Sony Bravia KDL-32R400A LED TV Review
With great color production and sluggish motion response, the R400A is fantastically mediocre.
The 32-inch Sony Bravia R400A is priced quite cheaply at an MSRP of $329.99, and is a story in TV basics: LED backlighting, 720p resolution, and no 3D or smart abilities. For the price, though, the design is better than average.
This TV has a few very strong performance areas, but also a few real weaknesses. On one hand, its contrast and color performance go quite beyond its entry-level pricing. On the other, it struggles to produce motion-based content smoothly, and can only be viewed comfortably from a head-on angle.
Curiously charming for an entry-level unit
After ripping through the R400A's cardboard and styrofoam packaging like a kid at Christmas, I can honestly say I'm surprised by how attractive this little TV is. For a 32-inch 720p model, it seems like Sony put a lot more effort into design and styling than most manufacturers grant to entry-level units.
The most notable thing about the 32R400A is its stand, which is something like a hollowed-out rectangle. Most of the time, "ornamental" stands—i.e., stands that are more than just a rectangular hunk of plastic—are reserved for mid-tier and high-end units. The R400A also has a small plate covering the middle section of its lower bezel, emblazoned with the Sony logo. The bezels and matte screen are a gentle black, making for a handsome little display.
As far as usability goes—you know, A/V connections and buttons and such—the R400A is pretty standard. This 32-inch TV allows for two HDMI connections, one USB input, shared component/composite, and a coaxial jack for cable/antenna.
One caveat we have about this TV: Assembling it is an engineering nightmare. There are two—TWO—holes for screws, and the TV ships with screws to match them, but they serve absolutely no purpose in holding the TV together. The little rectangular stand must be screwed into the bottom of the TV in an entirely vertical manner—we're lucky our review model is only 32 inches, as we had to turn it upside down to complete the assembly. Keep this is mind if you're thinking about a purchase, especially if you've no one to help you and are dealing with a larger TV.
Arrr, matey! Thar be no features here
If the R400A were a green-and-red parrot of the pirate variety, it would have little to say in the way of features, despite how much squawking it might do at a distance. In other words: Don't be fooled by Sony's marketing hype (of which all manufacturers are guilty), this entry-level TV sports an entry-level array of features. On the plus side, I suppose you could call it "minimalist."
A fairly clean menu system comprises this TV's software, which allows for picture, sound, and channel (cable/ant) tweaking. I was actually appalled at how few picture options are available on the R400A. Its only picture modes are Standard, Vivid, and Custom. There's also a hidden picture mode (buried treasure!) called Graphics, which is only accessible via HDMI-in from a PC.
Advanced options beyond backlight or brightness adjustment have walked the plank. The R400A allows only for "Noise Reduction" and "MPEG Noise Reduction" as far as processing modes. While I suppose this cuts down on processor tasks and extraneous rigmarole, it also means more adept calibrators will be stuck with just Cool, Standard, and Warm color temperature pre-sets, rather than any advanced white balancing. Lame.
This Sony has a few of the usual tricks, though. It can play back music, video, or photo files via USB; can auto-tune OTA analog/digital programming; and can play shared content from a smart phone via MHL cable... you know, that cable that no one, anywhere, has ever had—ever. This bare bones selection doesn't make me a very jolly Roger... I mean, would it have cost Sony an arm and a peg-leg to flesh out this software a little more?
The picture is great... as long as neither it nor you are moving
Many would argue that black level is the keystone of good video, and I would agree with them. That said, the R400A has a rather excellent black level, which is surprising for a low-end LCD. It's not plasma-dark, but it's certainly of ample quality for medium-level ambient lighting. The R400A also produces a healthily bright image, though it's not as bright as I was expecting.
Without a doubt, the R400A's strongest performance area is its consistent color quality. This TV saturates its primary hues with just the right amount of color, while maintaining a consistent temperature throughout its gamma curve. Only a trained expert could even try to notice a difference between this TV's color quality and a much higher-end unit, which is impressive.
This little Sony is not without flaw, though. Its motion performance is truly ugly; not awful, but just bad enough to really drag down its score. Moving content will easily blur, and the vivacity of colors on-screen will be lost in the mix. As long as things are relatively still, they look great, but gamers and sports fans will be yanking their hair out trying to watch or play a game here. What's almost worse—*you* can't move either. The R400A's narrow viewing angle demands you sit statuesque at the center of the screen, so don't even think about inviting your pals over for a weekend of TV swashbuckling.
All in all, this Sony sports a mediocre performance, which is a shame, as the areas it performs well in are truly commendable. It might come down to whether you're a glass-is-half-empty, glass-is-half-full kind of person, but in truth, there are better performers out there for the same or less money.
Weigh your options before you drop the anchor on this one
The Sony Bravia KDL-32R400A (MSRP $330) was one of those really disappointing TVs to review, because it came so close to being excellent. The contrast ratio and color quality I tested were well beyond the expected level of performance when dealing with entry-level, but egregious motion and viewing problems really count this TV out.
While it's not a theater shoe-in, a Kuro killer, or even a smart graduation present, the R400A is not without an audience. If you need an affordable TV for casual console gaming, for example, or to watch a film now and then, it's really not a bad choice. Sure, the motion isn't perfect, but it's bearable considering the 720p resolution and small screen size. In short: Shop at your own risk, but remember that this TV makes no safe port for the picture purist.
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