After driving 130 miles to receive a blasted Freeview HD signal, it seemed only right to start my tests of the 40EX503 by checking out its Freeview HD pictures. And I’m happy to say the set did really well indeed, handling the HD signals amply well enough to confirm what I’d already come to expect from Freeview HD via previews I’d seen in the past: namely that Freeview HD broadcasts veer between being merely decent to being really quite excellent.
As with the fact that I had to go to London to test the 40EX503, the varying quality of the Freeview HD fare (from The BBC and ITV, with Channel 4 coming soon) is, of course, not the 40EX503’s fault. In fact, it merely shows just how pure a path the set is providing from the tuner to the screen, allowing the source material to appear exactly as broadcast.
Naturally, the 40EX503 is perfectly capable of trying to improve the look of the lower quality, noisier HD fare that occasionally comes over the Freeview HD airwaves, thanks to the Bravia Engine and its noise reduction circuits. But to be fair, even the least impressive Freeview HD image easily trumps the best Freeview standard def pictures. And in any case, since my focus here is on a TV rather than the current state of the Freeview HD broadcasting service, I’d rather focus on the times when Freeview HD really hits its stride, and is shown in all its standard def-murdering glory by the 40EX503.
Regular readers will know that I’ve had more than a few inconsistent backlight problems with recent Sony TVs. So a good place to start my assessment of the 40EX503’s pictures is by saying that its black level response is really outstanding, and the dreaded ‘light pooling’ phenomenon is almost non-existent - or, at least, is barely visible over what I’d estimate to be less than 5 per cent of your overall viewing time.
The black levels achieved during really dark scenes attain almost LED-like depths at times, yet the amount of brightness the 40EX503’s dynamic contrast system has to lose to make such black levels possible isn’t as drastic as I’d have expected. Which means, of course, that bright elements in predominantly dark picture content still look reasonably punchy, and dark scenes overall look agreeably dynamic. Another hint as to just how clever the 40EX503’s dynamic contrast system is can be seen in the good amount of shadow detailing the set retains in dark areas.
More good news finds the 40EX503 exhibiting an unusually deft touch with colour reproduction, serving up generally immaculate blends and transitions, and managing to reproduce even the trickiest, smallest skin tone differentiations with aplomb.
Some people might feel that the 40EX503’s colours look ever so slightly washed out once the set has been calibrated to deliver its best all-round results. But for me this is a small price to pay for what works out to be predominantly very accurate colour tones that show source material in the way it was designed to look, rather than the more crowd-pleasing but ultimately less authentic approach favoured by more vulgar LCD TVs.