- Superb 2D pictures
- Excellent 3D pictures
- Sumptuous design
- Some interface issues
- SEN can be a little slow to load
- Minor crosstalk in 3D
- Review Price: £1450.00
- 46in LCD TV
- Active 3D playback
- Online features
- MotionFlow XR800Hz
- Multimedia playback/DLNA
Things might just be changing, though. For starters, Sony felt bullish enough about its 2012 TVs to fly us and other key tech journalists to Japan in February for an in-depth introduction to them, during which the brand was both more honest about past failings and more savvy about the current state of TV play than we’ve ever heard it before.
As ever, though, the ultimate proof of the pudding can only be in the eating. So let’s tuck into the first of Sony’s 2012 models, the 46HX853.
This 46in model is Sony’s new flagship 46in TV. And despite costing an impressive £400-£500 less than Samsung’s equivalent model, it sets out its high-end stall right away thanks to a design that can only be described as imperious.
In essence it follows Sony’s now well-established ‘Monolithic’ design platform, but it introduces some seriously appealing new embellishments. For a start, instead of just leaving the bezel a minimal black, there’s now a very pleasant glinting metallic outer trim. The bezel is slim too – barely and inch around three sides – and the whole fascia exists on the same level thanks to a gorgeous gorilla glass top sheet.
Stand out stand
And that’s before we’ve even started on its desktop stand. This solid-looking brushed aluminium beauty not only allows you to tilt the TV back slightly for a more elegant and user-friendly profile, but also contains an enhanced speaker system. (If you don’t use the stand, the TV reverts to normal downfiring speakers.)
Connections on the 46HX853 are up to flagship speed. The four HDMIs are all built to the 3D-friendly v1.4 standard, for instance, while the set’s reasonably extensive – though not exhaustive – suite of multimedia features come courtesy of two USBs, a LAN port and built-in Wi-Fi.
It’s worth adding here, too, that we managed with minimal fuss to get the TV sharing its video with a Sony Tablet S.
Most of the provided connections are accessed from the TV’s edges to make wall hanging easier, though oddly this doesn’t apply to its component video or Scart ports, which face straight out. But then most people won’t likely use these analogue ports anyway these days.
The 46HX853’s 3D features use the full HD active system, as you would expect given its high level in Sony’s range. No pairs of Sony’s active 3D glasses are included, but at the time of writing there’s an offer on whereby if you buy one pair (for around £60) you get another pair free.
X-Reality Pro goes 3D
Intriguingly, after suffering some disastrous 3D results last year, at least with its mid-range models, Sony has provided the option to apply the processing might of its X-Reality Pro video engine to the 46HX853’s 3D pictures, with a focus on increasingly their perceived resolution.
The 46HX853 creates its pictures using an edge LED lighting system, and this year the edges used are the left and right rather than the top and bottom, giving Sony more control over how it manipulates its lighting system to improve motion handling.
In fact, the 46HX853’s ‘Motionflow XR800 Hz’ processing engine claims to deliver an 800Hz-like effect through a combination of frame interpolation, a native 200Hz panel, and LED backlight blinking (or line blinking).
You also get a startlingly wide array of motion settings in the onscreen menus, including a brand new Impulse one. Select this option and the image frame is repeated four times (rather than new frame content being interpolated) before the backlight blinks at the very last 1/200sec of the video scanning period, as the last image on the LCD screen is at its most stable. This intriguing approach could offer a potential blurring/judder solution to anyone who hates the idea of frame interpolation processing. Obviously we’ll be checking this out.
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.
Also mesmerising is how crystal clear and sharp pictures look. This is especially true with HD, naturally, but the X-Reality Pro processing engine also helps the 46HX853 produce possibly the sharpest, cleanest and most natural-looking standard definition pictures we’ve seen. Hell, even rough, highly compressed fodder from YouTube is made to look half-decent by X-Reality Pro.
Matters of movement
The terrific sharpness of the 46HX853’s pictures does not disappear, moreover, during action scenes or sports events, thanks to an exceptionally successful combination of a speedy native response time and Sony’s latest motion processing system.
Messing around with the different Motionflow options, the exciting-sounding Impulse mode turns out to be a disappointment, thanks to the high level of flicker it produces. But the Clear and Standard Motionflow settings both work well, removing practically all unnatural judder and blur without making the picture look artificial.
Next on the excellence list are the 46HX853’s colours. Tones are vibrant and punchy, but also wonderfully natural. They’re also exceptionally subtle, delivering a dazzlingly wide range of tones with so much finesse that there’s no trace of the striping and banding you get with lesser screens. In fact, so clever is Sony’s X-Reality Pro that it even removes such striping when it’s present in a low-quality digital source.
With the 46HX853’s 2D pictures appearing almost flawless, it’s heart in mouth time as we start testing its 3D efforts – especially given previous Sony problems in this area. But while they’re not quite as perfect, they’re still very good.
3D gets good
Right away, for instance, it struck us how much brighter and more colourful 3D pictures looked than those on 2011’s Sony TVs. And those colours are startlingly natural in tone and still contain plenty of blend subtlety.
The motion handling holds up superbly with 3D too, joining with some excellent sharpness and detailing in delivering a very satisfying and natural sense of depth.
Actually, the sharpness of the 46HX853’s 3D pictures becomes arguably the best we’ve seen if you use the Reality Creation option. Toggle the feature on and off and you’ll be amazed at just how much softer 3D images look without the feature active. In sharpening the edges of objects in the 3D frame, the processing can make the 3D space look slightly more like a series of layers rather than an organic 3D space. But personally we found the processing’s strengths outweighed this weakness.
The Sony 46HX853’s 3D pictures do suffer a little crosstalk. Before anyone gets panicky, though, the 46HX853’s crosstalk is massively reduced from the horror show witnessed on some of 2011’s Sony 3D TVs. It only appears over distant objects rather than foreground ones, and so doesn’t dominate or grab your attention. You can reduce it, too, by selecting the ‘low brightness’ setting for Sony’s 3D glasses – an option which doesn’t stop pictures from still looking punchy.
As if all the 46HX853’s picture glories weren’t exciting enough, it also sounds better than the vast majority of its peers, at least when on its speaker-containing stand. Because this fires its sound forwards rather than down, there’s more attack and dynamism to the soundstage, while the relatively large space available for the speakers versus those squeezed into a normal TV allow it to produce an unusually rich sense of bass and a relatively open-sounding, uncluttered mid-range.
The last hurdle the 46HX853 could fall at is input lag. But
it sails over, delivering a figure during our tests of just 34ms, which
shouldn’t affect your gaming in any significant way. Just make sure,
though, that you’ve selected the Game option in Sony’s slightly
confusing Scene Select menu, and that you’ve turned off edge enhancement
and the auto light monitor.
The word that best sums up our time with the 46HX853 can only be ‘wow’. Sony may have left it late, but just when we were seriously starting to fear for the brand’s TV future, it’s stormed back with what might honestly be the best LCD TV we’ve ever seen.
Score in detail
3D Quality 9
2D Quality 10
Sound Quality 9
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||800Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||Yes (optical)|
|Charging/Computer Connection||2 (2.0)|