Sony HX703 (KDL-40HX703) TV Review

Stephen Withers takes the wraps off Sonyâ??s new 1080p LCD HDTV which includes all the latest Internet TV and Freeview HD features.

TV Review

28

Recommended
Sony HX703 (KDL-40HX703) TV Review
SRP: £1,200.00

Introduction

The Sony Bravia KDL-40HX703 is the latest entry in its Cinematic line of 1080p LCDs and one of the first to use their new Monolithic Design and a Deep Black Panel. Whilst the KDL-40HX703 doesn’t incorporate LED backlighting it does include the very latest in TV technology including 200Hz Motionflow, Internet TV to access online services and a built-in Freeview HD tuner.

Sony promises a featured packed TV that incorporates cutting edge technology coupled with outstanding picture and sound quality; well let’s put the KDL-40HX703 through its paces and find out.

Styling and Connections

The look of Sony’s Bravia line has been very influential on TV design over the last few years and that trend seems to be continuing. Stylish design has always been one of Sony’s strong points and whilst the new ‘Monolithic’ line certainly is minimalist it also remains very classy and attractive too. The front of the TV consists of a single piece of non-reflective glass on which the only markings are the word Bravia in the top left corner, a small on/off light in the bottom left corner and the word Sony in the bottom middle which lights up when the TV is on (this can be turned off). Within the glass the 40 inch screen is surrounded by a 3 inch matt black border and the rest of the cabinet which includes the well hidden speakers is also matt black. Build quality is excellent and when mounted on its brushed aluminium stand the whole display sits about 2 inches above whatever surface it is resting on. If like me you prefer simple uncluttered TV design then the Sony scores high marks in terms of styling.

The remote control is a fairly standard piece of rectangular black plastic but the buttons are laid out sensibly and it is easy to use. My only complaints are that the front of the remote is a concave shape which makes it slightly uncomfortable to hold and that there are buttons right next to the up, down, left and right controls which I sometimes found myself hitting by accident.

The KDL-40HX703 comes with a comprehensive set of connections including 4 HDMI inputs, although strangely only 2 are at the back with the other 2 being at the side. Also at the back are 2 SCART connectors, a set of component video connectors, stereo audio in and out, an optical digital audio out, a VGA connector, a LAN input and an aerial socket. On the side, in addition to the 2 HDMI inputs, there is also the obligatory card slot, USB connector, composite video and stereo audio connectors and a headphone socket.

This is a reasonable set of connections but I would make one suggestion to Sony (and many other TV manufacturers) and that is to have the HDMI inputs at the back pointing down rather than out, this would make it easier for buyers to mount the TV against a wall.

Menus and Set Up

Set up is very easy with the TV initially asking you to choose between a Home or Store environment and then providing a series of simple options to establish the internet connection, tune in the Freeview channels and set the time and date. I connected the TV to the internet via a LAN cable but if you want to use the TV with a wireless router you will need to buy a USB adapter.

As with the majority of Sony products these days the KDL-40HX703 uses a variation of the Xcross Media Bar and will be instantly familiar to anyone who owns a PS3. However people who are not familiar with the Xcross Media Bar may find it slightly confusing at first and because the KDL-40HX703 lacks the processing power of the PS3, I found it to be a little slow in comparison.

Once you have become familiar with the menu layout it makes perfect sense and has options for Settings, Photo, Music, Video, Digital TV, Analogue TV, Inputs and Network. To access certain functions you don’t need to use the menu itself, there are buttons on the remote for picture settings as well as the EPG, aspect ratio and inputs.

The EPG itself is excellent, it is intuitive and easy to use and shows all the stations in a clear and concise way; it also includes a thumbnail image of the station you are currently on.

Depending on the input the KDL-40HX703 has a number of aspect ratio choices the names and purposes of which can be confusing. For 1080i and 1080p inputs it is important to choose Wide which disables scaling and maps the pixels exactly, other choices such as Smart or Zoom are liable to reduce resolution and introduce artifacts.

The KDL-40HX703 comes with a number of picture presets or Scenes, as Sony calls them, and these options are Cinema, Sports, Photo, Music, Games, Graphics, General and Auto. Of these Cinema is clearly Sony’s attempt at a calibrated preset (much like the THX setting on some TVs) and is also the preset that is selected when the Theatre button is pressed on the remote. I would recommend using the Cinema/Theatre preset at all times because it provides the most accurate out of the box image.

The Display option includes a Picture Mode which is the same as the Scene Select option in the previous paragraph as well as the usual controls such as Backlight, Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness. In addition there is a Colour Temperature setting which gives you a choice of Cool, Neutral, Warm1 and Warm2. There is also a Noise Reduction control which will reduce analogue background noise and an MPEG Noise Reduction control which attempts to address over compression in MPEG encoded material. The Film Mode option controls how film content inside an Interlaced TV signal is converted to the progressive format native to the LCD panel. Finally the Motionflow control allows you to choose between a Standard or a High setting as well as giving you the option to turn it off entirely.

