As noted at the start of this review, Sony has been surprisingly bullish in its claims for the picture quality of its latest TVs. But on the evidence of the KDL-46HX853 Sony has actually been too modest. For amazingly given the TV turmoil Sony gave us in 2011, the 46HX853 turns out to be probably the finest LCD TV that's ever graced the TechRadar test benches.
The more cynical of you will already be tutting and rolling your eyes at such an admittedly bold statement. But if you choose not to believe us and go off to buy something else instead, that's fine - just trust us when we say that it will be very much your loss.
So many things are right about the 46HX853's pictures, in fact, that it's initially tough to know where to start describing them. Over time, though, it becomes clear that there is one area in particular where the KDL-46HX853 pretty much rewrites the edge LED rulebook, and that's contrast.
The 46HX853 uses a local dimming system to adjust individually the brightness levels of different segments of the TV's edge LED array. This it does in a bid to boost the image's contrast levels. It's not a new idea; most other brands use it too, in fact. But never has the technology been used as cleverly or as effectively as it is on the 46HX853.
Black colours, for starters, really do look black, which instantly makes dark scenes look massively more believable than they usually do on LCD screens. Even better, the screen's black level abilities are constant from one corner to the other, as Sony manages to virtually eradicate the sort of grey cloud patches or corner 'light jets' that afflict most LCD TVs to some extent. This backlight uniformity again has a profound impact on how deeply you become invested in what you're watching.
Then there's the amount of shadow detail Sony manages to retain in dark scenes. Usually when an edge LED strives for really deep black levels it has to take so much light out of the picture that dark picture areas end up looking empty and flat, as there's just not enough illumination left to pick out subtle dark detailing.
But looking at some of the darkest scenes in disturbing Clint Eastwood-directed oddity The Changeling - a film that appears on Blu-ray with an unusually extreme contrast range - the KDL-46HX853 produces pretty much every pixel of detail the disc has to offer. Even though the black colours remain exceptionally deep and natural throughout.
And there's more. For it's also apparent when watching The Changeling - or any scene from anything that combines deep blacks with bright whites or colours in the same frame - that the KDL-46HX853 is uniquely talented by edge LED standards when it comes to presenting bold, bright punchy colours right alongside inky blacks. And it pulls this feat off for the most part without displaying to any distracting degree the sort of rectangular or square blocks of excess light around bright objects commonly witnessed when edge LED TVs try to use local dimming.
The KDL-46HX853 - perhaps inevitably - isn't wholly, 100 per cent immune to the light blocking effect. Under really extreme circumstances, such as when a white logo appears in the corner of an otherwise black screen, you can see a small square of light around the bright item. But in our opinion these moments are so rare during normal video viewing as to be insignificant.
The KDL-46HX853 also pushes the envelope with its motion handling. Admittedly the fancy-sounding new Impulse mode doesn't live up to our hopes, causing too much flicker for our tastes. But even without any motion processing in play, motion-packed scenes look crisp and remarkably natural. What's more, even if you do call in some of the other motion options, so long as you use them on one of their low-power settings they generally improve clarity even further without making the image look at all unnatural. Outstanding.
Yet another area where the KDL-46HX853 is for our money in a league of its own is its upscaling of very poor quality sources. The way X-Reality Pro is able to smooth away noise, remove jaggedness while simultaneously adding detail has to be seen to be believed at times, to the point where it makes YouTube videos a genuine watchable option rather than something you might only start streaming if you want to give yourself a headache.
It's no surprise after this to find the KDL-46HX853 also doing a likeable job of upscaling decent standard definition sources such as DVDs and digital broadcasts. The impact of the upscaling system with these sources isn't as marked or as ahead of the competition as the upscaling of online content, but it's nonetheless commendable.
Yet another area of excellence for the KDL-46HX853 is its colour reproduction. There's much more punch and dynamism to colour tones than there was on most of Sony's 2011 output, yet crucially this extra vigour hasn't led to a reduction in the subtlety with which colour tones are reproduced.
On the contrary, the range and finesse of the KDL-46HX853's colour palette is little short of mesmerising, giving images a sense of precision and definition that you just don't see very often. The set's colour processing is sufficiently powerful, moreover, to ensure that the colour bands and stripes you see on many flat TVs in place of what should be smooth blends are completely absent on the KDL-46HX853.
Add to all of the above some exquisite portrayal of fine details and textures in HD material, and you've got a 2D picture from the KDL-46HX853 that doesn't just have moments where it takes your breath away, but rather constantly has you shaking your head in wonderment.
In many ways the KDL-46HX853's picture pleasures continue with its 3D performance, thanks again to the impact of the X-Reality Pro processing. Now usable on 3D for the first time, X-Reality Pro does a pretty remarkable job of enhancing the sharpness and apparent depth of 3D pictures - even full HD Blu-rays. Toggle the processing on and off while watching 3D Blu-rays and the effect is so pronounced that it's hard to believe the non-processed pictures were actually HD at all!
There are downsides to the X-Reality Pro system, firstly that occasionally the edges of some 3D objects look a little stressed, and secondly that the 3D depth feels a touch more forced - a little like a series of parallax slices rather than a fluid, natural area.
These issues might persuade some people not to use X-Reality Pro on 3D. But personally we found the lure of the extra detailing and sharpness too much to resist.
It's gratifying with the KDL-46HX853's 3D pictures, too, that they look markedly brighter and more richly coloured than the slightly dull efforts of previous Sony 3D TVs.
The only flaw with the KDL-46HX853's 3D images, in fact, is crosstalk. You can see a little of the double-ghosting phenomenon over objects in the far distance from time to time.
This is undeniably disappointing given that the latest flagship active 3D TVs from Panasonic and Samsung have pretty much done away with crosstalk. However, since the KDL-46HX853's crosstalk is restricted to the far background, it's not severely damaging to your 3D experience. Plus there is that facility mentioned in the features section for reducing the brightness of the 3D glasses in return for reduced crosstalk.
The last point about the 46HX853's pictures concerns the time the TV takes to produce an image after receiving an external source. Using the set's Game preset, we measured a lag of around 30ms - low enough to let you play all your games without fear of the TV significantly damaging your performance.