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Open any electronics catalogue and there's a plethora of features leaping out of starry blobs at you — 100Hz! LED! Eco! — but there's one feature that hasn't really cracked the popular consciousness yet: wireless. One of the first TVs on the market that featured a wireless connection was the Sony ZX1. It's been on the market about six months now, and has since seen a significant price drop. Is it time to splurge on a wireless TV?
While Samsung and LG are pretenders to the throne, Sony has been king of the design hill for some time now. We'd have to think long and hard before we came up with something "ugly" that the company had produced — impractical maybe — but virtually never in the league of "plumber's crack disgusting". (Feel free to comment below if you disagree). But with that lovely image fresh in our minds, we bring you the Sony ZX1.
As far as effortless sophistication goes, the Sony has it. It shares the premium look and feel of another luxury TV (and the only OLED on the market), the Sony XEL-1. You get a gloriously understated bezel underpinned by a chrome stand. And thin! The ZX1 is only 9.9mm at its thinnest point. Of course, like the glass in ancient cathedrals it's much thicker at the bottom — at 28mm. This makes it almost as thick as the Samsung UA40B7100 http://www.cnet.com.au/samsung-ua40b7100-339296054.htm, which has the added "disadvantage" of having the tuner on-board. You see, the Sony comes with an external media box, which is itself fairly unobtrusive but does come with a flip down lid for added incognisance.
As the TV is wireless it makes sense that the remote is also, it's RF and essentially a black version of the model that shipped with the EX1.
The ZX1's main selling point is its wireless capability. While third-party wireless HDMI solutions have been struggling, on-board wireless is making a better fist of it. Interesting;y, the ZX1 uses the same 5Ghz Amimon wireless technology featured inside Belkin's abandoned FlyWire product.. However, unlike other wireless products that we'll see this year, the Sony can only transmit at 1080i — 1080p signals are downscaled and then loaded up the pipe. While the TV will accept a 1080p native signal via the HDMI port on the unit itself, this does make the wireless seem obsolete.
When it comes down to it, the Sony ZX1 is essentially a Samsung "LED" TV in a different box. You see, both TVs are made at the same plant and both feature the same white LED "edge-lighting". Of course, both the design and electronics are different but they are very similar TVs.
In terms of picture processing, the ZX1 uses the MotionFlow 100Hz engine for judder removal and the older Bravia Engine 2 (now up to version three). This is in concert with a smattering of connectivity options including three HDMI (in addition to the one on the TV) on the media box, a component input, a USB port for viewing photos, and a composite input. While there is an on-board HD tuner there is no optical output to connect the sound from the tuner to an external amplifier.
To be truthful, we were a little disappointed by the performance of the premium ZX1 set. While most content was replayed without question there were some niggles that appear to stem from the wireless technology. The most obvious problem: blurring.
Blurring is a problem that plagued LCDs for many years, until pixel response times became fast enough to be almost indistinguishable from that of plasmas. Now it appears that Bravia Wireless 1080 has put the technology back a step or two. Blurring was evident on pretty much all fast-moving content: from sport on the on-board tuner to games. As a result, we wouldn't recommend this TV to anyone wanting to use it for either of those two activities. However, if you wanted to bypass wireless and plug a HDMI cable directly into the TV you'd lessen the blurring quite a bit.
Watching movies, however, was great. While there was a little bit of noise on the King Kong DVD, contrast and colour were good. While fast movement may vex the screen it is able to hold most other images very well. It managed to track the planes as they flew around the Empire State Building — though strangely there was some minor colour banding in the clouds which is a problem we usually see on plasmas.
Detail, as you'd expect from an LCD, was excellent. And as a result HD sources like the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray looked great. Image processing was very good too, with very little artefacts appearing. Following on from this, black levels were relatively deep enough, with plenty of clarity and depth. However, there was one problem we observed: backlight clouding from the corners. This is a problem we saw with the pre-production Samsung screens.
In our synthetic tests, we got a mixed bag that showed the good and bad of this TV. The results were very clean on HD noise test. Though the TV failed the jaggies test, but this wasn't a result of the wireless, as we got a similar result when it was plugged into the media box. It appears that interpolation isn't the issue with the wireless system, just speed.
Lastly, the sound is average for a Sony — the speaker not only looks like something you'd find in a drive-in, but it also sounds like one. Dialogue was quite cupped and bass response was practically non-existent. And if you don't use the stand you won't have sound at all as the speaker is mounted into it. The lack of an optical output doubly hurts, now.
The ZX1 is a frock for the Oscars without a celebrity in it. It looks great, it shows a lot of technical promise, but performance in its most critical area — in this case wireless — is a let down. Honestly, if we were looking to buy a slim TV we'd look instead at the latest crop from Samsung.
While rear wireless speakers are currently a hit, and essentially practical, we can see wireless TVs facing more resistance. The simple reason for this, as we see it, is that it's not useful. You still need to connect the unit to a power source, and if you're not looking to wall mount the unit it's a total waste. While it may suit the 1 per cent of people whose antenna port is in the wrong place — wouldn't it be cheaper to just get it moved?
Unfortunately, this is the latest in a line of less-than-exhilarating TVs from Sony, and so we look forward instead to what we think will be an absolute winner for the company — the Z5500 — which shares a similar design and what appears to be a much improved MotionFlow 200Hz engine. While it lacks wireless, this is no big deal, as wireless is a bit of a gimmick at the moment anyway.
The ZX1 originally appeared for AU$7399, but has now dropped to a little more affordable price of AU$5499. Yet even at this price it's still not able to compete.