Sony KDL-32HX753 £699
20th Jun 2012 | 13:15
Can its mid-range smart TV continue Sony's resurgence?
In the nick of time, Sony has finally got its flatscreen TV act together, delivering with its flagship HX853 series arguably the best-performing LCD TVs ever. So it's with real enthusiasm that we take receipt of the first model from the brand's new step-down series, the Sony 32HX753. If this can manage to deliver most of the quality of the HX853s for a bit less money, then happiness surely awaits...
The Sony KDL-32HX753 follows the latest evolution of Sony's Monolithic design by adding a glimmer of silver around the bezel's outer edges - though it doesn't feel as well built as the HX853 televisions.
So far as its features are concerned, the 32-inch TV's headliners are its active 3D playback - now supported by a native 200Hz panel versus the 100Hz one used on last year's disappointing EX7 series - and its use of Sony's new, video-rich SEN online platform.
What's more, the Sony 32HX753 supports its online functionality by providing built-in Wi-Fi.
The core technology behind the 32HX753's screen is LCD with an Edge LED lighting system. It should be stressed right away, though, that the 32HX753 doesn't use the local dimming system that was put to such superlative use with the HX853 models.
The Sony 32HX753 costs £699 (around $1,095) in the UK, but if you want something a bit bigger than the 32-inch TV, you can also get the 40-inch 40HX753 (£899), 46-inch 46HX753 (£1,199) and 55-inch 55HX753 (£1,549), while if you want the absolute best Sony picture quality currently available you should step up to the 46HX853 or 55HX853.
Rival models are tricky to define precisely, given the huge wealth of televisions available this year, but the most likely direct competitors would be the Panasonic DT50 or possibly Panasonic ET50 series, the LG LM660 series and Samsung ES6800 or ES6300 series.
After undertaking an extensive round of consumer research, Sony has this year softened the striking but rather stark and masculine look of its Monolithic TV design approach by reducing the bezel size a bit, softening corners, and applying a sliver of outer silver trim to its TV's extremities.
The Sony 32HX753 looks fine on the back of this shift, though its reduced build quality means the design doesn't look quite as elegant as it did on the step-up HX853 Sony TVs.
The relatively small size of this 32-inch TV also doesn't really give the design quite enough room to shine, so that it doesn't stand out from the crowd as much as Sony's previous Monolithic TVs have tended to.
On the upside, though, the way the TV sits low and slightly angled back on a pair of minimalistic legs is very pleasant and reduces the extent to which the set intrudes into your living space.
Connections are ranged helpfully around the side and bottom edge of the Sony 32HX753, making it easy to wall-hang the set. They're also pleasingly plentiful for an affordable 32-inch TV, including four HDMIs, a pair of USBs, and both LAN and integrated Wi-Fi for accessing material stored on a DLNA PC or Mac and Sony's SEN online content platform.
12 best Blu-ray players in the UK 2012
Clearly the features associated with some of these connections warrant further attention. The HDMIs are v1.4 in spec, so that they're compatible with Full HD 3D Blu-ray feeds. The USBs, meanwhile, can play back a good if not exhaustive selection of multimedia video, photo and music formats, as well as enabling recording to USB flash drives from the built-in Freeview HD tuner.
As for the LAN/Wi-Fi, this is supported by Sony's mostly likeable new Homestream software (free to download for Mac as well as PC) to enable streaming of a wide variety of material from almost any computer. Or, of course, it can provide your portal to the Sony Entertainment Network online system.
Pressing the new SEN button on the remote control thankfully immediately throws up a new 'hub' for the online services that's light years ahead of the cumbersome, ugly menu system used by last year's Bravia Internet Video TVs.
On the left you get a reduced version of the picture you were watching, along with - if you wish - a ticker-tape presentation of your Twitter feed. This is an excellently unobtrusive way to integrate social media into a TV environment.
Ranged across the screen to the right of the reduced TV picture are various sections of content under Apps, Video, Music and Favourites headers. The presentation for all these sections is impressive, with lots of HD icons, and the content levels are impressive too.
Best TV 2012
You don't get the sheer overwhelming number of services and apps found on the Smart TV platforms from Samsung and LG, perhaps, but Sony's tradition of quality over quantity where online content is concerned continues to impress.
