Sony Bravia KDL-40HX803 £1800
25th Jul 2010 | 09:00
Sony's entry-level 3D TV and prudent Blu-ray player have been designed to save you money
Sony may be making a belated splash with 3D, but at the very least it looks committed with no fewer than three full TV ranges, of which the HX800 series, reviewed here, is its mainstream proposition.
All the HX803 models need to be teamed with a separate IR emitter and 3D glasses (available as an accessory bundle) before you can go three dimensional.
As Sony's Tim Page explained, when delivering the set to HCC Towers, 'these sets are for those that want to add 3D at a later date, or just want to future-proof their new TV purchases.'
The HX803 comes in 40in and 46in and variants. The step-up HX903 series comes in 46in and 52in screen sizes and has Full Array LED backlighting. The brand's so-called Signature range, also known as the LX models, are available as 40 and 60in screen sizes. They are Dynamic Edge LED screens and ship with two pairs of Active Shutter glasses included.
The HX803 is only 7.4cm deep and sports a regulation gloss black bezel, but build quality is a tad ordinary. The set itself can stand straight or, as per many other Sony models this year, tilt 6˚ backwards (in case you have a fashionably low TV stand). It all depends on how you assemble the pedestal stand.
A Home button summons the main Xross user interface, while Options pulls in a complete list of options from the right hand side. The Input button pulls in a map of sources from the left.
In awe of the S-570
I partnered the screen with the BDP-S570, a £230 3D Blu-ray player. Like all of Sony's 2010 models, the deck is Super Audio CD compatible.
You have a choice of outputting two-channel SACD via phono or multichannel over HDMI. If you hook it up with a (Sony) AVR able to take DSD over HDMI you'll get a digital stream from the disc, which is really neat. If the player interrogates the AVR's EDID data and discovers that it cannot handle DSD, the player outputs multichannel PCM instead.
Other attractions, according to Sony, include its network talents and audio visual performance. 'The build quality is highly considered,' Sony's man made sure to let me know, explaining, 'circuit tracks are nice and short and architecture is tidy.'
The more I used the S570, the more I was in awe of it. There is only one model above the BDP-S570, and that's the S770 (typically £30 more at retail). Differences are largely aesthetic: the top of the S-range model has a high-gloss cabinet to better match the brand's 3D TV range, but beneath the hood it's essentially the same player.
There is quite a large caveat, though. You'll not want to own it unless you have (or soon plan to buy) an HDMI v1.4 compatible receiver.
Unlike the Panasonic DMT-BDP300 and Samsung BD-C6900 3D players, there is no provision for routing lossless audio (DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD) to a non-HDMI v1.4 AV receiver, while still preserving the 3D video signal path. Your only option if you route the HDMI straight to the screen is to use a lossy optical/coax digital audio lead, which carries only DTS/DD5.1.
Sony has aggressively developed its online content portal, Bravia Internet Video. Hook up the HX803 to the internet via the Ethernet connection, or an optional Wi-Fi dongle (UWABR100) and you'll encounter a number of free and pay-TV content options. There's Demand 5, YouTube, Eurosport, LoveFiLM, trailers, DailyMotion plus copious other stuff.
Like the BD player, the HX803 also makes much of its DNLA network certification. However, its home network and streaming functions are far less straightforward than the Bravia 'net portal.
The set is happiest with local storage media. Plug in a USB flash drive and it'll find and play more common video file types, including AVIs and MKV HDs. It even plays out SRT subtitle files.
However, over the network it's a different story. The only video files it seemed interested in were MPEGs. It certainly couldn't see or play AVIs or MKVs from a NAS. MP3 audio playback over the network was fine.
The Blu-ray player had much of the same functions, but added it's own level of confusion. While the Bravia Internet interface is consistent, the portals differ slightly: BBC iPlayer features on the BD player (with HD), but it is currently missing on the TV (but expected soon).
As a media streamer, the S570 behaves much like the television with comparable File playback limitations. Across the network, my MKVs solicited a 'Not Playable' dialogue box, while AVIs ran well enough (and SRT subtitles were ignored). None of my test video files were recognised from a front-loaded USB and only MP3 and AAC music tracks were actually playable. This may be a sample fault, however.
