Sony was an early exponent of net-connected TV. While its rivals were fumbling through the adolescent stages of internet connectivity, the Japanese major already had a mature IPTV portal on the go in the shape of its BRAVIA Internet Video (BIV) service.
So it's no surprise that its online service has evolved into an altogether different animal versus offerings from Samsung or LG. Sony's BIV proposition remains all about streaming video and audio services.
Indeed that philosophy lies at the heart of its fresh-faced subscription music and VOD super service, Qriocity, which is now part of the BIV package. And this year we are seeing a big refresh in the way the brand presents its net-ertainment.
The KDL-40EX524 is the first of the brand's new season screens to find its way onto the HCC test bench, and it reveals some big changes to the user interface.
The long-standing XrossMediaBar has been retired. Pressing the Home button on the remote now minimises the TV window allowing a new-look navigation bar to run along the bottom of the screen. It looks kinda funky and is just as intuitive to use.
The TV itself is presentable without being tarty. While the bezel's a little too thick to be truly fashionable, the two-tone gloss black/titanium finish is splendid. The screen feels well built for the price.
The connections are standard. You get three rear-placed HDMI inputs, plus a legacy Scart, component, stereo audio phonos and digital optical out. The thinness of the panel precludes side-mounted inputs, but side facing on the rear is an additional HDMI, two USBs, a PC mini D-Sub and a CI slot. If you plan on wall-mounting this TV, these will all be unreachable.
Wi-Fi is not integrated, but you can use Sony's dedicated UWA-BR100 dongle. There's also an Ethernet LAN port, which we prefer every time.
Interestingly, the set shipped with the new CE industry Power Consumption ratings sticker attached. These look the same as those you'd find on white kitchen goods. This set is A-rated, with an average power consumption of just 65W, although this effectively doubles if you're mad enough to use the Vivid picture preset.
In the menus are a variety of Eco features, including an intelligent Presence Sensor, which shuts the screen down if there's no one watching, then 30 minutes later kills the audio and goes into Standby.
There may only be three picture presets (Standard, Vivid and Custom), but Sony does offer a wide number of parameters both in the main Picture menu and hidden within the Advanced tab. Not that you really need to spend that much time tweaking, as the general options are well judged. Slap brightness at around 45 and take the sharpness slider to 39 and you're most of the way home.
The screen uses Edge LED backlighting, but Sony has made big strides in improving the uniformity of this illumination. There may still be hotspots, but they're not distracting.
Image quality can be considered generally good, although there are caveats. As this screen sits at the affordable end of Sony's 2011 range, it lacks the brand's Motionflow frame-rate interpolation technology. Consequently, we were stuck with the native motion resolution of this panel, which is low – just 650 lines. There's also a low level of motion judder evident on horizontal pans.
On the plus side, without any fast frame-rate picture processing at work, movies still look cinema-like and there are no motion artefacts. If you want improved motion resolution, look to the brand's more expensive EX723 and EX724 models, with Motionflow XR200 processing.
Colour reproduction is vibrant and black levels are deep. TRON: Legacy is a challenging Blu-ray for any LED screen, because it features a preponderance of low light action. However, the 40EX524 did a fine job of retaining depth and shadow detail on The Grid.
The screen has an integrated Freeview HD tuner and image quality from the two BBC HD channels, ITV1 HD and E4HD is a significant step above the standard Freeview fare. You can timeshift any channels (both SD or HD) to an external USB HDD.
As there's only one tuner available, you're faced with obvious limitations, but as a back-up this PVR-lite function is worth having. After being formatted by the TV, you cannot view recordings from this HDD on other devices. For the audition, I used a Freeagent Go 250GB external drive, which worked well. You can plan recordings from the main TV guide or manually enter recording details.
Wot no MKV?
Despite the excellence of the set's BRAVIA Internet Video portal, the EX524's media streaming abilities are average. For some reason Sony still doesn't acknowledge MKVs on its TVs, so there's no playback of these files either across a network or from USB. You will be able to unspool AVIs, AVCHD and MPEG4 video, though, while music support covers MP3, WAV and WMA.
The Track ID feature automatically looks up info on the Gracenote database for any songs that happen to be playing, or the soundtrack of a TV show or movie you're watching. There's also a Music and Video search app if you want to go online for a quick info fix.
Power consumption: Watts
There's a CATS mode, which uses a sensor to adjust brightness according to ambient light. This is turned off unless specified - it's on by default.
White screen results:
44W (Default, power save off, light sensor on, light room)
43W (Default, power save off, light sensor on, dark room)
43W (Default, power save low, light sensor on, light room)
42W (Default, power save low, light sensor on, dark room)
38W (Default, power save high, light sensor on, light room)
39W (Default, power save high, light sensor on, dark room)
42W (Default, power save high, light sensor off)
59W (Default, power save low, light sensor off)
64W (Default, power save off, light sensor off)
Test footage: 42W low - 44W high (modal value: approx. 43W ), with volume maxed and power saving and light sensor on.
Claimed: 'Dynamic Contrast Ratio: High' - according to their website.
Measured: 20,000:1 (Normal mode): 0.002fL 0IRE/41.5fL 100IRE).
Colour accuracy: 6500K (Modes: Cool/Normal/Warm)
1. Cinema 1 (Warm 2 - default): 6,640K
2. Cinema 1 (Warm 1): 8,000K
3. Cinema 1 (Neutral): 9,100K
4. Cinema 1 (Cool): 10,600K
5. Cinema 2 (Warm 2 - default): 6,570K
6. Cinema 2 (Warm 1): 7,900K
7. Cinema 2 (Neutral): 9,000K
8. Cinema 2 (Cool): 10,500K
isfccc controls available, but the Cinema 2 - Warm 2 default preset is basically spot on.
Contrast ratio: 67,000:1 (Power save, light sensor off, 0.00fL 0IRE/69.379fL 100IRE)
Colour Temperature: 6500K (6505K)
Navigating to the main settings is rather convoluted, though a quick access menu has most of the adjustments you will use more regularly. Still, menu navigation is slow and feels arbitrarily flashy along side other products that manage to have smart looking, informative and quicker menu systems.
The default picture preset offers the best colour balance/contrast ratio for once, and only minor adjustments will refine this even further.
Another new UI wrinkle is a Recommendation Engine, which appears to randomly 'recommend' upcoming TV shows to watch. I didn't pay much heed to this until one morning, while browsing over Sugar Puffs (not a euphemism), I was recommended something on the Adult Filth channel. Apparently this is on Freeview channel 192.
Sony's engineers tell me the TV uses an algorithm to find recommendations based on what you've watched from the EPG. Clearly, straight from the box it's prepared to make some wild (and unwarranted) assumptions.
Audio performance is more functional than fancy. The set has a decent enough 10W stereo digital amplifier, but it lacks any mid bass. There's also no subwoofer, so a dedicated sound system is a must for serious movie and TV watching.
Overall, I rate the EX524 as a solid mainstream TV. While it may lack the visual finesse of models further up the Sony range, it does offer a great feature spread, with welcome eco credentials and excellent net connectivity.
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