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Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720 review: Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720

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There's a lot to like about the KDL-NX720 series. Sony's least expensive TV with that lovely Monolithic styling, it still costs a mint but will reward investors with some of the best 2D images we've seen on any LCD with an edge-lit LED backlight. And despite lacking an app store and Vudu, Sony's Internet selection is chock-a-block with video from sources both mainstream and otherwise. As long as you don't care about its picture quality in 3D, the Sony KDL-NX720 series competes well against the best edge-lit LED TVs on the market.

Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720
7.9

Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720

The Good

The <b>Sony KDL-NX720</b> series produces deeper black levels than any edge-lit LED-based TV we've tested. It evinces relatively accurate color, has a uniform screen for edge-lit LED, and can properly handle 1080p/24 sources. It has a beautiful, thin-profile exterior design with flush Gorilla Glass, it has built-in Wi-Fi, and its Internet suite includes numerous streaming services and widgets.

The Bad

The expensive KDL-NX720 shows some blooming artifacts and crushes detail in shadows, and its image deteriorates more noticeably than usual when seen from off-angle. The design of its menu and Internet services is lackluster, and Sony does not include 3D glasses. Its 3D image is poor, with significant crosstalk, flicker when dejudder is turned off, and extreme intolerance to head tilt.

The Bottom Line

Albeit expensive and plagued by 3D image issues, the beautifully styled Sony KDL-NX720 has better picture quality than most other edge-lit LED-based LCD TVs.

Editors' note: The Sony KDL-NX720 series was originally reviewed in September 2011. In October it received the Editors' Choice Award as our most-recommended LCD TV. Click here for more details.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Sony KDL-55NX720, 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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-46NX720 46 inches
Sony KDL-55NX720 (reviewed) 55 inches
Sony KDL-60NX720 60 inches

Design


When turned off, the black screen is virtually indistinguishable from the black bezel.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Design highlights
Panel depth 1.1 inches Bezel width 1.3 inches
Single-plane face Yes Swivel stand Yes

The KDL-NX720 is simply beautiful. It looks basically the same as the XBR-HX929, about which we crowed: "the best-looking TV this year aside from Samsung's thin-bezel UND6400 and UND8000/7000 models." The NX720, with its thinner panel and bezel, is even nicer-looking than the HX929 in our book.

When seen from the front it earns the company's Monolithic moniker: the panel is a featureless black slab when turned off, thanks to its one-piece face and darkened glass. We also love the low-profile swivel stand with its thin metal base, although it feels a bit wobblier than some TVs during swivels.


The low-profile stand makes the TV seem even more minimalist.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 8.6x2 inches QWERTY keyboardNo
Illuminated keys 0 IR device control No
Menu item explanations Yes Onscreen manual Yes

We're big fans of Sony's later TV remotes, although the NX720's clicker is a step down from the flush-button, backlit wand of the HX929. Its concave surface and strategic button placement guided our thumb naturally to the big cursor button, which is ringed by six keys (although four would do--Guide and Synch Menu will be underused on most setups). The biggest change is a prominent red Netflix button, and we love having instant access to Watch Instantly. Other dedicated keys of note include those for Qriocity, Internet Video, 3D, I-Manual (for the excellent built-in manual), and TrackID.

Sony revamped its Home menu this year, ditching the PlayStation 3/PSP-style XMB interface for a new scheme that creates a main horizontal bottom row and a right-hand vertical column flanking a smaller, inset TV image (tweakers fret not; the TV image expands back to full size during picture adjustments). The menu shows all of the horizontal options at once, but there are simply too many of them, 10 total: Settings, Widgets, Applications, Qriocity, Internet Content, TV, Media, Inputs, Favorites/History, and Recommendations (which is removable...a good thing since it's in-menu advertising). None of the main horizontal choices is labeled until you select it, so you must either remember Sony's quirky iconography or scroll a lot to find the right one. Each option has its own column of suboptions, many of which are hidden until you scroll, for a total effect that can easily become overwhelming.


Like Sony's HX929, the NX720 has third-party advertising in its menu. Happily, it can be disabled.

Submenus for Options and Favorites/History, as well as those dedicated buttons, help a little, and we appreciate that the numerous "small fry" niche video services are shunted into a submenu. Overall, however, we feel the company could have done a much better job of organizing the TV's numerous features and options.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional 3D glasses (TDG-BR250/B, $70 list); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (CMU-BR100, $150); Position Control, Distance Alert, and Presence Sensor; Gorilla Glass face
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Screen finish Glossy Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Unlike the significantly more expensive HX929 with its full-array LEDs, the NX720 uses an edge-lit LED scheme. Its local dimming does allow it to brighten or dim certain areas of the screen independently, a feature Sony calls Dynamic Edge. Check out our comparison of LED backlights for more, and the Performance section below for specifics of how it looks in action.

