The new range of BRAVIA televisions are finally out. Split into four ranges, the NX range, standing for network, offers the middle ground for those that can't justify going for the all-singing all-dancing top of the pile offerings from the Signature and Cinematic ranges. But is this cutting corners? We've been watching to find out.
The new KDL-40NX503 is the 40-inch model (it's also available in 32-, 46-, and 52-inch versions) and sports the new "monolith" design. That means there is no bezel per se, with a single sheet of glass covering the front of the LCD display.
From a design perspective it certainly does the trick with the television looking good even when it's not turned on, as the screen and bezel merge into one. There is of course a frame to the design, and quite a thick one too, especially compared to LG's borderless TV range, but because of the glass overlay, it is not as noticeable as many other TVs. With no buttons on the front, all you're presented with apart from the screen itself, is a line of status lights to let you know that you are turned on and the like.
Packed in the box is a simple black stand that allows some degree of rotation, although you can also wall mount it too. The remote control is rather long, but the simple layout is easy to use. The top side of the remote is concave, presumably for easier button pressing and while we can't say it makes that much difference, it is comfortable and easy to use none the less. A nice touch is that there is a large power button on the back (there is one on the front as well).
Power the TV on and you are presented with Sony's now famous XMB interface, found in the PlayStation 3, as well as media players, Blu-ray players, Sony Ericsson phones and so on. What that means is that you get an incredibly easy menu interface to navigate through, helping you find all the extra features, settings and AV channels the TV has to offer.
The important 4 HDMI v1.4 slots (2 on rear, and 2 on side for easy access, with an ARC) are present along with the usual connections, including USB so you can view your own pictures and video (AVC, AVCHD, DivX, MPEG4, MP3, JPEG), and DLNA for wireless connection to other devices like your mobile phone.
While Wireless Ready, the TV doesn't have Wi-Fi built-in. You'll have to buy the additional UWA-BR100 wireless dongle (£79.99) that plugs into the back of the set to enable that. So if you want to be internet-enabled you've got to plug an Ethernet cable into the socket at the back. It's a small whinge, but if you haven't got your router already set up behind your television, something to bear in mind. Alternatively, HomePlugs will solve that problem for you.
The XMB is also the way you access all the extra features on this BRAVIA TV set like all those internet channels, called BRAVIA Internet Video, for example, as we saw on the S370 Blu-ray player.
You don't get widgets like the Samsung televisions that will tell you the weather while you are watching a movie, but you do get access to a number of internet video streaming sites like YouTube and blip.TV. There are around a dozen or so; ranging from golfing channels, to help you improve your game to business offerings as well, and most will get you excited for around 5 minutes before you get bored. Luckily the internet offering isn't all just about clips of a cat dancing on a piano. The two that you'll be most excited about are Five on Demand and LOVEFiLM.
Strangely, considering it's available on the PS3, the TV doesn't come with the BBC iPlayer, yet, but Sony inform us that it will be coming in the not too distant future. Five On Demand is a carbon copy of the TV station's catch-up service online, and it works very well giving you the chance to catch-up on Five shows like Neighbours, The Gadget Show, FlashForward, its kids' offering Milkshake, and so on.
We were most excited about LOVEFiLM. Here you get the video streaming from the by-post movie rental service, allowing you to stream movies directly to your TV. The service is incredibly easy to use, and the streaming quality, although not HD, is still very good letting you watch movies within minutes. There is a catch though. There are bugger all movies available on the streaming service. We aren't being picky: there really is nothing worth watching, unless obscure Hollywood movies are your thing. If you are thinking about this television for the LOVEFiLM element, don't, well not until the content is more comprehensive.
The EPG is fairly easy and straightforward and you'll be able to find your way around with ease; either using the central D-pad on the remote or a number of quick shortcuts via the red, green, blue, and yellow coloured buttons. The channel you are on is displayed in a miniature window top left, while channels are displayed beneath from left to right. A timer lets you see how far you are through the current half-hour slot so you can see if it's worth watching or not.
Navigation shortcuts include: jumping to the next or previous show, jumping to the current time (handy if you've strayed off to the rest of the days viewing possibilities) and plus one day, if you want to skip forward to tomorrow. Pressing the information button brings up info about the show in question.
To help you one step further Sony also offers Favourites that allows you to quickly access your favourite stations and input options without having to navigate through the XMB. We especially like the option of seeing the last couple of TV stations you've watched.
As you would expect you'll get a Full HD 1080p picture with a 1920 x 1080 pixel picture resolution, while 24p True Cinema is also present. Those combined with a number of other Sony BRAVIA technologies means that, as long as your source input is good then the picture quality is excellent. It is a 50Hz display however, so doesn't deal with motion judder quite as effectively as more advanced 100 or 200Hz displays.
From the outset you will find that it's slightly darker than you're used to, but once you start to watch, that dimly lit fear subsides and you realise that the set you are watching is very good, very good indeed. Blacks are black, whites are white, and there is little over correction or pixelalation in the picture. Everything from sports to movies seemed good, with the television coping with an array of content from different sources (PS3, Sky HD, Blu-ray) that we passed through it.
On the TV tuner front the NX series comes with both an analogue tuner as well as a digital Freeview HD tuner, meaning you can get BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and 4HD, in areas that are currently broadcasting. The quality of the SD signal through our aerial was okay, but clearly not as good as if you opt for a cable or satellite service instead, with HD clearly taking the top spot.
The BRAVIA offers three preset sound settings - Dynamic, Standard, and Clear Voice - to get you going, although you can custom set it yourself as well. Clear Voice is worth a mention as this automatically tones down the treble and the bass. You'll lose the surrounding sound elements (i.e., the music, sound effects) but you will be able to hear what they are saying with more clarity.
The Sony BRAVIA KDL-40NX503 is a fantastic TV set when it comes to picture quality that will be great one day when it comes to features, but at the moment it's not quite there yet when it comes to that additional content.
It's something we found frustrating because it's a cracking TV. If you are buying it for the Internet Video, and more importantly the LOVEFiLM streaming capabilities, you might be disappointed, but this is a TV that is designed to look impressive, which it certainly does. The older screen technology means it might not be the centrepiece of a movie lover's dream setup, but it certainly offers a lot.
The good news is that the internet element can only get better as Sony updates the system to bring more and more content partners on board.