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Budget HDTVs are all about sacrifice, so niceties like 3D or Web connectivity shouldn’t be in your wish list, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with a set that looks cheap and delivers subpar picture quality. The Sony KDL32R300C (2015 Model) is an LED-backlit LCD HDTV line that delivers 720p HD and rich colors at a nice price.
The 32-inch model we tested offers some amazing wide viewing angles and harbors conveniently placed I/O ports. You do only get two HDMI ports, one USB port and its 60Hz panel produces a bit of motion lag, but despite its flaws, it’s our Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs.
Though not very flashy, visually, the Sony KDL32R300C still is a nice-looking HDTV. In fact, good looking than a 32-inch monitor with HDMI ports. Its bezel is flat and black, only punctuated by a Sony logo and a power light. Measuring 3 inches at its thickest point, this set isn’t exactly svelte. It sits on a rectangular plastic base that keeps the screen relatively low and very stable, but doesn’t allow for any pivoting adjustment.
A few basic control buttons are tucked behind the right edge of the screen, while an HDMI port and a USB port sit opposite behind the left side of the screen. An additional HDMI port, along with component and composite hybrid video inputs, a mini-audio jack output, a digital audio output, and a coaxial connector for cable or antenna can be found on the back of the screen. They’re well placed if you want to mount the set on a wall.
Its remote is small, flat, and simple. The buttons aren’t backlit, and are clustered together fairly closely, so entering numbers blindly takes some practice. On the other hand, the direction pad and Volume and Channel buttons are large and distinct enough to find easily with your thumb.
As a 32-inch LED-backlit screen, the Sony KDL32R300C is a somewhat very modest energy user, but blame on the FHD eye candy. It consumes 57 watts under normal use with power saving features turned off, and 33 watts with power saving set to low. Higher power saving features made the screen too dark to watch comfortably. The same-size VIZIO E320i-B2 hits the middle ground between the two settings by consuming 35 watts, and the larger TCL 40-inch LE40FHDE3000 uses 50 watts.
The Sony KDL32R300C uses a 60Hz panel, unlike some other budget sets including the Sigmac NE32AB1, which uses 120Hz panel technology. In my tests, the KDL32R300C produces a respectable picture, albeit one that doesn’t really excite in terms of brightness, black levels or color. After basic calibration with power saving features disabled, the TV produced a peak brightness of 194.69 cd/m2 and corresponding black level of 0.1 cd/ m2 matched with an underwhelming contrast ratio 1,926:1.
As far as color accuracy, greens lean more towards blue than they should, and reds appear darker than ideal for a 32-inch LED HDTV. To compare, this is slightly below the 40-inch TCL LE40FHDE3010 that boasts a higher contrast ration and even better black level at 4,821:1 and 0.06 cd/m2 respectively, while the VIZIO E320i-B2, delivers peak brightness of 303.81 cd/m2, but has a black level of 0.14 cd/m2. Color skewing is worse on the TCL set, however.
This is only a 720p screen, so you’re not getting full 1080p HD resolution, but for its small size and price that’s not a major flaw. Black Swan on Blu-ray looked a bit faded and cloudy, with the deep and textured darks not showing clearly on the screen. In Piranha on Blu-ray, the very sunny party scenes looked blown out, and the greens of plants and blue-green of the water looked under-saturated.
Nothing is skewed horribly to the point of yellow or green skin, but the colors don’t have any sense of “pop,” and the mediocre contrast ratio makes both shadows and highlights feel flat. Viewing angles are excellent, though, with the picture becoming only slightly pale when viewed from the far sides, matching Sony’s claim of a 178-degree range.
The Bottom Line
With the Sony KDL32R300C, you get a 32-inch HDTV that uses energy-efficient LED backlighting and delivers a bright, well-balanced picture. In order to keep the price affordable, Sony had to skimp on some features, which explains the limited port availability, Web apps, 3D features or any other functions that would make it usable without plugging in a cable, antenna, or Blu-ray player.
Still the price is worth considering if you’re looking for a smaller screen for a guest bedroom, office, or kitchen, and are on a strict budget and for that it gets our nod as our newest Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs. That said, if you’re looking for a capable, yet affordable small-screen set without all the perks that come with pricier sets, the Sony KDL32R300C should be at the top of your list if you’re buying on a strict budget.