Sony's new 2010 LCD models are starting to hit the shelves. Among them is the EX700 Series, which falls in the middle of Sony's lineup and includes screen sizes of 60, 52, 46, 40, and 32 inches. The 52-inch KDL-52EX700 lacks some options you'll find in the higher-end lines, such as 3Dcapability, Motionflow Pro 240Hz, integrated Wi-Fi, and full-array LED backlighting. Nevertheless, this is a well-endowed HDTV with a lot of worthwhile features.
The KDL-52EX700 uses edge LED lighting; instead of placing a full array of LED backlights behind the screen, this model places its LEDs around the edges of the screen and directs the light inward. The two primary benefits to this approach are improved energy efficiency and a super-slim cabinet. This TV uses the BRAVIA Engine 3 and offers Motionflow 120Hz technology to reduce motion blur and film judder. It's EnergyStar 4.0-certified with a number of energy-saving options, including a Presence Sensor that automatically turns the TV off when there's no movement in the room for a designated amount of time. It supports DLNA media streaming from a networked server, and it features Sony's BRAVIA Internet Video platform, with access to Netflix and Amazon VOD, YouTube, Slacker Radio, and many more. The KDL-52EX700's MSRP is $2,199.99, but it is available from www.sonystyle.com and other outlets for less than $2,000.
As I mentioned, one of the benefits of an edge-lit LED design is the ability to create a super-slim panel. Indeed, the KDL-52EX700 is impressively slender, given its 52-inch screen size. The TV measures just 2.625 inches deep at its bulkiest point in the center; the edges are even slimmer, measuring less than one inch. The panel weighs just 59.5 pounds with the stand (compare that with my 46-inch reference LCD, which is just two years old and weighs 77 pounds with the stand). The EX700 models do not sport Sony's new monolithic design, which has a seamless front panel (no raised bezel) and a flat base that allows you to tilt the panel. Still, the KDL-52EX700 has an attractive if conservative design, with a gloss-black bezel and a brushed-aluminum accent strip along the bottom of the screen. A pair of down-firing speakers resides on the underside of the panel. The package includes an easy-to-assemble base that has a matching gloss-black finish and a swiveling mechanism. The supplied remote lacks backlighting or dedicated source buttons, and it puts a lot of black buttons against a black background; still, it has a generally intuitive layout with buttons that provide direct access to desired functions: Internet video, aspect-ratio adjustment, i-Manual to pull up the onscreen owner's manual, and an Options button for quick access to picture and sound adjustments, Motionflow, and more. The one thing I'd like to see on the remote is a pull-out keyboard that makes it easier to input text when signing in to Web accounts or searching YouTube content.
The KDL-52EX700 has a generous connection panel, starting with four HDMI inputs that accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24 signals. You also get two component video inputs and one PC input, as well as a single RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. Two of the HDMI inputs are located on the side panel, where you'll also find a USB port that supports video, music, and photo playback. (Previous Sony TVs often limited the USB functionality to photo playback only.) The back panel contains an Ethernet port through which you can add the TV to your home network to stream movies, music, and photos from a PC or DLNA-compliant media server. Sony's Renderer feature lets you access media files stored on compatible network devices (like digital cameras and mobile phones) that also support the Renderer function. The network connection also gives you access to the BRAVIA Internet Video platform, which includes both Netflix and Amazon video-on-demand, YouTube, Yahoo video, blip.tv, Wired, myplay music network, Slacker and NPR Radio, and more. The KDL-52EX700 doesn't include the integrated 802.11n card that you'll see on some step-up Sony models, but it does support the add-on UWA-BR100 Wireless LAN adapter ($79.99), which connects to the USB port. The KDL-52EX700 lacks RS-232 and/or IR ports for easy integration into an advanced control system.
Like previous Sony models, this one uses the XrossMediaBar onscreen menu to explore setup options, inputs, and media features. The menu is intuitive, but it can be tedious to navigate when making picture and sound adjustments--which is why it's nice that the remote's Options button provides a more direct path to these controls. As usual, Sony offers a ton of picture adjustments, although a couple of them are oddly placed in the Preferences menu instead of the Picture & Display menu. In Preferences, you can choose between eight Scene Select modes that adjust the image based on content type: Cinema, Sports, Photo, Auto, etc. (I went with the General mode and then customized the image via the Picture Adjustments menu.) The Eco sub-menu includes the ability to enable and set the duration of the Presence Sensor, as well as a Power Saving option that limits panel brightness to reduce energy consumption. Standby and auto shutoff modes are available, and the KDL-52EX700 also has an Energy Saving Switch on the right side panel to cut standby power consumption altogether (this is essentially a hard power on/off button, so you can't turn on the TV, via the remote or otherwise, when the switch is enabled).
