This year, Sony will significantly increase its 3D TV offerings. More than half of the company's 2011 LCD line will be 3D capable - 16 models in all. Of the five 3D series, the EX720 Series is the least expensive and includes screen sizes of 60, 55, 46, 40, and 32 inches. We checked out the 46-inch KDL-46EX720. This is an active 3D TV: It requires battery-powered active-shutter glasses and uses frame-sequential stereoscopic 3D technology, in which the TV alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. (Some new 3D TVs are passive; they use the same type of 3D glasses you get in a movie theater, but these displays can only show half the vertical resolution with 3D content.) The shutters in the glasses open and close in sync with the signal to direct the appropriate image to each eye; the IR emitter that syncs the 3D glasses with the TV is built into the KDL-46EX720's front panel, so you don't have to purchase a separate adapter, as with some previous Sony models. This TV does not come with any 3D glasses, which cost $70 per pair. The KDL-46EX720 supports 2D-to-3D conversion, allowing you to simulate a 3D effect with standard two-dimensional film and TV content.
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The KDL-46EX720 is an edge-lit LED-based LCD TV that uses Sony's X-Reality Engine and Motionflow XR 240 technology. The TV is WiFi and Skype-ready; an optional USB WiFi adapter (UWA-BR100, $80) and USB camera (CMU-BR100, $150) are available. Of course, the KDL-46EX720 also has the BRAVIA Internet Video platform and is DLNA-certified to receive streamed content from compatible computers and servers on your network. It's EnergyStar 5.0-compliant with a number of energy-saving options, including a Presence Sensor that can be set to automatically turn off the TV when there's no movement in the room for a selected amount of time. The KDL-46EX720 has an MSRP of $1,599.99 but is currently available for closer to $1,400 on the Sony Style website.
Setup & Features
The KDL-46EX720 doesn't have the stylish, single-pane Monolithic Design that you get in some of Sony's higher-end 3D series. This model has a straightforward but still pleasing aesthetic with a basic gloss-black finish, down-firing speakers, and a detachable, square base that tilts and swivels. Its edge-lit design allows for a slender profile of just 1.69 inches and a weight of just 31.3 pounds (without the stand). Like previous Sony TV remotes, this one lacks backlighting and dedicated source buttons, and it puts a lot of black buttons against a black background. It has a generally intuitive layout with helpful direct-access buttons for 3D settings, the i-Manual, Internet Content, Netflix, and Sony's Qriocity VOD service.
The KDL-46EX720's connection panel includes four HDMI inputs: three rear-facing and one side-facing for easier access if the TV is wall-mounted. You also get one component video, one PC, and two composite video inputs, plus a single RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. Dual side-facing USB ports support media playback, as well as the addition of the WiFi adapter and/or Skype camera. The back panel sports an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. The KDL-46EX720 lacks RS-232 and/or IR ports for easy integration into an advanced control system.
Sony has included a healthy collection of picture adjustments to fine-tune the image. The TV has both Scene Select and Picture modes, which can be confusing. The Scene Select mode tailors both audio and video to the selected content type; options include Auto (default choice), General, Cinema, Sports, Music, Animation, and more. If you select the Cinema mode (as I did), you can then choose between two picture modes (a darker Cinema 1 mode and a brighter Cinema 2 mode) and then make further adjustments. Another option is to go with the General Scene Select mode and then choose the Custom picture mode. Both routes provide a good base image from which you can fine-tune the picture. Adjustments include a manual backlight control or an ambient sensor that automatically adjusts panel brightness based on room lighting; four color-temperature presets and advanced RGB bias and gain controls to fine-tune white balance; noise reduction, MPEG noise reduction, and dot noise reduction; a seven-step gamma control; an auto light limiter that can reduce light output in bright scenes to cut down on eye strain; and more. The KDL-46EX720 includes five aspect-ratio options (Wide Zoom, Normal, Full, Zoom, and Captions), and a helpful onscreen diagram shows how each mode adjusts the image. This TV lacks a discrete pixel-for-pixel aspect ratio; you have to go into the setup menu and configure the Full mode to be full pixel, which gets the job done but isn't as intuitive as just including a direct Full Pixel mode.
In previous years, Sony was one of the few companies to offer a true 240Hz refresh rate to help reduce motion blur. This year, the new Motionflow XR 240 implementation does things a little differently. The KDL-46EX720 is a 120Hz TV with a blinking backlight to create a 240Hz effect with 2D content. The new Motionflow menu has more options than previous models. You can choose between Off, Standard, Smooth, Clear, and Clear Plus. As in versions past, the Standard and Smooth modes use frame interpolation to reduce blur and produce smoother, less-juddery motion, which will alter the character of film motion in the process. If you don't like that super-smooth effect, the Clear and Clear Plus modes are the better ways to go: These modes focus primarily on backlight blinking, which helps to reduce the blur without creating an artificially smooth result. The Clear Plus mode produced the best motion detail in our tests but also reduced image brightness; I went with the Clear mode and was very satisfied with the result. As in previous models, the KDL-46EX720 also has three CineMotion options, which is the function that allows the TV to detect the 3:2 cadence that's added to 24-frames-per-second film content. The menu includes Off, Auto 1, and Auto 2 options. Auto 2 provides basic 3:2 detection, while Auto 1 adds frame interpolation. Using Auto 1 in concert with the Standard or Smooth Motionflow mode will further augment the smoothing function.
