Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703 £1100
16th Jul 2010 | 10:00
Amazingly well-specified 40" LCD TV with Freeview HD
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Overview
Freeview HD, LED backlighting, and internet widgets have gone from being pipe dreams to mainstream in no time at all, but few sets have combined all three to such seductive effect as the Sony KDL-40EX703.
The elegant 40-inch set manages to combine just about every must-have specification you can think of and wraps it all up in an elegantly sophisticated styling, but still manages to keep the price on the right side of reasonable.
And if you can find any major corners that have been cut in order to make this possible, then we'd like to hear about them.
Decked out in glossy black and trimmed with an eye-catching brushed-metal strip running underneath the screen, this Bravia-branded set sits in the middle of the Japanese giant's current line up and is an exciting demonstration of the spec and performance to which a mass-market television can aspire.
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Features
The KDL-40EX703 boasts one of the most comprehensive specification sheets of any television currently on the market.
It is, of course, Full HD and those 1,920 x 1,080 pixels are put to the best possible use by a built-in Freeview HD tuner.
The subscription-free digital terrestrial high-def service is becoming increasingly significant, with this summer's World Cup coverage enabling it to move beyond looped demo material, offering as it did so a mouth-watering glimpse into the future of mainstream high-definition broadcasting.
The set also carries an Ethernet connection and web widgets that offer a gateway to a handpicked selection of websites, including YouTube, DailyMotion and Lovefilm.com.
We're not entirely convinced that this sort of ring-fenced browsing offers much of a boon to anyone already in possession of a PC and a broadband internet connection or a decent web-enabled phone, but it's an impressive bonus layer of spec that doesn't appear to have added much of a premium to what looks, at first glance, like a very competitive price tag.
The KDL-40EX703 also carries the latest generation of the picture processing system that has served its sets to consistently good effect over the last few years.
Bravia Engine 3 is an umbrella term for a set of tweaks and refinements designed to boost image detail, optimise contrast and keep an eye on the colour palette.
MotionFlow 100Hz digital scanning is also on hand to smooth out judder, while Live Colour mode is available in varying degrees of intensity (including Off) to help ensure hues are bright and realistic.
If you've already noted the set's unusually slender profile, you will no doubt have deduced that this is an LED-backlit set, which ought to be good news for black levels, as well as enabling it to run much more efficiently than an equivalent, CCFL-powered flatscreen.
Another piece of green thinking is a presence sensor that switches off the picture if the set detects no movement in the general vicinity for a period of time.
You can extend or reduce the amount of time the TV will wait before shutting down, or switch the feature off entirely if you prefer. There is a rather underwhelming demo in which the screen goes black every five seconds if you want to check out this feature before deciding whether or not to use it.
The Sony can also us Wi-Fi, which means you can connect it to your home network without cabling (although you will need to add the optional UWA-BR100 USB device to do so) to share various media across whatever compatible hardware you own.
General connectivity, meanwhile, is generous. The line is led by a quartet of HDMI inputs, two of which are around the back, with the remainder arranged vertical on the left-hand side of the cabinet.
These are joined by a comprehensive selection of the usual digital and analogue ports, including a brace of RGB-enabled Scart inputs, a USB port and an optical digital audio output for sending broadcast audio to external amplification in pristine binary form.
S-video has been dispensed with, but there is a composite jack on hand to cater for the lower end of the video food chain.
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Ease of use
Sony's excellent XMB interface is streets ahead of just about everything else on the market at the moment in terms of design, ergonomics and cross-product compatibility.
This ingenious arrangement organises everything along two axes, inviting one to scroll horizontally between the main headings and then vertically among the various sub-menu options.
It'll take some getting used to if you've only encountered tabular arrangements before (although Philips fans might recall the Dutch brand briefly experimenting with a similar concept five or so years ago), but once you've become attuned to the system you should find it effortlessly navigable.
The menus are presented on attractive, translucent black filters with clear white text and immediately obvious graphics that 'glow' when selected.
That it integrates seamlessly with other – suitably recent – Sony hardware is likely to be a big boon for the brand-loyalists looking to build a wider home entertainment system and the Bravia Sync technology enables you to bring several components under the spell of the remote control that ships with this set.
Speaking of which, the handheld unit is a lesson in unflashy user friendliness, with, pleasingly precise buttons spread nicely over a concave upper surface that encourages your thumb to hover just over the central 'OK' button, with the other major keys arranged in a concentric ring outside the directional keys.
You might occasionally find yourself mistaking the former for the latter, inadvertently opening up the settings menu when you meant to scroll up or down, and there's an extra standby button on the underside of the remote for some unexplained reason, but generally speaking the KDL-40EX703 is an absolute doddle to operate.
Initial installation takes a matter of moments, with a few simple clicks of the 'OK' button being all that it takes to get both digital and analogue successfully tuned in and, having done so, the clear, neatly organised EPG is a pleasure to behold, with clear text, a clutter-free layout containing plenty of programme information and a thumbnail window displaying the channel you're currently watching.