Among the highlights of what's on offer are BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 (Channel 5's catchup service), BBC News, Sky News, Skype (if you add an optional extra camera), Twitter, Facebook, Lovefilm, Netflix, EuroSport, YouTube, Sony's own 3D content channel, Euronews, Crackle, aolHD (featuring Engadget and Huffington Post content, among other things), WIRED, Blinkx, BillaBong, style.com, DailyMotion, eHow.com, golflinks and Moshcam.
Sony also includes its own app content, in the form of a Sony Entertainment Television library, its increasingly impressive Video Unlimited film and TV streaming service, and Sony's (also increasingly excellent) Music Unlimited service.
We guess some might take issue with the way Sony gives its own content platforms their own large Video and Music categories while rivals such as LoveFilm and Netflix get shoved together on the second page of the Apps section. But Sony has at least provided these alternative film sources, so it's not like they're actually forcing you to use only their own music and video platforms.
Sony has also started to introduce a few smaller apps, such as a couple of fairly basic games and on-board clock and calendar widgets. But it's the extensive selection of video streaming sources that matters and continues to make Sony arguably the most satisfying online TV service provider.
If you're a die-hard picture tweaker, the Sony 32HX753 is reasonably well equipped with fine tuners to keep you happy. There's a solid selection of thematic picture presets (some perhaps unhelpfully stored under a separate 'Scene Select' section) to get you started.
Best Freeview HD TV
In here you can tweak the backlight, brightness and contrast settings separately; the amount of MPEG, dot and standard noise reduction; the type of motion processing being used; the level of black level and contrast enhancement; the set's basic gamma level; and the bias and gain of the red, green and blue colour elements.
There are a few other processing elements you might want to explore as well, such as detail and Edge enhancers, and a 'Clear White' white level booster. But chances are that you'll get the best results for most of the time if you leave these peripheral options turned off.
The motion processing warrants a bit more investigation. Because while the Sony 32HX753 'only' uses a MotionFlow XR 400 system versus the 800Hz-like XR 800 system of the HX853 series, it still has the same surprisingly wide-ranging selection of different processing options. To be honest, most of these are best avoided - even the new Impulse mode, which sounds interesting on paper but ultimately leaves the picture flickering like an old 50Hz CRT.
Apple iTV release date, news and rumours
The only mode you will probably consistently get much joy out of without feeling images look a little syrupy or over-processed is the Clear setting.
Two final points to mention are that the Sony 32HX753 only has Sony's X-Reality processing engine rather than the HX853's Pro version, and that the TV uses frame dimming rather than the HX853's local dimming for its Edge LED lighting.
With respect to the X-Reality situation, it means that the Sony 32HX753 won't be as adept at upscaling standard definition TV content - especially heavily compressed content from the internet.
As for the use of frame dimming rather than local dimming, this means that while the TV set can reduce and increase all of its lights at once in response to picture content, it doesn't join the Sony HX853 series in enabling different segments of LEDs to deliver different levels of brightness. This has the potential to significantly reduce the 32HX753's contrast performance versus its more expensive siblings.
Perhaps because of the deliriously high expectations raised by the outstanding Sony HX853 series, the Sony 32HX753 didn't initially blow us away. Its pictures looked a touch muted, for want of a better word.
Fortunately, the more time we spent with the TV, the more its charms started to shine - and the more the initial slightly muted appearance started to look like the result of an admirable desire on Sony's part to put a natural, calming light and contrast level ahead of merely enthralling the browsing hordes in their local electronic superstores.
But the gap between the Sony HX753's performance and that of the Sony HX853 series remains quite pronounced.
Regarding the issue of pictures initially not looking especially dynamic, Sony is being careful not to push brightness and colour saturations too hard, even when you're using the set's most vibrant preset. Instead it seems to be targeting - especially if you use its most all-round satisfying Cinema 2 preset - pictures that put the relaxing colour tones and subtler colour blends ahead of eye-catching gaudiness.
And while this might, as noted before, not do the set any favours when trying to compete for punters' attention in store, it's certainly a laudable aim from a picture quality enthusiast point of view.
Similarly, once you've dimmed the lights and put a movie on, it becomes apparent that Sony has aimed - with some degree of success - at achieving a light output level that affords the best balance of deep black levels, realistic colours and a decent amount of shadow detail resolution by affordable LCD TV standards.
This does mean, though, that the Sony 32HX753's pictures need a darker room environment than most LCD TVs if you want to see them at their best. Because when you try to compensate for a bright room by ramping up the set's brightness, contrast and backlight settings, things tend to go rather awry.
