HDTVs in Sony's HX850 series offer lots of features, accurate colors, and a crystal clear picture, all in a stylish, energy- efficient frame. Despite their relatively low peak white output this edge-mounted LED line delivers very good image quality in both 2D and 3D, and the picture looks good from all angles. We tested the KDL-55HX850 ($2,599.99 direct), the 54.6-inch version of the screen. It’s on the high side for an edge-lit model, however, and you’ll have to cough up even more money for 3D glasses.
Edge-to-edge durable Gorilla glass topped off with a slice of silver trim around the edge gives the HX850 a sleek, streamlined look, as does the slim (1.4-inch) cabinet. The arched shiny black plastic stand isn't as flashy as the metal stands used on the Samsung UN46ES6500F ($1,729.99, 3 stars) and LG 55LM9600 ($3,599.99, 2.5 stars), but it does a good job of supporting the 47-pound cabinet and lets you easily swivel the panel to the left and right. Power, Volume, Channel Up/Down, Input Up/Down, and Home (Menu) buttons are located at the rear of the cabinet on the lower right side.
At 7.9 inches, the remote is light and comfortable to hold. Due to the remote's compact size, buttons are on the small side, and none are illuminated. In addition to the standard buttons there’s a SEN key that takes you right to the Sony Entertainment Network menu. There’s also a Scene button used for choosing picture modes, an Options button for adjusting settings, and dedicated Netflix and Internet Apps buttons. Oddly, the remote lacks a dedicated 3D button; you need to go through the menu system to find adjustments if 3D content doesn't automatically display the way you want.
You get a variety of basic and advanced picture settings. Scene selections include Auto (automatically selects the scene mode that is best suited to the content being displayed), Auto 24p Sync (selects Cinema mode for 24Hz signals), General, Cinema (two options), Sports, Animation, Photo, Game, and Graphics (for displaying tables and charts). For most lighting environments Cinema 2 is ideal, but Cinema 1 significantly lowers the backlight level for very dark rooms.
Brightness, Picture (Contrast), Color, Hue, Sharpness, and Noise Reduction are part of the basic menu, as are CineMotion (for more natural looking film-based content), MotionFlow (for smoother moving images), and color temperature settings. The advanced menu offers a black corrector, a contrast enhancer, gamma settings, local dimming control, six white balance settings, and a whiteness enhancer.
The HX850 offers both wired and wireless internet connectivity and comes with a generous selection of Web services. The Sony Entertainment Network, which requires a subscription, offers Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited channels with an extensive catalog of current music and movies titles to choose from. In addition to plenty of Yahoo apps, you get more than 50 content channels that include sports, art, and music services, plus Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, You Tube, Picasa, Slacker Radio, Twitter, and Facebook. There's a Skype app too, but you’ll have to get Sony's optional $149 webcam to use it.
We measure luminance levels and color accuracy using images from the DisplayMate HDTV diagnostic tests, a Konica-Minolta CS-200 Chroma Meter, and SpectraCals’ CalMAN software. The KDL-55HX850 turned in very accurate colors, as shown in the CIE luminance chart below. Reds and greens were in line, blues were only slightly off, but well within an acceptable range, as they had no effect on color quality and did not cause tinting in the grayscale or in skin tones.
After a basic darkroom calibration in which we disable all processing and dynamic picture features, the HX850 produced an unimpressive peak brightness reading of 94.82 cd/m2 and a decent black level reading of 0.04 cd/m2. The resulting contrast ratio of 2,370:1 isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t come close to the 22,819:1 we got from the Editors' Choice Sony BR-55HX929 ($2,899.99, 4.5 stars), which delivered a significantly brighter picture and much darker blacks.
Despite the low contrast ratio, the HX850’s X-Reality Pro processing technology delivered a sharp, detailed picture when set to Cinema mode (which takes advantage of the processing engine to optimize color and contrast). The BBC’s Planet Earth on Blu-ray looked fantastic; shadow detail in the opening credits (which shows the Earth from outer space) was quite good, and image quality was clean and sharp. What’s more, the picture maintained its color fidelity when viewed from an extreme side angle.
The HX850 series uses active 3D technology, and requires battery-powered active shutter glasses to work. The set doesn’t come with glasses, but you can buy them direct from Sony for $49.99 a pair. I watched several 3D demonstration videos on Blu-ray, and the picture showed satisfying depth. Snowboarders in the Winter X Games stood out on the slopes, and spraying snow popped right out of the screen. I observed some crosstalk, especially on edges of highly contrasting objects, but it wasn’t obtrusive.
The HX850 used only 47 watts of power during my testing without any energy-saving features enabled, which is very good for a 54.6-inch LED backlit panel. By way of comparison, the 55-inch LG 55LM6700 ($2,299, 4 stars) used 67 watts, and the Vizio M3D550KD ($1,429.99, 4 stars) used 135 watts. The set earns our GreenTech stamp of approval for excellent energy efficiency.
At $2,600, Sony’s KDL-55HX850 is a bit pricey, especially when compared with our Editors’ Choice for Budget HDTVs, the $1,430 Vizio M3D550KD. Still, it is $900 less expensive than the same-size LG’s 55LM9600, and outperforms that set in every way, except on contrast ratio. Accurate colors and sharp image detail help atone for the HX850’s less-than-stellar contrast ratio, and its sleek cabinet and seamless glass covering will dress up any room. Sony should have thrown in a couple of sets of 3D glasses, though. As good as it is, the HX850 can’t stand toe-to-toe with its higher- performing (and slightly more expensive) sibling, the Sony XBR-55HX929.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.