Sony KDL-32CX523

Sony is back with one of its first offerings for 2011, and it’s a budget belter. Lacking any kind of upmarket panel tech, you’ll have to make do with regular LCD (no sign of any LED backlighting here), but elsewhere there are plenty of features to wow the average budget TV buyer.

Probably the most useful are Bravia Internet Video, USB recording, a built-in Freeview HD tuner and a smartphone app.

Let’s start with the latter - and our favourite new feature - smartphone control. Download the free MediaRemote app from iTunes or the Android Market and full mastery of the set is yours. It was actually available late last year to control some of the brand’s Blu-ray players. After activating the app, it finds the KDL-32CX523 in seconds and starts a simple pairing operation that basically gives you 20 seconds to press “OK” on the Sony remote. And that’s the last time you may ever use the (otherwise reasonably well designed and spaced) supplied remote.

MediaRemote first takes you through a set-up wizard where it’s possible to customise various aspects of the app, such as “shake to control”. A simple wave of your hand can then be programmed to perform one of six functions: change the input, bring-up subtitles, change the audio mode, increase the volume, change channel or activate the TrackID feature (see below for more on this).

“Flip operation” is also possible; the TV can be set to got to mute if you place your phone face down on a table. More usefully is “Keyboard sync”, whereby the smartphone displays a virtual keyboard every time the text input screen would normally appear on the KDL-32CX523. This applies largely to Bravia Internet Video content, and it’s a massive time saver.

After the wizard has done its stuff its on to the central screen, where gestures are used to operate the KDL-32CX523’s main menu trees onscreen. As well as a “home” button beneath the gesture pad, there are also “return” and “options” shortcuts.

In practice it is pretty good, though having to switch between the gesture pad and the virtual remote - which happily has a “guide” button up top to swiftly bring-up the Freeview HD EPG - does take a bit of getting used to.

The only aspects that confused us was that (a) we weren’t able to call-up the Xross Media Bar (slightly re-designed for 2011) at all, and (b) the MediaRemote app itself has banner adverts across the top tenth of the screen. This is not acceptable on a product that’s been paid for already. DVD and Blu-ray discs may routinely come with movie trailers and adverts, and Panasonic’s Freeview EPG may also be scarred with an advert, but that doesn’t make it OK.

  

By the way, the app only works if both the KDL-32CX523 and the smartphone are on your home network, and therein lies a small problem: the KDL-32CX523 has a wired Ethernet LAN port, but no built-in Wi-Fi. We wouldn't expect it to at the price so it’s no cause for complaint, but it’s best you know that a USB dongle from Sony costs around £69.00.

Making Skype video calls will also necessitate buying an add-on camera-cum-microphone from Sony, though the rest of the online features within Bravia Internet Video are free.

They're actually unchanged from last year except for a minor interface tweak, and number over 20 - including Demand 5, BBC iPlayer, Eurosport and YouTube. Open web surfing is also available as an Application along the revamped Xross Media Bar user interface, but it’s far to slow to actually consider useful. Better is file support over DLNA and from USB (we managed most major formats), while it’s even possible to record to a hard disk straight from the pitch perfect Freeview HD 7-day electronic programme guide (this doesn’t work on USB sticks). Another feature, TrackID, is meant to identify track details for songs playing on your TV, but it produced only a “server error” message during our review.

Happily, picture quality from the likes of YouTube is pretty good, with an overriding - and highly watchable - smoothness introduced where noisy, dotty stretched video used to be. It’s clever stuff, but not as half as nifty as the detail in 2D Blu-ray discs. Colour is also excellent, though contrast less so. There’s an issue with motion blur, but it’s not endemic. Sound is almost always underwhelming on TVs this size, but the built-in stereo speakers actually do a half-decent job.

Verdict

Well-specified LCD TV that makes up for its lack of LED backlighting by piling on the features. Smartphone control is worth considering while the presence of BBC iPlayer and DLNA streaming make this a thoroughly modern effort - and one that punches above its weight enough to redefine the “my first flatscreen” category.