The Sony BRAVIA HX850 is the newest model in Sony’s 2012 TV line-up, and is the second most expensive TV on offer. It’s got a slightly higher price than the comparable Samsung ES7500 and LG LM8600. It has excellent picture quality in both preset and calibrated modes, but the Sony interface is beginning to look dated. See also Group test: what's the best TV?
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Design
The HX850 is the top new release for Sony this year, but it still sits under the HX925 — a 2011 release that the company is keeping on until 2013. Visit Samsung PS50C6900
Like the HX925 the BRAVIA HX850 is a ‘Monolithic Design’ Sony TV, with no visible bezels or disruptive design cues. We tested the HX850 with its optional stand, which includes more powerful speakers and a six-degree backwards tilt, but the bundled stand is also attractive and fits in with the TV’s sleek and futuristic design.
The HX850 isn’t nearly as glossy as the earlier HX925, and that’s a very good thing. We used the HX850 in a room brightly lit by fluorescent lights and while it is moderately reflective, distractions can be minimised with careful room placement. The optional stand is more likely to reflect ceiling lights due to its rakish cant. We wouldn’t use the HX850 in a room where a large light source like a window is directly in front of the TV — a matte screen (like a Sharp or some Panasonics) is a better choice here.
The screen is finished in a single sheet of Gorilla Glass, but the bezel of the Sony BRAVIA HX850 does intrude around an inch from the TV’s edge on all sides. When it’s switched on, the HX850 doesn’t have the same impressive borderless effect that we liked on the LG LM9600. The deep black bezel does make the on-screen image look more contrasty and impressive, though.
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Interface and apps
The remote control that’s bundled with the Sony BRAVIA HX850 is a cut-down version of last year’s model, and it’s a little confusing. The buttons are small, there are a lot of them and it’s not really clear what they all do. We would have preferred a simpler remote bundled with a more comprehensive on-screen interface.
The on-screen menu interface of the Sony BRAVIA HX850 is functionally very similar to the one used in last year’s models. We wish text was crisper, larger and higher-resolution, as the smooth white-on-black is hard to read from a distance. Samsung is currently our benchmark for a quality menu interface, while Sharp shows what’s possible with a simple interface on a non-Smart TV.
The Sony Entertainment Network brings all the company’s video, music and apps into one place on the BRAVIA HX850. Sony has consolidated 2011’s BRAVIA Internet Video and Sony Internet TV into the Sony Entertainment Network, adding features like Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited along the way.
The SEN interface relies on large icons and is easy to navigate, but the underlying applications are the same as last year. ABC iView, for example, desperately needs an update: instead of the sleek interface of the Web browser version, the Sony interface is a glut of video icons and little more.
The Entertainment Network interface is split into apps, video and music, with an additional favourites section. The apps are free (although some like Quickflix require in-app payment) and are already loaded onto the TV. Video and music purchases are made through Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services — Music Unlimited is subscription-based but videos can only be temporarily rented with no unlimited subscription option.
Heading into the app section shows a description box for each app that’s not filled out by the information inside it. The interface generally looks a little slap-dash; we think it could use more work.
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Connectivity
The BRAVIA HX850 has a range of analog and digital inputs that is comparable to other 2011 and 2012 LED and plasma TVs.
The TV’s four HDMI ports are more than enough for average home use — we don’t expect many living rooms to have more than a Blu-ray player in them these days, especially since most TVs (including the Sony HX850) can record TV shows, making a PVR redundant. The HDMI ports are distributed across the side and bottom panels of the HX850’s rear.
An optional break-out connector lets the Sony HX850 receive analog composite and component video. There’s also a built-in analog composite video port on the TV’s rear facing outwards, along with two of the three total analog audio inputs.
There’s an Ethernet port on the bottom panel and two side-mounted USB 2.0 ports for Internet and external media connectivity respectively. NTFS file systems aren’t supported over USB, so you’ll need to make sure flash drives or hard drives are formatted using FAT. We had no problems playing MKV, AVI, MP4, MP3, WAV, JPG and BMP files on the Sony HX850 through either USB port off an external hard drive.
Wi-Fi is built into the Sony HX850, with 802.11b/g/n supported. The HX850 has Wi-Fi Direct, so content can be directly streamed to the TV from any compatible laptop, smartphone or other mobile device.
