Televisions Award – Q1 2013 (Part 1) : Sony KDL - 40HX853, Sony KDL-32HX753, Sony KDL-46HX853, Panasonic TX-P50GT50

3/9/2013 9:07:16 AM

Never before has such extensive functionality and top-quality picture performance been so affordable no matter what the screen size

Product of the year

Best 40 - 42in TV

Sony KDL - 40HX853

Price: $1,500

Some sets go for bells, some for whistles and others for both. But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee an Award for that you have to add stellar picture performance to the mix. This Sony nails it in every respect.

Like the other HX-series sets in this section, the Gorilla Glass screen sits atop a full-width plinth, at a relaxed angle. This plinth also houses the high-quality speaker system. But it’s with picture performance that this Sony positively shines. Clarity and detail definition are remarkable, the TV effortlessly bringing out subtle impressions of texture and color where most rivals struggle. Put on the Blu-ray of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and it manages to pick out stars that were hidden on other sets.

Clarity and detail definition are remarkable, the TV effortlessly bringing out subtle impressions of texture and color where most rivals struggle

Sony KDL - 40HX853, the best 40 - 42in TV

Sony KDL - 40HX853, the best 40 - 42in TV

3D capable, and smart with it

The Sony is an active 3D set, too, and the smooth motion and sense of depth immerses you into the beautiful Victorian world of Hugo.

The HX853 is also smart. Along with the ability to play multimedia content from devices over your home network, there are dedicated apps for on-demand music and video, plus HD movies from LoveFilm, TV shows from BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, web browsing and game apps.

Other TVs might cost less, or offer more smart features – but none can touch the KDL-40HX853 as such a jaw-dropping all-rounder.

Best 32in TV

Sony KDL-32HX753

Price: $870

Last year it was Panasonic who dominated this category but Sony’s TVs are proving to be some of the most desirable sets of 2012, as a quick glance through these pages will attest.

Sitting just below the all-conquering HX853 range, the 32HX753 is no less desirable. This edge-lit LED panel certainly looks the business, perched on its svelte ‘easel’ stand (which also allows you to adjust its pitch), and it’s well equipped too. Sony has tweaked and polished its smart TV platform for its 2012 models and it’s a much slicker, not to mention better-specified, experience than last year.

Picture quality is excellent. The Sony’s a 200Hz panel (240Hz when running in 3D), and its motion handling abilities are truly top-notch. Sport is a fantastic test of a set’s abilities in this regard action is often fast-paced, cameras are a decent distance from the action (meaning edge definition gets a thorough workout) and there are usually vast swathes of uniform color. The Freeview HD tuner on this set handles all that with aplomb. There’s breathtaking sense of clarity and excellent edge definition afforded to the players, playing field and crowd, even when the action is moving at breakneck speed.

There’s a breathtaking sense of clarity and excellent edge definition to Freeview HD and high-def Blu-ray pictures alike

Sony KDL-32HX753, the best 32in TV

Sony KDL-32HX753, the best 32in TV

Fantastic in HD

Step up to Blu-ray and the quality go up a notch. Inception looks fantastic, with excellent contrast levels on display. As Leonardo Dicaprio and colleagues infiltrate the mountain base, snowy whites are perfectly judged: bright without looking overdone. And without looking giving away too much, the resulting theatrics are as vivid as you like.

On the smart side, it’s easy to flick between content, and all your music, video and apps are split into tiled sections so you can scroll by icon or artwork. There’s extensive streaming support too, including BBC iPlayer, Demand5, and LoveFilm, together with option of wired or Wi-Fi web connectivity.

The only negative is that the 3D glasses are an optional extra, which might seem a retrograde step given that rivals include a couple of pairs in with their sets for free.

Audio-wise, the Sony sounds a little on the thin side, but by the shoddy standards set by some rival sets it’s listenable enough. You can always alter the balance through the on-screen menus.

Big screens might be all the rage, but if your sights are set on smaller fare then nothing can hold a candle to the KDL-32HX753 this year.

Best 46-47in TV

Sony KDL-46HX853

Price: $1,875

So Sony has scored a hat-trick in this year’s TV Awards. The company is past master when it comes to pride of ownership, and the 46HX853 is a potent combination of svelte good looks, robust build quality and exemplary finish.

