Turning to the 46HX853’s multimedia capabilities, the TV can play a wide variety of video, music and photo file formats from USB sticks or your computer. In fact, Sony has taken this increasingly important feature further than most courtesy of its new Homestream system.
This software - pleasingly available for Mac as well as PC - simplifies the process for getting your multimedia files from your computer onto the TV. Or any other internet-enabled Sony device, including the PS3, Blu-ray players and ‘Netboxes’.
The interface for first setting this up isn’t particularly helpful. But once you’ve sussed the basics, the system does a fine job of taking the ball ache out of organising your files and formats.
The only pity is that finding the Homestream ‘browser’ on the 46HX853 requires you to track it down amid Sony’s convoluted, over-complicated onscreen menu system, which persists from last year.
Sony has made one significant improvement to its 2012 interface, though. For now a dedicated and conveniently positioned ‘SEN’ button on the remote immediately calls up attractive menus giving you access to lots of online content available through the Sony Entertainment Network.
Twitter goes subtle
On the left of the new SEN home screen you get a reduced version of the TV picture you were watching when you pressed the SEN button, and underneath this, you can have a running timeline of tweets to your Twitter account. This is the most effective (because it’s so unobtrusive) integration of Twitter (or Facebook) into a TV online service we’ve seen.
One step to the right is a general Apps section, with eight highlighted apps immediately visible. At the time of writing these were the BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, BBC News, Sky News, Sony’s Home Theatre Control app, Skype, Facebook, and Twitter. Clicking the ‘more’ box brought up LoveFilm, Netflix, MUBI, Sony Entertainment Televeision, Crackle, Eurosport, Muzu.tv, Euronews, YouTube, Sony’s 3D channel, Billabong, Wired, epi, Concierge.com, Sylte.com, DailyMotion, UStudio, golflink.com, livestrong.com, ehow, video detective, singing fool, a podcast player, moshcam, Picasa, a Web browser, a calendar, an RSS reader, a calculator, an alarm, a world clock, Aupeo, AccuWeather, and a handful of games.
Next to the Apps section is a Video one, which is basically a portal to Sony’s Video Unlimited film rental service, through which you can stream a large collection of films - many available in HD - straight into your TV.
One zone ‘further’ across is a Music section, which is a portal to Sony’s Music Unlimited service. Finally there’s a Favourites section, where you can aggregate all your preferred apps to make it easier to get to them.
The only significant problem with the new SEN hub is that it takes rather a long time to load.
Sony hasn’t gone for any alternative control systems like touchpad remotes or voice/gesture controls on the 46HX853. But this troubled us surprisingly little, other than wishing for a touchpad when trying to web pages.
Right, the moment of truth. Does the so-far impressive 46HX853 see Sony back on top of its picture quality game? Actually, yes. With great big knobs on.
For starters, it hits you right away that the 46HX853‘s contrast range is nothing short of incredible for an LCD TV. Black colours really do look black, which is amazing enough for an edge LED TV, but somehow Sony also manages to deliver gorgeously vibrant colours and lovely bold whites in the same frame as the inkiest of blacks.
And there’s more. For astonishingly, for 99% of the time this jaw-dropping combination of bright and dark in the same single frame is delivered with scarcely any visible evidence of the ‘light blocking’ around bright image patches you usually get on edge LED TVs which, like this Sony, use local dimming. The only times we became seriously aware of light blocking, in fact, was when the white ‘disc loading’ graphic on our Blu-ray player popped up in the bottom corner of the screen against a totally black backdrop, or where central white titles appeared against a black backdrop.
Does Harry Potter proud
Even if you stick with Sony’s Standard picture preset, moreover, all these black level and contrast achievements are delivered without a trace of backlight inconsistency, even in the corners or down the TV’s sides. Nor does the outstanding contrast and black level performance come at the expense of shadow detail. In fact, ultra-dark scenes like the Voldemort assault sequence in the final Harry Potter film look thick with detail.
Seriously, the light management system in the 46HX853 is so good it’s borderline revolutionary. And yet this is just the start of its charms.