Sony Bravia KDL37EX403 £550
13th Dec 2010 | 10:30
Solid, generously priced 37-inch LCD with superb internet capability
Sony Bravia KDL37EX403: Overview
The appeal of the Sony Bravia KDL-37EX403 is obvious. It's a 37-inch TV from one of the world's most reputable AV brands that doesn't cost very much: a combination likely to have at least the more conservative end of the TV market trembling with anticipation.
The 37EX403 builds on its economic appeal with a surprisingly lengthy feature list. Heading this up is the (recently expanded) Bravia Internet Video online platform and there's good support from an integrated Freeview HD tuner, a full HD resolution, optional Wi-Fi support, and the ability to play multimedia files from USB storage devices.
It lacks the cool, 'Monolithic' design found higher up Sony's LCD TV range, with the bezel standing proud of the screen, rather than flush as part of a single layer and the all-black finish of the top-end models is replaced by a two-tone design.
The 37EX403 is far from ugly in the context of similarly priced TVs, though.
As you might guess from its price, the 37EX403 sits pretty low down Sony's current TV range as part of its Essentials Series. Stepping up to the EX503 series will give you 100Hz on top of the 37EX403's functions, while if you want similar spec but in a 'Monolithic' cabinet, you'll need an NX503 set.
Sony Bravia KDL37EX403: Features
The 37EX403 is well specified for such an affordable TV. Its Freeview HD tuner is attached to a 1080p panel and there is an Ethernet port for future interactive features. The latter also enables the TV to stream files from DLNA-certified PCs, and access Sony's Bravia Internet Video online service.
Finding either of these multimedia tricks on such an affordable Sony TV would have classed as a pleasant surprise, so finding both is a real boon, especially as the list of supported files extends to video, as well as music and photo formats.
A USB port plays the same file formats as the DLNA-enabled Ethernet jack and also gives you the option of adding a UWA-BR100 dongle to enable your TV to access your network wirelessly.
With this in mind it's a pity Sony couldn't see its way to providing two USB ports, as many of its rivals do, as only having one means you might potentially have to keep swapping over between a Wi-Fi dongle and a multimedia USB storage device. Mind you, none of Sony's other current TVs offer two USBs, either.
Joining the 37EX403's multimedia connections are a respectable four HDMIs.
The Bravia Engine 3 picture processing system includes Sony's LiveColour and 24p True Cinema software for boosting colour saturation and for enhanced playback of 24p Blu-ray sources respectively.
There is no 100Hz, 200Hz or 400Hz motion processing, but this is acceptable at this price.
The backlight is standard CCFL (cold-cathode fluorescent), rather than LED, but while this might cost the set a little in terms of brightness, contrast and colour saturation, Sony has often delivered better results with CCFL than most other brands.
Most TVs these days carry some sort of 'eye' for monitoring the amount of light in your room and adjusting the picture settings accordingly. But the 'Ambient Sensor' in the 37EX403 goes further than most by being able to measure and react to the colour temperature of ambient light, as well as just its brightness.
As noted in the introduction to this review, though, arguably the 37EX403's standout feature is its Bravia Internet Video system. Especially as this has recently being expanded from its already class-leading content level by the addition of Qriocity.
This, briefly, is a video on demand service, enabling you to pay to download – or rather, downstream – films from a variety of genres, with some available in HD. The price of each film varies according to how new it is and whether it's HD or standard-def and Sony recommends that you have at least a 1.5Mb/s Broadband connection for standard-def, and nearer 4.5Mb/s to guarantee stability with HD films.
Qriocity isn't the only new service available via the Bravia Internet Video online platform. Sky has launched a news app that provides you with instant, on-demand access to the latest headlines, plus entertainment, weather and sports coverage. The interface for this new service wasn't fully formed at the time of writing, but is a fine addition to the already impressive BVI content list.
This content list also includes the BBC iPlayer, the Demand Five Channel 5 catch-up service, a welter of TV shows from Sony Entertainment Television, World Cup highlights from FIFA, Eurosport feeds, the inevitable YouTube access and a host of more esoteric stuff such as a FordModels 'channel', 'how to' documentaries from howcast.com, and the LoveFilm portal.
The latter arguably makes Qriocity look a bit redundant - not least because it has many more films to choose from. The fact that it demands a £9.99 monthly subscription, rather than Qriocity's pay-per-view approach might work against it here, though.
Sony Bravia KDL37EX403: Picture quality
The biggest improvement on last year's equivalent models is in black level response. Dark scenes are more believable and natural, thanks to a marked reduction in obvious grey clouding over parts of the picture that should look black.
As often happens when black levels improve, moreover, colours are also more natural and are satisfyingly richly saturated.