There is some nice integration with the Gracenote Database: play a CD and the album art is retrieved. There are also some visualisation modes, although these are so ponderously slow, I can only conclude they have been designed purely to accompany soporific classical tunes and soft jazz.
Getting with 3D
To add the third dimension you'll need to spring for the emitter plus a pair of glasses, which together will add another £150 onto your bill.
The IR emitter plugs into what looks like a deformed S-video connection on the rear of the screen. It uses no fewer than 15 infrared transmitters, offering 3D viewers a wide theoretical spread.
Picture-wise the set can be considered good in both standard and 3D modes, with some reservations. The set uses 'dynamic' LED edge-lighting, but only across the top and bottom of the screen. The LED backlights get an automatic boost when in a 3D mode, and to aid 3D image smoothness and motion clarity, Sony repeats each frame twice in a left/left/right/right sequence. Out of a 3D picture mode, this changes to more conventional frame interpolation.
I auditioned the screen with both 3D Blu-rays and Sky 3D. Overall, I was impressed with the sense of depth, and appreciated the fact that alterations to brightness and tint caused by the 3D glasses are not too disastrous for picture integrity.
The big issue when it comes to 3D on LCD panels is crosstalk, which manifests itself here, although attempts to disguise it are partially successful. In scenes with fast moving action, you'll not be able to spot crosstalk all the time, although you will occasionally notice the double imaging effect.
As with Samsung's 3D sets, the Sony range offer '3D upconversion' of 2D sources. Ostensibly, this gives viewers starved of content something to watch with their spex. However, I was very unimpressed by this processing mode. A good deal less convincing than the 2D-to-3D mode on the Samsung, it makes images look decidedly unnatural. I tried it out with source material as diverse as HD, Blu-ray and games, but nothing was very successful. I don't see myself revisiting it for casual viewing.
Getting the best picture performance from this set takes some care. Out of the box, images look fizzy and unrefined. On all settings, I spotted obvious digital noise, though this can be quickly removed via the sharpness control, which should be reduced to its minimum setting.
It's important to realise that altering the Sharpness control does not affect actual image clarity. Indeed, taking it right down removes the kind of digital fizz and edge enhancement which destroys genuine detail.
A typical brightness setting should be no more than 45 on the sliding scale, with contrast set high (there's no bloom to worry about with LCD). After a period of calibration I felt quite happy with the picture.
Hi-def images from its Freeview HD tuner had visual pop, good greyscale and black level, along with plenty of texture and depth. Overscan has also been perfectly judged. You can watch in any of the three picture modes and know that nothing is being obscured by the bezel.
Where the set does have a weakness is in motion resolution. While still image resolution comprises a full and clear 1080 lines, this erodes with motion. A scrolling monoscope image revealed the picture stressed with movement, while test patterns lost cohesion.
In real world viewing, this isn't as horrible as it might sound, but clearly there is lost detail when viewing fast motion. Bear this in mind, if you're looking for a set primarily for sports.
The Blu-ray player is getting short shrift in this review, which is undoubtedly unfair. From a picture performance point of view I thought it very good, particularly given the price point. The inclusion of SACD is a major plus point. Anyone with a collection of these discs will be thrilled. Perhaps it might even encourage more releases in the format.
The player has IP Noise Reduction to help clean up low-bitrate internet video sources, but does not have the kind of highly expensive video processing seen on last year's BDP-S760. The only catch is that missing secondary HD audio output.
It's not difficult to see where Sony is coming from with the HX800 range. A 3D-capable model that the buyer can upgrade whenever they want makes sense. But the TV has to be keenly priced to start off with, and it needs to undercut rival screens with integrated IR emitters (there's no aesthetic plus point to having a separate emitter). So check carefully before buying.
As a regular 2D set, the HX800 is solid enough, with commendable network content options, but it's a shame that its local networking skills are less developed.
The prudent BDP-S570 comes with fewer reservations. The most affordable 3D BD player currently out there, it's also the best, as long as your amp supports HDMI v1.4.
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