This isn't Sony’s most expensive screen, that dubious honour goes to its KDL-55HX923. But don't bother with that because the HX823 series’ luscious 3D, sparkling 2D and a web video hub that’s genuinely engaging will blow your socks off.
A Freeview HD tuner used to rank high up on our list of must-haves. Although the presence of a DVB-T2 tuner on this 55-incher is reassuring, it’s not quite the attraction it was now find one on all but the most budget-priced sets.
Design and inputs
Four HDMI inputs, two USBs and built-in Wi-Fi seems reasonable, though one gripe about the KDL-55HX823’s swathe of connection choices is that both Scart and component video users will have need to use an adapter, which is supplied. It's little tricks like this that enable Sony’s engineers to get KDL-55HX823 down to just 27mm thick? Although we understand the reasons, it doesn't half make a mess behind the TV – wall-hangers beware.
You’ll also notice a button that’s new to Sony TVs: an on/off switch. Hardly an advanced addition, but welcome nonetheless.
We like Sony’s new user interface for 2011. Now positioned on the bottom of the screen instead of the criss-cross approach of the former Xross Media Bar, it’s less ruled by sources and sections, and more by content. And frankly, we won't miss that idiotic name.
Worked through by the excellent –and uniquely concave– remote control’s D-pad are icons for recordings, which are made to a manually attached USB hard disk. Along with TV, media (from either a USB stick or home network), inputs, favourites/history (handy shortcuts to recently viewed media or sources), settings and internet content. Sony's Qriocity service is also present, made up of two parts: Music Unlimited and Video On Demand.
There are also widgets for Facebook, Twitter and a gallery of other apps that’s not only empty, but caused an error message to appear when we selected it. There are also applications like Skype, WiFi Direct mode and an Opera Internet browser.
One of those apps, Skype, requires a Sony-made CMU-BR100 camera and microphone to be purchased for a not inconsiderable sum. WiFi Direct will allow you send photos to the TV from a phone, it's a bit like DLNA really.
Despite the occasional lag and the fact that there’s almost too much to wade through, we do like this interface; the way that drop-up menus appear to the right-hand side of a sizeable window showing the live input (TV, games or a Blu-ray movie) makes everything very simple and visible. The window itself takes up around a half of the screen’s real estate, and on the KDL-55HX823 that’s quite a bit.
And then there’s the Bravia Internet Video platform, one of, if not the best ‘smart’ TV hub. Its new 3D Experience is theoretically a compelling addition to the platform, but appearances are deceptive. Of the 39 shorts available to watch in 3D, highlights include lengthy montages from Wimbledon, the 2010 World Cup, Winter X Games and some golf (in total there are five sports clips), 3D movies clips from Sony-made The Surfs, The Green Hornet, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Monster House and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
There are other sections, including music videos, game clips (all PS3-related, naturally), nature clips – all limited to a maximum of five shorts. Ignore the ‘Sony original’ and ‘personal imaging’ section, both of which are merely compilations of adverts, although the entire 3D Experience app is one big ‘look what we can also sell you’ exercise.
It’s elsewhere that the platform shines, with the BBC iPlayer and –uniquely– Demand 5 making-up an enviable catch-up TV service for Brits. Subscribers to Lovefilm will love the chance to stream films, while non-Lovefilmers can rent from Acetrax.
Picture and sound quality
More immediate, strictly 2D digital media can be had from a PC via DLNA streaming, though oddly there’s a lot more flexibility if you use a USB stick, which kills the convenience argument. In our tests we managed to play MPEG4, WMV, AVI and AVC HD files from a USB stick (note the absence of MKV), while over a network only MPEG4 files were read. That’s a different performance from other Sony TVs we’ve tested in 2011. Confusing – and the lack of any support for MKV files is a shame.
Although 2D benefits from Motionflow XR 400 (AKA 400Hz scanning) by replacing blurred motion with visible detail, it’s 3D that really benefits. With the panel refreshing quick enough, the bad old days of dodgy 3D on a LCD screen appear to be over – we didn't notice much double imaging in our Monster House test disc. That said, the active shutter system does still have its drawbacks, and the single pair of glasses included in the box do remove a lot of image brightness.
Viewed in 2D, pictures to lack ultimate contrast and don't get close to plasma-black, but the set has one more must-have feature; X-Reality PRO. Its Smooth Gradation feature takes a poor quality video source from anywhere like Freeview’s low bittrate channels, an old DVD or a YouTube clip, and upscales it for the big screen, with superb results. It’s an awesome about-turn compared to the days when having a 50-inch+ LCD TV meant keeping a strict hi-def diet.
Audio, meanwhile, is better than on most sets, though the third speaker on the rear of the TV seems a little strange.
Despite a huge haul of features on this plain, gloss black TV, we’re not completely convinced this 55-inch LED-backlit set represents good value. Not when there are plasmas about with a similar offering for half the price, and much better black levels.
Sony’s latest is for perfectionists who want a super-slim 3D screen. Slightly better pictures can be got for less if you head for a top-end (and slightly plumper) plasma. But there’s a lot here to get excited about, including superb upscaling of dodgy web video, superb 3D and USB recording from the best-looking Freeview HD system in the business.