Sony kdl-32ex524

Sound

The KDL-32EX524 packs 20W of audio power, invisible speakers and plenty of sonic technology, including S-Force Front Surround – a virtual surround mode that attempts to trick the ears into hearing surround effects using four different presets. There are also several presets (Dynamic, Standard, Clear Voice).

Surprisingly, all of this contributes to some reasonably hearty and open sound quality – Children of Men's end shoot out is peppered with beefy explosions and sharp gunshots, while dialogue is delivered with body and excellent clarity, although we won't pretend that your enjoyment wouldn't be enhanced greatly by a separate home cinema system.

Value

Judged purely from a features point of view, the KDL-32EX524 offers tremendous value for money. Granted, you miss out on bells and whistles like 3D support and 100Hz processing, but the inclusion of DLNA support, two USB ports with media playback and TV recording, a Freeview HD tuner, Skype, smartphone control, a wealth of web content and the eco-friendly Presence Sensor is a lot more than some people would expect for £550.

We're also massive fans of the tweaked operating system and some of the new web features, plus if you're a regular BBC iPlayer viewer then the excellent web video quality is a real boon. The motion blur and contrast issues do dock it some value points, and it lacks the rock solid build quality you'd get further up the range, but on balance it's money well spent.

Ease of use

Sony has made some major changes to its TV operating system this year, and they're for the better. Don't get us wrong – we love Sony's old-style Xross Media Bar but it was definitely time for a refresh and – thankfully – this new operating system is equally intuitive.

The main menu, accessed by hitting the Home button, abandons the cross axis layout for a row of icons along the bottom of the screen, while live TV plays in a box large above. Highlight one of the icons and the corresponding list appears to the right of the live TV box.

These are grouped into things like Media, Internet Content, Widgets and a very useful Favourites that remembers your last-used inputs and TV channels. It uses the same colour scheme fonts and icons as before, just arranged in a different way, but it still operates with the sort of slickness we've grown used to from Sony AV products.

This new layout also addresses another problem – on the previous menu, Bravia Internet Video's list of applications was starting to make the vertical axis too long to scroll down quickly, but now the various BIV services are laid out in a grid of thumbnail icons, again split into Video, Music and Photo, and it takes no time to find the one you want.

Using other widgets and web-enabled services like Music and Video Search, Skype and media streaming caused no major confusion, although the full-screen web-browser isn't much cop and entering text using the mobile phone-style multi-press system isn't ideal, but could be worse.

The set's EPG is a little cluttered but easy to work with. Eight channels are displayed at once in the timeline grid, but it leaves enough room for live TV, a synopsis and a cluster of colour-coded options at the bottom.

If you have a HDD connected (32GB or over) then recording programmes is an absolute cinch, thanks to straightforward, PVR-like dialogue boxes. The onscreen info banners also convey details clearly, although they're limited to now and next info. Of course, the single tuner setup is a drawback as you can't change channel while recording.

It's not all plain sailing though. We couldn't get the TV to stream music from our Windows 7 laptop (it wouldn't appear in the list) but worked fine with video and photos. The KDL-32EX524 streamed our AVCHD, WMV and DivX files smoothly but turned its nose up at hi-def AVI files. We were also able to play MKV, DivX HD, XviD, MP3, WMA, WAV and JPEG from a USB stick.

Sony hasn't fiddled with the remote control formula too much, going for the same long black zapper with a ring of menu controls surrounded by the most-used buttons like Guide, Options and Home. There are a few buttons of note, such as the dedicated keys for TrackID, Internet Video and the i-Manual (an onscreen help guide). Its only foible is that the Return key is placed slightly too close to the 'left' button, which caused a few slip-ups.