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Sony Bravia KDL-EX500 review: Sony Bravia KDL-EX500

Sony Bravia KDL-EX500

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
9 min read
> Of the four Sony LCD TVs we've reviewed this year so far, the KDL-EX500 is both the least expensive and the most impressive for the money. It lacks the thin chassis of its LED-based brothers, along with the eye-catching Monolithic design of the company's flagship models. It even lacks an Ethernet port for Internet extras, along with many of the more-advanced picture controls found on competing models in this price range. What it doesn't lack, however, is solid picture quality for an LCD, comparing well with both competing CCFL-backlit models and the edge-lit LEDs that cost much more. Among mainstream LCD TVs, the Sony KDL-EX500 is a very good value.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sony KDL-46EX500, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.


Sony Bravia KDL-EX500

The Good

Reproduced somewhat deep black levels; accurate color in bright areas; matte screen works well in bright lighting; solid picture adjustment options; streams video via USB.

The Bad

Dark areas tinged somewhat blue; benefits of 120Hz difficult to discern; some smoothing evident in 1080p/24 processing; fewer picture controls than some competitors.

The Bottom Line

The Sony KDL-EX500 LCD TV incorporates respectable image quality with essential features at a wallet-friendly price.

Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-32EX500 32 inches
Sony KDL-40EX500 40 inches
Sony KDL-46EX700 (reviewed) 46 inches
Sony KDL-55EX500 55 inches
Sony KDL-60EX500 60 inches


Two-tone gray and black separates the frame of the KDL-EX500 from the all-glossy-black pack of TVs.

Design highlights
Panel depth 4 inches Bezel width 2.2 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes

Appearing basically identical to the LED-based Sony KDL-EX700 from the front, the EX500 deploys glossy black on three sides of its frame and brushed dark gray along the bottom. Seen in profile, it's about 2 inches thicker than the EX700, for what that's worth. Though we like the EX500's subtle two-tone look and the way it eschews the all-black look seen on some competitors, to our eye it lacks that extra dash of panache found on, say, the Samsung LNC630 series.

The matching stand base supports a low-profile, swiveling stalk.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 8.6 x 2 inches Remote screen N/A
Total keys 41 Backlit keys 0
Other IR devices controlled No RF control of TV No
Shortcut menu Yes Onscreen explanations Yes

We also liked the EX500's remote control, albeit not quite as much as the slicker clicker that ships with step-ups like the KDL-NX800. The step-down remote loses those nice, flush plastic keys in favor of the standard raised rubber variety, backlighting goes missing, and you can't command other gear via infrared.

Sony's EX500 menu system is also markedly less slick than the XMB-inspired affair on step-up models, but it gets the job done well enough and conveniently makes lots of options visible at once to minimize scrolling. One omission is the ability to access the "Scene" picture presets via the menu; you'll need to use a dedicated remote key.

The straightforward menu system packs a lot of information onto the screen.


Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight N/A
3D compatible No 3D glasses included N/A
Screen finish Matte Refresh rate(s) 120Hz
Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes 1080p/24 compatible No
Internet connection No Wireless HDMI/AV connection No
Other: Streams videos, music and photos via USB

The main highlight here compared with less-expensive Sony LCDs is 120Hz processing--although the EX500 did fail our test for 1080p/24 (see Performance for details). More-expensive models like the EX700 offer Sony's streaming-video suite and LED backlighting, among other perks.

The EX500 does have the ability to stream videos via a USB connection, although, sans an Ethernet port, it can't stream from a home network via DLNA like the Samsung LNB630 series can. Sony's matte screen is also a plus in bright rooms, cutting down on reflections better than glossy versions.

The EX500 can play back video files from attached USB drives.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 8 Independent memories per input Yes
Dejudder presets 2 Fine dejudder control No
Aspect ratio modes -- HD 3 Aspect ratio modes -- SD 4
Color temperature presets 4 Fine color temperature control 2 points
Gamma presets 7 Color management system No

Sony divides its picture presets into seven "scenes," like Cinema, Graphics, and Sports, each of which, aside from "Auto," is adjustable. If you select the default General scene, you can choose from three more presets, called Vivid, Standard, and Custom, that are independent per input. The result should be plenty of memory slots for even inveterate tweakers. Said tweakers are sure to miss, however, the range of advanced controls found on the competing LCDs of Samsung and LG.

A few advanced picture controls are available.

Other features
Power saver mode Yes Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture No Onscreen user manual No

Sony's Eco menu offers the usual power-saving options, which limit maximum light output and allow the picture to be turned off completely, bringing power use down to just 23 watts. It's missing the presence sensor found on the EX700, however, and onscreen product support is limited to a page with contact and version info.

HDMI inputs 2 back, 2 side Component video inputs 2 back
Composite video input(s) 1 side S-Video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) stereo audio Digital audio output optical
USB port 1 side Ethernet (LAN) port No

Nothing major is missing here. Sony evenly divides the HDMI ports between back and side, and provides that one USB port for video, photos, and music.

Two of the EX500's HDMI ports reside on the back panel.

Two side HDMI ports is twice as many as normal.

The image quality of the KDL-EX500 series was impressive overall for an LCD, with superior uniformity and similar black level and color performance compared with edge-lit LED-based varieties. The accuracy of its color, particularly grayscale, was a strength, whereas video processing and slightly lighter blacks were a slight weakness compared with some competing non-LED models. We also appreciated the matte screen in brighter environments.

TV settings: Sony KDL-46EX500

As we expected, Sony's most accurate preset was the Cinema scene setting. It produced a relatively linear grayscale that was somewhat blue, particularly in darker areas; reasonable light output (50 ftl); and a 2.3 average gamma, which is very good compared with our 2.2 target. For our calibration we opted to use Custom instead Cinema, mainly because only Custom allowed access to the Advanced picture menu. The white-balance controls therein helped us tame the blueness and improve gamma somewhat, and delivered an even more linear grayscale throughout the brightness range to our 40 ftl max, with the exception of very dark areas.

