- Review Date: 11/29/2012
- Bottom line: The Sony Bravia KDL-42EX440 is a 42-inch edge-lit LED HDTV offering good color quality and wide viewing angles. It doesn't get very bright or very dark, and lacks some of the features that come standard on many HDTVs, but its low price is appealing.
- Pros: Affordable. Accurate colors. Wide viewing angles.
- Cons: Low contrast ratio. Mediocre black levels. Limited feature set.
Buying a budget HDTV no longer means having to settle for skewed colors and subpar image quality, but you will still have to make some sacrifices. With the Sony Bravia KDL-42EX440 ($549.99 direct) you get solid color quality and a sharp 1080p picture that looks good from all angles, but that’s about it. This no-frills HDTV doesn't offer Internet connectivity or any Web apps, nor does it have 3D capabilities. Its contrast ratio is less than optimal as well. That said, its very reasonable price tag will appeal to budget-conscious shoppers.
There's nothing notable about the look of the 42EX440; it uses a matte black cabinet with a glossy black bezel and a rigid glossy black rectangular base. The base does a good job of supporting the 29-pound cabinet but doesn't allow for swivel adjustments. A silver Sony logo sits on the lower bezel along with seven touch-sensitive buttons, including Power, Channel, Volume, Source, and Home (menu) buttons. The controls are erratic; sometimes they respond with one touch and other times they need to be pressed several times. You're better off using the included remote.
I/O ports are limited. The 42EX440 only has two HDMI inputs (most HDTVs come with four). One is mounted on the left side of the cabinet above a USB port and the other is on the back of the cabinet along with digital and analog audio outputs, a VGA (PC) video input, a TV Coaxial jack, and component A/V inputs. If you have more than two devices (three if you're fine with using component video), you'll need to find other ways to connect them. And there's no Ethernet or Wi-Fi, so you can't connect this set to the Web.
The two 8-watt speakers are actually quite loud considering they are rear-facing. They don’t put out a lot of bass, but you can coax a bit of low end by enabling the bass boost option.
The remote is a little over 8 inches long and contains 36 buttons plus a four-way directional navigation button. None of the buttons are illuminated. It has a dedicated Scene button that lets you select one of seven picture presets (Auto, General, Photo, Music, Cinema, Game, Graphics, and Sports), along with the typical player controls (Play, Forward, Rewind, Pause, Stop), a Source button, a number pad, and a Home button that takes you into the settings screens.
You get the usual selection of picture, audio, and channel settings. Picture settings include Backlight, Picture (contrast), Brightness, Color, Hue, Sharpness, and Color Temperature. There's also a CineMotion setting that helps reduce blurring when watching film-based content, and five noise reduction settings. Advanced settings include a black corrector and a contrast enhance—both of which can help strengthen contrast, but introduce artifacts when enabled—as well as a gamma adjustment and white balance controls. Additionally, there's a menu selection for Sony’s Photo Frame application that will play USB-stored photos and music in a slideshow while displaying a calendar.
Picture performance was a mixed bag. Using images from the DisplayMate HDTV diagnostic tests and a Konica Minolta CS-200 Chroma Meter, the 42EX440 turned in a relatively low peak brightness of 159.79 cd/m2 (candelas per square meter) and a black level reading of 0.06 cd/m2. That works out to a contrast ratio of 2,663:1, which is considerably better than the LG 42CS560's 987:1 contrast ratio, but just shy of the Editors' Choice Samsung PN51E490B4F, a 720p plasma HDTV that doesn't have quite as high a black level (0.08 cd/m2) but gets much brighter at 225.08 cd/m2 for a contrast ratio of 2,814:1. It's well short of what you’ll get from a more expensive set like the Sharp Aquos LC-60LE640U (12,221:1).
Red and green color measurements matched up nicely with the CIE 1976 chromaticity specs. Blue was a bit cool, but fortunately there were no tinting errors as a result. The mediocre black levels came into play while watching Tree of Life on Blu-ray; shadow detail was somewhat muddy, particularly in darker scenes, and the picture could have been brighter. Otherwise, colors were well-saturated and the high-definition image looked sharp. Off-angle viewing looked great, with the picture not fading and colors not distorting at all when watched from the sides.
The set averaged 68 watts of power during my testing with power saving disabled, which is in line with similar-size LED-based models. Switching to the low setting cut usage down to 57 watts without making the picture too dim, while the high setting cut it down to 28 watts (but made it much too dark). By way of comparison, Sony's 46-inch KDL-46EX750 used 67 watts with power saving disabled and 48 watts with power saving enabled.
You won't get a lot of extras with the Sony Bravia KDL-42EX440, but you won't pay a premium price for it either. What you do get is good color performance, relatively wide viewing angles, and a sharp HD picture for around $550. Black levels and peak brightness could certainly be better, but if you're short on cash and want a basic 42-inch HDTV, the 42EX440 will fill the bill nicely. If you want a larger, still-affordable HDTV with a more robust feature set, including out-of-the-box active 3D with glasses, the $690 51-inch Samsung PN51E490B4F is our Editors' Choice for budget HDTVs. It's a plasma set, however, and it maxes out at 720p resolution.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.