Trust Sony to be different. While every other manufacturer is going for ultra-slender frames and glossy black finishes on their LCD TVs, Sony's new KLV-L23M1 is quite chunky, silver, matt-finished and curved in all the most unexpected places. But you know what? It looks gorgeous - a perfect mixture of cute, stylish, robust and futuristic. Spot on.
It's surprisingly well connected for such a relatively small screen,too. Highlights include two Scarts and, very unexpectedly,component video inputs. Even more surprising,these can take progressive scan and full high-definition video! There's no digital input, meaning the KLV-L23M1 won't handle most of Sky's upcoming HDCP-protected high-def broadcasts - but any sort of HD support on a screen this size is a bonus. The only real disappointment is the lack of any PC connection.
The features count is high for such a small screen. Top of the list is Sony's Wega Engine processing, which is extremely rare on screens under 26in. This chucks all kinds of cleverness at the picture, including fully digital scaling, adding extra pixels of detail, improving colour saturations and smoothing contours.
Other tricks include backlight adjustment, a contrast booster and a power saving mode that reduces the screen's light output.
Using the KLV-L23M1 is pretty straightforward. The remote is elegant and well laid out and although the onscreen menus are a bit long-winded, they don't hold any traps for the unwary novice.
To be honest, we doubted that we'd be able to appreciate the impact of Wega Engine on a 23in screen, but in fact it makes a clear difference.
For starters, the amount of fine detail is almost frightening. The tiniest weave in a newsreader's suit, individual strands of hair,blades of grass, grains of sand - all this and more becomes sublimely visible thanks to the killer combination of the screen's high native 1,366 x 768 resolution, Wega Engine's detail enhancements and the almost complete removal of all types of interference, be it moiring, grain, dot-crawl or colour fizzing.
Colours are pretty much perfect, too: richly saturated, bright, sharply edged and always 100 per cent natural in tone. Contributing in no small part to this is the hugely impressive black-level response. Dark picture areas really do look black, instead of the murky grey offered by so many rivals.
The KLV-L23M1's picture isn't completely immaculate, thanks to gentle smearing over fast-moving objects. But it's not a serious problem, and only rates as a minor blip.
Audio is well above average, too. Vocals sound rich, full and free of distortion. The soundstage is remarkably wide, if a touch flat. Bass goes much deeper - but without sounding forced - than with practically any other smaller LCD TV and treble details never sound shrill or dislocated.
The long run of success Sony has enjoyed since launching Wega Engine continues with the KLV-L23M1. Sure, its price tag is a little formidable - but like we always say, if you want the best, sometimes you just have to pay for it. John Archer