Sony Bravia KDL-40HX803 review

When we first heard that there were going to be "3D Ready" TVs coming from Sony we audibly groaned. "HD Ready" caused plenty of confusion a few years ago. With a band of "3D Ready" TVs are we going to see the same confusion? The HX803 is one such set: it's 3D Ready, meaning the screen is capable of producing 3D images, but you're not supplied with the hardware accessories to make it happen. The message here is check what you are buying before you part with your cash.

The slightly negative opening to this review may be knocked out of the water by retailer bundles, which might include the vital accessories you need - the TMR-BR100 3D sync transmitter and TDG-BE100 glasses (in black, pink or blue). The glasses cost you £99 per pair, so unless you're a hermit that's going to be two pairs fairly quickly, whilst the transmitter will set you back £54.99. It's important to get these points out of the way to make sure that you know exactly what you are buying and what you'll get.

Of course a 3D source is slightly less of an issue. Sony has a number of 3D Blu-ray players already on the market - we tested the HX803 with the BDP-S470 (£199), so you can already see that on top of the £1779 asking price for the HX803 TV itself, the pursuit of 3DTV will cost you around £2250 overall at Sony's asking prices. Other 3D sources include the forthcoming launch of Sky 3D and of course the Sony PlayStation 3, which has just gone 3D, and will likely be one of the biggest sources of 3D content in the immediate term. The movie front is a little sparse at the moment, so it looks like 3D gaming and Sky 3D will be the real motivators here for 3D adoption. 

Coming from Sony's Cinematic range of TVs, the HX803 doesn't quite have the slick design of some of the other "monolithic" screens Sony are offering; the simple narrow bezel does nothing to offend, but doesn't blow us away either. The strip of brushed metal across the bottom of the screen adds a little detail.

As an edge LED TV it is around the sides that the real interest lies. This is a slim TV, only 74mm deep at its fattest part and around the edges is much slimmer, begging to be wall mounted. The screen also handles reflections better than some of the HX sets we've seen, coping a little better with being next to a bright window. If anything, the screen does have a slightly more limited viewing angle, something that you'll have to take into account when placing it in your room, so those viewing from sharp angles don't lose the colour and detail the Full HD screen offers.

The display features edge LED technology, so the panel is more energy efficient that older LCD rivals. It doesn't quite have the dynamic range of some rear-lit LED models so black performance and contrast isn't the best it could be, but the set pulls no punches in putting on a good show, with Sony claiming their "dynamic" technology makes it a better performer than other similarly equipped models. Better or not, the colours are vibrant and punchy, and HD content looks wonderfully rich and life-like, so you won't be disappointed, and we found the performance to be excellent.

The screen is ably supported by Sony's Motionflow 200Hz Pro and Bravia Engine 3 attempting to smooth out judder and other nasties and for the most part the performance is very good. A host of other technologies can be accessed through Sony's excellent menus aiming to improve the picture quality although final results will most likely be guided by user preference. 

In terms of connections you don’t get short-changed either: you get four HDMI (two rear, two side), Component, Composite, two Scart for those with legacy kit, as well as optical audio to hook-up to your AV receiver. There is a CI slot, VGA, and USB, as well as the connection for the 3D transmitter.

The HX803, like other Sony TVs, offers a great connected offering too, with an Ethernet connection letting you hook-up to your network to stream content from compatible devices - it found our media server for photos, video and music with no problem, although media player functions are much more reliable from local USB sources than over the network. Wi-Fi is supported, but you need to buy the UWA-BR100 accessory dongle to enable this and at £79.99 - we'd rather take the HomePlug route instead.

Another big feature that the HX803 boasts is access to Sony's Bravia Internet Video offering. This is one of the better services we've seen on TVs, offering the likes of Demand 5 and LoveFilm (for which you'll need a separate subscription) and through a recent update to the firmware, BBC iPlayer. We didn't test BBC iPlayer on the TV, but we've used it on Sony Blu-ray players and it is an impressive offering.

The navigation system for the HX803 conforms to what looks like Sony's standard now, and that's the XMB, or XrossMediaBar, which makes it really easy to find what you are looking for. This is coupled with direct options accessed from the remote to change things like picture settings which can be done on the fly.

It is here where the 3D elements come into play. Once you've connected the necessary 3D transmitter and powered on the glasses, you can switch the screen to display in 3D. This will do a real time conversion of 2D into 3D, so if you wish, you can watch Eastenders in 3D. The glasses are pretty chunky and we found them to be uncomfortable in prolonged use, but they are large enough to fit over a pair of conventional spectacles. 

Hold on to your excitement for just a minute though, because the experience isn't always going to be great. There are various settings you can change to alter the 3D effect and the source you attempt to convert makes a big difference to the results. Standard definition content does not convert well, and you lose the clarity and detail that SD already misses. HD content works much better, but there is still a degree of crosstalk where the images don't quite work. You'll see the occasional hollow object or ghosting as things don't quite match up.

We did get some acceptable results from 3D conversion from Freeview HD programming, as this TV also has an integrated Freeview HD tuner, so you'll be able to enjoy broadcast HD content (what litte there is of it) for free. With all the converted content we watched there were patches there things didn't quite match-up. On inserting a 3D Blu-ray disc, the HX803 alerted us to a detected 3D source. Content that has been designed for 3D works much better, but there are still some questionable results. The performance of 3D movies, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is much better and a much more watchable experience. The glasses have a noticeable tint to them.

Outside of 3D, the HX803 is a very capable TV, offering excellent performance from HD sources and great looking SD images too. The biggest let down if the audio performance which is strictly average. If you are serious enough about your movie watching to be an early investor in 3D, the you'd certainly benefit from hooking the set up to a 3D-compatible AV receiver. 

Verdict

The Sony Bravia KDL-40HX803 packs in more than just 3D credentials, and outside of 3D the set mostly shines. But it does so at a price that makes 3D look rather expensive, considering you can get one of their excellent TVs of lower specs (but still impressive performance) for much less. Remember that 3D isn't the only talent this TV possesses and you'll be spending most of your time not using the 3D capabilities.

Our final impression on 3D from the HX803 is that the ad-hoc approach using conversion from 2D to 3D leaves a lot to be desired; watching content designed for 3D makes a much better impression. Overall it is a great offering from Sony, even if it lacks some of the design wow factor you find elsewhere.