Review: Sony Bravia KDL-46HX850 offers solid features and performance
At a Glance
The edge-lit Sony KDL-46HX850 LED HDTV offers a lot to like for its reasonable price. Our panel of judges rated its picture quality as very good, giving it a higher performance score than the higher-priced Panasonic Viera P55VT50 plasma HDTV. When you combine that with the set’s excellent sound and a truly exceptional collection of Internet offerings, you have an HDTV well worth $1600 (as of 12/5/2012), even if its remote control needs another round on the design bench.
This is a 3D television, but you have to buy the glasses separately; the set uses active-shutter 3D glasses, so they're expensive at $50 per pair. Once you've bought them, you can watch everything in 3D, as the KDL-46HX850 can turn 2D images into simulated 3D (although personally, I don't see the attraction).
When five judges (including me) tested the KDL-46HX850's image quality in the TechHive Lab, we were pleased by its picture quality. One of our judges was impressed with the KDL-46HX850’s "vivid and fairly accurate" colors. Another judge was impressed by the wrinkles made visible by the HX850's sharp imaging, but another noted a slight, fake sharpness (called edge enhancement) that hurt the look of some shots. Calibrating the set using a Digital Video Essentials DVD produced vast improvements in our color-accuracy and motion-handling scores, so we recommend doing that.
If you don't calibrate the set, its picture shows a few problems. I was bothered by too much contrast in some scenes, and I noticed some vibration in a brick wall that should not have been vibrating on the Mission: Impossible III Blu-ray disc (chapter 7). Others noted slight pixellation, blurry hair, and bright daylight causing image blow-out.
But those drawbacks weren’t enough to prevent the HX850 from earning an overall score of Very Good in our tests. Almost everyone gave it Very Good grades for details and sharpness, motion-handling, and color accuracy. If you don't calibrate the set and just use its scene presets, colors and skin tones are relative weak spots, as the HX850 earned scores of Good in those test categories.
If your bank account or your living conditions make a real surround setup impractical, the KDL-46HX850’s built-in speakers will make an acceptable alternative. For built-in units, they produce good movie sound. Cranking the volume all the way up (much to the displeasure of everyone else in the lab), I heard only one moment of very slight distortion. Since the volume was too loud for comfort, I don't consider that a flaw. With the volume turned down to 80 percent, everything sounded great. The speakers managed quiet and loud sounds well, so that a sudden organ blast could effectively startle the ears. The pseudo-surround sound was better than most I've heard, although no substitute for a real home theater sound system with five or seven directional speakers and a large subwoofer.
Connected features and media playback
The KDL-46HX850 comes with an impressive selection of Internet entertainment. Whether you connect via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, you'll find an extensive selection of streaming video and music services. The selections include Netflix, Hulu Plus, Youtube, Skype, eHow, and the Digital Cinema Concert Series. There are also several pay-per-view services in the mix, including Amazon's and Sony's own Video Unlimited. You can add more, and new apps will likely become available over time.
If you want to keep track of the world around you as you watch TV, you can use Yahoo Widgets. When you turn Widgets on, your regular programming shrinks a bit to make room on the screen for small boxes with weather, news, and other information.
Sony's central Internet screen offers a search tool that you can use to find a particular movie or show across multiple services. Unfortunately, like just about every such search tool I've tested, it left a lot to be desired. I searched for 30 Rock, and it brought up the title of one episode. I selected that, and got all sorts of suggestions, only one of which had anything to do with the popular sitcom.
In addition to the Internet, you can access your own photos, videos, and music files over a network or on a USB drive. The flash drive is probably the easiest way if you're not comfortable with networking, but you'll be able to play fewer file formats that way. Of seven video files I tried, all in different formats, the KDL-46HX850 only recognized and played two. You'll find a list of supported formats on page 68 of the printable i-Manual online.
To play media files over your network, your computer will need to run DLNA server software. If you're using Windows, Windows Media Player will do the trick, but setting up the server may take a bit of work.
Remote control, inputs, and setup
Speaking of which, setting up the KDL-46HX850 itself can be a pain. Although several inputs on the side are easy to access, the ones on the back--including the coaxial cable and two of the four HDMIs--face down. This is always a difficult configuration, but the small size of the indent that the inputs face down into makes this one especially difficult. It took me several tries to successfully screw in the cable connection.
Once everything is plugged in and you turn on the television for the first time, the KDL-46HX850 walks you through an unusually long setup wizard. Amongst the usual settings every HDTV wizard wants to know about (home or store, Internet connection, search for channels), it asks for information I've never before been asked. For instance, it wants to know how you have the TV mounted and whether you want to upload a history log. It even tells you about features that it doesn't give you a chance to adjust (you can do so later from the main menu). None of the questions are particularly difficult, but going through all of them does take some time.
After the setup, you can relax and watch TV. But sometimes you'll need to access the main menu. The first time you do so, by pressing the remote's Home button, you may feel a bit disoriented--especially if you're not used to Sony's onscreen menus. The first-level icons--for such main categories as Inputs, Favorites, and Settings--appear in a row at the bottom of the screen. The currently-selected icon is the one farthest to the right. When you use the left and right arrow keys to select another category, the icons move while the focus remains on the bottom-right corner. It takes a bit of getting used to.
Other buttons on the remote bring you access to many of the same tools in a more-conventional menu system. The Options button allows you to adjust the picture and sound, the aspect ratio, and other settings. You can even use this menu to adjust the volume of the headphone. The Guide button brings up the Rovi Guide--a free service that lets you see what's on TV.
The Input button lets you change the programming source; for instance, to change from cable to your Blu-ray player. This isn't the best Input menu I've seen by a long shot. You may have to scroll through unused inputs to get to the one you want. The volume and channel controls--frequently used on a television--are too low for easy access. The remote is not programmable.
If you access the Internet on your HDTV, you will inevitably have to enter text--searches, passwords, and so on. A remote control is a clumsy tool for that job. Sony provides some keyboard options, but I couldn't get them to work. I tried the Android app (they also have one for iOS), but nothing I did with it would bring up my phone's onscreen keyboard. A Sony spokesperson told me that "it should work." Sony also offers a Windows Remote Keyboard application, but that refused to install on my Lenovo laptop.
The KDL-46HX850 doesn't come with a quick setup guide, but the 35-page manual is well-laid out and clear. Unfortunately, it lacks an index and has only one page of troubleshooting. It also lacks some important information, such as video formats.
Fortunately, if you go to the KDL-46HX850 Web page's Manuals tab, you'll find a large selection of online documentation. I strongly recommend downloading the aforementioned i-Manual online (Printable).
Speaking of i-Manuals, there's one built into the television. With tabs for Basic Operations, Table of Contents, Troubleshooting, and Index, it helps you find an answer to your problems without opening a physical book or a .pdf.
If the EPA were an elementary school teacher, the KDL-46HX850 would get three gold Energy Stars. When on, this LED-backlit LCD TV pulls only 46 watts based on our tests. When "off," it sips so little it didn't register on our meters. (We know it was burning something; otherwise you couldn't turn it on with the remote.)
Despite a few rough edges with the remote, the search options, and the ports, the Sony KDL-46HX850 offers good value for the price. Its picture quality is very good, its built-in speakers are great, and its connected features are among the best we’ve seen. This is definitely an LED HDTV worth considering for the price.