Sony KDL-40HX753 £899
6th Jul 2012 | 09:00
Smart TV with a corporate feel on this good value, though average, Edge LED TV
Forget like.no.other and make.believe; less.is.more should be Sony's new motto if this 40-incher from its HX7 Series is anything to go by.
Perhaps it's the company's financial problems or the fact that it's flattered to deceive with many of its TVs in recent years, but 2012 sees Sony streamline its Bravias and sensibly concentrate on core must-have features.
In the slim stakes the KDL-40HX753 isn't a patch on some of the smart-looking TVs we've seen of late.
Granted, it's hardly an ugly duckling, but the 59mm panel depth makes it chubby by today's standards.
Around the screen is a sizable 27mm gloss black bezel (reaching 37mm along the bottom) that despite being rimmed with silver shows its less-than-flagship design, though we do admire its clever 'easel' stand that sees two metallic poles jut out from under the bottom of the TV.
The TV appears to float and, furthermore, it leans back slightly (by 6º to be precise). The effect is at once both subtle and dramatic. Now that's proper design.
Also the receiver of a makeover is Sony's smart TV platform, which was easily the best in the business when it launched a few years ago, but had begun to stale.
However, the re-named Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) is merely an extra hub screen that gathers certain apps.
Although the likes of the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Lovefilm are present, there was no sign of the new BBC Sport app during our test.
The KDL-40HX753 uses Sony's X-Reality processing and sports a 400Hz (that's a 200Hz panel and some backlight scanning) Edge LED-backlit Full HD LCD panel; fast enough for active shutter 3D compatibility, but don't get carried away – there are no 3D specs supplied in the box.
Is Sony trying to kill 3D? With 3D specs – even formerly pricey active shutter flavours – now going for less then £20, it would appear so.
Even worse, despite Sony being a member of the Full HD 3D Glasses Initiative that was invented to make 3D glasses work on all active shutter 3DTVs, neither our Samsung nor Panasonic 3D specs worked with the KDL-40HX753. Why did Sony bother signing up?
There aren't many TVs in Sony's 2012 line-up. Joining this 40-incher in Sony's HX753 Series is the 32-inch KDL-32HX753, 46-inch KDL-46HX753 and 55-inch KDL-55HX753.
Boasting the same 'easel' stand is Sony's step-down, non-3D ready EX653 Series, which puts 100Hz panels in the 32-inch KDL-32EX653, 40-inch KDL-40EX653 and 46-inch KDL-46EX653.
Above the HX753 Series is Sony's flagship HX853 Series, which include the 40-inch KDL-40HX853, 46-inch KDL-46HX853 and 55-inch KDL-55HX853.
What makes these three superstars is their use of X-Reality PRO picture processing and the use of 800Hz panels, though most crucially they use a configuration of LED backlighting that allows more localised dimming than on the KDL-40HX753.
Sony also sells its entry-level EX553 Series, which comprises just two small HD-ready screen LCD TVs, the 22-inch KDL-22EX553 and 26-inch KDL-26EX553.
While Sony's HX853 TVs have pseudo local dimming on its Edge LED panel, the KDL-40HX753 has none, though matches its bigger brothers in terms of smart TV content.
So it's goodbye to the Sony Bravia Internet Video and a big welcome to the SEN, which instantly sounds like a more serious, joined-up proposition, if you ask us.
However, in practice it's nothing more than an additional layer to the core Xross Media Bar design that will be familiar to PS3 owners.
XMB happily integrates a host of widgets including Twitter and Facebook, and stores a list of clickable 'recently used' and favourite apps.
It also builds in access to Sony's own content portals, Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited.
So what is the point of the SEN?
In fairness, it does present a list of all of the apps, which are distinctly video-centric; BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Sky News, Eurosport, Netflix and Lovefilm are all here, while the Sony exclusive of Demand 5 also carries on (nice idea in theory, but Channel 5 catch-up TV is nothing to get excited about unless you're a fan of Neighbours, Home & Away or Benidorm ER).
Skype is also possible if you add a special Sony CMU-BR100 camera (£89).
Twitter and Facebook are also present as apps, though better used as widgets on the XMB dashboard.
Where's the new BBC Sport app? Despite firmware updates, it never appeared during our test.
Scroll lower into the list and you'll get mired in a second wave of second-rate video and news apps that, frankly, someone ought to pull the plug on in the interests of simplicity.
Do you need to get your headlines from Euronews? Of course you don't, and nor does anyone need the likes of aolHD Wired, BillaBong, DailyMotion or eHow.com on a television.
