Sony KDL-32EX503 review

It's no good possessing the latest and greatest technology - in this case, Sony's Freeview HD tuner - if the delivery is botched. On this gloss black, gunmetal-bottomed LCD TV, the new high-def TV platform is handled so skilfully that memories of your old Sky or Virgin box will soon be forgotten. Graced by a black background and a Freeview HD logo, the 32EX503 offers-up high resolution graphics, simple operation and, best of all, high-def pictures of stunning quality.

That's not to say that the likes of BBC HD and ITV 1 HD are presented in awesome detail, because that's not this screen's strength despite being a Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixel panel. No, the most impressive characteristic is the clarity and cleanliness of digital broadcasts. Imbued with a lot more contrast than you've any right to expect on a mid-range LCD TV, the 32EX503 adds Live Colour Creation circuitry and some decent picture noise suppression tech to create one of the most impressive Freeview TVs around.

And with even standard definition channels looking good, it's no surprise that DVD is also upscaled well, with little trace of jagged edges or background picture noise.

The flipside of a screen that is kind and gentle to often-dodgy quality broadcasts is that Blu-ray discs - just like those Freeview HD channels - are not presented with every pixel blazing detail. That may seem a shame, but it actually makes this 32-incher a lot more versatile than its rivals.

But the 32EX503 has a lot more going for it than stunning picture quality. It's well connected, with four HDMI inputs split equally between the TV's side and rear panels. Component video is also in attendance, as is a USB 2.0 slot, a couple of Scarts and an optical digital audio out.

That optical connection for taking sound from Freeview to a home cinema isn't the necessity it so often is on flatscreen TVs, because the 32EX503's speakers turn out to be pretty good. In particular its S-Force Front Surround impresses with its bass level, and though it can sound a touch divorced from the higher frequency effects (and delivers nothing in the way of rear "surround" effects), it's a league or two ahead of the competition.

In a very competitive market this Sony is up against the likes of Panasonic's TX-L32S20B or TX-L32D28BP, Samsung's UE32C6530 or LE32C654 and - if Freeview HD isn't important to you - Toshiba's budget 32LV713.

And while it lacks LED backlighting, this LCD TV does have what Sony calls MotionFlow; 100Hz processing that successfully gets rid of most - though not all - of the blur that results from the panel showing fast-moving footage. Not quite as impressive is the 32EX503's Film Mode, which seeks to rid the panel of the judder so endemic in Blu-ray discs shown on flatscreen TVs. It does cut down on judder, but it's still noticeable. Perhaps that's a blessing, because TVs with more powerful film modes so often end up creating a super-smooth picture that suffers from flicker around moving objects. 

Verdict

An excellent Freeview HD performer, this small Sony keeps it light when it comes to picture processing; high-def pictures can lack ultimate detail and show-up a touch of judder and blur, but the prize for the patient is superbly clean images unrivalled on other LCD TVs. Add nuanced colour, excellent contrast and some speakers that sweep away the competition and you've got 2010's best all-rounder yet.