The CCFL backlight enables some surprisingly deep blacks, which help dark scenes look convincing (so long, at least, as you've spent a little time taming the set's backlight and brightness settings a bit) and provide a solid, cinematic foundation for the rest of the picture elements to bounce off.
The black rendition also helps colours look vibrant and rich, while blends are handled accurately and without any ugly striping or blotching. Some red hues can be garish and skin tones can appear over-ripe before calibration, but these minor issues can easily be corrected by the KDL-40CX523's picture adjustment tools to create a performance that is engagingly natural, regardless of source quality.
HD pictures aren't the most aggressively crisp on the market, but they are full of detail nonetheless and there's no sign of grain or noise around edges.
Standard-definition material upscales nicely to fit to the screen's full HD resolution and noise is suppressed superbly, while colour tones don't exhibit any significant drop in quality.
The KDL-40CX523 is particularly good compared to rival sets when it comes to improving the look of very low-quality, standard-definition content - a result, perhaps, of it carrying Sony's new X-Reality processing, which was designed specifically to tackle low-quality feeds such as those being streamed from the internet.
Generally, the KDL-40CX523 transcends its modest spec where performance is concerned, although it does suffer from a trio of minor flaws.
The first issue is that the picture loses a bit of shadow detail during dark scenes as a result of how much the screen has to reduce its brightness in order to produce a convincing black colour.
Another problem is that motion loses a little resolution - an almost inevitable occurrence on an LCD TV that's only got 50Hz scanning.
Finally, during very dark scenes you might see a small amount of light bleeding into the screen's corners. This fairly common CCFL phenomenon is not to be confused with the backlight inconsistency problems found with many edge LED TVs. In this case it is confined to a very small area, is visible only during extremely dark scenes and can be addressed by keeping brightness and backlight levels low.