Sony Bravia KDL-46EX523 Review: Sub-$1000 HDTV Offers So-So Video, Great Audio
At a Glance
The 46-inch Sony Bravia KDL-46EX523 doesn’t stand out from the HDTV pack in design, features, or picture quality, but once you look at its price and its range of connected features, it starts to get a little more interesting.
Priced at $990 (as of March 28, 2012), this set has a lot of features that a budget buyer might want, including an edge-lit LED display, full HD support, built-in Internet apps, and Wi-Fi capabilities that make it a good option for people who enjoy Netflix streaming. The major trade-offs include a lack of 3D, a slower-than-most 60Hz refresh rate, and good--but not great--picture quality.
Lab Tests: Picture and Sound Quality
In PCWorld's subjective tests, the Bravia KDL-46EX523 turned in decent scores across the board. Our panel of five reviewers gave it solid scores of Average, noting that colors occasionally looked a little muted and that the set had some motion issues, especially in test scenes containing a lot of panning or fine detail.
Colors on the KDL-46EX523 always seemed to be just slightly off in our tests. In our 720p NASCAR clip, which is designed to test fast-motion handling from an over-the-air broadcast, multiple judges noted that colors appeared muted and a little washed out next to other sets in our test pool. In our 1080i football clip, the field’s green grass seemed a bit too artificial, and the overall scene was noticeably less bright than it was on the other HDTVs in our test batch.
The KDL-46EX523's motion issues were most prominent in our horizontal-panning test, which is designed to bring motion problems to the forefront. All of our reviewers found the horizontal-panning test image to be blurry as it moved across the KDL-46EX523's screen, perhaps largely due to the set's low 60Hz refresh rate. Motion problems were also apparent in our Dark Knight Blu-ray clip, in which the check pattern of Morgan Freeman's suit shimmered and appeared to jump around.
In our testing, picture quality was generally okay. Off-axis viewing angles weren’t a problem up to about 45 degrees, though we did see a loss of contrast and brightness at moderate angles. In some scenes, especially in our Baraka clips, we saw some graininess, noise, and loss of detail, but nothing to be too concerned about considering the price.
The KDL-46EX523’s built-in speakers and audio options are standout features. The set sports two 10-watt rear-facing speakers, which are very loud for built-in units. When we sat approximately 8 feet away from the HDTV, the speakers offered a comfortable volume level at around 60 percent, but presented some distortion at full volume. You can adjust a few individual settings, including the treble, bass, and balance. Sound is deep and full, and the simulated surround-sound feature does a good job of imitating the real deal: In our casual tests, the simulated surround sound seemed to come from areas on either side of the set, though it didn’t exactly wrap around behind our ears.
Design and Peripherals
The Sony Bravia KDL-46EX523 has a fairly basic design, punctuated by a two-color bezel: Your typical shiny black plastic borders the top, left, and right sides of the screen, while a slate-colored brushed-aluminum finish decorates the bottom. A silver Sony logo sits in the center of the brushed aluminum, and a Bravia logo resides in the upper-left corner. A few small LEDs on the lower-right corner indicate power and whether the timer is turned on.
With a screen measuring just under 2 inches thick, the KDL-46EX523 has a slim shape that should work well for wall mounting. If you'd rather not wall-mount this HDTV, however, it does come with a wide, rectangular, shiny black plastic stand that swivels 20 degrees to either side. The HDTV sits low on the stand, and doesn’t adjust vertically.
The set's buttons are located just behind the screen, on the lower-right side. Here you can control the power, channels, volume, and input; you'll also find a Home/Menu button for maneuvering through the menus.
A few ports--two USB 2.0 ports, one HDMI-in, one RGB/PC-in (VGA), and a headphone jack--sit on the left edge of the screen. The remaining ports are on the back-left area of the set; you get three additional HDMI-out ports, a digital audio-out (optical audio), a cable/antenna hookup, audio-in, a composite video hookup, a component-in (with audio), and an ethernet port. All ports are clearly labeled.
The KDL-46EX523 comes with a large, black remote with a flat back and a scooped, concave front where the buttons reside. The flat back, shiny and peppered with matte dots, has only two features: the Sony logo and a large, green-lined power button. (The back of the remote will blend right in if you have a minimalist living room, I guess.) The remote's front buttons include dedicated media buttons (for Netflix, Internet TV, and Qriocity), four programmable hot-buttons, and basic menu buttons such as Sync Menu, Display, Guide, Options, Home, and Return.
Internet-Connected TV, Basic Setup, and On-Screen Menus
When you turn on the Sony Bravia KDL-46EX523 for the first time, you see an initial-setup wizard. It’s basic, but it hits all the major options: viewing environment, language/region, time, tuning for channels, network setup (wireless or wired), and automatic scanning for any software downloads.
The on-screen menus are sleek, attractive, and easy to navigate. Pressing the Home button on the remote brings up the main menu system, which resizes whatever you’re watching to about half the width of the screen; you can keep an eye on the programming while browsing the menus. From the main menu system, you can access the full boat of settings (picture and display settings, audio options, network setup, and input selection), Web applications, streaming services, and a list of customized favorites.
If you'd rather not go to the full menu system, you can press the Options button on the remote to pull up a truncated menu that lets you deal with the basics: adjusting picture and sound, adding a channel to a list of favorites, or selecting preset scene modes. From this menu, you can also program the picture-in-picture display, which lets you pick from a traditional small box or larger side-by-side viewing.
The KDL-46EX523 comes with a number of scene presets that optimize the display and audio for assorted content types (movies, sports, music, games, general, and an auto-selector among them). More-granular picture adjustments include the basic backlight, brightness, color, hue, temperature, and sharpness adjustments, as well as advanced settings for custom-mode users. Among the advanced settings are controls for black-level optimization, gamma adjustment, and white balance.
This set comes with a wide variety of Internet content, in addition to widgets, a built-in Web browser, and Skype. However, because neither a mic nor a camera is built in, you can use Skype only with a separately sold Sony microphone/camera attachment. Content-wise, the set offers Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube, as well as niche channels like NHL Vault and Internet radio channels such as Pandora and Slacker.
As the sub-$1000 price suggests, this isn't Sony's highest-end HDTV. Its refresh rate is only 60Hz, and it doesn't have all the bells, whistles, and advanced picture-adjustment settings that hard-core videophiles may be looking for.
However, it does offer a good blend of wireless connected features and decent performance for the price. Its interface and menus are easy to use, it has a built-in on-screen manual, and its ports are clearly labeled. On top of that, it sports a sleek design and a slim profile, so it should fit nicely into any living room.
The overall picture quality is just about average, with muted colors, motion-blur issues in some panning scenes, and a moiré effect in some highly detailed patterns. But the set produces good, loud simulated surround sound. In short, the Sony Bravia KDL-46EX523 won't win any prizes for design, performance, or picture quality, but it is an affordable model for users with basic needs who like to have a little Netflix as well as spending cash on the side.