After a couple of years of Sony losing its creative flair for making top-notch TVs, the company recently got back on track with the excellent 55HX853. While its follow-up was good -- I reviewed the smaller 32HX753 -- it wasn't quite in the same league.
Can the larger 40-inch version I'm reviewing here put in a better showing? Certainly, the price is attractive -- it retails for around £800 but you can buy the Sony 40HX753 online from £670.
If you've used Sony's PlayStation 3 games console, the menu system on the 40HX753 will be familiar as it uses a tweaked version of the PS3's XrossMediaBar. It's been updated and improved from the system used on last year's models. When you call it up, it no longer takes over the whole screen. There's a video thumbnail window so you don't lose track of what you're watching. Also, the menu bar now runs across the bottom of the screen, with sub-menu options displayed in a vertical column to the right.
It's not quite as intuitive to use as it could be, especially as some of the graphics on the icons don't convey their function particularly well, and the navigation can be fussy, but you do get used to it over time. At least Sony has redesigned the menu for the smart TV services and the result is a big improvement.
You can jump to the smart functions just by hitting the SEN button on the remote and you'll find all the apps laid out in a fresh, title-type interface. This is split into three sections, with entries for apps, movies and music. The latter two options take you to the latest releases from Sony's Music and Video Unlimited online services, while the apps menu is where you'll find the icons to launch the likes of BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and Netflix.
The TV's electronic programme guide (EPG) is excellent. There's a video thumbnail windows in the top left-hand corner, with a text summary of the current show displayed next to it. The main guide is laid below this as a traditional horizontal grid and there are plenty of filter options, so you can quickly switch the view to only show sports programmes or upcoming movies.
The 40HX753 is far from the slimmest set on the market and with a chassis that's 59mm deep, it's actually quite chunky compared to LED models from Samsung and LG. While those other manufacturers have lately produced sets with an almost disappeared bezel, it's still quite prominent here, with a fairly thick 26mm frame around the screen.
Despite this, the 40HX753 is pleasing to look at. This is partly due to the simplicity of the design, which resembles a big tablet computer due to the way the black bezel is edged by a chrome strip. It's also because the easel stand looks contemporary. It holds the TV above the surface it's sitting on by a few centimetres making it appear light and airy.
The set's thicker chassis means there's room for full-sized Scart and component inputs behind. As these point out from the rear, they may pose a problem if you're trying to mount the TV on a wall. The two rear-mounted HDMI ports are downward-facing though, and there are another two HDMI ports positioned on a panel on the right of the set. Along with the RF input for the TV's Freeview HD tuner, there are two HDMI ports and S-Video and Ethernet sockets.
As Wi-Fi is built in, you can go wire-free if your router is positioned far from your TV. There's not much more you could ask for on the connections front.
Unfortunately, as with all Sony sets, this one's fussy with digital file playback. The problem is it doesn't natively play Xvid or MKV files -- two formats other manufacturers are supporting on their TVs. You can get around the problem by using Sony's own Homestream server software on your PC, which reformats videos so the TV can play them. That's not much use if you keep your files on a non-PC device, such as a networked hard drive.
On the plus side, the set does have USB recording features, so if you attach a drive to one of the two USB ports, you can record shows directly to disc from its Freeview HD tuner. There are a couple of caveats with this though. You can only record one channel at a time and you can't switch channels once a recording is in progress. Also, you need to use a drive that's at least 32GB in size.
Thankfully, the 40HX753's smart TV features are much more impressive. Hit the SEN button on the remote and you'll find there's a broad range of high-quality services on offer. These include BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and Sky News. There's Lovefilm and Netflix support too, and you can pay to stream new movie release from Sony's Movies Unlimited service. It all adds up to a pretty satisfying online experience.
The smaller 32-inch 32HX753 wasn't exactly an amazing audio performer, but this larger model puts in a better showing. There's more bass, which gives the sound greater weight. Thanks to a strong mid-range performance, dialogue has plenty of presence.
Sony's added a few pseudo-surround modes that you can play around with in the menus to try to extend the stereo width but I found them to be of questionable value. Audio quality was better overall with them turned off.
As you would expect given its price, the 40HX753 lacks a few of the bells and whistles found on the pricier HX853. It doesn't have the latter's local dimming feature. Instead, it has what Sony calls Frame Dimming. This appears to mean it dims the backlight slightly to improve black levels when it thinks it's showing an image that has mostly darker content.
Motion processing is limited to 400Hz (it's a 200Hz panel with added backlight blinking), whereas the HX853 has 800Hz motion control. It also uses the more basic X-Reality picture processing rather than the X-Reality Pro system on the higher-end model.
It's perhaps not surprising then that picture quality doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of the excellent HX853, but it's still a very good performer. I'm happy with the picture presets on the whole -- they're much better than Samsung's. The Cinema mode in particular is quite accurate with colour and contrast, and it's a decent option if you're watching Blu-ray movies. In fact, colours in general are nicely dealt with and there's a finesse to the trickier stuff -- such as skin tones -- that's lacking on some competitor models.
As with all LED sets, there's inherent motion blur when all the motion processing is turned off, but Sony's motion processing is very strong. The Clear Plus setting works well for movies, while the slightly brighter Clear mode is a better option for standard TV viewing.
The frame dimming feature isn't anywhere near as effective as the HX853's local dimming. While it tries to work out when the TV is showing darker images to dim the backlight accordingly, it sometimes causes colours to shift ever so slightly, which you may find distracting. Even so, the TV's black levels are quite deep anyway and it's also a good performer with contrast, as it's able to tease plenty of detail out of darker scenes.
Upscaling of standard-definition images and web content isn't quite on the same level as the HX853 either, but the X-Reality engine still does a decent job of cleaning up Freeview channels from the tuner to an acceptable degree.
On the negative side, the set has noticeably tighter viewing angles than those of most other manufacturers. If you sit too far to the left or right of the TV, colours and contrast shift, so pictures tend to look washed out and colours take on a blue-ish hue.
Also, if you're watching the set in a darker room -- say at night with the lights dimmed -- you can see some light pooling around the edges from the backlight. However, I've got to say this a good deal less of an issue on the 40HX753 than it is on some TVs.
This set doesn't come with 3D specs, so if you're thinking of using it for watching 3D movies, you'll have to factor in the cost of the active glasses. The TDG-BR250 goggles that are compatible with the TV can be bought online for around £40 each.
They're big, chunky and not hugely comfortable to wear. The thicker sides do at least help to block out ambient light and limit flickering in the corner of your eye caused by ambient light sources in your room.
Faster is better with 3D screens as a speedier panel helps to cut down on 3D image ghosting -- usually known as crosstalk. This model is rated at 400Hz and although you can see a little crosstalk creep in here and there, it's not hugely noticeable and doesn't distract from the 3D experience. In fact, 3D images look sharp and, despite the dimming effect of the active glasses, retain a fair amount of punch in the brightness department.
The 40HX753 isn't an outstanding performer in the way the more expensive 55HX853 is. That said, as an overall package, this is still an impressive model. It has an affordable price tag, strong picture performance across both 2D and 3D, and support for a wide range of smart TV services. Only its slightly narrow viewing angles and failings with digital media playback blot its copybook.