Sony bravia kdl-40ex503

The EX503 series is positioned as the second rung up Sony's Freeview HD TV ladder, resting above the as yet unseen EX403. And its step up from the entry-level model finds it sporting two main advantages: one aesthetic, one feature based.

The aesthetic improvement finds a brushed aluminium panel running along the TV's bottom edge, which adds a touch of opulence to the otherwise straightforward glossy black rectangle of the rest of the bezel.

The 40EX503's main feature boost over the EX403 is its MotionFlow 100Hz system, designed to reduce judder and LCD's core problems with motion blur.

Sony bravia kdl-40ex503

But that's far from the end of the 40EX503's processing story, for it also has Sony's Bravia Engine 3 system, with its broad focus on improving everything from colour and contrast to sharpness and standard definition upscaling.

While Bravia Engine 3 continues from last year's range, though, the 40EX503 makes a massive leap forward in another area: online capabilities.

We've written many times before about the impoverished nature of the AppliCast online system introduced on some of last year's Bravia models, so it's a huge relief to find the 40EX503 taking things to a much, much higher level. Including, most noticeably, lots of smooth HD video streaming.

Online video content

Particularly welcome - not least because most rival online platforms have been offering it for a while now - is YouTube support.

This includes all the popular features seen on other online TV platforms, such as easy remote control access to lists of Featured, Most Popular, Most Discussed, Most Responded, Most Viewed, Top Favourites and Top Rated videos.

The video quality of the clips is ultimately dependent on how they've been encoded to YouTube's servers, but the BE3 engine does a fair job of upscaling them to the TV's HD resolution.

Another new service to Sony is blip.tv, designed to provide an online 'channel' for 'quirky' independent TV series. Some of the series are in HD, which, crucially, manages to stream perfectly smoothly into our 40EX503 using just a standard 2MB broadband pipe.

EX503

It very likely helps the stability of the 40EX503's video streaming capabilities that the set carries a buffer able to store up to seven seconds of video material, and supports PING monitoring, where it assesses the quality of the connection to a specific site and adjusts the video quality it receives accordingly, where possible.

Another intriguing new video streaming service is Sony's Digital Cinema Concert Series. At the time of writing this featured concerts from ThirdEyeBlond, Creed and Chickenfoot, together with backstage footage. And, um, none of the footage actually worked, flagging up 'Content Error' messages when we tried to play it.

But while it's a bit embarrassing that Sony's own content should fail during our tests, we guess the system is still in its early days, and should be fixed by the time the TVs start landing in people's homes.

Next up on the online platform, rather bizarrely, is a Ford Models service, where you get to see various models from the Ford agency talking you through their photograph portfolios and giving beauty tips. Hmm.

We guess this might have been added with noble fashionista intentions, but we have a sneaky feeling it will mostly be watched late at night by lonely blokes...

DailyMotion and more

Yet more video content comes from DailyMotion, a sort of YouTube rival with less content but lots of HD, as well as not one but two 'how to' video services: howcast and eHow, covering everything, from applying for unemployment benefit to avoiding jet lag and finding love with a Capricon! Wow, you really do have to love the internet.

An OnNetworks portal, meanwhile, provides among other things HD video of tourist resorts, videos about the gaming world, and video golf tips, with more meaty golfing content provided by golflink.com, which features reams of videos on how to improve your golf technique.

More lifestyle content comes from livestrong.com, with pages of video clips on everything from dealing with diseases to improving your appearance and relationships.

If music's your bag, then there's the SingingFool portal, where you can see a healthy selection of music videos from new, aspiring bands across a variety of genres.

The penultimate online service is a facility for listening to podcasts from a selection of the most popular podcast sources (including NASA and CNN). But I've saved arguably the best online service until the last: LoveFilm.

At the moment this only offers trailers for new films (many in HD), and tended to suffer a little with judder and digital blocking. But these problems should be ironed out easily enough, especially if you have a fast online connection. Even better, Sony assures us that you should eventually be able to sync your LoveFilm account to your Bravia TV and then stream in full, paid-for feature films.

This potential to sync with online accounts for full movie streaming adds an important new dimension to online TV connectivity beyond the video streaming (including iPlayer support) introduced a couple of months ago by Cello's iViewer TV.

We guess some people might rue the lack of full internet access on the 40EX503. But avoiding this allows Sony to deliver a really slick and quick online interface, and doesn't detract from the fact that Sony has gone from online zero to hero in one fell swoop.

Specification

The internet services described above are piped into the 40EX503 via either an optional Wi-Fi USB dongle, or a built-in Ethernet port.

Other connections alongside this Ethernet jack, meanwhile, include four HDMIs, a USB 2.0 input able to play MP3, JPEG and AVC/AVCHD/DivX/MPEG4 video files, two Scarts and a PC port. We should add, too, that the Ethernet port can also be used for streaming in multimedia stuff from a DLNA-certified PC.

The only pity concerning the connections, in fact, is the fact that there's only one USB, which could become a pain if you go for the optional Wi-Fi dongle but also want to sometimes use a USB storage device to play files into the TV.

While the 40EX503's feature count is obviously dominated by its new Freeview HD tuner and online services, it has got a few other tricks up its sleeve worth mentioning.

There's Sony's Picture Frame system, for instance, whereby the TV goes into a low-power mode so that you can use a photo as a 'screensaver' when you're not actually watching the set.

There's also support for the National Public Radio online portal, an ambient light sensor, MPEG and standard noise reduction routines, a black correction tool, a sliding gamma bar, and Sony's Live Colour system for boosting colour saturations. You can also turn the 100Hz engine off if you don't like the way it works with a particular source.