In terms of picture adjustments, the KDL-52EX700 has most of the desirable options, including: three picture modes (Custom, Standard, and Vivid); a 10-step adjustable backlight and an ambient sensor that automatically adjusts panel brightness based on room lighting; four color-temperature options and advanced RGB bias and gain controls; noise reduction and MPEG noise reduction; a seven-step gamma control; an auto light limiter that can reduce light output in really bright scenes to cut down on eye strain; and more. Cinemotion is the name of the function that allows the TV to detect the 3:2 cadence that's added to 24-frames-per-second film content to create 60Hz output; the menu includes Off, Auto 1, and Auto 2 options. Auto 2 provides basic 3:2 detection, while Auto 1 uses motion interpolation to create smoother movement with film sources. Sony's Motionflow 120Hz technology can further reduce film judder to produce even smoother movement, and it cuts down on the motion blur that's common to LCD technology. The Motionflow setup menu includes Off, Standard, and High settings. Different combinations of the Cinemotion and Motionflow settings result in a different quality of motion with film sources, which we'll discuss in the Performance section.
The KDL-52EX700 includes four aspect-ratio options: Wide Zoom, Full, H Stretch, and Zoom. This TV lacks a separate native or pixel-for-pixel mode, but you can configure the Full mode to be "Full Pixel" with 1080i/1080p content by making adjustments in the Screen setup menu: To remove overscan, you need to turn off the Auto Display Area function and set the display area to Full Pixel.
The Sound 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-52EX700 also has generic surround, sound enhancer, and Steady Sound options, but it lacks big-name audio processing from a company like Dolby or SRS.
This is my first go-round with an edge-lit LED-based LCD. I've reviewed a number of full-array LED models, and I was curious to see how an edge-lit model compares. Naturally, the first thing to evaluate was the TV's black level. The benefit of a full-array LED-based LCD with local dimming is that it allows the TV to turn off portions of the backlight to create deeper blacks without sacrificing light output. This edge-lit model doesn't use any type of local-dimming technology, so we're still dealing with an always-on backlight, just as you get with a traditional CCFL backlight. As a result, the KDL-52EX700's black level, while respectable, is not as deep as I've seen from the best full-array LED models. In DVD and Blu-ray demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Home Video), Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), and Casino Royale (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), black portions of the image weren't as dark as I've seen elsewhere; however, the overall black level was deep enough to provide a solid foundation, resulting in an image that still had nice saturation in a darker viewing environment. Even at the minimum backlight setting, this TV is fairly bright, which contributes to the slightly higher black level but helps the overall contrast. The KDL-52EX700's good light output makes it especially well suited for HDTV shows and sports programming, which pop off the screen. Brighter DVD/Blu-ray scenes also fared well.
In the color realm, the KDL-52EX700 served up a generally natural-looking image without demanding a lot of adjustment. The Warm 2 color temperature is the closest to reference 6500K and is definitely the warmest of the available presets. Still, it seems to veer slightly cool, especially with darker signals. The nighttime skies of The Corpse Bride (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) had a slightly bluish tone--it wasn't excessive, and frankly it added a bit of pop to whites that the average user will likely prefer. Skintones looked natural, without too much red push. For those who desire a more accurate color temperature across the board, advanced white-balance controls are available to dial in a warmer color palette. The TV's color points also look fairly accurate--with the exception of green, which seems slightly exaggerated. The one high-end video adjustment that this TV lacks is the ability to precisely tweak each color point, and I would've liked the option to adjust green more precisely. Nevertheless, I was generally satisfied with the color: It looked rich and natural, without being cartoonish.
Read more about the Sony KDL-52EX700 on Page 2.
At first, the KDL-52EX700 looked somewhat soft, even with high-def content. When I popped in Digital Video Essentials (DVD International) to make picture adjustments, I noticed that the Custom picture mode sets the sharpness control to zero by default in order to remove edge enhancement. Unfortunately, the minimum setting noticeably softens hard edges and makes the picture look less detailed. You don't want to turn up the sharpness setting too high, or edge enhancement will be a problem. I found that a setting of three struck a nice balance, helping the picture look more detailed without introducing too much visible edge enhancement. In this configuration, high-def images had solid detail, as fine elements in facial close-ups and intricate background were clearly discernible.
All in all, the KDL-52EX700's good contrast, color, and detail combined to produce a pleasing image with high-def sources. A few other things impressed me, as well. For one, this TV did a nice job rendering fine black details in scenes from The Bourne Supremacy, The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Ladder 49 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). With the adjustable gamma, you have the option to lower the setting to help blacks look a little darker, but this will obscure some of those fine black details. Also, the picture is pretty clean: I occasionally noted some digital noise in dark backgrounds with certain HDTV shows, but it wasn't blatant enough to require use of the noise reduction control. It's worth mentioning that, when I did experiment and set the noise reduction to high, I saw tracers in low-light sources. As the camera pans over an object, a trailing or blurring effect is evident. I've seen this with other companies' noise reduction technologies, and you can avoid it by avoiding the high setting--which, again, isn't necessary with this TV anyhow.
