Sony KDL-40CX523 £600
11th Jul 2011 | 09:35
Temptingly affordable LCD with solid performance and a wealth of multimedia options
Sony KDL-40CX523: Overview
The Sony KDL-40CX523 steers clear of the potential minefield that is 3D, aiming instead for good old-fashioned value for money.
Six hundred quid really isn't a lot for a 40-inch TV from what is arguably the world's most trusted electronics brand, particularly one with as generous a feature set as this.
Particularly striking is the provision of Sony's Bravia Internet Video service, with its startling amount of video streaming sources, while multimedia playback from USB drives, the ability to access content stored on DLNA PCs and the option of making it Wi-Fi ready with an optional dongle also impress.
Joining the KDL-40CX523 in the CX523 range is the 32-inch KDL-32CX523, while stepping up Sony's range means getting into the 3D-capable EX723 series, though you might be better advised to skip up a couple of steps to a more high-end 3D model.
Sony KDL-40CX523: Features
While not ugly, the KDL-40CX523 suffers from a plasticky finish and lacks the sense of solidity that characterises pricier sets. The KDL-40CX523's connections are as comprehensive as those on most high-end TVs, with four HDMIs receiving unexpectedly comprehensive support from a D-Sub PC port two USB slots and an Ethernet socket.
The latter is particularly welcome, since it serves no fewer than three different duties. First, it's there in its mandatory capacity to provide support for the built-in Freeview HD tuner. Second, it enables you to stream photo, music and video multimedia files from a networked, DLNA-capable PC. Finally – and most excitingly, given the KDL-40CX523's aggressive price – it can transport you to Sony's Bravia Internet Video online service.
Bravia Internet Video differs from rival manufacturer's systems by focusing on streaming video. The BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 catch-up TV services are the main headliners, but there's also an interactive Sky News feed, Skype support (if you add a camera), YouTube, LoveFilm, Sony's Qriocity film and music subscription services, plus The World Of Sony, which gives you a decent selection of classic TV series that you can watch, in full, for free.
There's a wealth of more obscure video stuff too, such as golf tips and simple HD clip showcases, with the total adding up to a library of video content that leaves its rival online TV platforms trailing well behind.
Bravia Internet Video doesn't go a bundle on the sort of infotainment and simple gaming apps employed (arguably to excess) on some rival platforms, though Sony has recently introduced Twitter and Facebook and the KDL-40CX523 also sports an open internet browser.
If you don't want to hardwire your KDL-40CX523 into your network, you can use one of the USB ports to add an optional extra (£70-£100) Wi-Fi dongle. You can also, of course, use the USBs for playing back video, photo or music files from USB storage devices.
The KDL-40CX523 has a decent amount of options for tinkerers to get their teeth into. More effort might have gone into ways of enabling you to fine-tune colour tones and the white balance, but the KDL-40CX523 goes as far as you might reasonably expect for this sort of money.
The only potential spec issues worth mentioning are that the scanning is only 50Hz and the backlight is conventional CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent) rather than LED.
Sony KDL-40CX523: Picture
The CCFL backlight enables some surprisingly deep blacks, which help dark scenes look convincing (so long, at least, as you've spent a little time taming the set's backlight and brightness settings a bit) and provide a solid, cinematic foundation for the rest of the picture elements to bounce off.
The black rendition also helps colours look vibrant and rich, while blends are handled accurately and without any ugly striping or blotching. Some red hues can be garish and skin tones can appear over-ripe before calibration, but these minor issues can easily be corrected by the KDL-40CX523's picture adjustment tools to create a performance that is engagingly natural, regardless of source quality.
HD pictures aren't the most aggressively crisp on the market, but they are full of detail nonetheless and there's no sign of grain or noise around edges.
Standard-definition material upscales nicely to fit to the screen's full HD resolution and noise is suppressed superbly, while colour tones don't exhibit any significant drop in quality.
