Sony R520/R550 series review:Sony’s big-screen bargain
The good: The Sony R520/R550 series offers excellent value and very good picture quality among its peers; relatively deep black levels; matte screen leads improves bright-room performance; attractive styling with unique stand.
The bad: Even better values are available; colors aren’t entirely accurate; the different Smart TV interfaces can be confusing and a little slow; Screen mirroring didn’t work on our sample.
The bottom line: The big-screen Sony R520/R550 series offers the best value you’ll see from the company this year.
While Samsung released dozens of different televisions in 2013, Sony did what turned out to be the right thing by announcing just four series of TVs at the start of the year. Though more followed later on, the initial distillation did lead to a less-confusing lineup in 2013.
The most mainstream series in that lineup are the “R” models, namely the R520/R550. The two are basically identical but for 3D on the R550. The series is solid performer, and while it does have a couple of other gimmicky features, it succeeds in providing excellent bang for the buck.
While the R520/R550 may be in Sony’s mid-range, it manages to outperform more-expensive TVs such as Samsung’s UNF7100. The Sony’s black levels are pretty good and colors are pleasing even if they’re not super-accurate.
On the other hand, competition is fierce. The Sony R520/R550 can’t quite match the picture quality of the cheaper Sharp LE650, our top pick among big-screen LED LCDs. And while Vizio’s E1i-A3 can’t match either one for picture quality, it’s cheap enough to also deliver better overall value than the Sony. On the other hand, the R550/R520 out-styles both, culminating in a package that makes it an easy recommendation for anybody who wants a little something extra in a well-priced big-screen LCD.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Sony KDL-60R520A, but this review also applies to the 70-inch size in the R520A series as well as the three sizes in the KDL-R550A series listed below. The only difference between the R520A and R550A series, according to Sony, is that the R550A has 3D capability. Otherwise all sizes in both series have identical specs and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Our first impressions after unboxing and setting up the Sony were “nice.” The company always has a knack (Get it?) for fetching design, even in a mid-level TV like this. With large screen sizes, a thin frame around the screen makes a TV seem even more impressively “all picture,” and the R520/R550 accomplishes this feat with aplomb. The all-black, sharp-edged rectangle contrasts nicely with the rounded chrome ribbon stand. A pleasingly low profile completes the rakish look. Compared to similar large LCDs from Vizio and Sharp, the R520/R550 is in another league.
Sony’s remote is quietly accomplished in its own right, with its trademark friendly ergonomic touches that lend it a premium air. These include the convex surface, the large, finger-friendly cursor control and the distinct, logically arranged button groups. Color is used sparingly but well, from the large red Netflix button to the blue Home key.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The menu system is refreshingly basic. Instead of the animated, graphics-heavy interface found on step-up TVs, everything is accessed from a simple, text-based menu tree that allows you to see everything at a glance. Shortcuts abound in both the primary and the secondary Options menu, allowing easy access to major functions. Overall the feel is well integrated and logical, if a bit plain-looking.
|Key TV features
||3D glasses included
||Dejudder (smooth) processing
|Other:RVU support for DirecTV receivers
When Sony first pitched the R series we were told it was the “workhorse” of the 2013 TV lineup, and that’s about right. The edge-lit LED backlight lacks the excellent local dimming and Triluminous technology on higher-end models like the KDL-55W900A and KDL-65W850A, so there’s little expectation of similarly premium picture quality. It also doesn’t have the so-called “dynamic edge” dimming of the W802A, although that TV didn’t perform nearly as well as the W900A in our tests.
Sony’s specifications use the term “Motion Flow XR240,” but according to a Sony rep we spoke to, the panel has a native refresh rate of 120Hz. The other 120 apparently comes from flim-flammery. Despite the difference of 240 space bucks XR units, and the lack of an “X-Reality PRO” moniker, the R520/R550 demonstrated similar video processing performance to the W802A.
The R550A models support 3D while the R520A models do not. The R550A’s 3D is of thepassive variety, and like so many other so-equipped sets they include four pairs of 3D glasses. We didn’t test Sony’s glasses or 3D this time around since we reviewed an R520A sample instead, but we expect it to perform the same as we saw on the W802A.
