We test our TVs right out-of-the-box so that readers understand what kind of performance they're getting without any customization, but we test them after calibration, as well. The post-calibration tests allow us to gauge a TV's full potential compared to the standards proposed by the ITU.
I calibrated the R420B within the "Cinema" picture mode, which is located in the "Scene Select" sub-menu. Since the R420B lacks a color management system, the only change I made involved boosting the backlight from "minimum" to "maximum."
Because the entry-level television market is a crowded one, design and performance are key decision-making factors for every shopper.
One such entry-level option is the Sony KDL-32R420B (MSRP $329.99). Before you spring for this affordable TV, though, a word of caution: The R420B comes up short in just about every department—from style to substance, it just doesn't stand out from the crowd.
Unless you're looking for a TV to stick in a room and forget about, you may want to refine your search. The plain truth is, the R420B's positive attributes (decent motion performance and color reproduction) just don't make up for its shortcomings. There are better options out there.
To determine a TV's overall contrast ratio, we simply divide the panel's peak bright output by its minimum black level. Because black level impacts every other area of performance, it's an absolutely crucial element of picture-quality assessment.
I can't emphasize enough the negative impact of a black level as poor as 0.251 cd/m2 —with a black level this bright, an entire world of detail is ultimately lost in a muddy mess of blotchy shadows. At least the TV is plenty bright, with an average peak light level of 79.07 cd/m2 .
Entry-level design, entry-level customization
The KDL-32R420B’s looks are best described as “functional.” It’s built from the same cookie-cutter plastic that nearly every TV uses these days. The stand is a simple triangular piece that serves without fanfare, and the remote would be right at home in your grandmother's living room circa 1997.
On the back you’ll find 2 HDMI ports, component and composite inputs, a headphone jack, a coaxial connector for an antenna, and a USB port—the usual suspects for a TV of this class. There's also a Mobile High Definition Link, so users can potentially connect their smart phones to the R420B.
Sony equipped the R420B with simple-looking software that most users will pick up quickly, but customization options range from disappointingly sparse to refreshingly in-depth. For example, the TV lacks detailed color management options but includes an extensive audio equalizer. Although the equalizer is appreciated, it's strange to find it in the absence of even the most basic picture customization options.
TV's use red, green, and blue sub-pixels to create black, white, and gray values. It stands to reason, then, that if we extrapolate the data we gather when measuring grayscale, we can determine how accurately the TV emphasizes its sub-pixels. Ideally, we'd like to see an even emphasis of red, green and blue, otherwise neutral shades of gray might appear too red, too blue, etc.
Although the R420B lacks a color management system, simply boosting the backlight helped rein the sub-pixels in considerably. Still, over-emphasis of blue sub-pixels persist after calibration.
We note grayscale error by assessing a 10-point scale with each point representing various shades of gray from dark to light. DeltaE constitutes the value used in this test, and an average DeltaE of 3 or less signifies minimal off-coloration throughout the grayscale.
Lab tests reveal that this Sony suffers an average DeltaE of 4.44. This is likely due to the over-emphasis of blue sub-pixels.
A terrible black level makes for a deteriorated picture.
The biggest problem with the R420B's picture is unquestionably its black level, which is far too bright for its own good. Without deep, rich shadows, loss of detail becomes noticeable right away. Details like texture in a dark cave, for example, look flat and shallow if a TV's black levels are too luminous.
That detail loss is compounded by the R420B's max resolution of 720p—so don't expect a full HD experience here. Of course, many entry-level TVs sport 720p resolution these days, but this truncated resolution makes the black level issue that much harder to see past. In short, this TV isn't a great choice for cinema viewing.
Although a full color management system was nowhere to be found, this Sony TV demonstrated significant improvements after a rudimentary calibration with the tools provided. In terms of color performance, the display gets the job done, but not without some notable flaws.
Blues are oversaturated, which is easy to ignore for certain content types, but stands out much more during something like a nature documentary. Cyans look especially oversaturated. During the BBC's Planet Earth series, bodies of water popped onscreen in an almost cartoonish manner.
Everything else more or less looks ship shape, but at the end of the day, this TV just doesn't have enough power under-the-hood to generate an impressive picture.
We measure a TV's viewing angle in order to determine how far off-center a person (or a group of people) may sit while still experiencing optimal picture quality. The better the viewing angle, the more accommodating the TV.
The R420B offers a total viewing angle of 66°, or ±33°. This is an average result for an LED LCD, and a fairly positive result. Of course, this is just a 32-inch TV—wall mounting and large-group viewing seems unlikely.
Spend your money elsewhere.
The KDL-32R420B might make a decent, affordable addition to a college dorm room or a guest room, but it's hard to recommend due to its competition. Vizio's excellent E series, for example, features a 32-inch model that retails for $259.99.
Or, for a little over $100 more than the R420B, the Samsung UN40H5500 boasts a bigger screen, full HD, much better performance, and smart TV capabilities. There are certainly worse entry-level TVs out there, but in terms of sheer value, there aren't many reasons to recommend the R420B.
Gamma sum is a measurement of how well a TV distributes luminance while moving up from its absolute darkest point to its absolute brightest. For dark-room viewing, a TV should produce a gamma sum around the home-theater ideal of 2.4.
In our lab test, the R420B produced a gamma sum of 2.45 before calibration, which means it initially ramps up too slowly out of black and into gray. The post-calibration gamma sum is 2.36, which is a modest improvement (and average for a TV of this class.)
The international standard for HDTV color performance is called Rec. 709. It is represented visually by a color gamut that features the ideal points for 3 primary colors (red, green blue,) 3 secondary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow,) and a white point.
When we test a TV's color, we plot the results on this color gamut, thereby determining how closely the TV adheres to the Rec.709 standard.
Pound-for-pound, the R420B did not do too badly on this test, but the oversaturation of blue and cyan is noticeable in almost every piece of content we watched.
Meet the tester
Senior Staff Writer@Reviewed
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
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