Sony KDL-40HX753 3D Smart TV Review

Black Level

We measured black level at a hair above 0.05 cd/m2 in the “Clear Plus” mode. This is 0.02 cd/m2 better than the higher-end Sony HX8 series; the reason for which escapes us. It’s possible that larger panels have slightly poorer black-level performance, but the difference could also be down to the HX853′s inclusion of a different LED dimming system.

In any case, 0.05 cd/m2 is pretty good going, and is enough to provide the perception of deep blacks across a good selection of viewing environments. As usual for a Sony LCD, though, the blacks turned purplish when viewed in a dark room – especially if we looked to the sides of the TV.

Motion Resolution

Our findings regarding the Sony KDL-40HX753′s motion performance are the same as those from the KDL-55HX853 we reviewed previously.

As we mentioned previously, the three [Motionflow] modes we’re most interested in are [Clear], [Clear Plus], and the new [Impulse] setting. The other options perform motion interpolation on film images, which causes technical glitches as well as changing the look of the 24-frames-per-second (24fps) film material.

Our motion interpolation detector test let us see that the [Clear] and [Clear Plus] modes partake in a bit of interpolation, but when the [Film Mode] is set to “Auto1″, it’s not enough to introduce a “soap opera effect”, or to cause visible artefacts. As such, we’re still happy to use these modes. With live action content or even most 3D animated content, you’re unlikely to see any issues. Hand-drawn animation is subtly affected, though, with the individually crafted drawings occasionally “morphing” between each other. Viewers who watch a lot of 2D animation can turn [Motionflow] off if they feel it’s a problem.

All three of these modes employ backlight (okay, edge-light) scanning to trick the human visual system (the eyes and brain) into seeing sharper motion images. The [Clear Plus] mode causes a darkening in the image. Users in brighter rooms might want to stay with [Clear], but users watching films in darker rooms can safely go with [Clear Plus]. In fact, this selection is saved independently in the [Cinema 1] and [Cinema 2] modes, meaning that calibrators can easily use [Clear] for a daytime viewing mode and [Clear Plus] for nighttime viewing, where the lessened light output won’t matter.

The new [Impulse] mode is interesting. It uses a type of backlight pulsing we’ve never seen before, which does up the motion clarity with test content. This completely eliminated perceived motion blur in many of our test clips, but some LCD panel blur (caused by pixel response time) remained. However, as the on-screen menu mentions, it produces flicker during bright scenes, which is likely to prove intolerable to almost all users. It did produce better motion clarity with all of the test sequences and content we tried it with, though.

In the end, we settled on [Clear Plus] since it’s a good middle ground between the three settings. With this selected, the Sony KDL-40HX753 did a fairly clean job of reproducing the scrolling test chart from the FPD Benchmark Software BD, although some LCD inverse ghosting was sometimes visible. With high motion video content, the image appeared relatively crisp, but was of course, still behind that of a Plasma TV – unless we used the flickering [Impulse] mode, that is. If we enabled this, motion was nearly as good as a Plasma (albeit with the LCD overdrive still causing some small motion trails), but the flicker makes it a no-go except for darker content.

3D Material

Like its big brother, the HX853, the Sony HX753 provided one of the better 3D TV experiences we’ve had lately. This is largely due to the fact that it has absolutely no problem in putting out a sufficiently bright extra-dimensional image.

Before we touched any calibration controls, we had a look at Hugo and assumed that we were seeing a mostly accurate image, simply because nothing looked hugely wrong with the picture. A quick look at some greyscale test patterns (and then measuring this aspect of the KDL-40HX753′s performance in 3D) revealed that we were, in fact, looking at the film through an overly warm haze which was being applied by the television (we’d assumed it was a stylistic choice, not being hugely familiar with the content in question).

The “Warm2″ preset is this the default option, and the one which usually gives the most accurate picture in 2D. The said haze was completely believable, in fact we assumed it was intended to give this film – which is set in the 1930s – a sepia-tinted look.

In actual fact, this isn’t the intended look of the film at all. After calibrating the Sony HX7 in 3D, we had a look again, which caused us to interpret the film in a different way. When shown accurately, the backgrounds and sets of the film appear colder and blue, and contrast much more obviously with the warmer and more saturated tones of the actors, making them feel more like human presences distinct from the crowded Parisian setting.

