Razor-sharp networker

Sony’s upscale Network range is the place to be if picture clarity is your bag. Steve May is wowed by the resolution-busting NX713

Sony’s Network (NX) range is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but the models are also decked out with all the latest features, including 3D, network streaming, online content and LED backlighting. But you may wonder why there are multiple versions of the same screen size. The model reviewed here features the brand’s uprated PRO version of its Motionflow 100Hz picture processor and high-end Dynamic Edge LED backlighting. The latter is superior to regular Edge LED backlighting, though perhaps not as accomplished as Full Array. Imagine a halfway house that gives you the benefit of an ultra-slim cabinet (just 320mm thin) with some approximation of local dimming – for better contrast – and you’ll see the attraction.

Streaming cold

Given that the NX713 sits under a Networking banner, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s optimised for multimedia playback across a network. But, alas, you’d be wrong. This screen’s streaming ability is extremely limited. A suite of test files (with suffixes covering MKV wrapped content, AVIs and DivX) located on a networked NAS was completely ignored by the TV. It could locate the folder, but the only file support was for AVCHD. The set fares better with audio – I could access my music server and stream MP3s. The TV also retrieved cover art from folders and presented it neatly on screen.

The file reader, however, was completely dependent on metadata within the files. The TV lacks the ability to go online and scrape the Gracenote database for more comprehensive info. This is something of a missed opportunity, given that Sony owns the database!

Media playback support improves significantly when you switch from network streaming to local playback from USB. That same suite of test files became more comprehensively readable; I could read and play AVIs, complete with SRT subtitle support, and MPEG-4 files. However, MKVs remained unrecognisable. Sony should endeavour to fix this with a firmware update, because it could be a deal-breaker for some buyers. Sony currently tends one of the busiest IPTV content gardens on the market. Its Bravia internet portal is bursting with diversions.

There’s catch-up services from the BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, plus Sky News, LOVEFiLM and copious clip action from YouTube and Daily Motion. The newest content addition is the brand’s Qriocity PPV streaming video and music offerings. These can be found under the XrossMediaBar’s Video and Music columns.

The screen also supports Bravia internet widgets, although there’s little here of interest. They are the result of a deal struck by Sony with Yahoo, shortly before it decided to up sticks and go after Google. What we have is a dejected selection of Weather, Flickr and Twitter apps that are largely unresponsive.

Go with the flow

As mentioned, the NX713 offers the uprated Pro version of Sony’s simplest frame rate enhancement: Motionflow 100. This doubles the refresh rate from 50Hz to 100Hz, repeating frames for a smoother image. And it’s extremely effective, as it turns out. The TV delivers stormingly good images.

Detail is razor-sharp while black levels are Loch deep. Motion picture resolution is also outstanding; it’s possible to retain 1080 lines of definition even with a constantly moving image by engaging the set’s Motionflow100 Pro Clear or Clear Plus settings.

The screen is really quite adept even without all the processing trickery. Turn Motionflow off , and you’ll still get between 650 and 750 lines of moving picture detail.

A horizontal scrolling test pattern, travelling at 6.5ppf (pixels per frame), remains readable up around 750 lines. Engaging Motionflow in Standard edges moving detail up to approx. 850 lines. This is a good option if you’re adverse to the effect high frame rates can have on the texture and character of film material.

The panel is also astoundingly smooth when it comes to pans, even with Motionflow and Film mode turned off. There’s none of the horizontal judder that can often blight flat panels.

On the debit side, the set’s LED backlighting is predictably uneven; with a black screen you can see light filtering in from the corners. It just doesn’t seem possible to get balanced illumination from LEDs placed along the edge of a screen.

Tellingly, a 10 per cent grey backdrop was subjectively even from corner to corner. It could be argued that this is more representative of general viewing.

Take the 3D plunge

Although the NX713 is 3D-ready, you’ll need to add an optional TMR-BR1003D Sync transmitter and TDG-BR100B 3D glasses to go deep-screen diving. The sync transmitter connects to the rear of the set, and sits on the stand like a downsized Kinect sensor.

Overall, 3D performance is fine, without being outstanding. Images are bright enough and there’s good colour retention, but crosstalk double imaging is clearly evident.

The set offers Plus or Minus adjustment tools, both for the brightness of the glasses and 3D depth. The Minus adjustment brings objects in positive parallax into focus, while the Plus adjustment does the opposite. After much trial and error, I decided that the set was best left in its default mode. Whatever direction I took, it was just not possible to dial out crosstalk effects; they remained on the wrong side of bad.

If you run out of 3D content you can always experiment with the set’s 2D-to-3D converter, but effects are highly unpredictable and dependent on the clarity of the source image.

For the best results, use an HD source but don’t get your hopes up, since essentially you’re only adding crosstalk to a flat picture. While the TV is a star visually, its audio performance is perfunctory. There’s not a lot that can be done to put flesh on its sibilant bones. You can specify if the set is either wall or table-stand mounted, or muddle around with four sound presets.

The 40NX713 ticks all the right boxes. It’s 3D-ready for those who want to upgrade at a later date, has a well-stocked IPTV garden and it looks simply divine. More importantly, its picture performance is first rate. The level of detail retained on screen is phenomenal. For lovers of sports or action movies, this set is a must-see.

Net down

Ironically, where the NX713 does find itself lacking is media streaming. It offers precious little video compatibility over a network (that DLNA badge is clearly no indicator of usefulness), and even local USB support is limited. On the plus side, its presentation of MP3s is at least classy. But when it comes down to all-important picture quality, this Sony doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, it’s rather fabulous.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Outstanding HD picture with exceptional motion picture clarity; Freeview HD tuner, integrated Wi-Fi
Lows: External 3D sync transmitter required; limited media file support
Performance: 5/5
Design: 3/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Specifications

Full HD: yes 1080p24
3D: yes Active Shutter
Tuner: yes Freeview HD Component: yes
HDMI: yes 4 x HDMI
Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080
Sound: 20W (2 x 8W + 10W)
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (claimed): ‘Mega’
Dimensions (w/o stand): 940(h) x 580(w) x 32mm
Weight (w/o stand): 16kg
Features: 3D Ready (optional Active Shutter glasses and sync transmitter required); Dynamic Edge LED; Motionflow 100 PRO; Bravia Engine 3; USB for media playback (JPEG, MP3, AVI, AVCHD support); integrated wi-fi; Bravia Internet Video Portal featuring BBC iPlayer; YouTube; LOVEFiLM Daily Motion and more; Qriocity music and video streaming services; Ethernet connection; Bravia-link CEC