For the first time, Sony is offering 3D in a mid-range television with the release of the EX720, but this isn't something that the company is focusing on. In fact, it seems almost shy about the 3D capabilities of this screen and while the TV has a 3D sensor on-board, Sony doesn't even bundle a set of glasses with it!
Instead, and probably more sensibly, the company is devoting its attention to the "smart" capabilities of the unit.
While Samsung has spent the past year showing off, Sony seems to have done very little in the design department when it comes to its middle-of-the-range models. If you're familiar with Sony's EX range, which debuted in 2010, then you'd feel right at home with the styling of the EX720. It's a two-tone design with a metal and glossy finish.
The remote control is the same as last year's, but frustratingly it doesn't feature a settings button and it's easy to hit "Return" instead of the direction keys.
A smart TV in everything but name, the KDL-40EX720 offers most of the features you'll find in its competitors, with only "apps" notable by their absence. The Sony features IPTV channels including catch-up from ABC, SBS and Plus 7 and our favourite concert series Moshcam. Web-browsing is also included, though it's harder to control than the PlayStation 3 browser, which itself isn't a preferred method of perusing the net. The TV includes two "widgets" — Facebook and Twitter — but we think the term "widgets" went out with Vista, and we look forward to more "apps" being added in the future instead.
The TV includes the company's replacement to the Bravia Engine 3 named "X-Reality", which Sony says "analyses each scene to give optimum colour and contrast".
The television also includes 3D playback, and this year the 3D receiver is integrated into the TV rather than being an external add-on. What's not included, though, are any pairs of 3D glasses. Prices start from AU$99 for one pair. It begs the question: is Sony already ashamed of this feature?
Also optional is the AU$100 wireless adapter, but we'd rather see wireless than 3D on-board.
We began our tests with a handful of synthetic tests designed to push the limits of a television's processing engine. Starting with the HQV 2.0 Blu-ray we found that the EX720 was good with video-based content, but not so hot with film (24p), as moire effects were visible. The TV also found it difficult to switch between different video modes in a timely fashion — but not something you'll often encounter in the real world. Happily, the TV is effective at HD noise reduction and reproducing upscaled content.
Switching to DVD yielded much the same results, with video content effective but film showing some hiccups. Noise reduction was still good, but the colour-based tests and compression artefacts reduction tests did fail. What does all this mean? The TV is better, as most full-HD TVs are, at reproducing native 1080p content than it is at showing SD or below. Some models further up the chain — the HX and NX — add the X-Reality Pro engine intended to optimise web-based content, and this may be better for IPTV and DVD watching.
When we played MI3 on Blu-ray, we found that the tracking shot opening Chapter 8 ("The Bridge Scene") was smooth, but as the camera pulls up alongside the car the rails in the background showed obvious moire effects. The scene is also effective at testing a television's noise reduction, and the sky shot as the drone flies off wasn't as exhilarating as it was on the Samsung D7000 and instead showed a typical-though-acceptable amount of grain.
When watching the King Kong DVD we appreciated how much the TV managed to clean up the Universal logo at the beginning of the movie, it's usually full of jaggies. The Sony's noise reduction capabilities continued as the unit was able to get rid of "ringing" noise effects in the final climactic scene. Colour was vivid, though a little too red for our tastes.
However, the TV did have some issues with this monkey-laden disc. When pitched against our reference TV, the Panasonic VT20, we noticed the picture was a little muted and exhibited a lack of dynamics overall. In addition, leading edges had a tendency to blur rather than look crisp; there was a distinct lack of "motion resolution". While this manifested itself as general haze and not a blur, the TV's not the best at communicating when things get hectic. This was also noticeable during basketball on free-to-air, so if you're a sports fan this isn't the best TV to get.
Typical LCD problems such as reduced contrast when viewing from the side (off axis) or backlight clouding (where black areas look blotchy) weren't as much of an issue, and the Sony is one of the better performers in this regard.
As for the smart TV functions, we've long been a fan of Moshcam and still think its inclusion as a music concert channel is one of the best reasons to choose Sony's TV platform, based purely on content. The other is Music Unlimited, but unfortunately it was still down during the testing period as a result of the global outage.
The browser is functional but flaky, as it doesn't support Flash and gave us a "Memory Limitation Error" at one point. We still don't see why people would choose to use a TV browser over a laptop or smartphone. Same goes for Twitter and Facebook — "T9"-style texting and navigation with a numeral-only remote is horrible.
Sound quality is, unfortunately, one of the poorer aspects of this television, which is especially disappointing after we witnessed the exceptional sound system on the ultra-slim Samsung D7000. Action movies were left feeling flat, and though comprehensible dialogue had a hollow quality. We say: invest in a decent sound system if considering this TV.
Lastly, we borrowed a set of 3D glasses in order to watch some Monsters vs. Aliens, and found 3D wasn't up to the level of the best TVs we've seen. There was considerable crosstalk, and moving images suffered from flicker. The Sony's poor showing should act as an added disincentive to actually going out and buying a full set of glasses for the family.
While the TV sits at the top of the company's EX range it lacks that certain sparkle helping it to stand out. Design-wise, the company is using last year's blueprints and picture quality isn't a huge step up on last year. While we like some of the new functionality, it's not always successful, as is the case with the new browser and the "child that lives locked in the attic" of 3D. As a result, the EX720 is a solid, though not especially exciting, mid-range television.