, in comparison the Sony made those areas look like American cheddar. Gold is supposed to be edible, but not like this.

Video processing: The television is supposedly a 120Hz set, but in most ways it behaved like a 60Hz model. The exception was with 1080p/24 material. In the aircraft carrier sequence we use as a test from "I Am Legend," the television correctly showed the cadence of film. On the other hand it did appear a bit smoother than on the Sony W900A, which also does correct 24p cadence.

Motion resolution was the same as that of a 60Hz set. Without its LED motion setting, the Sony was able to do 300 lines. With LED motion turned to on, I was able to squeeze about an extra 50 lines of resolution out of the R400A, and while it reduced some of the motion blur the pattern was still pretty blurry. You could see that up to about 600 lines on the test pattern the image was ghosting quite badly and only up to 350 was clear. Additionally, enabling LED motion (backlight scanning) also made the picture darker.

The softness that I saw on movement was also detectable during program material. During "The Tree of Life" (2:09:27) when the mother swings her child around at dusk, as her arm moved past the screen it blurred significantly. This level of blurring wasn't evident on any other screen in the lineup.

On the 1080i test the Sony R400A had a significant amount of artifacts in crosshatched pattern but was very good at the slow pan of the stadium.

Uniformity: Uniformity was mostly good, with a lack of big blobs of light leakage spoiling dark areas of the picture. There was one small area in the top right about the size of a quarter that was a little lighter than the rest, but it was usually undetectable.

Off-axis performance was good compared with the rest of the group, with only a slight drop in color and contrast. Last year's Toshiba 32C120U had the best performance of all the LCDs.

Bright lighting: The R400A's semimatte screen didn't present any problems with reflections or contrast; it displayed good pictures in a well-lit room. Only the S60, with its lack of louver filter, and the Toshiba 50L2300U's semiglossy screen had a problem under these conditions.

Sound quality: For a small, inexpensive TV, the Sony had surprisingly good sound quality. It outperformed every other TV in our testing lineup near its price (the Samsung and the Toshibas) and featured intelligible speech, explosions that didn't break up or compress, and decent music playback without distortion.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.012 Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.2 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 2.200 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.974 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.281 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 2.251 Good
Avg. color error 4.109 Good
Red error 2.871 Good
Green error 2.21 Good
Blue error 3.995 Average
Cyan error 6.484 Poor
Magenta error 1.523 Good
Yellow error 7.569 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 350 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 46.4 Average

Calibration report for Sony KDL-32R400A

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