The KDL-46EX720's 3D setup menu includes the ability to adjust the depth of the 3D image in five steps and to adjust the brightness of the 3D glasses (with Auto, Low, Medium, and High options). You can also enable "Simulated 3D" for 2D-to-3D conversion, with Low, Medium, and High options. As with most of the 3D TVs I've reviewed thus far, when the KDL-46EX720 switches to 3D mode, it automatically switches to a special 3D picture mode with its own adjustable settings. This allows you to calibrate the 3D image separately from the 2D image, which is important because the 3D glasses affect the image's brightness and color. Most of the picture adjustments I described above are still at your disposal in 3D mode; however, you can't adjust the backlight brightness or use the auto light limiter (you have to use the aforementioned brightness control for the 3D glasses), Motionflow is locked in the off position, and there's no Auto 1 CineMotion mode.
In the audio department, the Sound Adjustment menu includes four sound modes: Standard, Dynamic, Clear Voice, and Custom. In each mode, you can adjust treble, bass, and balance, and the Custom mode allows you to fine-tune the output using a seven-band equalizer. The KDL-46EX720 also has generic surround and sound enhancer modes, plus S-Force Front Surround 3D. Advanced Auto Volume provides volume leveling between programs, while Volume Offset allows you to adjust the level of the current input relative to other inputs. The TV lacks big-name audio processing from a company like Dolby or SRS. I found that I had to push the volume a bit higher than usual to flesh out the sound, which was fairly thin at lower volume levels.
To enjoy BRAVIA Internet Video and other network services, you must add the KDL-46EX720 to your network via wired Ethernet or the optional USB WiFi adapter. (Some of the higher-end Sony 3D models offer integrated WiFi.) Sony's Internet offerings are quite extensive. In addition to major ones like Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Pandora, you also get many smaller, niche options like Flixter trailers, Blip.tv for Web videos, Wired, and many more. Sony has included its own Qriocity video and music streaming service; unfortunately, I wasn't able to test the service, as it was offline due to Sony's much-publicized security breach. Widgets are available for Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter, as well. The TV also includes a limited Web browser, and I do mean limited. It's very slow, does not support Flash, and gave me a "page too large" error for most of the URLs I tried to access, like ESPN.com and LATimes.com. It did let me access my Gmail account. Unlike some manufacturers, Sony hasn't designed a special menu/interface for its Web services, instead incorporating the Internet and media-streaming options into the main menu system. This new menu design lists all of the options along the bottom of the screen, with sub-menu choices running up along the right side. You can still view the full video source in a large window to the left. It's generally easy to navigate, although not as stylish as others I've seen.
In its LED lineup, Sony offers both full-array and edge LED backlighting systems. The higher-end models in both camps are equipped with local dimming that allows the LEDs to dim or turn themselves off as needed to produce darker blacks. The KDL-46EX720's edge LED system does not include the local dimming function (called Dynamic Edge LED). As a result, this TV can't produce as deep a black level as you'll likely find in Sony's higher-end 3D lines, such as the HX929, HX820, and NX720 Series. To produce the deepest blacks possible, the TV has to be set to its minimum backlight setting, which limits the image brightness and still results in only an average black level. As with previous Sony models, this TV floats the black level. Put up an all-black test pattern (as many reviewers do when they measure black level), and after a few seconds, you'll see the black level drop quite a few steps. This makes it seem like the black level is deeper than it will be with real-world content. I will say that the KDL-46EX720's base black level is deep enough that the image still had nice overall contrast, and its ability to render fine black details in demo scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista), The Bourne Supremacy (Universal), and Ladder 49 (Buena Vista) was solid, albeit not exceptional.
On the other end of the spectrum, the KDL-46EX720 can't quite reach that insane level of brightness you'll get with some LCDs, but that's hardly a concern unless you were hoping to use this TV outdoors. At the minimum backlight setting, the TV has decent light output for a completely dark room. However, since black level isn't this TV's strength anyhow, I saw no reason to limit the TV's brightness by sticking with the minimum backlight setting. I chose to turn up the backlight to about the 50 percent mark, which produced ample brightness for my room, even during the day. At this setting, brighter HDTV shows and sporting events had nice saturation and pop.
