As is often the case with screens able to produce a convincing black levels, the Sony KDL-26EX553 proves unusually talented for a small LCD TV when it comes to its colour reproduction. Tones look natural but also reasonably punchy, while the X-Reality system does a good job of injecting more subtlety into the screen’s colour blend reproduction than we would expect. This means that even when watching standard definition there’s less colour striping than you commonly see on small TVs.
In terms of sharpness, relatively static HD footage looks pleasantly if not emphatically detailed and sharp - which is probably as good as we could reasonably expect from a TV that only has an HD Ready, rather than a full HD, resolution. Furthermore, Sony’s upscaling processing is good enough to ensure that standard definition pictures look less soft and noisy than they often do on small TVs.
While most things about the 26EX553’s picture performance comfortably exceed expectations, it does suffer with a couple of flaws. First, motion resolution isn’t particularly brilliant, with moving objects suffering noticeable resolution loss and even a touch of smearing at times.
Also, our tests recorded a bit higher input lag figure than we usually find with Sony TVs: around 70ms. This is high enough to potentially reduce your performance if you’re a serious console gamer.
Brightness not the highest
Pictures aren’t the brightest we’ve seen from a small-screen TV either. But while this could be an issue for people wanting a small TV for a very bright room like a conservatory, we’d argue that for more ‘normal’ environments the slightly less aggressive approach to brightness actually helps it produce better pictures overall.
While the Sony KDL-26EX553’s pictures are still ultimately very pleasing, its audio is distinctly average. The soundstage feels rather compressed and ‘boxed in’ even under fairly minimal duress, and becomes very flat and even a bit distorted if you’re optimistic enough to try playing a loud action scene through it. But then the same is true of most other sub-32in TVs as well.
Good performance aside, the input and motion lag issues on the Sony KDL-26EX553 are just troubling enough - for gamers, at least - to stop us from being able to give the set a Recommended badge. Plus we did feel a little disappointed to find the set not sporting a full HD resolution.
Despite these niggles, though, the 26EX553 remains a thoroughly superior 26in TV, combining a good quality panel at its heart with some impressive network functionality to appealing effect.