The 40-inch Sony KDL-40EX523 is the entry-level model among Sony's line-up of LED screens.
Priced at around £500 online, the 40EX523 does lack some extras such as 100Hz motion processing and 3D, but that's not to say it's totally devoid of features, as it does have two USB ports and decent onboard Internet video functions.
This model includes the updated version of the Xross Media Bar (XMB) that's found on all models in Sony's latest range. This retains much of the feel of the old system, but there are some key changes. Previously the cross-section of the bar sat in the middle of the screen. Now, however, it's less of a cross and more of a corner bar, as the main menu runs across the bottom of the screen while the sub-menus appear on a vertical column on the far-right of the display.
This has allowed Sony to add a large video window of the currently selected channel on the left-hand side of the screen. As a result, using the menus isn't as intrusive as it used to be.
The system looks very slick and the transitions between the menus are smooth. However, it does take some getting used to, as it's not immediately obvious which menus you need to look in to find certain features. Things aren't helped by the fact that many of the icons in the main menu look quite similar and don't visually relate well to their functions. Because of this, you often find yourself spinning through menus to track them down.
One aspect of the menu system we like is the Scenes function. This is a preset that covers audio settings as well as pictures. So, for example, choosing the Cinema scene will switch to the movie picture preset as well as change the audio settings to something that's more suited to watching films.
We're also quite fond of Sony's electronic programme guide (EPG). It uses a dark and dreary colour scheme (much like the XMB menus), but it's crisply laid out. In the top left-hand corner is a video window for the show you're currently watching. To the right of this, there's a summary of the programme that you've got selected in the listings, while below is a large grid showing you eight channels' worth of programming info.
It's quick to move between shows and channels and there are some good sorting options, including one that lets you see at a glace all the movies coming up over the next few hours or days.
Digital media and Internet features
Sony's TVs have generally produced mixed results when it comes to digital media playback and streaming, and so it proves with the 40EX523. The problem here, as with other Sony models, is the patchy format support.
This model played DivX, Xvid and WMV files without any problems, but it refused to run MKV files, either locally or streamed across a network. MKV is an increasingly popular format on the Internet for HD videos, so it's about time that Sony started to include it, especially as it's now supported on most.
The set is strongest when it comes to the number of Internet video services available. Alongside the BBC's iPlayer, there's Lovefilm, Demand 5 -- channel Five's on-demand service, along with stalwarts like YouTube and Dailymotion. Sony has also included its Qriocity video on-demand service, that allows you to rent either standard or high-definition versions of new blockbuster movies.
What's less impressive is the range of mini Internet apps available. Sony only offers widgets for Facebook, Twitter and a simple RSS reader, as well as apps for Picasa and Skype (if you buy the optional camera and mic).
There is also a full web browser, but it doesn't support Adobe Flash, so you can't play videos on some websites. The latest TVs from LG and Samsung offer a much broader array of apps. Their app libraries have been growing steadily this year, whereas Sony's offering has stood still for the past six months.
Design and connections
The design of Sony's current TVs haven't changed all that much from the company's pervious generation of sets. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing. They're perhaps not the most showy models, but the understated design, with the slim piano-black bezel on the top and sides and a gun metal grey finish on the bottom, will fit the décor of most rooms.