Sony is touting RVU compatibility on the R series, although for some reason step-up 2013 Sony TVs don’t have this extra. Through it, “DirecTV customers with the Genie Whole-Home HD DVR can access their set-top box, DVR, and on-demand services right from the KDL-R550A TV without the need for additional equipment.” Sony assured us that DirecTV doesn’t charge an additional fee, monthly or otherwise, for the TV to access the box. For more info, check outDirecTV’s support page for more; we didn’t test it for this review.
In combination with your smartphone or tablet the TV can perform all sorts of futuristic entertainment acrobatics. The R520/R550 can mirror any content on the phone’s screen, for example, with the exception of some rights-protected material, via Miracast (Wi-Fi). We tested the screen mirroring function with both a HTC One X+ and a Samsung Galaxy S4 but it worked with neither phone. Luckily, the Sony will also work with Send to TV in supported apps like YouTube.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Smart TV: Sony is mixing things up (in a bad way) by offering three separate Smart TV interfaces with the R520/R550. The first and slowest is the Sony Entertainment Network which aggregates video content, music and apps on a side-scrolling page. Unfortunately it’s painfully slow compared to the other interfaces, so once you discover them, that big “SEN” key on the remote probably won’t get used as often.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The second interface is the best and fastest–so naturally it’s also the easiest to miss. Dubbed “Internet Contents,” it appears above Applications in the main menu. Shortcuts to major apps like Netflix and Amazon are on tap, and hitting “Internet Video” serves up a large, easy-to-use page with all of the other dozens of apps you can use with this television.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The third interface is Opera TV, which also offers movies and even more apps, in yet another side-scrolling menu. Some people may want to stick with the main five or so Applications shortcuts — or failing that, the Netflix shortcut button on the remote.
Compare Sony’s apps offering with that of its competition here.
Picture settings: While the Sony comes with the usual Contrast controls, Picture and Scene selection modes, it doesn’t come with any advanced color or grayscale adjustments. As such, the TV was quite easy to set up, but this also means it isn’t possible to get it as close to “reference” level as you can with more expensive sets. See the calibration notes for more detail.
If you’re a gamer, you will be interested to know that the dedicated Game scene (accessible by pressing the Options key) offers the least input lag.
Connectivity: For an inexpensive model, the company provides you with sufficient connections for most home theater setups. First is a generous four HDMI ports (one with MHL), followed by two USB inputs and a hybrid composite/component jack. Wired and wireless internet connectivity is also offered.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
The Sony R520/R550 may not have the most accurate color according to the graphs, but it had a very pleasing color balance all the same, with the gentlest red push in skin tones. Black levels were good, but not spectacular, while shadow detail was actually quite good. Video processing was about where it should be for a TV at its price level, and bright-room performance was solid. Overall this is a very good performer compared to its competition.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.
Black level: The Sony mustered a decent depth of black, but in our tough lineup it was defeated in this regard by everything else except the Samsung 7100. Blacks were also a little blue compared to the competition, with the Sharp LE650, for example, giving a much more neutral and also deeper shade of black.
The Sony had one of the better shadow detail performances in the opening shot of Chapter 12 of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” however, with more of the valley behind the army visible. On the other hand, the faces of the wizards didn’t pop quite as much as on the superior Panasonic S64 plasma.
In other scenes the blacks and shadow detail were similar between the Samsung F7100 and the Sony R520, with the Sony just getting the edge. At the 50:37 mark, Neville Longbottom stands on a bridge watching the dark wizards come out of the mists and the Sony was able to give better shape to the approaching shadowy figures versus the Samsung’s whose combatants were still lost in brown soup.
Color accuracy: The colors of the R520 were fair, with just a little bit of a red push to skin tones, and while this was actually quite a pleasing effect, in other ways red could appear reticent. At the beginning of Chapter 4 of the visually stunning “Samsara,” you see two Tibetan monks welcoming the day while overlooking a valley, and the vermillion of the monks’ robes stood out best on four of the assembled TVs, with the Sharp and the Sony R520 looking a little unsaturated.
