Sony Bravia KDL-NX800 review: Sony Bravia KDL-NX800

Sony KDL-NX800 series
Sony's MotionFlow dejudder mode has just two options.

Sony did tweak its picture setting memory scheme a bit, giving you the welcome capability to apply your settings to just the current input, or globally to all inputs. The choice works with any of the three basic picture modes, Custom, Vivid, or Standard, so you could conceivably have three different sets of picture settings for each of the inputs. There are also seven separate Scene modes--including Game, Cinema, and PC--that, annoyingly, aren't accessible via the main picture menu. You can also apply settings from each mode to either the current input or all inputs. The result is a relatively confusing, albeit staggeringly customizable, array of settings. We're willing to bet that folks who care deeply about having different settings for every input/situation will be OK with the complexity. To make things simpler, pressing the Theater button on the remote engages the Cinema scene.

Sony KDL-NX800 series
The main picture menu now includes an option to apply settings from any mode to all inputs (Common) or individually.

More advanced picture settings are available, and Sony thoughtfully provides separate "Reset" options for the standard and advanced picture settings menus. They include four color temperature presets and full white balance controls for further tweaking, two kinds of noise reduction with three strengths each, a CineMotion option that affects the TV's 2:3 pull-down, a seven-step gamma control, and quite a few additional options--most of which should be left off for optimum picture quality. Thankfully, Sony's text explanations help demystify what the settings do.

Sony KDL-NX800 series
The advanced picture menu gets its own Reset button.

Sony includes four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, and a "Full Pixel" option that displays 1080-resolution content without any scaling or overscan. We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which is the fault of the channel or service, not the TV. You can also apply your aspect ratio settings to all inputs or just the current one.

Other features: We were pleased to see a two-step power saving option in the Eco menu that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption. Sony also includes a room lighting sensor, a mode to turn off the screen but leave the sound on, and another mode that automatically turns off the TV after a set period of inactivity. New for 2010 you can elect to switch the TV off completely using a power switch on the side that eliminates its standby power draw--which is negligible anyway, so the switch is sort of pointless--and also choose whether the TV remains "awake" to download automatic updates.

The NX800 incorporates the TV Guide onscreen EPG electronic programming guide, which can display a grid of information for antenna and cable channels However, people who tune primarily with an external cable or satellite box will probably use their box's guide instead; therefore, the TV Guide won't be useful for most NX800 series owners and we didn't test it for this review.

Sony KDL-NX800 series
Sony's onscreen manual is unusually well done, and even includes relevant graphics.

We'd also like to mention that the 2010 Sony offers an excellent onscreen user manual that makes exploring the TV's features a breeze. Its chapters and sections are easily accessible and provide illustrations when necessary. There's also a prominent product support information section with Web site and phone numbers along with the set's serial number and software version to aid communication with customer service reps. We also appreciate the option to enable automatic updates when the TV is turned off.

Sony KDL-NX800 series
The back panel has two HDMI inputs and a smattering of other jacks.

Sony KDL-NX800 series
The side panel offers a pair of HDMI ports as well as one PC and component-video input.

The NX800's connectivity is complete enough, but the company arranged the ports in an unusual way. It split the four HDMI inputs evenly, mounting two on the back panel and two on the side, an arrangement we feel provides a good balance of more and less temporary connection options. The side panel also gets the VGA-style analog input for PCs; a USB port for music, photos, and video; and an AV input with component or composite video. The rear panel gets a composite video input, an RF input for antenna or cable connections, the Ethernet port, and some analog audio connections.

This year's set is Sony's first foray into the world of edge-lit LED-based LCD since the underwhelming KLV-40ZX1M. The KDL-NX800 certainly improves upon that model, but still won't be counted among the best-performing HDTVs of 2010. Its black level performance fall short of most other TVs in its price range, and its trade-offs in uniformity are typical with other edge-lit displays we've tested, although its overall color accuracy is solid. Aside from its capability to make backlight fluctuations an option rather than a necessity, the KDL-NX800's picture is roughly equal to that of Samsung's edge-lit LED sets from last year, complete with the glossy screen.

TV settings: Sony KDL-52NX800

We found the Sony's most-accurate out-of-the-box setting to be Cinema, despite coming in at a somewhat bright 55 footlamberts. After calibration, the display tracked the target 2.2 gamma well (averaging 2.21), and maintained a smooth grayscale with one major exception: it dove into severe blue in very dark areas (10 percent and lower), and no adjustment we made could help.

For our comparison and image quality tests, we lined the Sony NX800 up alongside a few other flat panel models from 2009. From the edge-lit LED-based LCD camp, we included the Samsung UN46B7000 and the LG 42SL90, while the local dimming LED-based models were the Samsung UN55B8500 and the LG 47LH90. We also included Sony's standard-backlit KDL-52XBR9, along with our reference plasma, the Pioneer PRO-111FD. We chose to watch "The Informant!" on Blu-ray this time around.

