With its latest set of TVs, Sony is trying to do something different in the looks department. The HX8, with its monolith design and tilted screen, certainly dominates any living room. Take a step down and you have this, the HX7, which uses a clever back plate and pair of chrome bars to give the impression of the set being balanced, almost in free-fall, on two single pieces of metal. It certainly grabs the eye and at a price significantly lower than a lot of other premium sets, it could be the telly to beat.
On paper there is definitely a lot to like: a good 400hz panel, full-HD 3D, internet connected TV content and more image processing tech than you can shake a stick at. So does it deliver? Is this the set you want to be watching the Olympic opening ceremony on, or can better be found elsewhere?
The HX7 looks different. It's a machine that - particularly in the bigger screen sizes - will dominate the living room: the 55-inch version looks much more conventional. This is something we like, as it makes a change from the typical television design. While not being quite as impressive as Samsung's near-borderless premium UE55ES7000 model, it is still a corker and with the TV switched on the thin bezel certainly looks good.
The set is very thin, so also looks good side-on. It also makes it easy to mount on the wall and ensures plenty of room behind the TV for cables.
Our HX7 required a bit of assembly before we had it up and running. There is a choice of bolts on the back which will allow you to view the set either tilted, like the HX8, or flat. Once rigged-up it takes a bit of guts to let go - the balance effect on the two chrome bars being so convincing they just don't look as if they will support the television's weight. Don't worry, they do.
Sony has included all sorts of clever picture processing tech with the HX7. Like most television sets, out of the box these settings are all stuck on full blast and do quite a bit of damage to the picture. Tone it all down though and there is plenty of real benefit, particularly when watching standard definition TV. A good example is the Motion Flow option, which will smooth out any judders and blur in video. It works wonders when viewing things like motorsport or football and when set to standard, can also do a lot to improve HD content.
The 400Hz panel might be a step down from the HX8's response time, but it is more than enough to impress. Pretty much anything we threw at the LED display looked great. Brilliant viewing angles and great brightness settings also helped. We spent a good amount of time testing the set in a bright room, with windows pouring light straight on to the display, and it rarely had any impact on our viewing experience.
As for colour and black levels, getting the HX7 setup nicely takes a while, but once you nail it is definitely a premium experience. None of the blown-out colours or overly contrasty scenes of other TVs are found here. Helped along by Sony's X-Reality engine, every image looks as dynamic as the next colours in particular are vivid but never harsh.
Watching both 3D Blu-ray and standard Blu-ray with the set is excellent. The high contrast ratio ensures, given good-quality material, that the HX7 can shine. Things like the new Star Wars Blu-rays for example were showing inky black starscapes, while other more modern content like Up! looked sharp with great 3D and very little ghosting or any of the other issues from which older 3D sets suffer.
Sony's HX7 comes with Wi-Fi and plentiful web-enabled apps out of the box. Sadly, this is where the television suffers slightly. What should be a selling point for the set turns into a slightly laggy and clunky experience.
First, the included remote just isn't geared up for things such as searching YouTube or sending a Tweet. Second, the UI itself can become frequently unresponsive. It also looks fairly blurry and muddy, boasting what we think is unnecessarily low-resolution icons on what is a brilliantly sharp 1080p panel. Things like the iPlayer app perform well when up and running, but it's the getting there that is a problem.
Once you do start streaming content, the X-Reality engine really kicks in. YouTube videos in particular benefitted greatly from the processing it offered. Skype. rather bizarrely, also looks really good thanks to the panel.
Our other irritation with the internet-connected side of the HX7 is that Sony just recently rolled out a Google TV box. We can't help but think that so much improvement could be made to the HX7's smart experience had it just included Google's OS from the box. The remote is better, the UI better and things like surfing the internet and searching are just much nicer to do.
The HX7 has a lot on offer when it comes to connectivity. On top of the standard array of four HDMI ports, there is also things like a USB drive reader, which is great if you fancy plugging video straight into the telly.
Being as thin as it is, Sony has packed a lot of ports into a very small area on the right side of the telly. It can make for lots of ugly cables sticking outside the back of the set. The distance between each port is also a tad too close for comfort, forcing us to do things like swap some of our bulkier HDMI cables as they couldn't fit in next to others.
Sony's UI improves a lot with activities such as viewing photos or video from a camera or card. It is smooth and responsive and had most of our video content up on screen within moments of our connecting it. Leaving the card in however did cause an annoying lock-up each time we turned the set back, as it informed us of its presence.
For the price, the core viewing experience of the HX7 can't be argued with. It looks great and the design of the display ensures that you get more than just a boring TV set in your living room. Blu-ray and 3D performed admirably as did SD and HD terrestrial content.
A few niggles with the UI and a slightly substandard connected TV experience left us feeling Sony should just put Google TV in everything it makes. Other than that we were suitably impressed with the HX7: for the money the likes of the 50-inch offering could be among some of the best sets available to buy right now. A definite step in the right direction but a few lessons learnt and the next generation set could be a real corker.