Sony has got off to a stonking start this year with its outstanding HX853 series - TVs which have, in some ways, redefined our idea of what's possible from edge LED technology.
However, with times still looking frighteningly hard, there will doubtless be many, many people out there looking to save a few bob by reluctantly giving up on the HX853s in favour of Sony's new step-down range, the HX753s.
The 55in, 46in and 40in options in this range go for around £300 less than their equivalent HX853 models, plus you can get an additional 32in model - and it's actually this £700 Sony KDL-32HX753 that we're looking at here as our first experience of the new HX7 series.
The Sony KDL-32HX753 continues the tweaked Monolithic design theme introduced by the HX853, with a reasonably slender black screen frame offset by a pleasant silver outer trim. However, the build quality isn't nearly as opulent as that of the HX8 series, if that bothers you.
Connections are pretty decent for a mid-range TV, with highlights comprising four HDMIs (all built to the v1.4 standard to support the set's built-in active 3D playback capabilities), two USBs to support playback of a fair-to-middling array of file formats from USB storage devices, and both LAN and built-in Wi-Fi options for streaming content from networked PCs or Sony's latest online service.
The networked computer support actually extends to Macs as well as PCs if you avail yourself of Sony's free Homestream software, which is nice. As for the set's online services, they're now built around Sony's new SEN platform.
SEN brings it all together
The reason for switching from the previous Bravia Internet Video name is essentially that Sony has finally managed to aggregate the previously frustratingly disparate parts of its online content services together into a more homogenous, multi-platform whole - an improvement that follows through into the much improved online interface Sony has put together for its 2012 'Smart' TVs.
After accessing the SEN via a dedicated and highlighted button on the Sony KDL-32HX753's remote, you're greeted - after a slightly annoying delay - by a very pleasant onscreen menu system. This comprises a smallish window on the left showing the TV programme you were watching when you hit the SEN button plus, if you wish, your Twitter feed 'ticker taping' underneath it. To the right of this there's an Apps area containing icon-based leap offs to essentially all the current SEN content bar Sony's own Video Unlimited and Music unlimited services. These latter two services get their own Video and Music sections to the right of the Apps one.
We guess some people might not like Sony promoting its own services so overtly. But Sony has provided a 'Favourites' section on its SEN home screen into which you can move stuff like Netflix and LoveFilm (initially tucked down inside the apps list) if you want to be able to access them more quickly. Also, there is a practical benefit to Sony's approach, since it allows jump-off icons taking you straight into video or music streams to appear on the SEN home page.
A final point to add here is that after a predictably slightly 'tricky' start, Sony's Video and especially Music Unlimited services have really started to become quite compelling propositions.
The differences start here
So far we haven't found any huge differences between the KDL-32HX753 and its illustrious HX853 siblings. But this changes as we get to grips with some of the 32in set's key specifications. Particularly important is the fact that while the 32HX753 joins the HX853 models in employing edge LED lighting, it doesn't copy the HX853 in sporting local dimming.
In other words, it can't dim different areas of the edge LED array individually to boost contrast and black level response. Given how brilliantly local dimming was used on the HX853, we can't help but worry about how drastic an effect removing this feature might have on the Sony KDL-32HX753 . Though of course, we guess something had to give to make the HX753 models much cheaper than the HX853s...