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Sony hasn't endeared itself to us in recent years. It's had a nasty habit of releasing TVs that weren't up to the high standard we expected, and cost an awful lot of cash. The company has promised a change of direction after a financial results shock, however, and it's determined to prove it's got what it takes to win over our TV-loving hearts once again.
The NX703 range is particularly stylish and offers a little more in the way of features than the average telly. The 46-inch model we tested costs around £1,700. We're certain that price will fall in time, but it's certainly not cheap. The question is, as always, what does it do to earn its keep?
Stylish new direction for Sony
Sony didn't offer much in the way of styling to differentiate its TVs from anything else on the market last year. For the most part, its screens were pretty mundane. This year, however, the 'Monolith' design has made the company as proud as a father walking his daughter down the aisle.
The model we tested was finished in white, which we found rather fetching. The Monolith concept is so-called because the single panel makes the TV look like one piece of glass. It's very smart, but it works better when the bezel is black, rather than white.
We really love the remote too. It's well thought out, and very funky. Its curved shape gives it an unusual but comfortable feel. The buttons work well and no complications arise from them being rather flat, in a half-moon shaped dip. Sony has seen fit to include a single off switch on the back too. This harks back to when the company used to offer remotes that could be flipped between a simple or more complicated style, but takes that idea to a new level.
One slight gripe: some of the sockets at the back of the TV are a little hard to push cables in to. The HDMI inputs in particular are hidden in a recess that makes it very hard to get a chunkier cable in. This isn't the end of the world, but it might cause you problems if you've invested in very sturdy, bulky cables. Other than that, the TV has enough connections, although four HDMI inputs is beginning to feel like it might not be enough for today's world.
Like many modern TVs, the NX703 is Internet-aware. This means one day Skynet will instruct it to rise up, destroy all humans and create a machine dystopia. Until then, it'll happily fetch films, on-demand TV and other information from the Internet for you.
Services available right now include LoveFilm and Demand Five (as in channel Five), as well as Web favourites such as YouTube and DailyMotion. Upcoming, too, is the BBC's fabulous iPlayer. All of this makes your TV one of the most flexible entertainment centres you can buy.
LoveFilm is free if you subscribe to any of its 'unlimited' packages, although not all of its titles are available for streaming. To set it up, you visit a Web site and register your device with a short, four-digit PIN. Then you just select the movie you want to watch, and off you go. Brilliant.
Demand Five requires substantially less configuration, and works off the bat with no excessive tweaking. It's very cool indeed, and the perfect way to catch up with Extreme Fishing with Robson Green. We can't wait to see what other services Sony adds in the future -- it's certainly ahead of many of its rivals.
Sony does love a Cross Media Bar, or as it calls it, Xross Media Bar.
We can't bring ourselves to use such a vile brand name though, so we'll
stick with Cross if that's okay with you. The best thing about this menu
system is it displays a vast amount of content and options in an
unintimidating way. The main horizontal bar has icons for settings,
video, audio and channels, with vertical bars leading off them for each
option. Anyone who's used a PlayStation
3 will be familiar with the system, but there's no massive learning
curve for new users.
Marvellous, beautiful HD
Standard-definition picture quality is nothing to yell about. The NX703 is competent enough at delivering a reasonably noise-free image. As with most Freeview broadcasts, there can be some MPEG blocking, but this is a product of ever-decreasing bit rates, rather than the fault of the TV.
HD pictures from Freeview's new high-definition service look marvellous. We watched some children's TV from the BBC, which knocked our socks off. Bright colours are to be expected on kids' TV, but the definition was superb too and the TV does a terrific job of balancing everything, so you're never overwhelmed. Come Dine With Me on Channel 4's HD service was less impressive than the BBC's content, but detail was outstanding, enabling us to read detail on signs we'd never be able to see normally.
Blu-ray looks superb. Casino Royale, our test disc because of its incredibly diverse content, was top-quality. The opening black and white sequence did have a slightly blue hue to it, which could probably be corrected with further tweaking. Bright colour from the titles also looked fabulous -- a smashing job here by the Sony.
Black levels are also impressive. The NX703 uses an LED edge light to illuminate its LCD panel. Light bleed was noticeable on a totally black screen, but not distracting during normal viewing. A little bleed is inevitable with edge-lit pictures, and the Sony isn't ahead of the pack here, but it isn't worse than the majority of its competitors either.
The Internet functionality of this TV make it very attractive for the high-tech crowd. But it has more than enough other features to make it a very decent purchase for anyone looking for a new TV. The inclusion of Freeview HD is terrific, and we loved both the picture quality and the design. All in all, it's a tidy TV, and a great step forward from a company that hasn't exactly thrilled the pants off us recently.
Edited by Nick Hide