Also within the Display option there are a number of Advanced Settings including Black Corrector which allows you to change the Black Level of the image just as the Brightness control does, Adv. Contrast Enhancer which varies the Contrast and backlight to try and boost the dynamic range, Gamma which adjusts between the bright and dark areas of the image, Auto Light Limiter which reduces glare in very bright scenes, Clear White which emphasises the colour of white and Live Colour which makes colours more vivid. As is usually the case with special settings on a TV if you want an accurate image I would recommend their lowest setting or, if possible, turning them off entirely.

Finally there is a white balance screen which allows for two point calibration of the display’s greyscale. Sadly the KDL-40HX703 does not include a Colour Management System; the Live Colour control affects all six Primary and Secondary colours at once, in much the same way as the main Colour control on the previous screen.

Features

The KDL-40HX703 includes a great many features, some of which have now become standard and some of which are still relatively new to the market.

First off the KDL-40HX703 has Motionflow 200Hz with Image Blur Reduction which is designed to produce smooth on-screen motion and detailed fast-moving images. Motionflow is one of the better motion-processing technologies so I was interested in seeing how the 200Hz version affected image quality.

Secondly the KDL-40HX703 is the first TV I have tested that includes a Freeview HD tuner and luckily Freeview recently began HD broadcasts in my area so I had a chance to actually see the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 HD channels in action.
Thirdly the KDL-40HX703 is Internet Video enabled which allows you to connect directly to the Internet to access online services, stream full-screen videos and watch missed programmes on catch-up TV. It is also Wi-Fi ready but as mentioned earlier you will need a separate USB adapter to access your wireless home network.

Fourthly the KDL-40HX703 comes with Sony’s new Deep Black Panel which is intended to increase the dynamic range of the image by improving black levels and reducing glare in bright rooms.

Finally the KDL-40HX703 has some more common features such as the Bravia Engine 3, Ambient Sensor, Dolby Digital Plus decoding and DivX video on demand.

Test Results

Measured Results Out of the Box

For the purposes of measuring the out of the box performance of the KDL-40HX703 I chose the Theatre/Cinema mode which represents Sony’s most accurate preset. After enabling this mode the Adv. Contrast Enhancer feature was enabled at its Low setting so I turned this off to avoid light fluctuation. I also noted that in this mode the Sharpness was set at 3 so I set this to 0 to avoid any unwanted ringing. With the usual set up test patterns, I checked the Brightness setting which was already showing very good shadow detail but I moved it slightly lower to improve the black level. Contrast was lowered slightly so that we avoided any discolouration in the brightest parts of the image. The Gamma was measuring 2.35 with the setting at 0, so I moved it to +2 which resulted in a Gamma of 2.20 which is a ideal setting for a TV being used in a dim room.

Measuring the RGB Level Tracking revealed an excess of Red and a deficiency of Blue, especially around 30ire and 90ire. A perfect RGB Level Tracking chart would have completely straight Red, Green and Blue lines, all at 100%. Having said that, this is a reasonable result and shouldn’t prove distracting for the majority of viewers. Sony has provided White Balance controls in the TV’s Picture Menu, which will allow further adjustment of the greyscale to improve the accuracy.

The colour measurements revealed that the KDL-40HX703 was having difficulty in fully saturating Green and there were also errors in Yellow and Magenta, however when viewing real content the colour reproduction was actually quite good.

Calibrated Results

After adjusting the White Balance controls, the KDL-40HX703‘s Greyscale tracking was much improved for red but there was still an error in blue at around 30ire and 90ire. This is surprising as previous Sony LCD displays have produced much more accurate Greyscale tracking, having said that the errors were not noticeable when watching actual content.

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned the KDL-40HX703 has no Colour Management controls which means that any adjustments to the colour would have to be done using the Colour and Hue controls. Whilst this isn’t ideal I was able to improve Magenta but there was still an error in Green and Yellow. Having said that the resulting images had very natural looking colours and any errors certainly weren’t noticeable. Still hopefully Sony will address this issue in the near future as many other LCD manufacturers are now offering a Colour Management System.

Video Processing

The KDL-40HX703 performed well when dealing with standard definition (SD) content which still makes up a large percentage of our viewing material (Freeview and DVD) and the display correctly detects and processes the PAL 2-2 film cadence. As long as the Film Mode function is enabled (which it always should be, but check to make sure) the KDL-40HX703 will produce a picture that is free of jaggies when being fed material from Freeview or a DVD player that doesn't upscale content. The KDL-40HX703 also detected and processed the NTSC 2-2 and 3-2 candences which is useful if you watch US or Japanese DVDs that are NTSC centric.

