Sony Bravia NX800 LCD TV Series
At a Glance
Editor's note: This review of the Sony NX800 series is based on our hands-on testing and evaluation of the 52-inch Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800. According to the manufacturer, the image quality and features should be equivalent for each TV in this model line.
The Sony NX800 series looks great on paper with a 240Hz refresh rate, built-in Wi-Fi, and the most impressive lineup of Internet services we've seen to date. But a number of usability issues undermine the set's performance; and though the set generally performed well in our juried image-quality tests, we noticed some artifacts related to its edge-lit LED display that we found disconcerting for a HDTV this price range.
Judges evaluating the NX800 series in our image-quality tests offered mixed opinions of the set's performance. Some liked it across the board; others were unenthusiastic about its performance on one or another particular type of media. In one of our motion tests (a panning shot of a blueprint) all of our judges noticed fixed shadows at the bottom of the screen, which we attributed to the configuration of the LED sectors in the edge backlight.
Still, the NX800 series wound up with an overall score of good and some models captured a spot on our Top 5 50-, 52-, and 55-Inch HDTVs chart. Its image quality was certainly on a par with that of most competitors in a generally strong field of newer sets. Given the uneven performance evaluations we accumulated, we highly recommend that you eyeball the set with the type of media you intend to watch on it before committing to buy.
The NX800 series has a very squarish look (its corners are sharp right angles) but otherwise it adheres to the current flat-screen aesthetic of a fairly thin (about 1.5 inches across) black bezel and a flat surface. Some of the ports (two HDMI, ethernet, composite video, stereo and optical audio out, and coaxial cable/antenna connector) align vertically in a depression concealed behind a removable panel in the back of the set, with an opening on the left side for cable management. Partially hiding the cables seemed like a good idea, until we began trying to connect them. Screwing in the coaxial cable to the sideways-facing port turned out to be a two-person operation because of the angle at which we had to hold the cable; and we had to bend all of the cables sharply to get them through the opening. More ports (two additional HDMI, one component video, one PC display, an analog audio input, and one USB) face outward on the back left side; they're easier to reach, but they have no cable management features.
One unusual design feature we liked was the ability to tilt the set up to 6 degrees backward on its pedestal (in addition to being able to swivel it 20 degrees sideways—a fairly common feature of recent pedestals).The vertical tilt could be useful in rooms where you can't look straight ahead at the display.
Sony's first-time setup wizard covers the usual ground—home vs. store mode, language, date/time, channel source, and scanning (which took an unusually long time)—and it adds localization, in which you specify you're country and (in the United States) zip code. The software asks whether you want the set to perform software updates while in energy-wasteful standby mode, but it doesn't offer an energy-efficient alternative.
The main menu, which covers the entire scene, is an almost (but not quite) opaque black that you can't adjust. (Many sets let you control the transparency of on-screen menus.) You scroll horizontally through clearly labeled icons for principal categories, including Settings, Photo, Music, Video (to access on-demand services), and TV (to access available channels), External Inputs, Network, and Qriocity (Sony's movie purchase/rental service); to access the options within these categories, you scroll vertically.
The deceptively simple-looking remote also has square edges that echo the design of the set. A Light button toggles a blue backlight, which turns off automatically after several seconds. Buttons that you might need to use while watching TV are larger than ones that you are more likely to use with the lights on. In addition to the usual buttons for controlling specific external devices, toggling through inputs, navigating on-screen menus, adjusting volume, and switching channels, there are a few that you don't usually see.
The I-Manual button brings up an on-screen manual that has no print counterpart (it supplements the 21-page printed setup guide).
The Theater Mode button supposedly optimizes sound and picture quality for movies. A couple of buttons are dedicated to bringing up menus on connected Blu-ray Disc or DVD menus.
You can access several other controls via curved thin buttons arrayed in a circle around the navigation keypad. The Guide button affords access to a downloadable program guide from TV Guide (the guide was great for the channels it supported, but it provided no data at all for quite a few channels). The Display button brings up program information from all sources; it even showed a movie description as I watched a film from Netflix on Demand.
Three buttons directly access Internet functions: Video (for Sony's extensive list of Internet video services), Qriocity, and Yahoo Widgets. Sony implements video viewing well: A small pop-up player offering controls such as pause and fast-forward appears on the bottom of the screen when you hit the Options button.
The NX800 series has built in 802.11n Wi-Fi support as well as an ethernet port for network connections. I prefer a wired broadband connection for video streaming; but in my tests, videos streamed via Wi-Fi from Netflix on Demand and YouTube looked okay. I connected to a DSL line via a network cable, and immediately ran into trouble with Qriocity: When I tried to get started with the service, the set displayed a message saying that it needed a software update, and advising me to make sure that I had turned on the option for automatic software updates while on standby.
Since I couldn't find a way to force an immediate update, I left the set powered on overnight—but the same message appeared the following day. Not until after an intervening weekend did I return to find the activation routine accessible. A Sony technician explained later that we could have forced the upgrade by downloading it from Sony's support site. Sure enough, when we dug deep enough, we found instructions for performing the update by downloading it to a USB flash drive; but nowhere in the printed or on-screen manual did we find a link to those directions.
Similarly, when we inserted a USB drive containing media, we couldn't find a way to play the content via the remote—there was no USB drive option in the inputs, and the iManual provided no detailed instructions. Again, the Sony technician revealed that users can play media on a USB drive only after searching the on-screen menus for the desired media type (such as Picture, Music or Video). If the drive contains a supported format, the USB drive will appear as a menu item—and not otherwise. To make an unintuitive setup worse, we had to scroll through a list of about 30 Internet video sites and services in the video category before getting to the (previously nonexistent) USB drive option.
Of course, the good news is that Sony has set up 30 video sites and services. Music and photo services are skimpier, a half dozen or so of each. But the set's support for multimedia is as limited as its video services are abundant: The NX8500 series supports only JPEG or RAW stills (the latter for preview only), MP3 music, and (most annoyingly) AVCHD, MP4 (AVC), or MPEG1 video. Lack of the common .avi (Microsoft) and .mov (Apple) formats is especially disappointing.
Other controls are confusing as well. The Picture menu offers only three presets (standard, vivid, and custom) that adjust the backlight, white level, brightness, and color saturation.You get four audio presets (standard, dynamic, custom, and clear voice for enhanced speech audio) but under the Settings menu an item called Scene Select promises to optimize both image and audio quality for various content types: Settings here are Cinema, Sports, Photo, Music, Game, Graphics, General, and Auto (which adjusts based on input selection). In general, the controls for fine-tuning are adequate but not quite as detailed as we've seen in some other sets; for example, you don't get the level of white balance controls we see in the LG Infinia 50PK950 and the Samsung LN46C650.
Sony delivers a lot of features, including picture-in-picture, the downloadable TV Guide, and the ability to play supported content on networked media servers. Another plus: The set's two integrated 10-watt speakers deliver good audio and simulated surround sound. But the Wi-Fi and the strong video-on-demand support are the chiefselling points here. If you don't intend to take advantage of them, you would do well to consider comparable displays that cost less money.