Black levels drop off quite considerably, exhibiting much more of the greyness that's still common with affordable LCD picture quality. Worse, during dark scenes if you try to push the brightness and backlight levels high enough to strongly combat high ambient light levels, you can clearly see distracting jets of light shooting in for an inch or two from each of the screen's corners.
This, along with the fact that dark images aren't able to look nearly as dynamic and vibrant as those of the Sony HX853, is clear evidence that the 32HX753 isn't using local dimming.
Other aspects of the Sony 32HX753's pictures tread a similar balance between looking pretty good by £700 (around $1,095) 32-inch TV standards and not hitting anywhere near the same heights as the HX853 series.
For instance, HD pictures look clean and reasonably detailed, but at the same time they're not the sharpest, crispest HD pictures we've seen.
On a connected note, while the set's motion handling is pretty good, with only minor motion blur (especially when using the Clear motion control system), motion doesn't look as effortlessly pristine and natural as it does on the HX853 TVs. However, the Sony HX853's abilities in this department are possibly the best yet seen from an LCD TV, so comparing the Sony 32HX753 to such perfection isn't particularly fair!
Next, while the Sony 32HX753 does a good job by most 32-inch TV standards of upscaling standard definition pictures, and a fair job of handling low-quality video feeds from websites such as YouTube, it doesn't do nearly as well at upscaling either source as the HX853 series, thanks to it not having the Pro level of Sony's X-Reality circuitry.
Trying to sum all this up so far, the undeniable facts are that we've been so thoroughly spoiled by the HX853 that it's become almost impossible not to feel slightly disappointed by the 32HX753, given how far it falls short of its illustrious bigger brother.
However, it's also the case that while the 32HX753 takes a deliberately more subtle approach to TV life than most of its rival 32-inch TVs, it's capable of performing well so long as you embrace/work within its limitations.
Firing up the Sony 32HX753's 3D pictures, the TV gets off to a great start by appearing to suffer with markedly less crosstalk than the HX853 televisions. In fact, there's hardly any of the double ghosting noise at all, even when showing a variety of scenes renowned for causing crosstalk in lesser TVs.
This helps the 32HX753 resolved 3D depth very nicely, while also giving a good sense of the active 3D format's full HD resolution considering that we're talking about only a 32-inch TV. The 32HX753's 3D pictures aren't as bright or vibrant as those of some rival 3D TVs - especially those of LG and Samsung - but they do look natural, and there's a decent amount of shadow detail visible in dark areas.
The 32HX753 does not have the colour or brightness precision with 3D that the HX853 series does, though. Also, because this cheaper TV doesn't have the Pro version of Sony's X-Reality processing, it doesn't have the surprisingly excellent 3D Super Resolution feature that can add extra sharpness to the HX853's 3D images.
Leaving the HX853 comparisons behind to consider the 32HX753's 3D efforts against those of similarly priced rivals, they hold up well. Particularly where the lack of crosstalk is concerned. This is a cause of pretty major celebration when you consider the problems Sony's 2011 EX7 series suffered with crosstalk.
The last test performed on the 32HX753's pictures was for input lag - the amount of time the screen takes to render pictures once it's received them via its inputs. And unfortunately we uncovered an unexpected problem here, as the Sony 32HX753 recorded a rather high average input lag of around 80ms, even when using the set's Game scene mode, with as much processing as we could find turned off.
This is much higher than the figure recorded for the HX853 models, and is certainly enough to noticeably reduce your performance with fast-reaction console and PC games.
Usability, sound and value
The Sony 32HX753 is mostly enjoyable to use - once you learn its shortcuts.
For starters, it's a major relief to find that Sony has given a pretty fulsome revamp to its online service interface. You can access it directly via a prominently positioned, boldly coloured button on the remote control, and you're then presented with a very attractive and strikingly simple set of on-screen menus.
That's not to say these menus are perfect, though. For instance, it is a bit galling that the Video and Music content sections are reserved exclusively for Sony's music and video services, with the likes of BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm and Netflix being relegated to the general App menu.
Though to be fair, taking this approach does enable the TV to showcase online music and video titles on the home page, as well as providing you with one-button access to titles in a way that wouldn't be possible if you first had to choose your video streaming provider before getting to any direct film lists.
Sony might also need to add extra content sections over time if it wants to keep things simple and save you from too much scrolling down pages of stuff. The SEN is a little sluggish at times too, with the main SEN menu routinely taking an irritatingly long time to load.