Inputting a SD signal from a DVD player revealed the quality of the scaling from SD to high definition (HD) to be very good. Small details are nicely produced without any unwanted ringing, just make sure the Sharpness control is set correctly, of course.

For content sourced on video the KDL-40HX703 wasn’t as impressive and scored poorly in the diagonal interpolation tests on the HQV Benchmark test DVD. The result had an unacceptable amount of jagginess on moving edges and lines. This thankfully is less of an issue with actual content, but it continues to be a problem with Sony displays and needs to be addressed.

However the KDL-40HX703 performed excellently in all the tests on the HQV Blu-ray, showing that the display handles both 1080i and 1080p content very well, which is important as HD content becomes more prevalent.

The 200Hz Motionflow feature is something that I have mixed feelings about because whilst Sony’s is one of the better technologies I’m not entirely sure it is necessary. Certainly I would turn it off when watching film-based material otherwise it will give everything a video-like quality that ruins the image entirely. When I tested the feature with video-based broadcasts I could see improvements sometimes but also occasional artifacts which lead me to believe that the best choice was to simply leave the feature off. I personally feel that these 200Hz features are more of a marketing tool than a genuine benefit but at least Sony gives you the option to turn it off.

Gaming Performance

Input lag is the delay introduced by the TV’s video processor before it sends pixel data to the LCD panel and in its calibrated picture mode, the KDL-40HX703 had an input lag measurement of around 50ms, which is reasonably high. However if you enable the Game mode, then this figure is reduced to around 40ms. I didn’t find this to be an issue but hardcore gamers may feel that even 40ms is too high.

Energy Consumption

Using the Theatre setting the KDL-40HX703 consumed approximately 90w at 0ire, 50ire and 100ire and using the calibrated setting it measured about 110w at all three levels. The difference was caused by me disabling the Adv. Contrast Enhancer which varies the backlight depending on the image. Clearly the energy consumption depends on the brightness setting of the Backlight lamps, rather than being affected by the on-screen images and will remain constant with Adv. Contrast Enhancer turned off.

Picture Quality

After hours of testing it was time to actually view some real world content on the Sony. Overall I found the image quality from the KDL-40HX703 to be very good for a CCFL-backlit LCD display. Sadly it suffers from the usual limitations associated with the technology, specifically there is LCD motion blur and the image luminance and colour balance changes when the screen is viewed from the sides. In terms of black level, the display’s Deep Black Panel proved to be one of the better LCD panels I’ve seen lately and the screen uniformity of the KDL-40HX703’s picture was also very good for an LCD. There was no ‘clouding’ on the screen which is caused by pools of light in some or a darker look in other areas of the screen.

The overall colour performance was slightly impaired due to a minor undersaturation in the colour green but the reasonable post-calibration Greyscale certainly helped in making the images appear quite natural. The contrast performance was good, especially for a LCD but combined with the under-saturated green resulted in an image that wasn’t quite as compelling as other displays.

The KDL-40HX703 decodes and scales standard definition Freeview broadcasts very well, although the quality does vary from broadcaster to broadcaster. However with Freeview HD the KDL-40HX703 did an excellent job of deinterlacing the 1080i signal displaying a sharp and detailed image that also retains a natural look. The choice of HD broadcasts are currently rather limited but with the prospect of the World Cup in June the possibilities become much more exciting.

The KDL-40HX703 also performed very well when displaying 1080p images sourced from Blu-ray producing a wonderfully detailed and film-like image with natural looking colours.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Theatre mode button provides a reasonably accurate preset
  • Black level and contrast are superior to many other LCD TVs
  • After calibration the overall image was very good
  • Built-in Freeview HD tuner
  • Handling of standard definition film material is good
  • Bravia Internet Video feature
  • Extensive networking and connectivity options
  • No stand-out panel uniformity or motion smearing issues
  • 200Hz Motionflow feature can be disabled

The Bad

  • Continued lack of colour management system is an issue
  • Poor diagonal interpolation is still an issue
  • Position of HDMI inputs could be more sensible
  • Input lag could be better, especially in Game mode
  • Menu is slightly unresponsive

Sony HX703 (KDL-40HX703) TV Review

The KDL-40HX703 is an excellent HDTV that combines a number of very useful features (Freeview HD, Internet Video) with a classy and attractive chassis. The picture quality was also very good, especially when the Theatre mode was employed, which provided an accurate and pleasing image right out of the box. As is usually the case, most of the special video features are best avoided but at least Sony allows you to turn them off.

The only minor issues were the design of the remote control, the response time of the menu, the positioning of the HDMI inputs and the limited viewing angle. Whilst the colours were reasonably accurate a colour management system would be a welcome addition and Sony really need to address the issue of poor diagonal interpolation of video material.

In conclusion the KDL-40HX703 is an excellent LCD HDTV that will suit anyone looking to buy an attractive, well featured display that provides a very natural and pleasing image.

Recommended

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Smart Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
.
6

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
7

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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