We didn’t see much crosstalk in some of the more gruelling scenes, and when it appeared, it appeared in the form of mesh-like vertical lines, rather than the greenish-yellow glow we see on other HDTVs. This may or may not be more distracting, depending on the individual.

In fact, the entire experience was of fairly high quality and very comfortable, and the image looked convincingly deep – as convincingly deep as a Paris inhabited entirely by British actors can be, of course. It’s 3D experiences like this one – while still imperfect – that keep our interest in the third dimension going.

The only remaining caveats are some banding/posterization in the 3-dimensional display mode, suggesting that the video processing operates at a lower bit depth in 3D. Also, with Sony’s active-shutter glasses, the viewer has to keep their head exactly level with the screen for the best quality: tilting it to the left or right will cause the picture to pick up a red or blue tint. (For that reason, it’s also critical that the glasses are aligned perfectly during calibration).

High Definition

We had a look at one of our favourite Blu-ray Discs, the remastered version of Gladiator, on the Sony KDL-40HX753 (the film was hastily re-released after the original misadventure).

Gladiator screenshot

The scenes at the 1 hour mark, where Joaquin Phoenix’s character returns to Rome, are graded with some mild cyanish blue in the shadows. On the Sony, due to the colour accuracy limitations, the image appears less cyan and more purple-ish, and, combined with the excess of blue in dark grey shades we measured earlier, renders these scenes with a feeling of coldness that isn’t present on a fully accurate screen. Likewise, the Colosseum scenes later on didn’t convey as much of as sun-kissed look as they were supposed to (and which they did on an accurate monitor). Hot skin tones also appeared very, very mildly orangey (again due to the slightly undersaturated red primary colour), but we could only see this in a side-by-side comparison with a fully accurate display.

Fortunately, the colour accuracy errors were our only real complaint (and there are much worse flaws that an HDTV could have than those). Every other aspect of picture quality was highly serviceable, from the good black level and contrast performance, the silky-smooth (but not “soap-opera” like) reproduction of 24fps film from Blu-ray, and the lack of digital tinkering in the “Cinema” mode. Years ago, top Sony employees told us that “everything comes with an off switch” on their TVs, and the KDL-40HX753 is proof that this mentality hasn’t been cast aside.

We did also have a look at the new “Impulse” [Motionflow] setting, which does away with all motion interpolation and instead appears to pulse the LED lighting off momentarily before displaying each frame, which in theory is similar to part of a plasma display’s panel driving. With dark content, this worked wonders and, interestingly, enhanced the perceived depth of the image (we’d love a pyschovisual expert to explain why this is). Unfortunately, it causes some tough-to-stomach flicker in brighter scenes, so we begrudgingly reverted to the more sedate, blurred, but flicker-free “Clear Plus”.

The only other minor point we noticed with the HX753 is that, like some other Sony LCDs, it features very minor vertical lines over the image. We have no idea what causes this, but it’ll only be visible if you’re sitting right beside the LED TV.

Console Gaming

Not surprisingly given the good gaming experience from the Sony HX8 series, the step-down KDL-40HX753 also impressed us with its responsiveness. Testing revealed input lag of just 30ms relative to a CRT monitor – not market-leading, but definitely not slow, either. Just remember that to achieve this, you’ll need to enter the “Game” [Scene] mode, and since this is an LED LCD television, you’ll need to tolerate the standard LCD motion blur as part of the package, since the [Motionflow] modes add input lag and are therefore unsuitable for games requiring fast user interaction.

Conclusion

The Sony KDL-40HX753 is a decent flat-screen television. We’d be more enthusiastic if the colour accuracy was that little bit better: it seems that slim LED-based LCD TVs are still bringing picture quality compromises to the table, and there hasn’t been any real image quality improvement for a while now (traditional CCFL-backlit LCDs had no trouble in fully satisfying the HDTV colour requirements, whereas Plasma televisions are still getting better and better, but aren’t suitable for every room). However, that’s really the only problem with the image quality, with everything else being very satisfactory for a display of this price point.

Priced at around £680, the Sony HX7 has no obvious performance lead over the variety of other similar LCD HDTVs on the market, but also no gigantic negatives either. It has good picture quality, a suitably low level of input lag for gamers, and enough internet-connected Smart TV features to please most users. It represents decent value for money, and is a solid choice for anyone in the market for a well-performing LED LCD TV.

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