We're used to seeing DVD/TV combos on smaller sets from budget manufacturers, but it's not all that often you see them from big-name brands. Sony has updated the 2-in-1 concept here -- this 40-inch LCD TV has a Blu-ray player tucked away on the right-hand side of its chassis. Priced at around £800, is it a great money and space saver, or just a car-crash combo?
Beast of a box
The set uses traditional CCFL for backlighting rather than LEDs. This, combined with the extra girth needed to house the on-board Blu-ray player, means it's quite a chunky beast, measuring a full 116mm deep. The rest of the design isn't much to get excited about, either. It's decked out in a pretty anonymous glossy black finish with just an aluminium-style panel across the bottom to add a touch of interest.
Despite the addition of the Blu-ray drive, Sony has still included three HDMI ports, along with component and Scart inputs, which is a sensible move. For digital-media playback and Internet streaming, the TV also has two USB ports and an Ethernet jack, which it puts to good use. You can use the USB port to play music files, photos and videos -- including those in DivX and Xvid formats. You can also stream media across a network to the set using either the Ethernet ports or an optional Wi-Fi adaptor that connects to one of the USB ports. Like other TVs we've reviewed recently with this feature, the set would only stream videos from a Windows 7 laptop -- it refused to work with a Vista PC and a Linksys network-attached-storage (NAS) drive.
More impressive is the set's line-up of Internet-streaming services. These include staples such as YouTube and Dailymotion, alongside some more exciting options like Lovefilm, Five On Demand, Eurosport and -- perhaps most useful of all -- the BBC's iPlayer. All are very easy to use and work surprisingly well.
Would you like Blu-ray with that?
The integrated Blu-ray player is mounted vertically on the right-hand side of the TV and hidden well enough that unless you're actually looking for it, you wouldn't know it's there. It uses a slot-loading mechanism and is very quiet, even when a disc is spinning in the drive -- which is good news if you're planning on using the set in a smaller space, such as a bedroom. The player is reasonably well specified and includes support for BD-Live content.
Unlike most budget combo sets, the Blu-ray player on this model is superbly integrated into the TV's excellent XrossMediaBar menu system. The XcrossMediaBar is also used to control all of the set's other features, including the media-streaming functions and picture and sound settings. The TV's electronic programme guide (EPG) is superb, as not only does it have a clean layout that's easy to follow, it's also quick to navigate around and shows a thumbnail view of the current channel in the top left-hand corner.
Looks good, sounds bad
When it comes to picture quality, the Sony puts in quite a polished performance. High-definition pictures either from the on-board Freeview HD tuner or the Blu-ray drive look impressively crisp with razor-sharp edge detail. Standard-definition channels on Freeview also tend to look more than acceptable, although obviously there are limits to what the set's picture-processing can achieve, especially when detailing with some of Freeview's more heavily compressed channels. The EX43B does an impressive job of teasing out shadow detail in darker scenes, and colours look refreshingly natural with skin tones especially lifelike.
All is not perfect, however. Although black levels are generally quite good, they're not as inky as most of today's LED-backlit sets. Since the TV also lacks the MotionFlow processing that you find on Sony's higher-end models, motion doesn't always look as smooth as perhaps it could.
Many of today's TVs struggle to produce decent sound, and, unfortunately, that's the case here. You'd think the extra girth of the chassis would have given the Sony engineers enough space to add beefier speakers, but that hasn't happened, sadly. Instead, the internal speakers, which are mounted just behind the bottom lip of the set, tend to produce quite weedy audio that lacks low-end punch. As a result, music channels and action clips in TV shows tend to sound a little flat.
We had our reservations about building a Blu-ray player into a set of this size, but Sony has managed to integrate the two surprisingly well with the Bravia KDL-40EX43B. The set also has some great support for Internet services and produces impressively sharp and vivid pictures. Its weedy sound, however, lets the side down.
Edited by Emma Bayly