After hitting several bum notes on the TV front over the last couple of years, Sony is back on song, finally delivering what people are looking for from a telly.
The Priced at around £1,000, it's about £500 cheaper too, but does it perform as well as its bigger sibling?is one of my favourite TVs of the year, but not everyone has the space for a monster screen. The 40-inch 40HX853 will be a much better fit for many people's living rooms.
User interface and EPG
This set's user interface is very similar to the one Sony added to the TVs that appeared towards the tail end of last year. It's a re-jigged version of the XrossMediaBar that first appeared on Sony's game consoles that's since been reworked to be more TV friendly.
When you call it up, it doesn't take over the whole screen as it used to. Instead, there's a video window in the top left-hand corner, while the menu bar runs across the base of the screen. When you select an option from the bottom bar, the menu for it is shown as a column down the right-hand side of the display.
Sony has added a new menu for Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which you can call up by hitting the dedicated SEN button on the remote. This has a tile interface, similar to the look of, with individual tiles for apps, movies and music. The latter two show you the latest releases on Sony's Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited rental services, while the Apps tile is where you'll find entries for the likes of iPlayer and Netflix.
The whole user interface looks slick and modern, but it's not all that easy to get your head around initially, especially if you haven't used Sony's game consoles. Navigation can be long winded and the icons aren't brilliantly designed -- it's not always easy to tell what function they represent. There are times when you can access the same functions in different ways, which is confusing and pointless. For example, you can get to apps either via the Internet Content option in the XMB, or through the SEN menu.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) is very good though. It, too, has a video thumbnail window in the top left corner so you don't lose track of what you're watching when you want to check what's on other channels. Upcoming shows are shown as a traditional horizontal grid and it's speedy to navigate around and easy to read from a normal viewing distance.
Design and connections
The design of the 40HX853 will split opinion, but at least it's significantly different to pretty much all other TVs on the market. I don't think it's as attractive as the likes of the LG 47LM960V, as the bezel around the screen is thick and the monolithic design makes is imposing.
The unique stand makes a bold design statement though. The TV slots into the stand at a slight angle, so it's tilted back by around six degrees. The entire front of the TV is covered with a single sheet of Gorilla Glass, while a chrome band runs around the outer edge of the TV. It looks like a giant tablet PC.
Other manufacturers have started shipping fancy touchscreen remotes or motion controllers with their high-end TVs, but Sony hasn't gone down this route. The TV comes with a standard zapper. This is angular and not all that comfortable to hold, but on the plus side the buttons are reasonably large and the layout is sensible, so all the key functions are within easy reach of your thumb.
The TV is pretty well specced for connections. The panel on the left-hand edge houses two HDMI ports as well as a pair of USB ports, a VGA connector and a CAM slot. On the rear on a downward facing panel, you'll find another two HDMI ports, an optical audio output and the RF input for the Freeview HD tuner. There's an Ethernet port here, but as the TV has Wi-Fi built in, you won't necessarily need to use it. Pointing directly out of the back of the TV is a full-sized Scart socket and a set of component inputs.
Video file playback
While the media players on most other TVs have started supporting a broad range of digital media file formats, Sony has stubbornly refused to add support for popular formats such as MKV. Sadly, it's the same old story on the 40HX853.
The set supports DivX playback via USB, but would only play standard-definition DviX files across a network, as it refused to run my 1080p test video. It did play some Xvid files, but refused others and doesn't work at all with MKV files. You can get around the problem by using Sony's free Homestream software on your PC to convert the files to a playable format on the fly, but that's not much good if you want to stream from a NAS drive when your PC is turned off.