Sony KDL-HX850 review: Sony KDL-HX850

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The Good The Sony KDL-HX850 delivers excellent picture quality for an LCD, with deep blacks and plenty of detail in shadows. Blooming was minimal, and both uniformity and viewing angle were very good. The Gorilla Glass front adds both toughness and good looks.

The Bad The HX850 is expensive compared with like-performing plasmas, and color tended somewhat toward blue.

The Bottom Line The Sony HX850 is a smart-looking Smart TV with sparkling picture quality, making it a front-runner for plasma-phobic videophiles.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7

In 2011 we reviewed two excellent Sony TVs in the form of the HX929 -- the best-performing LCD TV of the year outside of the Sharp Elite -- and the NX720, a more affordable yet still superb performer that earned our Editors' Choice Award. Our expectations were high for this year's HX750, but it turned out to be a disappointment. It was like getting tickets to see Led Zeppelin and instead getting reggae cover band Dread Zeppelin.

At least Dread has an Elvis impersonator in the band. Sony doesn't.

Get your lighters out, friends, because the HX850 is everything we were hoping for in the HX750: svelte looks, high performance, and a price tag much lower than full-array local dimmers like the HX929. While the HX850 is not quite as good as the HX929, the $500 difference in price makes up for that. Feature-wise Sony misses out on voice interaction and other fripperies, but that suits me fine; the emphasis here is on picture quality.

If you can't bear to buy a plasma like the amazing Panasonic ST50, you will pay more for the HX850 but I think you'd be quite happy with it.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch KDL-55HX850, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-46HX850 46 inches
Sony KDL-55HX850 (reviewed) 55 inches

Though the company has abandoned the name, Sony's TVs have featured a "Monolithic" design for some time, with a single sheet of glass across the face, and the HX850 shares this aesthetic. The glass itself is impact resistant Gorilla Glass, which should please Wii enthusiasts and couch-ridden soccer hooligans. The TV is surrounded by a subtle aluminum ring.

The TV is encircled by a thin, attractive sliver of aluminum. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

The stand looks like an arcane crucible with its curved arms, and I much prefer the stands on the new LG televisions. In previous years, Sony made an optional desktop stand available for the flagship models, which gave the TVs a sophisticated angular look. Sony makes a stand available for the HX850 ($179.95) which has a brushed-aluminum appearance, though it misses the speakers of previous versions.

The stand has an unusual curved stem. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

The remote handset is fairly basic but it's easy to use and does include a handy Netflix shortcut button.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 240Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: Direct Mode Wi-Fi hot spot; optional 3D glasses (model TDG-BR250, $50)

In comparison with its Korean rivals LG and Samsung, Sony has kept a lid on the feature creep with its 2012 televisions. The only new addition to the range is the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) interface and an attendant button on the remote. It's an aggregator of apps, movies, and music, and while it does look pretty, its content you can already access via the XMB (Xross Media Bar).

The TV itself features an LED edge-lit panel with local dimming, which is a cut-down version of the full-array system found on the HX929. Sony's dejudder engine MotionFlow gets a bump to "960" from the second-tier models' "480," and it uses a combination of a high refresh rate and backlight scanning to achieve this. The TV also offers the new Impulse mode, which "reproduces the original picture quality" to provide a "cinema-like picture, which may flicker." It does flicker, and as with the HX750, I don't recommend anyone use it.

Unusually, some of the "specs" listed on the company's Web page are actually features of the Sony Tablet S or other Android devices, and they aren't specific to this TV. Yes, you can "flick" your media to the TV from the tablet (any Sony TV will work), and use the Direct Mode Wi-Fi hot spot (any compatible Android OS 4 product) -- but you just don't need these two specific products to do them.

Unlike Samsung and Panasonic, Sony's 2012 3D TVs like the HX850 don't support the Full HD 3D standard, so this set is incompatible with other makers' 2012 active glasses that do, such as the Panasonic TY-ER3D4MU ($55) and Samsung SSG-4100GB ($20). To watch 3D you'll need to buy Sony's own specs, like the $50 TDG-BR250, which won't work with non-Sony 3D TVs.

Smart TV: The SEN is essentially an online store and offers downloads from among Sony's music and video offerings. You can access apps like Hulu and Neflix, but why you'd take the time to load the SEN interface instead of pressing the Netflix button on the remote I'm not sure.

The Sony Entertainment Network features apps, music and movie streaming. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

If you want a larger selection of apps, it's to the main XMB section you go, though some of the content, such as the excellent MoshCam, ends up being hidden in nested menus. If you check our Smart TV Big Chart, the television supports most of the popular apps except for Vudu, and also includes a browser. The browser, like most remote control-operated browsers, should come covered with a sheet of glass that reads "break in case of emergency." You've got a phone or tablet handy, right?