Like older Sony BRAVIA TVs, the HX850 supports an optional USB Skype camera which, in conjunction with a Skype app, turns the TV into a big-screen Web video phone.
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Specifications
The Sony BRAVIA KDL-46HX850 is the 46in version of the HX850 Series LED TV. There’s also a 55in KDL-55HX850, which comes with a $700 higher pricetag of $3999.
The 46in screen of our test Sony BRAVIA HX850 is, as you’d expect, a Full HD 1080p one with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The HX850 is equipped with Sony’s X-Reality Pro picture engine for a range of real-time picture quality enhancements like edge sharpening and dynamic contrast.
The backlight of the BRAVIA HX850 is made up of white LEDs arranged around the bezel of the TV. Being an ‘edge-lit’ LED TV the HX850 is reasonably thin compared to most plasma and LED back-lit TVs.
Sony rates the HX850 as a ‘MotionFlow XR 800’ TV. This means it’s a 200Hz panel with backlight scanning, which strobes the LED backlight in between video frames to help smooth out motion. This is the approach taken by most LED TV manufacturers. While the 200Hz mode’s overly-smooth effect may be too smooth for some viewers, having the option is a good thing for those that want it.
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Picture quality
We tested the Sony BRAVIA HX850 with an Apple MacBook Pro playing 1080p, 720p and 480p compressed MKV files over HDMI, a Sony BDP-S580 Blu-ray player playing Full HD 1080p Blu-rays over HDMI, and a TiVo HD PVR playing recorded HD and SD digital TV content over HDMI. We also tested various video file types on the BRAVIA HX850’s two USB 2.0 ports.
The Sony BRAVIA HX850 has generally good picture quality in its preset modes. Standard mode is more accurate than we are used to, with good (but bright) colours and only a little over-brightening of white and over-darkening of dark areas on screen. The Cinema 1 profile is a little less vibrant and more accurate, with a warmer colour temperature that is more faithful to the original video source.
After adjusting the BRAVIA HX850’s various video settings — generally lowering colour gain and bias for individual colour channels, raising the colour temperature, moderating brightness and sharpness — we found that the TV’s picture quality went from good to excellent. We would strongly recommend getting this TV professionally calibrated if you purchase it — some minor adjustments can make its picture quality significantly more impressive than straight out of the box.
Colour performance is very good for an LED TV, with plenty of detail and fine gradation, and little to no crushing of detail in heavily saturated areas. Black levels are quite good — not as deep as a good plasma, though — and we didn’t notice any significant clouding or backlight bloom in dark scenes.
The lack of local dimming on the Sony BRAVIA HX850 does mean that it’s not able to display the detail in deepest, darkest black on-screen areas if there’s something bright on-screen as well. The backlight does dynamically brighten and dim the screen if the majority of content is brighter or darker, so for most non-cinematic viewing it’s perfectly acceptable.
Sony’s performance with high definition video content is generally very good and the HX850 doesn’t disappoint in this area. With our Blu-ray video the BRAVIA HX850 was easily able to display minute on-screen detail without any over-sharpening or fuzziness. This is a TV that will flatter your Blu-ray collection.
Standard definition video also looks pretty good — not the absolute best we’ve seen, but the HX850 is still able to up-scale DVD content to suit without introducing any artifacting or excessive blurring.
We generally kept the Sony HX850 in its Clear or Clear Plus Motionflow mode, as this kept fast-moving scenes looking generally blur-free. The HX850 handles fast motion well and we didn’t notice any unnatural jitter, although detail is not as clear during movement as it is during more relaxed scenes.
3D is largely unchanged from last year's TVs. Sony offers slimmer, lighter, sleeker glasses this year, but the size of the active shutter lenses is largely identical. There is still a small amount of cross-talk visible during fast-motion scenes in 3D movies — the problem is lessened during slower scenes but is still very slightly visible.
Sony BRAVIA HX850: Conclusion
Sony’s second-best TV for this year has great picture quality. We think it’s still edged out slightly by the more versatile HX925, but it’s excellent for watching Blu-rays and digital TV alike. The interface aside, the Sony HX850 is a TV we can strongly recommend.