Its sheet of touch Gorilla Glass gives a seamless appearance, the full-width plinth that serves as both stand and speaker array is both a functional and aesthetic plus-point, and the ‘relaxed’ stance (the screen leans back a little on its plinth) is a nice flourish, too.

Picture performance is as gratifying as the looks. The excellent backlighting allows for detailed black tones to share screen space with clean bright whites contrast perhaps lacks the dynamism of some, but this TV bows to no rival where detail and cleanliness are concerned.

Color, meanwhile, are wide-ranging and believe, with skin-tones a particular highlight, and the Sony handles even the most vigorous movement without alarm.

There’s similar fidelity to the BBC’s iPlayer when accessed via the HX853’s exemplary Sony Entertainment Network: with a decent stream the Sony shows the same low-light prowess and authoritative motion control as it does with the best TV broadcasts.

With iPlayer, the Sony shows the same low-light prowess and authoritative motion control as with the best TV broadcasts

Sony KDL-46HX853, the best 46 – 47in TV

Sony KDL-46HX853, the best 46 – 47in TV

Fine detail with Blu-ray

Where 2D Blu-ray images are concerned, the HX853 really shines. Inky, detail-laden blacks, smooth edge definition and martial control over complex patterns and motion add up to a believable, endlessly watchable picture. And if the Sony’s contrasts lack just a touch of outright white-tone punch, well, the amount of detail on offer goes a long way toward making up for it.

Switch to 3D and you’re rewarded with as stable and unstressed an active-shutter 3D experience as we’ve seen. TT3D: Closer To The Edge enjoys great depth of field, motion is dealt with confidently and pictures remain bright and colorful.

Overall, there’s no disputing the Sony KDL-46HX853’s case. And we don’t see anything shifting it from its throne any time soon, either.

Best 50-52in TV

Panasonic TX-P50GT50

Price: $1,950

Panasonic’s TVs took nothing but praise from us in 2011. Walking away with the TV Product of the Year Award and four more best in class gongs to boot, the company’s all-round ability at putting pictures on the screen did the trick and it’s no different this year with the P50GT50.

Setup is a painless affair, but there’s also plenty here for tweak-fans: this is a THX-certified the viewing mode. You can still make adjustments to the rest of the picture settings once you’ve done this.

The option of Freesat and Freeview HD tuners ensures the set will appeal to everyone and both are excellent. With standard-definition content, the picture is detailed and gives an impressive sense of depth. Images are clean and reasonably free of blocking or noise, with the Freesat tuner arguably just a little sharper. Switch to the HD channels and edges are more cleanly drawn, colors are punchier, and black levels are impressive.

Play a Blu-ray and the picture just gets better. The image of Avatar looks stunning, even in 2D: it’s a brilliantly vivid, detailed picture. In fact, every aspect of performance is handled expertly. There’s no issue with fast motion, colors look vivid and dynamic but still with solid, deep blacks, while the level of insight to faces and landscapes is quite exceptional.

With a Blu-ray disc, colors look vivid and dynamic, while the level of insight to faces and landscapes is quite exceptional

Panasonic TX-P50GT50, the best 50 – 52in TV

Panasonic TX-P50GT50, the best 50 – 52in TV

Advances in 3D

Panasonic’s active-shutter 3D glasses have been tweaked and are now lighter, slighter and more comfortable to wear. The 3D images seem more comfortable to watch, and the picture more robust, than with previous generations. There’s very little issue with fast motion and the rest of picture still looks punchy and bright.

The content available on the Viera Connect smart hub is also better than last year thanks to the latest version of BBC iPlayer, the addition of Netflix, a fully functioning Skype app and the likes of Acetrax, BBC News, Eurosport, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

BBC iPlayer content looks great, too, especially the ‘HD’ channel, which gives SD broadcast content a run for its money (providing your network is up to speed).

Panasonic is back with a vengeance in the TV market for 2012. Last year’s GT30 almost swept the board at our 2011 Awards, and the TX-P50GT50 is the GT30 after going to the gym.

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