Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503 £1200

5th Aug 2010 | 08:30

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503

Sony plays it safe with this good value bigscreen

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Good upscaling; Clean picture; Contrast; User interface

Dislike:

Soft picture; Cluttered online platform; Average build quality

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Overview

As its 'Essentials' moniker suggests, Sony has put just enough tech on this 46in LCD TV for it to compete on both price and performance.

You won't find cutting-edge direct or edge-mounted LED backlighting behind its LCD panel (both remain relatively high-end features in shorter supply than marketing suggests), but it hosts almost all other technology we consider imperative at this size and a few extras to boot.

It's a risky strategy by Sony in some respects, because while a smaller TV's features can be added and removed to hit particular price points, once you get to this huge size every potentially fatal picture foible is visible.

Happily, it gets past this barrier by being built around one of the most impressive LCD panels around. Imbued with excellent contrast, colour and cleanness, this monster screen proves an excellent option for those after a good value pound-per-inch deal without making too many compromises.

Before we examine it in detail, it's worth knowing that other screen sizes available include 32 inch, 37 inch, 40 inch and 52 inch models, while either side of this model are cheaper EX403 (minus 100Hz) and pricier EX703 (plus edge LED backlighting) models.

Sony also produces a host of very pricey models that build in both LED and 3D, such as the KDL-52HX903.

Steeped in the 'reassuringly expensive' philosophy, Sony would argue that the extra beans spent on the KDL-46EX503 gets you one of the most stylish sets around. We're not so sure about that. While its unusual design, which features a brushed metallic panel under the screen, is certainly striking, that initial impression is interrupted by an otherwise drab gloss black frame and an overall build quality that doesn't set it apart from other brands. Nor does its bulky frame, which leaves the depth of the TV at a shade over 10cm.

Sony's website is currently offering a £1,700.23 bundle that adds the brand's BDV-E370 Blu-ray home cinema, though – confusingly – it supports 3D Blu-ray discs, which can't be displayed on the KDL-46EX503's non-3D panel. The BDV-E370 is available for £500 as a standalone purchase; this 'deal' doesn't add-up in more ways than one.

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Features

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Forget about LED backlighting and 3D compatibility and lose yourself in one of the most fully featured, best value bigscreen LCD TVs around.

What's probably piqued your interest is the KDL-46EX503's built-in Freeview HD tuner. Kitted-out with a DVB-T2 digital tuner, this set can tune into every analogue, Freeview and Freeview HD channel.

No doubt the provision of BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD (England), S4C Clirlan (Wales) or STV HD (Scotland) does add a few quid to the final price, but as Freeview HD becomes less of a novelty we expect premium prices to decline. To find out whether you're in a Freeview HD area (we all will be within two years), click here.

EPG

Away from free hi-def TV, this Sony hosts the brand's refreshed and reinvigorated online content hub that's now called the Bravia Internet Video platform. It's a massive improvement on 2009's severely limited AppliCast effort and now includes some genuinely useful apps such as Lovefilm, Eurosport and Demand Five as well as Daily Motion and the ubiquitous YouTube. The inclusion of Demand Five content hints that this platform, and others like it, will soon host the BBC iPlayer and ITV Player.

And to survive and thrive, platforms like this will have to – and fast – because for now it's something of a rogue's gallery (does anyone really want to watch 'how to' videos from the likes of FordModels, Howcast.com or GolfLink.com?). For now, the Lovefilm movie streaming and FIFA World Cup applications are by far the most impressive, while there's also a RSS reader for news sites, which can be fully customised.

For the full rundown head to our dedicated review of the service. Unfortunately, the KDL-46EX503 only hosts the basic service; other TVs higher up in the Bravia line-up add widgets for Facebook, Ebay and Twitter.

Away from the internet the KDL-46EX503 includes Sony's own MotionFlow 100Hz tech to make-up for LCD panels' inherent slow response, which often results in blur. Live Colour – so often the highlight on Sony's LCD TVs – is also in attendance as part of the Bravia Engine 3 suite of picture processing.

Advanced settings

Also here is the usual MPEG noise reduction feature, an ambient light sensor and Advanced Contrast Enhancer (ACE).

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Ease of use

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Key to the KDL-46EX503's success as an all-rounder is the way it interacts with the user – and that's wholly down to its XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface.

Scanning from left to right brings up lists of live inputs, digital TV channels (including details on what's currently showing on each), internet video services, settings – the list goes on. It's incredibly intuitive and difficult to get confused once you've settled into its way of working.

Our only major criticism of XMB is that any video files must be accessed through the video axis, which seems logical, though with so many widgets displayed anything else – such as a USB stick – is shunted to the bottom of a very long list, which means you have to wade through a lot of (frankly pointless) video content to find it. If the user is connecting a USB stick, surely it should have top billing.

Meanwhile, the Bravia Internet Video platform is devilishly attractive and easy to use, with a similar grid-style interface given to each and every service.

Digital tv

Aside from the quality of the interface, what is very impressive about this platform is the video; stable and capable of displaying high-definition video very well, this system uses a seven-second buffer and dynamically changes the quality according to network availability.

Once again, though, there's no dedicated web browser fitted to Bravia Internet Video; we're certain this will come once someone comes up with an interface that doesn't require a keyboard.

While hardly a lesson in ergonomics, the remote control is an improvement on past generations. Slightly less cluttered and certainly more stylish (the battery compartment is initially totally invisible), it serves its master well.

