If you're looking for a small TV for a bedroom or game room, it can be tempting to simply buy the cheapest thing you can find, but it's worth shopping around a little. While some people would discount Sony for being unnecessarily expensive, the KDL-32R400A demonstrates the company can make an affordable TV that still performs well.
Despite a couple of drawbacks, its picture quality, led by black levels and shadow detail, is quite good overall for a small, budget LED LCD. Moreover its sound is among the best we've heard at the price. The TV's benefits outweigh its negatives, making the R400A an excellent buy for small-screen TV seekers who prioritise performance and design.
For a cheap TV, the R400A certainly doesn't look like one. It's a little old school, perhaps, with its mirror-like touches and piano-black bezel but not "cheap". Compared with last year's Toshiba 32C120U with its thick, thick bezel, the Sony looks positively svelte. It looks very similar to the Samsung EH4000, in fact, with the addition of a mirrored panel at the bottom and a bifurcated stand.
The remote is compact with fairly high usability and even has a dedicated set of play controls for the on-board media player.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
With its lack of smart-TV features, the Sony menu system is fairly skeletal with a standard white-on-black look. Apart from the Scene functionality, which is only accessible with the Options button on the remote and is needed for Game mode, most features are available from the Home menu.
The Sony R400A is a 720p television with very few features to speak of, which is quite understandable for a model selling under AU$500 on the street. That 720p resolution is fine for a TV this size; 32 inches is too small to take advantage of 1080p.
The R400A uses a direct LED backlight that doesn't make for a better picture than standard LCD. "Direct" refers to the fact that the LEDs are placed behind the screen, as opposed to along the edge. Fewer LEDs are required, which is one reason why direct sets are cheaper than edge-lit ones.
The R400A includes a USB port for playback of MPEG movie files (though not MP4), MP3 audio files and JPEG picture files.
Picture settings: You get the usual Standard, Vivid and Custom picture settings with this TV, with the addition of the customary Scenes, but they are hard to find (you'll need to hit the Options button). Despite working well on most other Sony televisions, Cinema actually restricts some options here and isn't any more accurate than the General mode. There are no tweaking options beyond the standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour and so on.
Connectivity: The KDL-32R400A has "three HD inputs" according to the marketing blurb, which in practice means it has two HDMI ports (including one MHL for screen mirroring and charging a smartphone) and a component input. In addition to these, you get a composite input, a USB port and a digital optical output.
For a television of its size, the Sony KDL-32R400A boasts very good black levels and shadow detail. It did very well in providing blacks equal to or deeper than those of last year's best 32 inchers, the Samsung EH4000 and Toshiba 32C120U.
Where it fell down, though, was in colour fidelity; while greens and skin tones were natural, in yellow and cyan the picture noticeably suffered. Cyan was rendered as blue, and yellow was more of an orange.
It wasn't even colour that was the worst part — but movement. While Sony has tried to amend this with the LED motion feature, the TV looks appreciably soft when movement occurs on-screen, whether the feature is switched on or off.
Sound quality was a highlight, with one of the best sound systems I can recall in a 32-inch TV. No replacement for a two-channel system, of course, but plenty good enough for the panel's intended purpose as a bedroom or game-room TV.
Black level: Black levels are definitely Sony's shining (darkly gleaming?) feature, with pleasingly deep shades of black for a budget TV. True, it can't stand up to more expensive, larger models but nothing else we've tested in this size can either.
Colour accuracy: Colour is fairly problematic for this TV, for while it is a well-saturated set, secondary colour accuracy is an issue. Primary tones are very good though, with natural flesh colours, blues and greens. It's cyan where the problems lie, and this was evident at the start of Chapter 5 of "The Tree of Life" as the mother sits on the grass. While the grass behind her was the same colour as on most of the televisions in the line-up and her hair and skin looked natural, it looked as though she was wearing a blue dress instead of a turquoise one.
Video processing: The television is supposedly a 100Hz set, but in most ways, it behaved like a 50Hz model. The exception was with 1080p/24 material. In the aircraft carrier sequence we use as a test from "I Am Legend," the television correctly showed the cadence of film. On the other hand, it did appear a bit smoother than on the Sony W900A, which also does correct 24p cadence.
Motion resolution was the same as that of a 50Hz set. Without its LED motion setting, the Sony was able to do 300 lines. With LED motion turned to on, I was able to squeeze about an extra 50 lines of resolution out of the R400A, and while it reduced some of the motion blur, the pattern was still pretty blurry.
Uniformity: Uniformity was mostly good, with a lack of big blobs of light leakage spoiling dark areas of the picture. There was one small area in the top right about the size of a quarter that was a little lighter than the rest, but it was usually undetectable.
Sound quality: For a small, inexpensive TV, the Sony had surprisingly good sound quality. It outperformed every other TV in our testing line-up near its price (the Samsung and the Toshibas) and featured intelligible speech, explosions that didn't break up or compress and decent music playback without distortion.