In the past, I've sometimes found Sony TVs to look a little soft, but that was not the case with the KDL-46EX720. Its detail with HD sources was excellent, and it also does a good job upconverting SD content. As for its motion resolution, with Motionflow turned off, the KDL-46EX720 exhibited a lot of blur in test scenes from my FPD Group Benchmark BD. In the resolution test pattern, the lines blur all the way down below DVD 480 during the motion sequences. Setting Motionflow to Standard or Smooth cleaned up the lines to almost HD 720. The Clear Plus setting practically rivaled plasma in its ability to cleanly render the HD 1080 lines; as I said before, this setting dims the image. The Clear setting performs almost as well but isn't as dim, so this is the setting I used throughout my time with the KDL-46EX720.
In the color realm, the Sony's color temperature appears to be fairly neutral across the board, with the exception of dark blacks -- which have a blue-ish tinge. Otherwise, skintones have a pleasantly neutral quality, and whites look white. The KDL-46EX720 doesn't have an advanced color-management system to individually adjust the six color points; thankfully, it isn't really necessary. Colors looked rich but natural; reds and greens, in particular, looked to be close to reference standards. The combination of good light output, excellent detail, neutral skintones, and natural colors resulted in an HDTV image that was pleasing without requiring a lot of tweaking of the picture adjustments.
In terms of its deinterlacing, the KDL-46EX720 passed the 480i tests on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix), as well as my standard demos from Gladiator (DreamWorks) and The Bourne Identity (Universal). I was surprised to see it fail the 1080i film test on the HD HQV Benchmark BD (Silicon Optix), but then it cleanly rendered my real-world demos from Mission Impossible III (Paramount) and Ghost Rider (Sony), and I didn't see blatant jaggies or other artifacts with 1080i HDTV shows. My one quibble was that I found the image to be somewhat noisy when the noise-reduction controls are turned off. However, setting the general noise reduction to Auto or High does a good job of cleaning things up without softening the image.
This was my first go-round with one of Sony's 3D capable TVs, and I was impressed with its 3D performance. The 3D image was bright, clean, and detailed, with a nice sense of depth and dimension. Most notable was the fact that it produced less crosstalk than other 3D LCDs I've tested -- namely, models from Samsung and Toshiba. Its performance was close to that of the Sharp LC-60LE925UN, which also fared well in the crosstalk department. In my experience thus far, plasma is still best at minimizing crosstalk in the active-3DTV category, but this Sony did a very good job with my standard demo scenes from Monster House (Sony) and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (20th Century Fox), as well as a recorded NCAA football game from ESPN 3D. When I did see crosstalk, it was primarily while watching 3DTV channels, not 3D Blu-ray. The 3D glasses fit my head well and stayed in place, but they were a bit heavier than other glasses I've tested.
While many higher-end LCDs now use reflective screens, the KDL-46EX720 sports a matte finish. As a result, blacks don't look quite as dark in a bright room (reflective screens reject ambient light to help blacks look deeper), but light reflections aren't a concern, so you don't have to worry about where you place this TV in relation to light sources.
As I mentioned above, the lack of local dimming prevents the KDL-46EX720 from being able to produce truly deep blacks. The bigger issue, though, is the lack of brightness uniformity. Certain portions of the screen (particularly the corners) are noticeably brighter than others. This isn't obvious with brighter HDTV, sports, and movies, but you'll notice it in the fade-to-black transitions between scenes. Where it's most evident is in darker film scenes, like chapter one of The Bourne Supremacy and chapter 18 of Signs (Buena Vista). The Sony's bright patches weren't as egregious and disruptive as I've seen on other edge-lit LEDs, but it's still a concern. Also, I occasionally noticed mild banding during camera pans in darker scenes, such as the fog-covered deck scene in chapter five of Flags of Our Fathers (DreamWorks).
Viewing angle always falls on my list of low points for an LCD, simply because plasma does a better job in this department. The KDL-46EX720's image saturation holds up respectably well at wider angles with brighter content, but darker scenes lose saturation and look a lot noisier when you move off-axis.
In the 3D realm, I mentioned above that the KDL-46EX720 exhibits less crosstalk than other 3D LCDs I've tested, but some crosstalk is still evident -- more than the plasma models I've tested. Also, because this is an active 3DTV, the battery-powered glasses are larger, heavier, and more expensive than the glasses that accompany the new passive 3DTVs. Samsung has opted to sweeten the deal for active-TV buyers by providing two free pairs of glasses, but Sony has not yet made that jump. Each pair of glasses will cost $70, which can add up if you want glasses for every member of the family and potential guests.
The KDL-46EX720 is a very good all-purpose HDTV for a more casual viewing experience. With an average black level and lack of brightness uniformity, it's not ideally suited for a dedicated theater environment, but it's a great choice for sports, gaming, and HDTV shows. Since the EX720 Series is the "budget" 3D line, it comes as no surprise to me that this model doesn't have that extra level of performance that I would demand from Sony's premium 3D lines. Rather, this TV is targeted at the everyday consumer who wants good performance and all of the hottest features -- including 3D, an extensive Web/VOD package, and Skype capability -- for a reasonable price. In that role, the KDL-46EX720 is a clear success.
• Read more 3D HDTV reviews by the staff at Home Theater Review.
• Search for a 3D-capable Blu-ray player and AV receiver.