Sony's biggest contribution to TV design in 2010 has been something it calls "monolithic" and consists of a TV with a large black screen and with or without a thin black bezel. We've always taken this moniker to mean it resembles the 2001 monolith and a large screen like the 55-inch EX710 is suitably imposing in most living spaces.
This black-on-black TV is an update on the original EX700 and the main difference appears to be a slimmer design. With a new sophisticated touch, the set features a thinner brushed metal strip along the bottom edge.
Unlike its competitors with their crystal stands, Sony has chosen minimalism in its pedestal with just a short, simple stem. Unfortunately, the angled desktop stand featured with other "monolithic" TVs isn't available for this particular model.
Remote controls: seen one you've seen 'em all right? Well, the EX710's is identical to the other handsets that Sony has shipped this year, but it's quite straightforward to use.
Sony's EX range is pitched at the budget-conscious, if that's possible for the typically high-brow Japanese company, and the 710 version is at the top of the pile. As a reflection of its pricing, the 55EX710 doesn't feature the bells and whistles of the NX or HX series — with the most obvious being 3D.
What the EX does have though is more important than a potentially 'niche' technology like 3D, and that's Bravia Internet Video. This allows you to stream on demand and catch-up video from over a dozen different sources including ABC iView and our favourite: Moshcam.com.
What you get in the box is a 55-inch LCD with an LED edge-lit panel — this means it uses LEDs inside the bezel of the television keeping the profile nice and slender. In addition it boasts, as most TVs do, a HD digital tuner and a 1080p resolution.
The TV comes with a number of picture processing doohickeys including the company's Bravia Engine 3 (BE3) for noise-free visuals and a 100Hz mode for reduced motion blur.
Inputs are plentiful with the provision of four HDMI (2 side, 2 rear with one ARC-capable), two components, three AV inputs, a USB, VGA port, Ethernet and an optical digital. Wireless connectivity is available as an option.
Manufacturers have recently expressed concern about overly glossy screens. Even though they improve the illusion of deep blacks, they can be hard to watch due to their high reflectivity. The EX710 doesn't suffer from this as much, but it is noticeably more reflective than the Panasonic VT20.
Despite this, the screen still works better in well-lit rooms than dark rooms. When the EX710 is viewed in a dark room, traditional LCD problems like poor viewing angles and low contrast levels begin to appear. Due to the screen's sheer size, we found it was impossible to get consistent blacks across the screen even when viewed from dead centre, and this is why we still recommend plasma instead in larger sizes. It doesn't have these "sweet spot" issues.
When subjected to video material we found the Sony performed very well. The television demonstrates the company's strengths such as high detail levels, smooth motion and pleasing colours. In our synthetic tests, we found the BE3 system effective at banishing most types of noise and providing smooth pans. That said, we found that the EX wasn't quite as impressive as its stablemates such as the HX800 in reducing jaggies and moire on moving images.
Switching to Blu-ray material, we found that the EX710 could provide an impressive picture for the money. This TV can do well with the expansive vistas of Batman Begins rendered a visual feast. But the TV can also portray intimate scenes well, with its ability with both facial detail and shadow detail creating an absorbing picture.
Using scene 11 (the "bridge attack") of Mission Impossible III we found that it took a second or two for the TV to "range in" to the 24 fps source, but once it did the results were impressively smooth. The bridge railing as the camera flies overhead showed a lack of distracting moire noise as well. There was a slight tendency for grain in the image, but no more than most other LCDs — plasmas tend to be more forgiving with this source material.
With a DVD such as King Kong in the tray we discovered the Sony was able to deliver pictures with a natural palette, but without the oomph of better-specked models. As before, noise wasn't an issue and the movie's tendency for blockiness was dealt with effectively.
Sound was a bitter-sweet experience. While spoken word had plenty of clarity, anything with a bit of bass in it — such as the sonorous voice of Stephen Fry — tended to chuff a bit and even distort. At higher volumes the dynamic range of movies was reigned in — in an attempt to counteract this problem, we concluded — and a dedicated sound system would suit this style of content much better. Heck, just get a sound system anyway.
Turning to other forms of content, the interactive component was as impressive as ever with ABC's iView giving clear, stutter-free access to programs such as QI. The onboard tuner was also capable.
While prices have crashed in the past 12 months, we're still not convinced that large LCDs are able to deliver the best picture for the money. Sony is currently at the top of the pack when it comes to delivering impressive visuals to LCD, but just a smidge off the pace at sizes over 50.
Nevertheless, the Sony 55EX710 is an elegant television which will no doubt grace many a living space. It's a true all-rounder, but obviously not at the pinnacle of performance for the size.