Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503 television
Sony has been at the centre of the flat TV world this summer, shouting about its Bravia's built-in Freeview HD tuners and, on some models, 3D compatibility.
What it hasn't mentioned is that many of its new models have eschewed all-new LED panels for rather older LCD displays, and that's exactly what you'll find on this mid-range - and reasonably priced (considering the size) - TV in Sony's Essentials range.
There's so much happening on the 46-inch 46EX503 that we barely noticed its lack of LED panel, and when we did, it was too late - we'd already been won over. Better still, picture quality from its "old fashioned" LCD panel is actually pretty good.
Also available in 32-inch, 40-inch, 52-inch and 60-inch sizes, this 46-inch Full HD version comes with a haul of features as hefty as its size.
As is now the norm across all of Sony's mid-range Bravias the 46EX503 is built around the XrossMediaBar, which will be familiar to anyone with a PlayStation 3. It helps make this telly a cinch to use, with all of its features immediately visible, including specific programme information for each digital (and analogue) TV channel - including BBC HD, ITV HD and 4 HD/S4C Cirlan - and all the widgets offered by Sony's Bravia Internet Video.
The latter includes FIFA's World Cup archive of greatest goals, players, moments and all of its official tournament retrospective films, Five on Demand, LoveFilm streaming (for £9.99 per month), YouTube, Eurosport, Daily Motion and various other rather pointless US-centric services that suggest that what Sony should really be providing is a blank canvas and a host of downloadable apps, like Apple does, rather than second-guessing a consumer's interests. Still, it's a superbly simple interface that works well, though it looks busier than it actually is.
Also viewable on the XrossMediaBar is any device connected using its USB port (side-mounted) or via DLNA networking (using the Ethernet port on the rear). USB functionality proves useful, with JPEG (and even RAW) photos displayed as well as MP3 files, though we did have trouble with video; although the 46EX503 claims to play AVC/AVCHD, DivX and MPEG4 videos, a number of our test files were treated to a "playback not supported" message. Also note the lack of support for DivX HD (MKV) files.
Elsewhere the 46EX503 is ably armed. Four HDMI inputs - a brace both on the side and rear panels - is decent return, though only a single USB 2.0 slot is included. There's also a digital audio output for hooking-up to a home cinema and a CI slot for adding subscription channels such as Top-Up TV. As is the norm in the TV world, the default way of getting online is via a wired Ethernet connection to a broadband router.
If that puts a serious crimp on where you can put the TV, delight in the news that the 46EX503 is Wi-Fi ready, though activating this "feature" will set you back a stunning £69. Even then, Sony's optional UWA-BR100 wireless network adaptor - which supports 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi streaming - is rather bulky and must be connected to a USB slot. That's far from ideal if you're planning on mounting the 46EX503 on a wall and doesn't compare well to either the built-in Wi-Fi talents of Loewe TVs, or the simple USB dongle idea adopted by Samsung.
On the picture side the 46EX503 features 100Hz scanning to reduce blur as part of its Bravia Engine 3, which also builds-in Advanced Contrast Enhancer, MPEG Noise Reduction and Live Colour.
Together they work a treat on Blu-ray, creating a spotless and lusciously coloured picture that has just enough contrast to compete though it's a shade or three below LED or plasma models in this department.
On the audio side, its S-Force Front Surround is, for once, a fairly effective mode, though it's not particularly well served by the TV's rather treble-heavy 20W speakers.
Spotted online for much nearer £1000, the rather utilitarian-looking Sony's use of LCD over LED does add some depth, but it still manages a superb performance with both Freeview HD channels and Blu-ray. Excellent colour and contrast are the highlights here, though standard definition material and DivX files are poorly treated.