Sony uses the term "MotionFlow XR 240" to describe this TV, but the panel has a 120Hz refresh rate. The "240" derives from a scanning backlight.

Sony doesn't include 3D glasses with the NX720, but at least it doesn't require purchase of a separate emitter to handle 3D. We do wish Sony's newer, lighter 2011 glasses used Bluetooth and not IR transmission technology for syncing. They are rechargeable, however, and charge up very quickly.

This model offers built-in Wi-Fi, saving you the cost of a USB dongle or other wireless alternative.

Less important but still mildly noteworthy are a few extras designed around a sensor that can respond to viewers in the room. The Presence Sensor automatically turns the TV off if it fails to detect a viewer in the room (see the EX720 review for details); the Position Control is said to automatically optimize picture and sound by detecting viewer position; and the Distance Alert disables the picture and emits a warning sound if a child approaches the screen. Aside from noting that the latter somehow differentiated children from adult viewers, we didn't test any of these features.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Streaming and apps "="">Other: Gracenote TrackID; CinemaNow; numerous niche video services; Sony Entertainment Network (formerly Qriocity) VOD and music; Yahoo Widgets; Picasa, Photobucket, Shutterfly; 3D Experience
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant Yes Hulu Plus Yes
Vudu No Pandora Yes
Web browser Yes Skype Optional
Facebook Yes Twitter Yes

There are plenty of online choices for just about everyone, and Sony is among the leaders in our comparison. Unfortunately, as we noted of the company's Blu-ray players, Sony's standardized interface for most of the major video services, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant, is worse in general than those services' default interfaces, in part due to relatively small thumbnail images. On the other hand, having the same basic interface for each makes them relatively easy to learn.


Sony modifies the interfaces of many streaming services, including Netflix. We prefer the original.

The main service that's missing is Vudu, and while many other services (namely Amazon VOD and Qriocity) can duplicate Vudu's VOD offerings, none currently offers Vudu's 3D on-demand video or the superior image quality of Vudu HDX. We'd also like to see support for a major subscription music service, like Rhapsody or Napster, but doubt it's coming, since Sony is pushing Qriocity. The latter recently expanded from its VOD offerings to include a subscription music service, which is available on this TV. Note that while Sony recently renamed the service "Sony Entertainment Network," the quirky "Qriocity" remains on the menus for now.

We did a full writeup of the new Gracenote music identification service already, so we'll just include the conclusion here: "Despite its hiccups and occasional failures, we really liked the ability to identify music quickly and conveniently with the push of a button." There are also separate Video and Music searches powered by Gracenote that allow you to look up information on each, but don't yet lead to additional content.

The appeal of the numerous niche video services (Sports Illustrated, The Minisode Network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, video podcasts, and so on) is heightened somewhat by the ability to search across all of them. Unfortunately, that search doesn't include any of the mainstream services like Netflix, Amazon Instant, or YouTube, and is a pain to use with the TV remote.


Don't expect much of Sony's '3D Experience' yet.

Sony has also recently added a 3D video-streaming service to its online portfolio, although at the moment it's mainly short clips and the occasional old World Cup 2010 soccer match.

Sony's audio, widget, and photo service selection is top-notch--you get Slacker, NPR, and an exclusive classical music/video service (Berliner Philharmoniker); numerous Yahoo and FrameChannel (the second also being a Sony exclusive) widgets; and no fewer than four onboard photo-sharing options, if you count the Flickr widget.

Unlike LG, Samsung, and Panasonic, Sony doesn't have an "app store" for its TVs. The Yahoo widget service is where you'll find Twitter and Facebook, along with numerous even less useful things to have occupy your TV screen.

And, yes, the NX720 has a Web browser, although it's even slower and more annoying to use than the ones on Samsung and LG TVs. After a few minutes of frustrated waiting for it to load the Sony Style home page, we feel comfortable saying that it should be avoided entirely.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Picture settings "="">Other: Two local dimming settings
Adjustable picture modes 12 Fine dejudder control No
Color temperature presets 4 Fine color temperature control 2 points
Gamma presets 7 Color management system No

Sony divides its picture presets into two groups: General (with three choices) and Scene Select (with eight, including Auto). Two of the Scenes, Cinema and Game, have two separate modes of their own as well. The total number of adjustable modes crests the double digits, which should be enough for just about everybody.

