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The KDL-40CX523 isn't the most beautiful TV we've ever laid eyes on. The bezel around the screen is quite thick and, despite the brushed-metal appearance of the band under the screen, the entire chassis is actually made from plastic.
The TV is fairly thick too, measuring 71mm deep. That's just under twice the depth of most LED screens. Still, we wouldn't describe the TV as ugly -- it's just rather non-descript. On the plus side, it won't draw attention to itself when it's sitting switched off in the corner of your room.
We've no complaints about the TV's array of connections. With four HDMI ports, a set of component inputs, a Scart socket, VGA connector and composite input, there are plenty of options for hooking up your AV kit. There are also two USB ports for digital media playback, or connecting the optional Wi-Fi adaptor, and an Ethernet socket for Internet connectivity and media streaming.
Sony has moved away from the XrossMediaBar user interface used on last year's models and developed a new, slightly more straightforward system. Now, when you press the home button on the remote, a rotating row of icons pops up from the bottom of the screen. Selecting each of these icons causes further relevant options to appear in a line above.
The biggest difference in the new interface is that the picture source you're viewing now stays on-screen, although it's shifted to a slightly smaller box in the top left-hand corner of the screen. The new interface is easier to understand, quicker to use, and far more colourful than the old XrossMediaBar system, but it will take newcomers some time to get their head around..
The comfortable remote control now has dedicated buttons to let you jump directly to features such as the Internet TV services and the scenes menu, which really just comprises a series of combined picture and audio presets.
One great new feature that also has its own dedicated button is TrackID. If you're watching something on the TV and a song comes on that you like but don't know the name of, you can hit the TrackID button and the set will record a snippet of the audio in the background, upload it to the Internet and then come back with the track name, artist and album information. It's rather like the Shazam service on mobile phones.
TrackID works across all the TV's inputs, including the Freeview HD tuner and HDMI inputs. It's fast too, taking just 5 seconds or so to come up with the song name. In our experience, it tended to be accurate.
The range of Internet services on offer is top-class. Along with apps for Twitter, Skype and Facebook, the Internet TV services include BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Demand 5, YouTube and Dailymotion. Sony has even added in a full Web browser.
The set supports playback of digital media via both its USB ports, as well as network streaming via a PC. Although it plays Xvid and DviX files without any problems, it won't play ball with MKV files, which is a shame, as most other sets now support this increasingly popular format.
For a budget model, the KDL-40CX523 really punches above its weight when it comes to image quality. Colours are compellingly vibrant without ever becoming garish, whether you're watching standard-definition channels on Freeview or high-definition Blu-ray movies.
The set also uses Sony's X-Reality engine, which does a pretty impressive job of cleaning up standard-definition and even Internet video to make it look much sharper without introducing tonnes of image noise. Black levels are also impressively deep for a set that uses CCFL, rather than LED, backlighting.
It's not all good news, though. Some backlight bleeding is visible in the corners of the panel when it's showing a very dark or black image, and the TV isn't quite as good as higher-end models at teasing shadow detail out of murkier scenes. You'll also notice some motion blur creeping in here and there. Most of these issues are relatively minor, though, or only visible when watching certain types of content, so, overall, we still think the KDL-40CX523 is a sterling performer in the picture department.
The TV is no slouch when it comes to sound either. Dialogue is clean and distinct and, thanks to the relatively bassy speakers, even music channels and movie soundtracks punch through well.
There's a great deal to like about the Sony Bravia KDL-40CX523. It offers better Internet features than many sets that cost two or three times as much, it delivers vibrant and engaging pictures, and its sound quality is impressive too. Basically, if you're looking for a budget TV, you'd be nuttier than a Snickers bar to pass it over.
Edited by Charles Kloet