The remote control is a decent effort. It's a bit lightweight and plasticky, but its layout turns out to be quite effective for the most part, and most of its buttons are clearly labelled, well spaced and of a good size.
The biggest problem with the Sony 32HX753's operating system is the main menu used for accessing all the features beyond the SEN ones. It uses the XrossMediaBar double axis approach, which while effective enough on the PS3 is pretty grim for a TV, making it difficult in the extreme to find particular features - even if it's something as important as the set's core picture settings.
Actually, Sony itself seems to recognise there are problems with the XrossMediaBar, since it's handily added an Options button to the remote control that provides a very welcome shortcut to a selection of the set's most important features. This Options menu frankly saves the day, but in doing so makes the main menu, called up by the more prominent Home button, look even more ill-considered.
The Sony 32HX753's audio is slightly above average by small, skinny TV standards. So long as you're careful to select the correct audio setting for your circumstances (there are separate modes for wall hanging and desktop stand mounting, and they make a BIG difference), there's a decently well-rounded quality to the audio mix, with no overt treble harshness and credible male and female vocals.
There's even a touch of bass to be heard during explosive action sequences - though not enough to really make the soundstage seem muscular. The set's mid-range isn't quite dynamic enough, either, to expand as much as we'd like to meet the challenge of such action scenes, leaving proceedings sounding a little thin and crowded.
Although the Sony 32HX753 isn't spectacularly cheap for a 32-inch TV, at £699 (around $1,095), let's not forget that it sits only one step down from the top of Sony's new 2012 range. Admittedly this step down is quite a large one from the stellar Sony HX853 televisions, but the set is still capable of producing some superior picture quality so long as you are very careful with its settings.
It also helps justify its price with the impressive extent and quality of its online services and multimedia playback capabilities.
The Sony 32HX753 arrives on the back of a startlingly brilliant start to 2012 from Sony with its HX853 range of TVs. Perhaps because of this, first impressions of the cheaper 32-inch television are underwhelming, thanks to its reduced build quality and rather muted pictures.
However, over time the Sony set grows on you. Its multimedia capabilities are good - excellent, even, when it comes to the new Sony Entertainment Network online service. Its connectivity is impressive too, and there's a decent selection of features aimed at tweaking pictures.
While the Sony HX753's pictures never get near the heights of those of the Sony HX853's, and need a little calibration care to get the best out of them, they do, ultimately, produce impressive results. However, people with bright rooms might find those results low on brightness, and that trying to liven pictures up results in some unwelcome side effects.
The Sony 32HX753's online services are excellent, and its multimedia flexibility is admirable too. Its 2D pictures are capable of impressive black level response and good detail levels if you're careful with the picture settings, while its 3D pictures are commendable for being almost completely free of crosstalk.
The Home menu system is tortuous to use, and the Sony 32HX753's pictures are a bigger step down from those of the HX853 series than we'd hoped for. Also, while you can get pictures looking good, this requires you to sacrifice more brightness than some of the relatively casual users most likely to be buying a 32-inch TV might feel happy with. Finally, gamers won't be happy with the 80ms of average input lag.
While it's certainly not nearly as awesome as Sony's HX853 series, it's not really fair to compare the Sony 32HX753 to those illustrious televisions. Versus similarly priced 32-inch TVs it's pretty good, provided you accept that you have to be careful with setting it up if you want to get anything like the best out of it.
Overall, though, we couldn't help but think that both its 3D talents and the way its ideal picture settings seemed aimed at the enthusiast rather than casual market would have been better suited to a larger screen size than 32 inches.
The Panasonic L32ET5 offers a passive 3D alternative to the active 3D of Sony's 32HX753, is prettier with its design, and is generally a strong performer. Certainly its images are brighter and more colourful than those of the Sony. But the set suffers with surprisingly high input lag that could trouble gamers, its 3D pictures aren't as high in resolution, and it can't produce as deep a black level response.
Although we haven't tested it yet, another close rival appears to be the Samsung 32ES6300, which also offers smart TV features and active 3D for around the same money, but does so in a more glamorous body. Experience of past models would suggest that its pictures will be punchier than those of the the 32HX753 - perhaps making them better suited to the needs of a typical 32-inch TV buyer - but possibly less accurate and natural. But this is, we stress, mere speculation at this stage.