The KDL-40CX523 is particularly good compared to rival sets when it comes to improving the look of very low-quality, standard-definition content - a result, perhaps, of it carrying Sony's new X-Reality processing, which was designed specifically to tackle low-quality feeds such as those being streamed from the internet.
Generally, the KDL-40CX523 transcends its modest spec where performance is concerned, although it does suffer from a trio of minor flaws.
The first issue is that the picture loses a bit of shadow detail during dark scenes as a result of how much the screen has to reduce its brightness in order to produce a convincing black colour.
Another problem is that motion loses a little resolution - an almost inevitable occurrence on an LCD TV that's only got 50Hz scanning.
Finally, during very dark scenes you might see a small amount of light bleeding into the screen's corners. This fairly common CCFL phenomenon is not to be confused with the backlight inconsistency problems found with many edge LED TVs. In this case it is confined to a very small area, is visible only during extremely dark scenes and can be addressed by keeping brightness and backlight levels low.
Sony KDL-40CX523: Sound, value and ease of use
The dynamic range of the speakers is expansive enough to leave the mid-range sounding quite spacious and uncluttered even during action scenes, while treble clarity benefits substantially from not having to share too much space with the mid-range. There's even a bit of bass around, which is practically unheard of with budget flat TVs.
The only audio catch is that you can't push the set too loud, or else its plasticky bodywork starts to vibrate and resonate more than it should.
With a Freeview HD tuner, Sony's Bravia Internet Video service, a web browser, Skype, multimedia playback from USB drives/DLNA PCs, and best of all some more than respectable AV standards, the KDL-40CX523 is a bona fide bargain.
It certainly stands up well in terms of what it offers compared with Toshiba's slightly more expensive 42HL833.
Ease of use
The KDL-40CX523's onscreen menus utilise Sony's double-axis Xross Media Bar system first pioneered on the PS3 games console before being adapted for televisions. The main tweak to the system now finds its dual axes appearing beneath and to the right of a reduced version of the video source you were watching when you pressed the menu button, rather than appearing over the top of the picture.
This makes the system less fiddly to use and the reams of multiple online channels are now clustered together, rather presented as a seemingly endless list of individual sources, as was the case on previous sets.
The only catches with the revamped onscreen menus are that there are a few too many menu headers to have to navigate through along the bottom axis and that the menus don't seem to have been organised into a particularly intuitive order.
The icons for the numerous submenus don't make it particularly obvious what features they contain, either, but it doesn't take too long to learn what's what.
The flimsy build of the remote control doesn't inspire confidence, but it turns out to be very usable, with its slightly curved design fitting comfortably into your hand and its buttons being both spaciously laid out and sensibly organised.
Sony KDL-40CX523: Verdict
Superficially, the KDL-40CX523 might not look that exciting. It hasn't got 3D, for instance and is backlit by CCFL lamps rather than by edge or direct LED arrays, but the point of this set is great value for money.
Despite its low price the KDL-40CX523 carries not only DLNA PC streaming and video/photo/music playback from USB drives, but also Sony's excellent Bravia Internet Video online service.
All this plus generally admirable pictures and sound adds up to a genuine bargain.
The price is eye-catchingly low for a Sony set and the value is bolstered by a startling array of multimedia tools, including streaming from networked PCs, an onboard internet browser, Skype support (via an optional camera) and even Sony's Bravia Internet Video online service.
Pictures are mostly very pleasing, too, and even audio is a cut above the budget norm.
Build quality isn't the best and, while its onscreen menu system is clever in some ways, it can also be a little confusing.
As far as its pictures are concerned, there's a touch of motion blur, some minor backlight bleed in the screen's corners and a little missing shadow detail in dark areas.
The KDL-40CX523 is unexpectedly affordable for a 40-inch TV with exceptional multimedia flexibility and a Freeview HD tuner and its picture quality is an eloquent reminder that CCFL lighting is no poor relation to the currently more voguish edge LED systems now found on most LCD TVs.
The above-average sound system completes the sort of set cash-strapped Sony fans must have been dreaming about.
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