Most kitchen or “second room” TVs feature a bog standard LCD screen and, if you're lucky, a Freeview tuner, but the competition is hotting up and Sony here brings to market a small TV that’s not only one of the best specified, but also one of the best looking.
With many Brits already owning a flat TV in their living room, the demand for second TVs is soaring. Sony obviously recognises this because this 22-inch doesn't just add LED backlighting and BBC iPlayer, but has even strapped this super-slim set with built-in Wi-Fi, iPhone App control and a novel stand that uses two shiny steel pipes to subtlety support the set.
Classy stuff, as is the brushed metallic-looking plastic strip along the bottom of the TV. Most of that wouldn’t look out of place on a flagship TV, which this 22-incher certainly isn't. It’s at the lower end of Sony’s “Essential” line-up of Bravia TVs in an EX320 Series that also includes the 24-inch KDL-24EX320, 26-inch KDL-26EX320 and 32-inch KDL-32EX320.
Small in stature it may be, but these are about as advanced as any “second room” TV ever produced. The use of Edge LED backlighting - the slimmest of all luminance tech - has enabled Sony to achieve a dept of just 42mm, though don't think that means less in the way of picture technology. Also onboard is Sony’s X-Reality, a picture processing suite that we’ve seen work wonders on its higher-end TVs.
The only area where the KDL-22EX320 fails to surprise us is with its resolution, which at 1366 x 768 pixels puts it steadfastly in the HD-Ready camp. It’s no bother - we don't believe Full HD has much worth for video at this size - but those who’d like to use it as a PC monitor will be disappointed.
At least there’s a PC input on the KDL-22EX320’s side panel, which is accompanied by a Common Interface slot and a USB port. The latter is for playing back digital files as well as recording to, and pausing live TV with, an external HDD. In our tests it supported AVI (DivX), MPEG (including high-def), WMV and AVCHD videos, but strangely not DivX HD files, though they can be streamed from a PC or Mac using the DLNA function.
On the rear are a couple of HDMI inputs, an RF aerial feed, a lone Scart, Ethernet LAN port (for those without Wi-Fi), a digital optical audio output, component video, stereo phonos, and a 3.5mm PC audio jack.
But it’s with an invisible connection - the Wi-Fi module - that brings the most joy. An Opera web browser is very welcome, but it’s actually the lowpoint; it’s hampered by tiny fonts and a laborious operation. Much better is Bravia Internet Video, which includes the “currently offline” Qriocity, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, Lovefilm, Eurosport, YouTube, Blip.tv, Dailymotion and more (guff) besides. Skype video calling is mentioned in the advertising and on Sony’s website, but we presume that it will arrive via an upcoming firmware update. Also present are Twitter and Facebook widgets that, when activated, push the live TV channel into a screen that occupies around two-thirds of the screen real estate (there’s also a “widget gallery”, but it’s empty). Not surprisingly, Sony’s Qriocity music and video streaming service gets its own section, too; if you're prepared to sign-up to this iTunes-aping, multi-gadget, cloud-based rental service it’s quite something - but we’re thinking VAIO users will be its primary target.
What we don’t like about the KDL-22EX320 is its lack of Freeview HD. The 7-day electronics programme guide is excellent - peerless, even - and the refreshed, speedy user interface for the TV as a whole is a lot subtler than the brilliant, but rather dominating design of the XrossMediaBar system that’s also used on the PS3. We also loved using Sony’s MediaRemote iPhone app, a full explanation of which is here). But switch on any digital TV channel and there are the same puck marks, fizzing picture noise and pixellated moving objects and close-ups that we thought we’d moved on from with the advent of Freeview HD.
Attach a Blu-ray player and high-def broadcasts are missed even more; this Edge LED panel is unusually talented, with viewing angles in particular a huge step forward when compared to the 22-inch LCD TVs of old. Black levels are profound, though contrast isn’t; during Ice Cold In Alex on Blu-ray we noticed a rather hollow look to dark areas of the image. There was also some motion blur evident in horizontal camera pans during our 2012 test disc, and colours can look a touch ripe, but none of these foibles take away from the fact that the overall picture quality of the Edge LED-backlit KDL-22EX320 is far greater than on your typical 22-incher. And sound from the invisible 8W speakers, while barely enough to enjoy a film, is nevertheless reasonably detailed and a slight cut above.
With built-in Wi-Fi, a slinky slim new look and iPhone app control, Sony’s diminutive “second room” TV takes a clear first place. Its lack of Freeview HD is a shame considering the sharpness it manages with high-def fare, but otherwise the provision of BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm streaming, widgets and more lends this simple-to-use but advanced Edge LED-backlit TV incredible value.