Apparently taking a design cue from the black obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Sony's aiming to regain the style crown from LG and Samsung with the Bravia KDL-40HX703. But is this 40-inch, 1080p LCD TV with built-in Freeview HD tuner more than just a pretty face? It's available now for around £1,200.
The KDL-40HX703's monolithic design is certainly attractive in a minimalistic kind of way. An apparently special 'deep black panel' combines with the glossy black bezel and totally flat, uni-layered fascia to create a genuinely monolithic feel.
It has to be said, though, that this effect is rather spoiled by the TV's distinctly chunky rear end, which protrudes by 100mm. We suspect the monolithic concept will prove more convincing when we see it on Sony's forthcoming, and much slimmer, LED-edge-lit TVs.
The chunky rear end is at least made more attractive by the connections it hosts. The four HDMI ports, for instance, should be sufficient to cater to the needs of even the most obsessive high-definition fans.
The TV also has a USB port for playback of MP3 audio, JPEG photo and AVCHD/MP4 video files. You can also use it to make the TV Wi-Fi-capable via an optional USB dongle.
The KDL-40HX703 has an Ethernet port too. As well as allowing access to forthcoming Freeview HD features, such as -- we suspect -- BBC iPlayer, it lets you jack the TV into and stream files from a DLNA PC. You can also take the TV online with Sony's Bravia Internet Video service.
This online service is about as far removed as it's possible to get from last year's desperately underwhelming Sony AppliCast online TV system. The Bravia Internet Video service actually contains a vast amount of content, providing countless video streams from a wide variety of sources. There's everything from World Cup footie highlights to YouTube videos, Eurosport news feeds, golf tutorials, and the Demand Five TV-on-demand system.
The TV also allows you to access your LoveFilm account, so that you can downstream full films -- in standard or high definition -- just as you would if you were accessing your account via a PC. Superb. We found the downstreaming to be remarkably stable during our test period, despite only using the TV with a 2Mbps broadband connection for the most part. This stability could be at least partly down to Sony's inclusion of a 7-second downstreaming buffer.
The KDL-40HX703 boasts Sony's Motionflow 200Hz system and the generally impressive Bravia Engine 3 picture-processing tool, bolstered by the Live Colour system for boosting colour saturation and accuracy. Also present is Sony's redoubtable 24p True Cinema mode for enhanced playback of Blu-ray discs.
Thankfully, all this picture-related technology pays off handsomely once you actually watch the KDL-40HX703 in action.
Numerous Sony TVs have wound us up in the past with some really quite extreme backlight inconsistencies. The KDL-40HX703, however, shows practically no signs of light pools or backlight leakage, particularly if you keep the set's contrast and backlight levels sensibly low.
The set's black-level response is outstanding by LCD standards. Dark scenes show little sign of the grey clouding we're used to seeing on LCD screens.
Also impressive is the KDL-40HX703's colour response. Pictures look dynamic and richly saturated, avoiding the slightly flat, muted look seen on some of Sony's more value-focused sets. Crucially, colour tones still tend to look believable.