With traditional CCFL backlighting, a 1080p display and Freeview HD tuner, the 40-inch Sony Bravia KDL-40EX503 is considerably cheaper than the LED-backlit models in the company's premium EX703 range. You can pick one up from the company's website for £869, or online for around £650, which is quite reasonable by Sony's standards.
LCD TV packs Freeview HD
At just under 10cm deep, the EX503 is quite chunky in comparison to today's LED models, but the set's design does a fairly good job of hiding the extra girth. The back of the chassis curves away from the edge of the bezel to produce a more slimline look. The front of the telly is finished in glossy black, and there's a dark, brushed metal finish on the panel that runs across the bottom edge of the TV. So while it's not the best-looking telly around, it still manages to come across as reasonably stylish.
Setting up the TV is a breeze using Sony's XrossMediaBar menu system, which is similar to that found on the company's games consoles. Since the EX503 has a Freeview HD tuner built in, once all the channels are tuned you'll find the high-definition stations nestled beside the standard-definition ones in the TV's excellent electronic programme guide.
You'll have no problems hooking your AV kit up to the EX503, as there are plenty of ports mounted on the side and rear, including four HDMI ports, a set of component inputs and two Scart sockets. Naturally, there's an optical digital audio output, so you can feed the audio from the Freeview HD tuner to an external surround-sound amp. Sony hasn't forgotten about digital media, either, as the set has a USB port as well as an Ethernet socket.
This Ethernet socket is put to good use. Sony took a long time to get its Internet TV offering right, but this set shows just how far the Japanese giant has come in this regard. In fact, it has perhaps the best line-up of services of all of the major manufacturers. A real plus is that this set now has BBC iPlayer support, and this sits alongside a range of other useful services, including Demand Five, Dailymotion and YouTube. You can also stream videos, music and photos from a computer or NAS drive connected to your home network, or play media from a memory key or hard drive via the USB port.
Deep darks and crisp colours
The set's 1080p panel uses traditional CCFL backlighting, rather than the LED edge-lighting you'll find on Sony's higher end sets, such as those in the EX703 range. For a CCFL model, it's capable of producing surprisingly deep black levels, and it's refreshing to see these aren't achieved at the expense of overall brightness. Even in darker scenes, the TV is capable of conjuring up impressive amounts of shadow detail. The EX503's backlighting is also impressively even, with none of the blotchiness you sometimes see on mid-range and low-end TVs. We found the telly's colour palette to be very refined and, as a result, it handles skin tones with considerable aplomb. There's no over-egging of the colours here, as you sometimes see on lesser mid-range models from rival manufacturers.
HD pictures look razor-sharp and the set is no slouch when it comes to standard-definition material, either. The Bravia Engine 3 picture-processing does a good job of tarting up even the more heavily compressed channels on Freeview. It's proficient enough to produce acceptable picture quality from SD material, without leaving the pictures looking as if they've been smeared in Vaseline. If we have one complaint on the picture front, it's that even with the 100Hz picture-processing turned on, you can still see a little motion blur here and there in fast-moving pans and scenes with lots of up-tempo action.
Nevertheless, the EX503's sound is impressive by flat-screen standards. It's got a little more bass kick than you usually get on LCD displays. Because of this extra oomph, not only does speech in TV shows sound crystal clear, but set pieces in action movies don't sound half bad, either. The speakers can be driven at quite high volume levels before distortion starts to creep in.
All told, the Bravia KDL-40EX503 is a fine set from Sony. It produces impressively rich and cinematic pictures, has good sound quality and lets you enjoy HD content for free thanks to the Freeview HD tuner. The fact it also has BBC iPlayer on board only serves to sweeten the deal.
Edited by Emma Bayly