Sony KDL-EX640 review: Sony KDL-EX640

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good The relatively affordable Sony EX640 offers deep-enough black levels for the money and commendable color saturation. The design is attractive and the menu system is easy to use.

The Bad We detected a couple of uniformity issues, black areas can look blue under lights, and shadow detail isn't up there with the better TVs. The wireless dongle takes up a USB port. The SEN portion of the Smart TV interface is so slow that it's kind of a waste.

The Bottom Line Sony's EX640 series is one of the better deals from the company, with decent picture quality and features for the price.

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6.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Value 7

When it comes to buying a TV, no matter how attractive the shiny flagship models may be, it usually makes the most sense to buy the midrange products. While you'd naturally assume that the more advanced models have better picture quality this isn't always the case. Sometimes you're just paying for more features and a worse picture.

If you're considering a Sony LED TV and the excellent KDL-HX850 is too rich for your blood, your choice comes down to the KDL-HX750 or the KDL-EX640 I'm reviewing here. After comparing the two directly I'd say it's a pretty easy decision. The EX640 wins because its picture is actually better than that of the more expensive HX750. Despite its spot as Sony's least expensive LED TV, the EX640 offers a very tidy picture for the money, with better blacks than the HX750 and the Samsung UNES6500, and well-saturated colors. Design is a high point, unusual for a midrange model, with a nicely textured finish. The only significant feature it misses is 3D, which should actually please some people.

While the Vizio M3D0KD is better in nearly every way, if you're looking for a TV by one of the "big four" TV makers, the Sony EX640 is a good buy.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the KDL-46EX640, 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.

Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-40EX640 40 inches
Sony KDL-46EX640 (reviewed) 46 inches
Sony KDL-55EX640 55 inches

Sony hasn't done anything drastic in the design department in 2012, and as a result, the EX640 series is none too different from last year's EX series. That is, until you get closer: the bezel is metallic and features a stippled finish not unlike a men's electric razor, and it actually looks quite classy. The stand is the standard black rectangle and features a swiveling base.

The bezel features a subtle yet distinctive stippled effect. Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a close-to-bog-standard model and now comes with a SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) button above the direction pad and a home button below. The menu system is different from the higher-end models' in that it's a simple white-on-transparent-black affair, while the other TVs feature the more sophisticated Sony XMB (cross media bar). I actually liked the simpler version better.

The remote control is simple yet powerful. Sarah Tew/CNET

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Wireless dongle included
3D technology No 3D glasses included N/A
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Earlier in 2012 I was quite excited to receive the new Sony HX750: hey, it was the second-best TV in the range at the time, so it should've been good, right? My corresponding disappointment with that TV's performance was, I believe, silently shared by some within the company itself. The Sony engineers I met with later explained that the 750 series should have been an "EX" in designation but was bumped up to HX, as it had 3D.

So, even given the significant price difference between the two, the features of the EX640 are still quite decent. This is an edge-lit LED TV that lacks local dimming, but does come with Sony's MotionFlow XR 240 engine. While that number may lead you to believe this is a 240Hz TV, the native panel refresh rate is actually 120Hz.

As I mentioned, the EX640 misses out on 3D playback, but do you really care?

The Sony Entertainment Network is an optional Smart TV interface that provides access to music and video. Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: The XMB interface is only offered on high-end TVs this year, but I didn't miss it because the simpler menus of the EX640 are even easier to use. The most-used apps are still within easy reach on the Menu page, and don't require booting into a new interface. From here you can access the big three: Amazon Instant, Hulu, and Netflix (Sony doesn't support Vudu). Of course, there is also the SEN (Sony Entertainment Network), should you also want access to the company's extensive movie and music offerings. Unfortunately we found that opening it was a very sluggish process -- the SEN interface took up to a minute to load.

For a full listing of Sony's Smart TV services, check out our super comparison.

The menu is simple but provides easy access to Netflix and Hulu. Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: For a midrange television the EX640 offers a good range of picture settings, even if the separate Scene modes are a bit buried in the menus. Unusually I found that the often-excellent Cinema scene mode wasn't as flexible as General, and hid access to the grayscale adjustments necessary for a good calibration.

Connectivity: For a TV under $1,000, the Sony actually offers a decent number of connections, with four HDMI inputs, two composite ports, a single component, and two USB inputs. Be aware that you'll need to use one of those USB ports for the included wireless dongle.

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