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Picture
The KDL-40EX703 upholds the long-running Sony preference for restrained naturalism over mind-boggling feats of detail rendition or retina-searing brightness. Not that the resolving power at this set's disposal isn't extremely impressive, mind you.
Top-notch video, whether it be HD broadcasts or Blu-ray discs, looks absolutely superb, with oodles of depth and a huge amount of visual information to take in, rendered with a precision that only starts to break down from the most unlikely viewing distances.
What it doesn't do, though, is ram its resolution in your face.
You never get the feeling that the set is over-exerting itself in order to extract more visual data than ever before from any given source; the pictures don't have that over-processed sheen that you occasionally see on over-ambitious sets and you rarely see the picture appear to re-focus minutely when the content of the shot changes or the camera moves.
The result is a rich, immersive image that draws you into the action, rather than inviting you to marvel at its technical excellence at a slight remove.
Perhaps even more impressive, though, is the even-handedness with which this set treats whatever you put its way. Some sophisticated scaling circuitry ensures that even the lowliest standard-def broadcasts look comfortable when stretched across that 40-inch panel.
While you probably won't find your jaw dropping too far during episodes of Dickinson's Real Deal, you certainly won't find yourself feeling woefully short-changed when switching from high- to low-definition broadcasts.
While the former obviously look better, the latter are pleasingly clean, well-disciplined and generally devoid of the blocky, garish ghastliness that so often plagues bog-standard Freeview broadcasts on less diligent large-screen sets.
Black levels are fairly good, but don't aspire to those achieved by direct-lit LED displays.
The darker shades are reasonably profound and there is a decent degree of distinction between shades, but the set never quite manages to attain true pitch darkness.
The deepest it can manage still has a slightly luminous quality, particularly watched in blackout conditions. On the plus side, there is little evidence of light pooling towards the sides (where the LEDs are located), a flaw that has scuppered more than a few of the edge-lit sets that have passed through the lab recently.
Colours, meanwhile, are sublime across the board. The KDL-40EX703 has an astonishingly wide range, from the intensely saturated tones of children's TV programming to the subdued, wintry palette of Where the Wild Things Are on Blu-ray.
The latter is a particularly revealing showcase for the Sony's talents, with the opening, snow-bound scenes showing off the Bravia Engine's aptitude for picking out instantly familiar real world tones.
The infinite variety in the shades of snow, with its contours and shifting sparkle, is note perfect and the rosy pallors of the various kids involved will look instantly familiar to anyone who has ever engaged in a snowball fight.
Blending is seamless, with no stepping or banding between varying shades or intensities and there is no evidence of any bleeding.
One slight disappointment is the motion handling. While by no means the worst offender in its class (and with all due acknowledgement of the slight judder inherent to Blu-ray), the Sony does occasionally struggle to deal with the challenges posed by moving cameras.
It's not a glaring handicap and only makes itself known, in the form of a mild lag, on slowish, deliberate pans, but can be distracting once spotted.
Overall, though, the KDL-40EX703 is an immensely enjoyable watch, with a scope, depth and subtlety that lends itself particularly well to movies, but is equally satisfying with broadcasts.
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Sound and value
Audio is crisp and clear with a pleasing mid-range that captures dialogue nicely. The sound 'image' is also reasonably wide and airy with whatever's going on getting a decent amount of space to breathe.
It's not three-dimensional in the same way that surround sound systems can be said to be (and we can't think of too many reasons to bother with the KDL-40EX703's S-Force pseudo-surround setting), but the various effects do at least have room to breathe and the soundfield appears to extend beyond the confines of the frame edges.
There is a decent amount of volume at your disposal, although we did detect a hint of the buzzing that betrays a speaker working at the limits of its capabilities when the dial went beyond the 80 per cent mark.
There isn't a huge amount of bass to play with, but you'll find just enough to give movies a little bit of extra oomph.
The recommended price of just over a grand (bearing in mind the likely savings some judicious shopping around might bring) is about bang on for the KDL-40EX703.
There aren't all that many 40-inch sets around, and you could spend the same amount on an extremely well-specified 37-incher, or a larger but less exciting 42-inch model, but you certainly won't find many direct rivals that offer this kind of performance on top of built-in Freeview HD and web widgets.
Only the best Philips sets are better connected, and the only conceivable gap in this Sony's armoury is a lack of 3D compatibility, but that particular technology is by no means sufficiently established for this to be a minus point.
It's attractive, it's technically excellent, and its futureproof spec means it won't need replacing for years to come, making it a formidable bargain by anyone's reckoning.
Sony Bravia KDL-40EX703: Verdict
The Sony KDL-40EX703 is a comprehensively futureproofed television that should cater to the needs of a potentially huge market for years to come.
It packs just about everything you can think of into an extremely stylish chassis, produces a thoroughly entertaining performance, and manages to do so for what amounts to a high-ish, but ultimately reasonable, price.
The colours, user system, and features.
Occasionally patchy black levels and motion blur, and the limited audio power.
The Sony KDL-40EX703 is an excellent value set, with every feature you can think of and mostly superb picture performance with only the odd foible.
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