Those apps take-up one of the grids on the SEN home page, which also presents a thumbnail of live TV, too.
The other two tabs are occupied by Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited, which is a tad repetitive and, given they cost money, a touch cheeky.
Another side to the KDL-40HX753's network savvy design is Homestream. A free download for both PC and Mac users, the Homestream software is fairly unobtrusive, and after you've chosen specific folders to share with the TV, does allow for more reliable home networking.
That said, we didn't have any problems streaming MPEG2, MPEG4 and MOV-based video files (including AVI and AVC HD files) from a Mac using Twonkymedia.
There is, however, no support for MKV video.
Ins and outs impress; four HDMI inputs seems good value for a step-down set, with two USBs in support.
One of those can record Freeview HD programmes to a large capacity USB stick or HDD, but since you can't change channel, this is strictly for 'had to nip out to the pub during a fascinating documentary' moments.
Although you can rely on Wi-Fi – something that instantly lets you place the KDL-40HX753 anywhere you want while still access network-fuelled features – there's also a wired Ethernet LAN slot for added reliability (which is what we always use if we can).
While the KDL-40HX753 is a reasonably simple TV to operate, there is plenty for the expert to experiment with.
Most won't look beyond the Cinema, Sports, Animation and Game presets, but it is possible to change the gamma levels, RGB colour bias, the MotionFlow processing and noise reduction circuitry, as well as the usual backlight/contrast/brightness/colour tweaks.
With the KDL-40HX753 designed to cope with a plethora of online content, we put it to work with a couple of YouTube videos and a replay of the European Grand Prix from Valencia from the BBC iPlayer.
Pictures are soft, of course, but arguably not quite soft enough since they're also stained with visible digital blocking and picture noise.
To blame is probably the absence of X-Reality PRO; the basic X-Reality processing just isn't as powerful, something that also results in standard definition channels from its Freeview HD tuner lacking a little togetherness.
Compare that to the precise, smooth and ultra-clean live broadcast of Djokovic Vs Stepanek at Wimbledon on BBC One HD.
The other major difference to the step-up HX853 Series is the KDL-40HX753's lack of local dimming, though this doesn't appear to be as crucial as it sounds.
Perhaps it's the relatively small screen, but the KDL-40HX753 displays enough in the way of deep black levels to convince.
In our test of Blu-ray disc District 9, using the Cinema preset as our base, there's noticeable picture noise during a murky scene inside one of the alien's huts, while an outdoor sequence at night demonstrates a greying over of the whole image.
In such scenes it's also possible to see the strongest light from the LEDs on the edges of the screen, though it's so rare it's minor problem.
Overall we'd judge the KDL-40HX753 to have enough contrast for using in a blackout if you're careful, but it's a notch or two below reference level when it comes to the believability of dark areas of images.
That lack of accuracy doesn't apply in other parts of the spectrum; there are few TVs capable of producing natural colours than a good Sony, and the KDL-40HX753 continues that trend.
HD pictures look clean and reasonably detailed, but at the same time they're not the sharpest, crispest HD pictures we've seen; we're talking cinematic, highly watchable pictures, not blow-yer-socks-off visuals.
Motion blur can be cured by judicious use of MotionFlow.
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We settled on the Clear Plus setting for watching Blu-ray after finding the Smooth setting creates artefacts around moving objects, and the Clear setting is too bright, though the latter is best in normal ambient light.
Meanwhile, Impulse adds a powerful flicker to video while massively reducing brightness – very weird, and best swerved.
Since there are no 3D specs included in the KDL-40HX753's box, we shouldn't really consider 3D a 'proper' feature on this telly, but our nosy side took over and we asked Sony to send over a pair of 3D specs.
The rechargeable TDG-BR250/B are reasonably comfortable and don't let in much reflected light from behind.
The usual problem with active shutter TVs – namely ghosting and double images, known as crosstalk – isn't an issue here if you use the lowest 3D depth setting, which happily doesn't lessen the effect.
There is a slight lack of contrast, though we were happy with both detail and brightness while using the Cinema 2 setting (the other choice, Cinema 1, flickered too much for our eyes).
As a default MotionFlow is set to its 'standard' power, and though the tech is absolutely vital to keep switched-on during 3D playback, the stronger 'smooth' setting better removes some otherwise nasty judder during pans.
During a sequence from the IMAX classic Grand Canyon Adventure, MotionFlow makes simple sequences of people walking past canyon walls far less taxing on the eyes, and allows reasonably detailed, clear camera pans across Lake Powell.