We conducted most of the image quality tests that follow with the help of "The Blind Side" on Blu-ray.

Comparison models (details)
Samsung LN46C630 46-inch LCD
Vizio E470VL 47-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P46S2 46-inch plasma
Samsung UN46C6500 46-inch edge-lit LED
Sony KDL-46EX700 46-inch edge-lit LED
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The depth of black the EX500 displayed was good for an LCD TV, and though not quite as deep a what we saw on the LNC630, it definitely surpassed the depth seen on the EX700 and the Vizio, and more or less equaled the UNC6500. When the family picks up Michael after the basketball game, for example, the night sky over the house, the silhouette of the SUV, and other deep shadows seemed relatively dark and realistic. They also appeared deeper than those of the Panasonic S2 plasma in these scenes, although in other areas, like the black background behind the credits, the plasma had the advantage.

We also appreciated that details in shadows, such as the face of Michael in the back seat, the jacket of Sean in the front, and the shrubs outside the house at night as the car pulls up, all appeared relatively natural, neither too bright (as we saw on the S2) nor too dark and obscured (the LNC630). That said the EX700 and the Vizio looked a bit more detailed, although compared with those sets, the EX500's deeper blacks helped it look more realistic in shadows overall.

Color accuracy: Much like the C630 the EX500 came admirably close to our reference in this category, besting the others overall aside from the two Samsungs, which performed at about the same level in this category. When Leigh Anne meets to school rep in Chapter 9, for example, the two women's faces looked accurate and free of the slight bluish cast seen on some other sets, as well as the more golden tone of the S2.

Color saturation on the EX500, however, fell short of most of the others, and those faces seemed a bit pale, whereas other colors lacked a bit of punch and life. We doubt the difference would be obvious outside of a side-by-side comparison, however.

Primary colors were relatively accurate, if not quite at the level of the LNC630, and red in particular veered somewhat toward blue. Like other LCDs in our lineup, the EX500 also displayed that characteristic blue cast in black and near-black areas. It was more tolerable than the green of the S2 and the significantly more extreme blue of the Vizio and the Sony EX700.

Video processing: The Sony KDL-EX500 doesn't allow much tweaking of dejudder processing, supplying only Off, Standard, and High options for its MotionFlow control. As expected we preferred the look of Off best with film-based sources like most Blu-ray movies, which looked too smooth and videolike in the other two settings. We did prefer Sony's lowest-dejudder mode, Standard, to the equivalent modes from Samsung, Vizio, and LG, however, because it didn't introduce as much smoothing and thus delivered a less videolike look. Of course, with Samsung's adjustments you can dial in as much or as little dejudder as you like.

With MotionFlow turned off, the EX500 failed to correctly process 1080p/24 sources according to our standard test using the helicopter flyover from Chapter 7 of "I Am Legend." The cadence of film was evident, but so was some smoothing despite the indication of "Off." Compared with sets that handled this scene better, like the Samsung LNC630 and the Vizio, the pan over the aircraft carrier's deck looked a bit too buttery and not quite choppy enough.

With MotionFlow controls engaged, the EX500 turned in a score of between 500 and 600 lines in our motion resolution tests--respectable for a 120Hz set but not as good as the Samsungs. As usual turning it off reduced the score to between 300 and 400, and again, as usual, detecting the difference in blurring between the two settings was nearly impossible with normal program material, as opposed to test patterns.

Uniformity: Although uniformity was not quite as good as on the Samsung LNC630, the CCFL backlight of the EX500 beat the edge-lit LED backlights of in our comparison at maintaining an even image across the screen. It wasn't hampered in dark areas by amorphous brighter areas of the UNC6500, nor by the brighter edges of that TV as well as the EX700. We did see some minor horizontal banding in dark to midbright fields (0-30 IRE) but they were less obvious than the vertical bands of the Vizio or the UNC6500. Obvious bright corners were also not a problem on this TV.

From off-angle the EX500 was pretty good for an LCD, matching the LNC630, maintaining black-level fidelity better than the Vizio and not becoming as discolored toward blue as the LED-based models. By way of comparison, the Panasonic S2 plasma was essentially perfect in both off-angle performance and screen uniformity.

Bright lighting: Sony's EX500 has a matte screen, which serves it well in bright rooms where lights, windows, and bright objects cause reflections. Such objects appeared dimmer and much less distinct, and thus less distracting, than they did on the glossy UNC6500, for example. The EX500 also trounced the lowly Panasonic S2 at maintaining black-level fidelity under the lights. Overall it turned in the same very good performance as the similarly matte EX700, Samsung LNC650, and Vizio in this category.

Standard-definition: The EX500 turned in an average SD performance. It delivered every line of the DVD format, although details were softer than on comparison models. It reduced jaggies from diagonal lines relatively well, albeit not quite as well as the Samsung LNC630. Its noise reduction worked well to remove noise and other artifacts from low-quality material, and the Sony did engage 2:3 pull-down correctly.

PC: Though the Sony's PC image via HDMI was fine, with the expected full 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution and sharp text, we did experience a minor flaw via VGA, namely edge enhancement we couldn't completely remove with the available controls.

Before color temp (20/80) 6864/6817 Average
After color temp 6528/6527 Good
Before grayscale variation 364 Average
After grayscale variation 102 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.6268/0.322 Average
Color of green 0.2784/0.5944 Good
Color of blue 0.1487/0.0549 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Sony KDL-EX500 series, but we did test the 46-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the KDL-46EX500.

How we test TVs


Sony Bravia KDL-EX500

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6