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.
The Sony R400A gave us a real Jekyll & Hyde runaround. Its color integrity and black level—two very important aspects of picture quality—are excellent, better than I was expecting. Unfortunately, there's really no comfortably abiding the TV's narrow viewing angle and poor detail retention during high-motion content. It's hard to categorize this picture as either good or bad—it's entirely dependent on what you're watching.
A decent black level makes for a solid contrast ratio
Contrast ratio determines much about a television's picture quality, and is intensely dependent on black level to achieve a satisfactory separation between light and dark picture elements. The R400A tested with a good contrast ratio for an entry-level TV, due to its fostering of a quality black level.
I tested a better-than-average black level of 0.06 cd/m2 ; the R400A is capable of producing believable shadow tones and contrasting rich colors against a black backdrop. Coupled with a satisfactory peak brightness of 230 cd/m2 , this TV achieves a contrast ratio of 3833:1, which is definitely a viable result.
Walk the plank! It's wider than this viewing angle
Whoever designed this panel is a real scurvy dog—you'll have to watch the R400A all by yourself! A narrow horizontal viewing angle leaves group activities sleeping with the fishes, and is one of this TV's biggest performance drawbacks.
I tested a total viewing angle of 29°, or ±15° from the center of the screen to either side. This just doesn't leave much room for comfortable viewing; sitting further than that angle from the center (head-on) is going to gray out your whites and blacks, making any kind of content more difficult to watch.
ArrrrrGB never looked so good
When we test TV color, we test three elements: color gamut, color temperature consistency, and RGB/greyscale curves (I know the greyscale has no color, in case you were about to sign into Disqus right there). Landlubbers may not know, but all televisions are currently meant to adhere to an international standard for what their displayed color "looks like." This standard is called Rec. 709.
The R400A is capable of a very accurate color gamut; its peak red, green, and white points are just about perfect when put up against the international standard. Blue has a slight error; the salty sea be a touch bluer than she ought, but otherwise, this Sony's color saturation is pretty good.
Avast! I was even more impressed with color temperature adherence. Across the greyscale intensity, shifts in white point color temperature can result in unnatural blue or orange tinting, which causes a loss in detail and is just plain wrong, from a scientific standpoint. Fortunately, the R400A's temperature management is ship shape, as it has practically no visible error (shifts in temperature ±200K).
Finally, the R400A's color and greyscale curves are very smooth, uniform, and—for lack of a more generic word—perfect. We look for a gradual, obtuse circle describing a gamma (ramp) of 2.2–2.4, resulting in detail at least between steps 16-235 (though more detail is welcome). Other than discrepancies in luminance due to hue, the R400A's curves are wholly equal, meaning a smooth, balanced, and banding-free image.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
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