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Sony KDL-HX850 review: Sony KDL-HX850

Sony KDL-HX850

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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5 min read

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.

Sony KDL-55HX850
8.0

Sony KDL-HX850

The Good

The <b>Sony KDL-HX850</b> 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.

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.

Sony HX850 series (pictures)

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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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-46HX850 46 inches
Sony KDL-55HX850 (reviewed) 55 inches

Design
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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Direct Mode Wi-Fi hot spot; optional 3D glasses (model TDG-BR250, $50)
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

Features
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?

Check out my full writeup of Sony's 2012 Smart TV suite here.

Picture settings: If you're a Sony TV buyer, you're in luck because the TV comes with one of the most accurate out-of-the-box settings of any TV. Choose Cinema from Scene settings and you're ready to go. If you insist on tweaking, you'll find a simple two-point grayscale, a gamma setting, and two levels of local dimming, but the color management system and 10-point grayscale controls found on LG and Samsung go missing here.

Connectivity: There are no connectivity surprises, with four HDMI ports and two USB ports almost a prerequisite. Analog inputs come in the form of a composite, component, and PC. If you'd like to connect to the Internet, the TV comes with a choice of onboard wireless, in addition to the aforementioned Direct Mode, and an Ethernet port.

Four HDMI ports are par for the course. Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

Picture quality (How we test TVs)
We're more than a third through 2012 at the time of this review, and I've had my share of terrible and excellent TVs so far. This Sony skews toward "excellent."

While it can't match the best plasmas I've seen this year, like the Panasonic ST50 and the Samsung PNE8000, it accounts for itself very tidily in the picture quality stakes. It features 95 percent of the HX929's picture at about 80 percent of the cost, give or take a shekel. Black levels were very good, and while color may not be the Sony's strongest suit, it does share its family's rich and vibrant color palette. If you watch a lot of Web content, the X-Reality Pro engine will clean up a majority of blockiness.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-55HX929 55-inch full-array LED
LG 55LM9600 55-inch full-array LED
LG 55LM6700 55-inch edge-lit LED
Panasonic TC-P50UT50 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma

Black level: The Sony HX850 exhibited a very deep black with fine shadow detail. Its local dimming appears to work really well, and side-by-side with the much more expensive LG LM9600 there's no contest: the Sony is a winner in terms of both absolute blacks and shadow detail. The Sony is also able to handle complex contrast scenes without too much in the way of blooming. In comparison, the HX929 does have some blooming issues, but this could be simply because the overall black levels are deeper and bloom in the HX750 instead appears as irregular uniformity.

While the HX850 is not able to compete with the amazing ST50 in terms of pure black levels, no LCD we've seen in 2012 has been able to, either.

At 20:25 in the "Watchmen" Blu-ray, the Manhattan skyline stretches out from beyond the Comedian's apartment and its mix of intricate light and shadow detail proves a great test of a TV's ability to convey contrast. The Sony HX850 and HX929 gave the scene a 3D look, with each building separate from the next and the detail in the lit-up Empire State Building finely rendered. By comparison, the LG LM9600 was unable to render both the dark and light sections without blowing them out. "Star Trek" is another good test, with its alternation of lurid colors and shadowy murk, and the Sony was able to convey both very well.

Color accuracy: The Sony HX750 has a slightly colder look than the ST50 and the LG LM9600, and in this way it is similar to the other Sony TV we compared it with, the HX 929. The TV wasn't as talented at reproducing blue/green and defaulting instead to cooler blues. But elsewhere in the color spectrum, the TV was able to keep up with the others.

The Sony's advanced controls don't offer the same flexibility that rival LG does, but I'd give up not-quite-reference colors for much deeper black levels any day.

Video processing: Video processing has long been a Sony strong point, and thanks to the X-Reality Pro, the TV is able to make a lock on different types of video content without artifacting. The TV correctly replayed 24p content without shuddering, and 1080i film content was reproduced without any annoying moire lines.

Uniformity: Thanks to the local-dimming system, the TV is able to correctly identify light and dark areas of the picture and "spotlighting" issues (where the backlight bleeds through the corners) were almost nonexistent. Only on the letterbox bars on very bright scenes did some of the backlight peep through, but not in a distracting way.

I found that this TV has excellent off-angle response with less of the "purpling" on blacks that other LCD sets are prone to.

Bright lighting: The TV is mildly reflective but did reject most ambient light. I had no problems with seeing myself in the TV during dark scenes, but it can also depend on your seating equation. As a rule don't situate any TV opposite a window, but if you have no choice, at least pull the blinds.

3D: The Sony is one of the better LCD models for 3D with a more subtle 3D effect and less crosstalk than on its competitors. That's not to say it wasn't visible: in the first 5 minutes of "Hugo," we see him reach out his hand to steal a clockwork mouse and the hand did double up on every LCD TV in our lineup, bar the passive LG, but the effect isn't a deal breaker on the HX850. If you watch 3D a lot, you may want to investigate passive, but a movie on occasion is fine on this active Sony.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.000163444 Good
Avg. gamma 2.1984 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3128/0.3278 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3126/0.3291 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.313/0.3289 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6478.0655 Good
After avg. color temp. 6508.5965 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 3.6744 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 2.1809 Average
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 5.8222 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.2319/0.3308 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3209/0.144 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4212/0.5133 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 320 Poor
PC input resolution (VGA) 1,920x1,080 pixels Good
Sony Kdl 55hx850
Sony KDL-55HX850
8.0

Sony KDL-HX850

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Value 7
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