In days gone by, if you wanted a Sony you had to pay the Sony tax -- a slightly inflated price just because it had the Sony logo on the front. Increased competition from rivals, not least from Samsung, who stole its TV crown, has gradually eroded the Sony tax and you'll now find some surprisingly cheap models in the company's TV line-up.
The KDL-42W653A is a case in point. Towards the bottom of Sony's TV range, it lacks support for 3D -- something that most people probably won’t miss -- but does include Sony's smart TV service and has a very reasonable price tag of around £550.
User interface and TV guide
I was never a huge fan of the XrossMediaBar system Sony has been using on its TVs over the last few years. It worked well on the PS3, but on a TV it felt awkward to use and its quirky navigation system made accessing certain features longwinded. Thankfully Sony has ditched it completely and the W653 sports a new, more streamlined menu layout. This new system looks more like the user interface on Microsoft's Windows 8 mobiles, as it makes use of lots of chunky graphical tiles and stylised text.
Navigation is faster and more elegant than the old system and it's relatively easy to use. It centres on a Home menu that displays a text list of different options. As you scroll up and down, graphical tiles rotate into view beneath, giving you access to sub menus. The only slight annoyance is that the graphical transitions feel sluggish at times compared to Samsung's new menu system on its 2013 TVs.
The set's default guide is very good though. It includes a video window so you can keep track of the program you were watching while you have a scan though the upcoming shows in the listings, and moving around the traditional horizontal timeline grid is speedy.
Sony gives you the choice of using two guides, but it doesn’t do a good job of explaining how to switch between them. In fact, you have to dive deep into the menu system to find out how to do it. The secondary guide is Internet based and uses the Gracenotes online database to provide extra metadata on actors and plot summaries. It's graphically richer, so easier on the eye but it's very slow to load and sluggish to use. I didn’t think it was worth the effort and relied on the standard guide instead.
Digital media and Internet features
With one hand Sony giveth, but with the other it taketh away, for while its new menu system is good, the updated interface for its smart TV system is a massive fail. It's much worse than the system Sony was using last year. The main problem is that it dumps all the available apps on a single screen with no tabs or folders to group them together into different categories. You also can’t move icons around -- to put the most used at the start of the list, for example -- they're always shown in the same order.
To be fair, you can add individual apps to your favourites list, which then appears in the main menu. The favourites list, however, is a single line of icons and if you add too many to the list it becomes tedious to scroll through them. What's more, there's no dedicated button to get to the favourites selection, so you end up just using the SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) button on the remote instead, which only opens the full apps list. This system definitely needs a rethink.
It's a shame because the SEN system has a decent roster of apps, especially on the online video front. Along with the BBC's iPlayer, there's also Demand 5 and both Lovefilm and Netflix. Sony's own Video Unlimited service lets you rent premium movies and there's the MuZu TV app for watching music videos. Unfortunately it lacks ITV Player and 4oD, two services, which are now offered on Samsung's smart TV system.
The built-in media players on Sony's TVs used to be pretty poor, but thankfully that has now changed. The one on this set has no problem playing popular formats such as Xvid and MKV and unlike Samsung's 2013 TVs, the fast-forward and rewind controls work properly when it's streaming files across a network from a PC or network-connected hard drive.