The available adjustments themselves are somewhat sparse by today's standards. The company didn't add the option to adjust dejudder processing beyond the four presets, and unlike some competitors it doesn't offer a 10-point white-balance control or color management system. The local dimming function comes in two strengths, Low and Standard; the latter provides the best black levels and is what we used for critical viewing.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Connectivity "="">Other: Headphone jack; RS-232 port
HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 1
Composite video input(s) 1 VGA-style PC input(s) 1
USB port 2 Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

The KDL-NX720's input area, as on many thin TVs, relies on sideways- and downward-facing ports as well as a breakout cable for component or composite video (you can connect one or the other, but not both). The headphone output is welcome and rare among big TVs.


Along with 4 HDMI and 2 USB, the jack pack's best feature is a headphone port.

Performance
Deep black levels are the Sony KDL-NX720's main strength, and although it scored the same 7 in this category as the LG LW5600 and the Samsung UND6400 series, if we had to choose one of the three based purely on performance, it would be the Sony by a nose. Color and video processing are both very good, as is screen uniformity. On the other hand we wish we could enjoy those black levels from wider viewing angles, and anyone who cares about 3D will want to look elsewhere.

Among the NX720's numerous picture presets we ended up preferring Cinema for dark-room critical viewing, but it did exhibit dark gamma in the middle areas and a too-bright overall image for dark rooms. Our calibration using Custom improved gamma quite a bit and kept the excellent grayscale. We'd have liked a 10-point grayscale system to further hone both, as well as color management to dial in the primaries and secondaries a bit closer to spec, but overall the NX720 set up nicely. For our image quality tests we employed the lineup below and watched "The Green Hornet" on Blu-ray.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
LG 47LW5600 47-inch edge-lit local-dimming LED
Samsung UN55D8000 55-inch edge-lit local-dimming LED
Toshiba 47TL515U 47-inch edge-lit local-dimming LED
Samsung UN46D6400 46-inch edge-lit LED
Sony XBR-55HX929 55-inch LED with full-array local dimming
Samsung PN59D8000 59-inch plasma
Pioneer PRO-111FD 50-inch plasma

Black level: All told the NX720 delivered one of the deepest shades of black we've seen from any edge-lit TV, outdoing most of the other LCDs in our lineup and effectively tying the superb Samsung plasma in this department. Only the local-dimming HX929 and the Kuro delivered a consistently deeper black, and although the Samsung UND6400 and LG LW5600 came closest to the NX720, the Sony was still visibly darker. Evidence of those black levels was most obvious in the black letterbox bars and dark areas, like the sky above the mansion in chapter 4 (23:18).

We did see blooming in some areas, but it was minor. At 10:55, for example, the morning light from a bedroom window spilled over into the left of the bottom letterbox bar somewhat, and at 12:10 light from an open limo window again brightened a bar, this time on the lower left. Neither case was egregious, nor any worse than what we saw on the HX929, the LG, and the Toshiba. We didn't notice any major black-level fluctuations as scene brightness varied overall.

Shadow detail on the Sony NX720 was a comparative weakness, falling short of the others aside from the Samsung plasma. The fine near-black detail in the cheek and hair on the severed statue head (23:42), for example, was somewhat obscured. The NX720 also had the annoying habit of turning its backlight completely off during longer fades to black, a propensity it shares with the Samsung UND6400.

Color accuracy: The Sony turned in a very good performance in this area, delivering solid if unspectacular measurements compared with its closest compeditors, the LG and the UND6400. In program material it competed well, however, with accurate skin tones among Britt and the party chicks in chapter 2, and a nice neutral tone to the white walls of The Standard. Compared with the stellar LG and our reference Samsung plasma we noticed a slight reddish or too-warm cast in some scenes, like the room of the wake-up at 9:40, and a bit of blue in skin tones during bright scenes, but these issues weren't very noticeable, especially outside of a side-by-side comparison.

Near-black on the NX720 was not quite as neutral as we saw on the LG, the plasmas, or the HX929, but was still free of the overt blue tinge we saw on the Samsung LCDs and the Toshiba. Its deeper black levels definitely help in this department. They also, as usual, contribute to the NX720's very good saturation, which results in rich, lifelike color in brighter scenes.

Video processing: With Motion Flow set to the Off position, the NX720 correctly handled 1080p/24 film cadence. All of the other settings introduced some degree of smoothing (dejudder), although Clear came closest to Off, preserving a good deal of judder and keeping smoothness to a relatively low, albeit still easily discernable, level. As usual we wished for a Custom implementation similar to what Samsung provides, as opposed to having to select from presets.

