The envelope pushes right back

Sony's top-of-the-line 55in HX923 series LED TV is ambitious in terms of design and specification. But that may be a problem, says Steve May

Sony’s KDL-55HX923 is nothing short of spectacular. With a skyscraper-inspired glass frontage and (optional) smart Monolithic Design stand, this TV is certain to attract admiring glances. But there’s more to this thin 3D screen than good looks. Beneath the hood lurks a wealth of picture processing tech, plus a few surprises.

Styled to impress

Build quality is exemplary and the stand (yours for around £230) is sleek and ingenious. Not only does it allow the TV to recline artfully from low-profile furniture, but it also doubles as an upgraded sound system. While you can use the panel’s integrated speakers, once on the stand, the TV prompts you to use the external audio system instead. A short lead links the two, taking advantage of HDMI’s Audio Return Channel.

The standard quota of connections is available: four HDMI inputs, component and Scart via adaptor, two side-mounted USBs, a CI Slot, PC input and Ethernet. Wi-fi is built in, requiring no extra dongle.

Naturally this HX923 model has ‘net-connected smarts. The newly christened Sony Entertainment Network offers more streaming IPTV than you can shake a router at, and includes catch-up services from the BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, plus YouTube, LOVEFiLM, DailyMotion and much more. In total there are over two-dozen streaming channels.

Sony also offers a wide selection of on-demand movies in both SD and HD, via its Movies Unlimited portal. Choose hi-def and Sony’s Movies Unlimited service tailors an appropriate download from its servers based on your broadband speed. The set also offers access to the brand’s Music Unlimited music subscription service.

Local file support is good. Media playback from USB covers most major file types, including HD MKVs. somewhat. Still, MP3s playback with album art, and the trio of woofers in the overgrown stand do a decent job of spreading the stereo soundstage wide. An integrated 30W S-Force digital amp ensures that there’s no shortage of welly from the telly.

The set offers other niceties too: Track ID uses the Sony-owned Gracenote database to identify background music used in TV shows and movies. Plug in an external USB hard drive and you can also timeshift programmes to watch later. Sit too close and the TV will even flash a written warning to move back.

Unfortunately, while the KDL- 55HX923 is feature-rich, the overall proposition becomes less tempting when you factor in picture quality.

Picture performance

On the plus side, this Sony doesn’t lack visual impact. The low-reflectivity OptiContrast panel is wafer-thin, thanks to Intelligent Peak LED edge-lighting. Eff ective local dimming helps deliver excellent black level control. The panel is also protected by Gorilla Glass.

Moving image clarity is managed by Sony’s top-rated Motionflow XR800 framerate enhancer. This is the zippiest version of Motionflow in the Sony fleet, and its ability to eradicate blur is nothing short of remarkable. With Standard mode engaged, the set can display around 950-1000 lines of crisp moving detail. Step up to Clear and then Clear 2, and there’s zero perceived loss of motion resolution. Be warned though, Motionflow does tend to create its own artefacts, seen as a smudgy outline around certain moving objects.

Of course, you can always turn Motionflow off completely (as I like to do for film material), but then moving image clarity drops back to around 650 lines.

More image manipulation is wrapped up in a two-chip blanket Sony calls the X-Reality PRO picture engine. There’s a host of picture de-fizzers on tap here, some of which improve streaming video quality, while others don’t. Avoid cranking up the Resolution mode (in the advanced menus) as this only seems to emphasise mosquito noise.

For casual users, a Scene Select setting is available to optimise the panel for different types of content. This super-preset mode features pre-tailored packages entitled Cinema, Sports, Games, General, Music and Photo.

Overall, I was satisfied with the general tone and fidelity of the HX923’s pictures. Freeview’s HD channels look sharp, and challenging Blu-rays like Jurassic Park prove to be both dynamic and immersive. In a full HD test sequence shot around the Tokyo Tower at night, the latter remains gaudily bright, with fine shadow detail stretching back into the night. That said, dark scenes do suffer from haloing, seen as a sudden glow around onscreen graphics, typically if you pause a recording or select an new AV input.

Off -axis viewing is also poor. The set dramatically drops contrast and colour when viewed from the side.

But the most curious thing about the KDL-55HX923 is the light, watery strip running vertically up both the left and right edges of the screen. This is particularly noticeable on darker scenes.

I tried to dial this edge-effect out, by changing processing modes and tweaking picture levels – all without significant success. Ultimately, Sony confirmed that what I had spotted was a ‘structural characteristic’, resulting in a ‘visible un-uniformity.’

While visible un-uniformities sound cool, they’re not what you want to see on a 55in TV that costs upwards of £3K. Well, I don’t. The set’s 3D capabilities are actually rather accomplished.

Sure, the TV still suffers from double imaging crosstalk effects, but on the plus side its stereoscopic images are refreshingly bright and colourful. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth getting vexed about flaws in 3DTV presentation – only small children watching Tangled for the umpteenth time will see them. And they could care less.

Very un-uniform

The KDL-HX923 is an undeniably beautiful screen capable of crisp detail, deep blacks and vibrant hues. It teases just how good a Sony TV can look. But can you live with that bizarrely visible un-uniformity mentioned earlier? That is the £2,800 question.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Impeccable design; excellent motion clarity; content-rich IPTV service
Lows: ‘Visible un-uniformity’; inconsistent media file playback
Performance: 3/5
Design: 5/5
Features 5/5
Overall: 5/5

Specifications

3D: YES Active shutter
Full HD: YES 1080p/24
Tuner: YES Freeview HD, analogue, DVB-C cable, CI slot
Component video: YES one input
HDMI: YES four v.14 (two sidemounted)
PC input: YES PC D-Sub
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Sound: 3 x 10W
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (claimed): ‘Mega’
Dimensions (off stand): 1,290(w) x 770(h) x 40(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 26.1kg
Features: Built-in Wi-Fl; Intelligent Peak LED backlight; Motionflow XR800; X-Reality PRO picture engine; Sony Entertainment Network services; Skype; HDMI CEC; USB hard drive recording; USB media playback (JPEG, MP3, AVI, MKV, AVCHD); Gracenotepowered Track ID; Scart; optical digital output; Ethernet LAN; two pairs of 3D spex provided