Black level: Compared with the other sets in our lineup, the Sony NX800 delivered a somewhat lighter shade of black after calibration, with the exception of the LG SL90, which was significantly worse overall. In dark scenes such as when Mark Whitacre calls Shepard from the Econo Lodge parking lot in Chapter 10, or the night sky at the beginning of Chapter 17, black areas and shadows on the XBR9 and B7000 were just a bit darker than on the NX800. Also, as expected, the local dimming sets and the Pioneer plasma had even darker black levels. The Sony looked slightly more natural when looking at details in than details on the XBR9 did; however, it was not markedly better (and in some cases worse) than on any of the other sets.

Our calibration of the NX800 involved disabling the Auto Contrast Enhancer feature, which when engaged can improve the set's black level performance quite a bit. Like the Samsung B7000, the NX800 in Auto Contrast mode dimmed its entire backlight in darker scenes and raised it in brighter ones in a way that was distracting and ultimately detrimental. In dark scenes, the bright areas, such as the white exterior and lights of Mark's house in Chapter 1, looked duller and had less impact while shadow details, such as trees and shrubs, appeared less distinct. For these reasons we left the Sony's Auto Contrast setting off.

Color accuracy: Overall, the Sony turned in a solid performance in this area, with the major exception noted above: bluish black areas. The issue was common to all LCDs in our lineup to some extent, but the NX800 fared the worst with blue tinge creeping further into shadows and areas slightly brighter than true black. On the plus side, skin tones and other colors looked natural in scenes that weren't extremely dark. In Chapter 3 when Mark looks out over his stables in the morning light, for instance, his face appeared quite close in color to what we saw on our reference, without the slight yellowish tinge of the XBR9. The Sony's primary and secondary colors were solid, and saturation looked as rich as we expected, albeit not quite as impressive as on sets with deeper black levels.

Video processing: The Sony KDL-NX800 doesn't allow for much tweaking of dejudder processing, supplying only Off, Standard, and High options for its MotionFlow control. As expected, we preferred to turn off the Sony's processing with film-based sources like most Blu-ray movies, which looked too smooth and video-like in the other two settings. We did prefer Sony's lowest-dejudder mode, Standard, to the equivalent modes from Samsung and LG because it didn't introduce as much smoothing and thus delivered a less videolike look. One good example of why came during Chapter 5, as the camera tracks Mark striding across the office; the LG and Samsung sets looked as if the camera was gliding by on rails, while the Sony preserved some judder. Of course, the Samsung sets let you tweak that smoothness as much as you'd like, which in our book is the best way to handle such video processing.

We did notice artifacts in all of the Sony's dejudder modes, as usual; as Mark removes his jacket in front of the blinds, for example, we could see a slight disturbance around his profile, sort of like a subtle halo, which became less subtle (along with much smoother and less film-like) when we watched the same scene in High. Artifacts in Standard weren't overly objectionable, however.

Motion resolution tests on the NX800 revealed performance on par with other 240Hz sets, such as Sony's XBR9. With MotionFlow processing engaged in either mode, the NX800 registered between 900 lines and 1,000 lines. When we turned it off, that number fell to between 300 lines and 400 lines. Its 1080i deinterlacing was also par for the course; the NX800 handled both film and video-based sources properly, although passing the film test required engaging the CineMotion Auto 1 setting. As usual, seeing any of these effects in program material, as opposed to test patterns, was difficult.

Uniformity: The Sony was somewhat worse at maintaining an even picture across the screen than many of the other sets in our comparison. The NX800's most obvious issue was slight brightness variations in pans across lighter fields, like an overcast sky for example, which appeared more prominent along the edges but was also visible in the middle. We also noticed that on the black screen behind the credits, the edges, especially along the bottom, appeared a bit brighter than the rest. When seen from off-angle, the Sony's blacks became brighter and more washed out, to about the same extent as with other LCDs, and reddish/bluish discoloration also set in.

Bright lighting: Sony opted to use a glossy instead of a matte screen throughout most of its 2010 lineup, including on the NX800. As a result, the Sony's bright-room performance fell short of matte sets like the XBR9 and the LG LH90. Bright objects in the room, such as windows facing the screen, appeared brighter and more distinct on the Sony's screen, although they less so than on the Samsung and LG SL90s' screens. The NX800 preserved black levels slightly better than the LG SL90, but not as well as the Samsung or the XBR9.

Standard-definition: With standard-definition sources, the NX800 turned in a mediocre performance. It delivered every line of the DVD format, although details were a bit softer than we saw on the Samsung UNB7000. However, it didn't reduce jaggies from diagonal lines as well as either Samsung or LG SL90. Noise reduction worked well to remove noise and other artifacts from low-quality material, and the Sony did engage 2:3 pull-down correctly, albeit a bit more slowly than the other sets.

PC: Via analog RGB, the Sony looked excellent with only some very slight flicker in the highest frequency test patterns to differentiate it from HDMI, which was as perfect as we'd expect from any 1080p LCD displaying a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution signal.

Before color temp (20/80) 6369/6453 Good
After color temp 6196/6484 Average
Before grayscale variation 65 Good
After grayscale variation 109 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.635/0.338 Good
Color of green 0.305/0.599 Good
Color of blue 0.163/0.066 Average