A dedicated 'Theatre' button exists on the remote that puts the TV directly into a cinema-style picture preset, though oddly it brushes over the TV's other presets for 'Sports', 'Photo', 'Music', 'Game' and 'Graphics'.

Heart button

In the remote's centre is a button labelled with a love-heart that brings up an otherwise inaccessible menu bar across the bottom of the screen. It shows information on what you're currently watching as well as previously visited channels, inputs and services.

Bravia Sync works independently; although there's a menu to set-up control of a Blu-ray player, in our tests the Sony remote automatically controlled the basic functions of a connected Panasonic Blu-ray player.

It did, however, confuse the remote; pressing the 'Home' button merely brings up the Blu-ray player's own internal menus, which makes it tricky to return to the TV's Freeview channels – perhaps the remote could do with a dedicated TV command. It's the one gap on an otherwise joined-up interface.

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Picture quality

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The KDL-46EX503 has pictures to cherish across all sources. It's been a while since we've been able to say that about a Sony LCD TV, so kudos to the company's engineers for developing such as versatile product.

In part that's down to the panel's shortfall in supreme sharpness; hi-def images from both Freeview HD and Blu-ray do appear a fraction softer than we've seen on full HD LCD panels in the past.

This, however, isn't the disaster it first appears, because it enables the KDL-46EX503 to construct some of the most pristine pictures around. Decontaminated by background picture noise, artefacts or much degree of blur, fast-moving sequences and ponderous landscapes stun principally because there's very little risky processing going on inside the KDL-46EX503.

And if that slight softness means crisper Blu-ray, imagine how it treats standard-definition digital TV and DVDs. Very cleanly is the answer – a refreshing change after seeing so many flatscreen TVs initially stun with HD only to then mess-up Freeview pictures.

The reputation of the LCD panel used in this TV further rises when it comes to contrast and colour. Blacks are remarkably deep and lifelike. Better still, there's enough detail within blocks of dark colours to lend dingy footage a cinematic edge, though don't confuse this with a high-end model; the KDL-46EX503 is best used in a living room where its ambient light sensor lessens the otherwise vivid brightness of its backlight.

Switch off the lights and blacks take on a blue hue, though there's no sign of any light leakage around the edges of the panel (unlike on some models we saw in 2009).

Scene select

Taking its lead from the panel's impressive brightness, Live Colour pushes without over saturating, with plenty here for those that prefer more muted tones (can easily achieve a more cinematic look (switching on 'Theatre' mode is the quick way).

Enabling MotionFlow doesn't get rid of all blur, but it does make it less noticeable, while the judder we've seen permeate most LCD screens displaying Blu-ray movies is lessened – though not eliminated – by a very conservative frame insertion 'film' mode that, thankfully, doesn't introduce any flicker. It's typical of Sony's risk-free approach to picture processing on this set.

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Sound and value

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A touch shrill at high volumes, the KDL-46EX503 nevertheless puts in a reasonable performance with sound. The sheer size of the screen – and hence the speakers – obviously helps, though it's largely down to the set's S-Force Front Surround setting.

Designed to create quasi-5.1 effects it may be (it does nothing of the sort), but the expansive soundstage it creates is worth engaging for DVD and Blu-ray movie soundtracks. That said, Clear Voice does bring dialogue to the front of the mix, but it's at the cost of all other effects so is best ignored unless you're watching dialogue-heavy TV.

As a non-LED/3D model perhaps this screen's biggest competitor is Samsung's LE46C650, which similarly combines Freeview HD with some online content (Internet@TV platform), but is priced much lower – we spotted a price as small as £810, which is remarkably low for a 46in screen.

Other competitors include Sharp's LED-strung LC-46LE700E, Panasonic's TX-46G20B plasma and LG's low-priced 50PK990 plasma.

Further up the scale, Sony's KDL-46NX703 and Sharp's LC-46LE821E are considerably more expensive.

Sony Bravia KDL-46EX503: Verdict

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There are caveats, but the KDL-46EX503 is easily one of the most versatile – and good value – 46in LCD screens around. Its pros outweigh its cons and even the lack of bigscreen-centric tech, such as LED backlighting or 200Hz scanning, aren't missed too much.

We liked:

Boasting clear and concise picture quality, the KDL-46EX503 is kind to all sources.

The set's interface is among the finest around, with ease of use and a slick presentation combining to make its theoretically complex internet video platform as easy to use as its media playback from USB or DLNA networking.

Its picture quality is aided most by its stunning contrast.

We disliked:

While it's laudable that this TV hosts UK-only Freeview HD broadcasts, the US-centric (and largely uninteresting) content on the otherwise slick Bravia Internet Video platform is disappointing. Access to BBC iPlayer, and perhaps some British newspaper websites or TV guide services would be welcome.

The way it interacts with anything connected via HDMI also needs some attention, as does its media player's file support, while audio can always be improved on.

Its largely ineffective 'Film' mode could benefit from a stronger flavour.

Verdict:

Imbued with some excellent contrast and good colour, this LCD panel's good points make up for its slight lack of ultimate full HD sharpness.

The KDL-46EX503 is all about creating a comfortable, cinematic picture that never feels artificially processed or scarred with artefacts, and in that sense this is a conservative TV; there's little risky processing going on lest it introduces artefacts, as demonstrated by the rather weak frame insertion tech for Blu-ray.

Chuck in some believable black levels, above average contrast and colour that only needs minor tweaks and you've got one of the most versatile screens around that treats video or all origins with tactful care.

And at this giant size and relatively low price, that's an exceedingly rare skill indeed.

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