Two of those presets, Clear and Clear Plus, use backlight scanning for maximum motion resolution. The other two, Standard and Smooth, do not, and come in at around 900 lines. As usual we couldn't tell the difference in normal program material between any of these settings, including Off.

Like the HX929 but unlike most other TVs we've tested, the NX720 failed our 1080i deinterlacing test, so you may see some minor artifacts in 1080i film-based material.

Uniformity: Our NX720 review sample, unlike most edge-lit LCDs we've tested, didn't show any major brightness variations across its screen. Looking at test patterns we detected slightly brighter edges along the bottom, but the difference wasn't visible in program material.

From off-angle, on the other hand, the NX720 lost black level and color fidelity quite quickly. From one couch cushion to either side of the sweet spot at our 8.5-foot seating distance, we saw the outer edge of the letterbox bar brighten significantly compared with the near edge. Areas of blooming also became, as usual, more apparent the farther we moved off-angle. On the other hand the LG and Toshiba were even worse from off-angle, the XBR929 about the same, and both Samsungs marginally better.

Bright lighting: The Sony's glossy screen was a liability when bright lights and objects reflected therein; those reflections appeared brighter than on any other set in our lineup with the exception of the HX929 (which has the same screen finish as far as we can tell). The Sony did preserve black levels quite well, however, outdoing the others in this department. As usual, the matte-screened LCDs from LG and Toshiba, as well as Sony's own EX720, looked best overall under the lights.

PC: The NX720 performed as well as we'd expect from a 1080p LCD-based TV with PC sources, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution source via VGA with no edge enhancement or softness in text.

3D: Like the HX929, the NX720 had its difficulties with 3D and, if anything, it performed worse than its more expensive brother. For the testing below we used the 3D Blu-ray version of "The Green Hornet" and the same comparison lineup as above.

First off we did notice visible flicker throughout the image, especially in brighter areas like the explosion at 7:21 and the walls of the garage at 8:33, when we turned off the MotionFlow processing. For whatever reason the flicker wasn't as bad as on the HX929, but it was still annoying and rendered the image unwatchable to our eyes.

With the HX929 our preferred solution was to turn on MotionFlow and set it to Standard, which eliminated flicker but introduced some smoothing (dejudder)--a tolerable if not ideal tradeoff. MotionFlow on the NX720 also removed the flicker, but its processing performed much worse in 3D than on the HX929. We saw significant stuttering and hitching with both settings (Standard and Smooth; both "Clear" options are disabled for 3D), especially in scene pans such as the hilarious fast-motion garage make-out sequence at 8:33. If we owned an NX720 we'd probably still watch 3D in Standard to avoid the flicker, but we wouldn't qualify that stutter as tolerable.

Both Sonys also looked much worse than any of the other sets when we tilted our head slightly to either side. Doing so caused the 3D illusion to disappear and unwatchable crosstalk to set in almost immediately, forcing us to keep our eyes almost completely level relative to the screen. We don't recommend watching 3D with much tilt anyway (when you lie on your side and watch, provided the TV can even handle it, you're likely to experience discomfort after a few minutes), but the Sony's intolerance for even the slightest tilt is an issue.

We saw neither flicker nor extreme intolerance to head tilts on any of the other active 3D sets. We saw both issues, on the other hand, when viewing 3D on Sony's KDL-46EX720.

We also noticed more crosstalk on the NX720 than on the HX929; for example in the pillars and ceiling of the garage and the exercise bike in the back of the wake-up room (10:17). Crosstalk on the NX720 was worse overall than on the other sets as well, although the UND6400 wasn't much better.

In its favor, and as expected for an LCD, the NX720 was also significantly brighter than any of the plasmas, with ample light output for even bright rooms, and colors looked fine in the default Cinema mode we tested.

Power consumption: The KDL-55NX720 is the second-most efficient TV we've tested this year after the power-miser HX929, and posted the same awesome 0.005 watt/square inch number.

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0002 Good
Avg. gamma 2.22 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3159/0.3321 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3142/0.3295 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3131/0.3312 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6526 Good
After avg. color temp. 6463 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 1.6052 Average
Green lum. error (de94_L) 2.0158 Average
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.1467 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2338/0.3376 Average
Magenta hue x/y 0.323/0.1497 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.425/0.5199 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 400 Poor
PC input resolution (VGA) 1,920x1,080 Good

Juice box
Sony KDL-55NX720 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 113.48 70.96 70.1
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.09 0.05 0.05
Standby (watts) 0.122 0.122 0.122
Cost per year $24.97 $15.65 $15.46
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good

Annual power consumption cost after calibration
Sony KDL-55NX720 CNET review calibration results
Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720
7.9

Sony Bravia KDL-55NX720

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7