The 37EX403 retains Sony's long-noted talent for making high quality HD sources look crisp and detailed, at least where static material is concerned. Brightness levels are high and consistent across the screen, despite the set's use of standard CCFL lighting.
Unfortunately, though, the 37EX403's sharpness takes a noticeable hit whenever there's much motion. In fact, when you first turn the TV on from cold, pictures can look pretty nasty, with extreme amounts of blurring and smearing.
Thankfully, this calms down considerably after you've had the TV on for half an hour or so, but it still seems peculiar to have to wait for a contemporary TV to warm up for such a long time.
To be fair, the amount of residual motion blur once the TV hits its stride isn't bad compared to other sub-£600 LCDs of this size, but there's enough of it around to make stepping up to Sony's 100Hz-equipped 37EX503, or one of Samsung's current, similarly priced sets, worth considering.
Another, lesser, issue you should be aware of is a gentle lack of subtlety in rendering tricky, subtly differentiated colours. This can leave some areas, especially skin tones, looking slightly waxy and unrealistic.
Finally, as usual with LCD TVs, the 37EX403's pictures lose both contrast and colour saturation if viewed from a wide angle. Though to be fair, the 37EX403 doesn't suffer as drastically from this as many rival LCD TVs and it also benefits from impressively uniform backlighting.
Sony KDL37EX403: Sound, value, ease of use
The 37EX403's sound is about average – maybe a touch above – for a slim 37in TV. It's at its best with relatively undemanding material - documentaries, chatshows, news programmes and so on. With these, dialogue is enjoyable rich and gentle ambient effects are clearly presented, plus the general presentation is quite open and dynamic.
This strong starting point means the speakers don't capitulate as readily as some when pushed harder by demanding soundtracks. But while action scenes don't sound as compressed or thin as they often do with flat TVs, there is no serious attempt to produce convincing bass levels.
The 37EX403's £550 price isn't bad at all for a set that offers a Freeview HD tuner, Bravia Engine 3 processing, and best of all, Sony's excellent Bravia Internet Video system.
The pictures and sound, however, feel merely about right for the money.
Ease of use
The XrossMediaBar onscreen menu system seemed an inspired way to handle a plethora of features when it first appeared, but now seems to be crumbling under the weight of all the extra options that have since come its way.
It is frequently difficult to remember exactly where you need to go to find a particular feature, thanks to poor organisation and inscrutable labelling. For instance, who would have guessed that the crucial feature for turning on automatic software updates for the 37EX403 would be found in the massive settings menu under 'Product Support'?
The automatic software renewal feature doesn't update as readily as you would expect; it would therefore be very useful if you could manually ask the TV to update itself, but if such an option exists, it certainly wasn't obvious during this review.
There are further issues with the remote control. Initially things look OK, thanks to a comfortable shape and weight, but the concentric discs in the remote's upper third that contain a number of the most important buttons prove fiddly, especially in darkened rooms.
On the upside, the Bravia Internet Video system content is handled reasonably well considering how much content there is, with plenty of visuals to help you recognise what's what. The only potential issue for Sony is that if it keeps adding new services, the current system of scrolling down a vertical list of content providers might become unwieldy.
Sony Bravia KDL37EX403: Verdict
The 37EX403 is potentially a very attractive TV, simply on account of it being one of the most affordable LCD sets in Sony's current range.
It hits the ground running with a pleasant design for such an affordable set and scores further points with its wealth of connections and surprisingly expansive feature count. Particularly gratifying is the fact that the set carries the new, much-improved Bravia Internet Video despite its relatively price.
Overall performance isn't particularly scintillating; while it doesn't do anything badly wrong, it doesn't really shine, either, thanks to rather average efforts in the black level and motion handling departments.
The design suggests refined breeding despite that modest price and delivers the goods in terms of connections and features. Particularly welcome are the set's Bravia Internet Video services, which are extensive and contain more genuinely enjoyable video content than any other current online system. The set's pictures look good with most Blu-ray content, too.
Black level response could be a little better and sometimes its colours lack the subtlety necessary to achieve genuine naturalism. The biggest problem, though, is motion blur, especially in the first half hour after you switch the TV on each time.
While it definitely has its ups and downs, the 37EX403 ultimately comes out of this review with its head held high. Its features carry the day, with a combination of multimedia playback tools and excellent online capability, the latter setting the benchmark for which other brands ought to aim, especially now the service has added the Qriocity and Sky News features to its already substantial offering.
The 37EX403's performance is rather more average thanks to a lack of bass in the audio, plus motion and black level issues with the pictures. But this only prevents the 37EX403 from being a must-buy recommendation. It doesn't stop it from being a surprisingly useful tool if you fancy something much more than just a TV that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
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