A shot of a rainbow through mist is equally impressive and very 3D, while fast moving kayakers, and even a 3d show-off sequence of water splashing against the camera lens was easy for our eyes to decipher.
You can buy Sony 3D glasses here (a pair of the TDG-BR250/B costs £59).
Usability, sound and value
Sony has changed a lot of things for the better on its new Bravias, but the remote control has taken a step backwards.
Although we like the appearance of an SEN button in the centre of the remote that takes us straight to the online apps, the remote feels flimsier in the hand than former incarnations and the onscreen menus sometimes take a second too long to respond.
SEN is fine as an idea, but perhaps it would have been better to just increase the scope of the Xcross Media Bar to host more apps instead of introducing another layer of interface-ness.
Still, its design is decent enough; live TV plays in the corner while three grids of apps and film cover art are displayed on the rest of the screen.
Our only complaint it that most of it is taken up by Sony's own content – it's basically a shop window for Sony content.
So although it does have the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm, Sony gives pride of place to its own VideoUnlimited.
Content-wise, it's just as good, and has arguably more must-see, newer titles than any of the embryonic online movie services can muster – and that's despite being Sony-made films only.
In our test we spotted The Woman In Black, A Dangerous Method (both in SD only, £3.49 to rent) and Safe House (SD/HD £3.59/£4.59).
Just as nicely integrated into the TV's core GUI, and similarly stuffed, is MusicUnlimited, though that requires a monthly subscription.
TrackID is an interesting hangover from previous Bravias, and we're pleased it's still included; simply press the dedicated button on the remote while a song plays on a TV programme and the KDL-40HX753 consults the online Gracenote database before displaying a pop-up message with the song title and artist.
We tried it with Radio 2 playing from the KDL-40HX753's digital TV tuner, and it correctly identified All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix.
Meanwhile, the Freeview HD electronic programme guide is class-leading, with details over two hours for eight channels on one page, with a thumbnail of live TV in the top-left corner.
Decent for dialogue but hugely underwhelming for movies, it's the same old story when it comes to audio.
Thankfully it's equipped with an optical digital audio output for taking everything to a home cinema, and we suggest you do; despite some basic audio settings we were impressed only by the clarity of dialogue.
There's no distortion at high volumes, but music sounds tinny and there's not enough stereo separation or power for anything other that flat sounding movie soundtracks.
This is a good all-rounder that does impress in certain areas – especially its smart dimension.
However, there are better, more affordable options around, and we can identify better value sets in that range of all of Sony's major competitors.
Some have more 'together' user interfaces, others better picture quality, and others still can stream and network more efficiently. Crucially, they all do that while charging less than what Sony commands for the KDL-40HX753.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Sony's approach to smart TV, but it's a competitive market and there are better, more affordable options than the KDL-40HX753.
We're not convinced by SEN, which has a closed 'Sony Club' feel to it that we really don't think is much needed or wanted.
As an all-round set though, it's worth considering not least for the thoroughly easy to use – though ageing – Xcross Media Bar interface that PS3 users will know well.
Easy to use and with great colours and enough contrast to supply excellent Blu-ray discs and Freeview HD, Sony has produced a respectable all-rounder with a useful smart TV dimension and highly watchable 3D.
Most of the key apps are present, as are almost all of the video and movie apps, and everything is housed in a pleasantly unusual laid-back design.
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Ultimate black levels aren't of reference standard, upscaling is average, and audio is poor, while the TV isn't exactly super-slim.
Nor is there any support for MKV video files in a user interface that's both a tad repetitive and too corporate in its structure.
We're also worried about the lack of this year's best app – BBC Sport – which we had hoped would be on the KDL-40HX753.
An unremarkable effort from Sony, but in truth the slightly confused feel to the KDL-40HX753 isn't all its own fault; the all-new app-studded Sony Entertainment Network and the tried-and-tested central Xcross Media Bar clash and repeat each other to the extent that simplicity is sacrificed.
Judged purely on its video capabilities this is a distinctly mid-range performer, lacking in ultimate sharpness, upscaling prowess, and black levels, though it remains a very capable performer with HD and 3D sources.
In summary, the KDL-40HX753 is a very likeable TV, but in a high quality, competitive market comes up a notch short of greatness.
Key sets to compare the KDL-40HX753 to from the other big brands in flat TV include Panasonic's 42-inch TX-L42ET50B, Samsung's 40-inch UE40ES6800 and LG's 42-inch 42LM670T (the 47-inch version is reviewed here).