Sony Bravia 55-inch KDL-55HX853 LED TV review
The Sony Bravia KDL-55HX853 is the second telly from the company's dynamic edge-LED range that's made its way into Pocket-lint towers. It's a mix of unusual design with bags of picture-enhancing technology and enough connectivity - both physical and via Wi-Fi - to keep the techiest telly fan happy. We've previously had the excellent 46-inch version grace our eyeballs with its visual wonders, but does the larger 55-inch HX853 model deliver a winning formula that's as strong?
The KDL-HX853 series is based around a quirky "monolith" design in which the screen doesn't sit upright like any normal telly. Nope, the way it integrates with the included soundbar-meets-stand means it slants backwards by six degrees.
When the TV's off this looks rather cool - like a trendy art object in its own right - but when it's switched on it can momentarily feel a bit like everything's falling over.
With the 46-inch version we got used to this leant-back design, but with the larger 55-inch KDL-55HX853 the lean is exaggerated because of the sheer scale of this TV. It's taken a week of living with the beast for it to feel familiar and "normal". The tilted viewing angle's one main benefit, however - as we pointed out in the 46-inch review - is that daylight reflections can be avoided. But that's reaching a bit, really.
The larger KDL-55HX853 doesn't have to be mounted in this way, and you can opt to wall mount it instead. But this means sacrificing the soundbar - though there are speakers on the rear of the TV as well - and investing extra dosh into buying a wall bracket.
As a 2013 review of a 2012 TV, the onus on bezel size has increased as that of more modern sets has decreased. But that's not to say the year-old HX853 lends too much of its real estate to the outer-edged black and silver stuff. With the bezel-to-edge distance between 28mm and 30mm, and the TV itself just 30mm thick, it's a small surround considering the screen measures a significant 1.25m across its top edge. The edging may be slightly wider than some of the current competition, but the Sony still manages to stay on the right side of beautiful.
The big kahuna. At it's core a TV is all about picture quality, and the 55HX853 rarely disappoints on the display front.
The contrast range and black levels are excellent, although it goes without saying that there's some obvious edge-LED light as with any LED-backlit LCD TV. It's only really noticeable in those really dark scenes where there are smaller yet brighter subject areas. Even in the sample shots where we show such light it's clear to see how uniform the set is - there are no random light leaks scattered throughout as with some of the competition.
But one thing we did notice about the 55-inch version of the HX853 is that Sony appears to have filtered the corners to try to dampen the presence of LED light. It might help in some darker scenes to achieve better uniformity, but in really bright frames it goes the other way and gives a slight vignette effect at each corner.
Motion is another all-important factor when it comes to LCD tellies, and Sony's Motionflow XR 800Hz technology is what the company has employed to smooth out the visuals. The idea is that a backlight "blinks" four times per the native 200Hz refresh to give the impression of additional frames that aren't really there. In practice we found it works well for 3D content and some TV viewing, but for the classic movie experience it's best adjusted from within the menu options to avoid the hyper-real "soap opera effect" - think The Hobbit in 48fps and you'll understand why such smoothing isn't always desirable.
There’s other tech at work, too: Sony’s X-Reality Pro technology is designed to upscale whatever the original source material’s resolution is, which is particularly useful in the digital streaming age. We've jumped into the YouTube app to stream non-HD clips and the HX853 sure does upscale to the best of its abilities. A better example is when watching digital files - we've plugged a USB stick loaded with goodies into the TV's rear and loaded up 720p MP4 files that looked fantastic in all their upscaled glory.
A USB connection is just the tip of the iceberg of course. There are multiple ways that the HX853 can obtain media, from smart online methods through to the networked Homestream system which enables sync with a Mac or PC for real-time playback.
For Homestream you'll need to download software and install it first, but once that's done it's possible to send media live to the set, including MKV, MP4, AVI which are all decoded in real time. Welcome to the computer-based media server, and what a lovely idea it is.
But a good idea can be carried out poorly, and that's Homestream's main issue. It's an over-complex bother to set up, no external storage devices can be sourced (irrelevant of connection type), the library and layout is sloppy and the user interface needs sharpening up. That's quite a list. But we like the sentiment. For the most part we've stuck to both hard-wired media and the built-in smart app-based catch-up services.
Beyond Homestream there are plenty of other built-in apps that this Bravia can make the most of. Fix the telly up to your network and it offers Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) which is the portal into the likes of Lovefilm, Netflix, YouTube, Skype, Sony's own Video Unlimited movie rental service and plenty more. The other access point is "Home" which loads up the bulk of settings, including many of the apps and services available from SEN.
To use Skype you'll need a specific Sony accessory camera called the CMU-BR100 which we've reviewed in full as part of our 2013 Skype week. Have a read to see what we made of this USB clip-on cam, but don't forget that third-party USB webcams won't function through this particular Bravia.
However, we did find that access to the SEN home is slow. Once streams are up and running there are no problems, but from first firing up the TV there's time to boil the kettle before the SEN is accessible. Even then it still has a prolonged wait from pressing the button to seeing action on the screen. Not so smart - a problem that we highlighted months back and one we'd hoped firmware updates would have improved by now.
Mounted on its soundbar there's high expectation for the HX853's sound performance. The experience does create the sensation that sound is being pushed from the TV's base, which doesn't give it the most sparkly or fully forward projection, but that can be overcome with some adjustments and volume.
Tweak the system's EQ - it's a simple bass and treble version - to get the balance right and we think the KDL-55HX853's sound is decent. It can cater for a wide range including a reasonable push of bass, though for true sub you'll want to wire up a full system at extra cost.
We gave Brad Pitt's latest Killing Them Softly a whirl and the various bone-crunching scenes suitably rattled our in-ear bones just as much. The volume does need to be pumped to get the fullest sound out of this set, otherwise the HX853 can risk sounding a little muted and nasal.
One thing we've not yet touched upon is the KDL-55HX853's price. A handful of months is a long time in tech, and this big ole Bravia beastie doesn't have as big a price tag as you might imagine. Well, not any more anyway. The current sub-£1,450 price tag is roughly the same as the 46-inch model we reviewed just nine months ago. Indeed patience can pay off.
But it's not just the price that's welcoming. The HX853's image quality is wonderful, save for subtle corner filtration and some edge-LED backlighting being visible in extra dark scenes.
The slanted stand design also isn't something we can totally rave about, nor is the tardy response time of the Sony Entertainment Network's smart content access, but for the money it's difficult to moan and when things do get up and running it's all smooth to operate.
If you're in the market for a large-screen treat at a fair price then hold your horses on the 4K front, as the KDL-55HX853 is a cracker that will happily fill the gap. It's full of decent processing tech and while there are some small qualms that hold it back from perfection, it manages to balance out performance to price and come out on top.
Even a year on from its first unveiling the 55-inch HX853 is still great. That leant-back stance is as much a thing of confidence as it is a design concept. A cracking telly.