In its video processing, the KDL-52EX700 is a solid but not exceptional performer. The upconversion of standard-definition images to this 52-inch, 1080p screen is generally successful, producing a fairly detailed image. However, in the deinterlacing realm, results were mixed. With 1080i, the TV passed all of the tests on the HD HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix), but it didn't consistently render my real-world demo from Mission Impossible III (Paramount Home Video) without artifacts. Sometimes the stairs at the start of chapter 8 were clean; other times, moiré appeared. That said, I did not see any obvious jaggies or other artifacts with 1080i HDTV content. With 480i signals, the KDL-52EX700 failed the jaggies test on the HQV Benchmark DVD (Silicon Optix) and was slow to pick up the 3:2 cadence in the film test. With real-world sources, it did a very good job with the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12 of Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) but then failed the Venetian blind torture test in chapter four of The Bourne Identity (Universal Home Video). So, again, performance wasn't quite as consistent as I'd like, but overall I saw no significant flaws to hinder standard definition content.
Finally, we come to the Motionflow 120Hz technology, which is designed to reduce motion blur and film judder. In Sony's higher-end models, you get a true 240Hz refresh rate, but this TV uses a 120Hz rate. With resolution tests from the FPD Software Group Blu-ray disc and with real-world sports content, the Motionflow feature did successfully cut down on the amount of motion blur, but the results weren't quite as pristine as I've seen with other 120-/240-Hz implementations. Motionflow is capable of producing very smooth, completely judder-free motion with film sources, but it's dependent on the Cinemotion mode you select. As I mentioned earlier, the Auto 1 mode uses motion interpolation to slightly reduce judder in film sources. When you combine the Auto 1 setting with the Motionflow technology (be it the Standard or High mode), the result is that super-smooth effect that makes film look more like video. Of course, many people (myself included) don't like that artificially smooth look; thankfully, Sony has given us a solution, too. The combination of the Auto 2 Cinemotion mode and the Standard Motionflow setting still provides blur reduction and produces less juddery movement, but it doesn't significantly alter the character of film sources or introduce other motion artifacts. I was pleased with the effectiveness of this combination with all different sources, including TV content. On the other hand, the super-smooth Auto 1/Motionflow combo did not play nicely with my DirecTV signal: Film-based TV shows were filled with choppy motion and other artifacts. In my experience, this combination was best employed only with DVD and Blu-ray sources.
Competition and Comparison
Be sure to compare Sony's KDL-52EX700 LED LCD HDTV against its competition by reading our reviews for LG's 47LE8500 LED LCD and Mitsubishi Unisen LT-55154 LED LCD. You can find more reviews in our LED LCD HDTV review section. Additionally, there is information available on our Sony brand page.
One potential performance issue with the edge-lit LED design is a lack of brightness uniformity: The light coming from the edges is not distributed evenly across the entire panel, causing some areas to be brighter than others. This was definitely the case with the KDL-52EX700. I first noticed it during setup when I put an all-black test pattern on the screen, but it was also noticeable when I viewed HDTV content in my darkened theater room: As the TV show faded to black before a commercial break, some portions of the screen were clearly brighter than others. This lack of uniformity isn't so dramatic that it affects medium to bright scenes; plus, during the day in a bright room, it was hardly apparent. However, in a fully darkened theater room, with a dark scene on DVD or Blu-ray, it was very obvious. My review sample had one especially bright patch at the lower right edge of the screen; during my black-level demo of The Bourne Supremacy, which is a 2.35:1 movie, I could clearly see the bright patch in the lower black bar, and it bled up into the film's dark content. Once I noticed the lack of uniformity, it was difficult not to keep noticing it, and I found the issue to be a pretty big distraction when watching darker films in my theater room.
Viewing angle is still a concern with an edge-lit LED model; as you move off-axis, the light from the edges can wash out the picture. While the KDL-52EX700's image actually holds up better at wider angles than many LCDs I've seen, it still can't compete with a plasma TV in this respect.
On the ergonomic front, the only issue I had with the KDL-52EX700 is that it sometimes flashed a "No Signal: Check the input" screen when switching between resolutions. I noticed that, when I fed the TV an HDMI signal directly from my DirecTV receiver, the message never appeared. However, when I routed the signal through an A/V receiver and it perhaps took a second longer for the HDMI signal to lock in, then the TV displayed the error message. I also saw it a few times when cuing up Blu-ray discs in the same configuration.
There's a lot to like about the KDL-52EX700--from its slim form factor to its generous connection panel to its media/Web features to its attractive HD picture. However, the brightness uniformity issue is a definite hindrance if you're looking for a theater-worthy display on which to watch a lot of movies. The KDL-52EX700 isn't going to be a videophile's choice for a serious home theater setup; rather, it's better suited to be an everyday TV for watching HDTV shows, sports programming, and the occasional family flick. Its brightness makes it an especially good choice for a living room or den where the family plans to do a lot of daytime viewing and wants a nice, big screen in a nice, small package.