The Sony KDL-40EX1 is a slim line, 40-inch HD LCD TV that would not look out of place on the wall of any home, because the whole design ethos with the EX1 is that it can double up as a kind of giant, 40-inch digital picture frame as well as the hub for your high-definition TV or movie viewing.
And that is exactly the point. In the EX1, Sony has built a flat panel TV that can be left on, playing your much-loved family snaps when not being used to watch your favourite TV show or movies.
One of the first things that strike you as you haul the 17kg TV out of the box is its slimness - at just 4.95cm thin - it is very svelte indeed. It’s near featureless back hints at the other key attribute of the EX1: it comes with Sony’s wireless BRAVIA Media Receiver that accepts all the connections such as your Blu-ray player, surround system or set-top boxes or any other AV kit you may have.
The Media Receiver can be tucked away, leaving you to hang the TV on a wall amongst your paintings and framed photos without the usual panoply of wires strewn everywhere. At least, that’s the proposition on offer with the EX1. So, what do you get for your money?
At £2288.99, the EX1 has a premium price tag, so you’d be hoping it’s a lot for the money. Given the size of the screen and the fact it is a high-definition picture frame to boot and that it is able to have wirelessly streamed TV, DVD and Blu-ray content, bodes well.
Then, looking at the impressively thin and clean white picture frame styling, it is undoubtedly attractive and the TV certainly look very nice on a wall or sat on the supplied curvaceous stand for those who want to have it free standing.
The wireless set-up process is relatively hassle free when connecting the monitor and the Media Receiver. The Receiver features three HDMI, Component, Composite, Scart, dual USB sockets, and a PCMCIA card slot. VGA for your PC hook-up (with sound input) is also included, as well as optical out for hooking up audio, as well as the single RF input for your aerial. An additional HDMI is found on the monitor itself, and of course, the setup supports the BRAVIA 1080 Wireless and Bravia Sync systems
In terms of picture technologies, the EX1 features Sony’s 100Hz motion flow technology that helps render fast moving imagery (broadcast sports such as football is the obvious example here) and it works well enough. Like most LCD TVs, however, the set is less accomplished on standard definition sources such as Freeview broadcasts, where you can see slight judder as (using the footy example above) a ball flies across the screen.
However, plug in a HD player, such as the Sony PS3 used for this test and things improve dramatically. Bravia Engine 2 - the latest version of Sony’s picture processing engine - works terrifically and sat alongside the Advanced Contrast Enhancer, it’s a combination that can provide stunning moving picture quality.
Despite all the positives, however, there’s a big disappointment waiting in the wings. To get at the other key picture enhancements such as 24p True Cinema and 1080p picture quality, you need to connect the HD player directly to the monitor’s HDMI socket because the Media Receiver can not transmit 1080p streams, only transmitting a 1080i signal and without the 24p processing.
In short, to get the most from the EX1, at least in terms of top quality moving imagery, you’ll need to bypass what is surely the set's top asset: its wireless connectivity. Sony has missed a massive trick here. Presumably, the sheer amount of data that needs to be streamed precludes the inclusion of these two features in wireless mode, or the cost of adding the technology to provide it is prohibitive, particularly as the set already looks expensive, but it is a possible banana skin.
Perhaps only time will tell when we might find out how popular the set is to its audience, which at this price, will be expecting a premium offering with all that that entails in terms of picture quality - even wirelessly.
As for audio performance, well here we are back on track because it is very good. Sony’s S-Force Front Surround audio system is fairly successful at providing a virtual surround audio effect, but the addition of Voice Zoom, which allows the increase or decrease of the voice audio channel without affecting the background sound, is a masterstroke. It means you can get a very good overall balance between surround sound effect and vocal clarity or, with the volume pumped up, retain clear voice volume throughout a movie, even during movie explosions or more noisy set pieces.
The EX1 deploys two 5-watt hidden speakers that can provide surprisingly rich and clear sound, even at high volumes and with minimal distortion at the deeper end of the audio spectrum.
The EX1 therefore represents, overall, an extremely good package particularly given the use of the set as a monitor for displaying still pictures that undoubtedly will add to the appeal of the TV. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling this is a HD TV hamstrung by the lack of streamed 1080p/24p signals given the price and the customers that this will attract.
The Sony KDL-40EX1 is a very attractive, well specified and good to use HD TV. It sports a neat menu system, akin to Sony’s XrossMediaBar as found on Sony’s PS3 console, and which makes getting around settings and features intuitive and fast.
The EX1’s premium price will make this TV a stretch for those on tighter budgets and at the same time, all those expecting premium picture quality for the premium price tag will be disappointed by the lack of wireless 1080p and 24p streaming. Having said that, you get stunning HD picture quality through direct connection to the monitor and the wireless 1080i streamed picture quality is not horrible by any standard.
Combine all that with that neat Picture Frame Mode and excellent audio response and the Sony KDL-40EX1 HD TV is still worthy of a closer look, even if it dropped a couple of points over the streaming issues.