The flesh tones of the R520 were very pleasing, whether it was the weathered skin of a Tibetan mother or the pasty white flesh of an infant (“The Tree Of Life,” 39:19) the Sony didn’t tip into ruddiness or unnatural pinkness whereas the M-series Vizio did. There was a family resemblance between the two Sony TVs for skin tones with of Jessica Chastain’s mother in “The Tree of Life” looking very similar on both the R520 and the more expensive W900, but when it came to other colors it was easier to see the turquoise of her dress on the costlier television.
Green response also differed depending on the film’ where in “The Tree of Life” the grass that sprouted out so abundantly in each scene looked similar on both Sonys and the Panasonic plasma, the green of the mural in “Samsara” (10:37) looked a little oversaturated on the R520 compared to the other televisions.
There was one artifact we noticed on the R520 and it’s one it shared with a 2012 Samsung TV. Last year we looked at Samsung’s UN40ES6500 and noticed that when there were moving images in front of a gray background the edges of the object would bleed blue. We hadn’t seen this issue again until the appearance of the R520, when during Chapter 12 of “Deathly Hallows” the Sony showed the exact same issue: as Potter ran between columns trying to talk to the Grey Lady, the edges also trailed. As with DLP’s rainbow effect, once you notice it, you start looking for it, but in our experience with the Sony it happens much more rarely.
Video processing: The Sony was decent but not spectacular in this category, and as usual with Sony you’ll have to choose between maximum motion resolution and correct 1080p/24film cadence.
The TV was able to get 1200 lines of resolution with Motionflow engaged in both Standard and High, but in addition to the soap opera effect, both modes exhibited significant artifacts such as blurring and “twinkling” in the cross-hatched patterns. Without Motionflow’s smoothing enabled, the R520 only managed 300 lines of resolution, but did correctly handle 1080p/24.
When watching films, the Sony is able to resolve 1080i content quite well with only some very minor shimmering artifacts with the 1080i Film Resolution Loss Test, and no moire in the stands.
If you’re using this screen for gaming, then enabling Game mode will reduce the lag to 31.9 milliseconds which is a “Good” result compared to other flat-panel TVs. The Sony W900 and X802A scored significantly better, but 31.9 isn’t half bad.
Uniformity: There were some minor black uniformity issues with the model we received on the bottom left hand side, but these were only visible on a pure black screen, not during program material, not even “Harry Potter.” The otherwise superior Sharp LE650 had worse uniformity issues than this television, with more visible blotchy patches.
Off-axis was pretty good on the Sony, with only a slight loss of contrast and decent, if not worse, black levels when viewed from the sides.
Bright lighting: Among the group the R520, was one of the least reflective, with the Sharp being ridiculously anti-reflective and matte. The Samsung F7100 had the brightest picture, but at times, even in a lit room that sets uniformity, problems such as spotlighting in the corners would be visible on a black screen.
The R520 has a better bright room picture than the Sharp with better brightness and contrast.
Sound quality: The R520′s speaker system was reasonable and, as with most televisions, it sounded better with dialogue than it did with music. When playing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” we identified a lack of bass response which caused the propulsive bass guitar line to become lost. Nick Cave’s voice was also shrouded and not very present — but even so, the overall effect was much more pleasant than the Samsung 7100 with its flatulent bass.
Lastly, one of the best things about the Sony’s sound, apart from decent amounts of dynamics in action movies, was that it goes a lot louder than its competition (Sharp, Vizio) without exhibiting distortion.
3D: As mentioned above we didn’t review the 3D portion of this TV’s picture quality, because our review sample was a non-3D R520A model, not the 3D-equipped R550A. That said, we expect the TV to perform as well as the KDL-W802A in this category. See the 3D section of that review for details.
|GEEK BOX: Test
|Black luminance (0%)
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)
|Dark gray error (20%)
|Bright gray error (70%)
|Avg. color error
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)
|1080i De-interlacing (film)
|Motion resolution (max)
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)
|Input lag (Game mode)
Sony R520 calibration notes
CNET Editors’ Rating
3.5 stars Very good
Overall rating: 7.5
$1,063.00 to $2,722.95
Review Date: 11/25/13
full story: http://reviews.cnet.com/flat-panel-tvs/sony-kdl-70r520a/4505-6482_7-35831558.html