We're always pleased to see a TV that breaks the monotony of shiny black boxes and predictable looks, so when we unboxed the Sony Bravia KDL-40X3500 there was an audible sigh of relief. This is no ordinary LCD, at least not from an aesthetic perspective.
Of course, there's much more to a TV than how it looks. So we broke our favourite test material and commenced our assessment of the X3500, one of Sony's high-end Bravia TV ranges, to see if it could cut the proverbial condiment. We tested the 40-inch model, which is available now for around the £1,300 mark.
If you're after a TV that impresses the minute you take it out of the box, the X3500 will make a very good stab at winning your heart. Instead of going for the more traditional black shiny bezel, Sony has opted for a brushed metal effect, with a thin transparent surround. This sounds crazy, but it does look striking. At the bottom, the Sony logo is etched into the glass, and can glow when the TV is on -- it's possible to turn this feature off if you aren't so keen.
There are no buttons on the front of the TV, so you'll need to reach around the right-hand side to adjust the channel or volume, or turn the TV off in the absence of the remote. We're pleased to see the TV has a proper off switch too, which will reduce energy consumption. On the left of the screen you'll find some extra inputs, including S-Video, composite video and stereo RCA sockets, as well as USB and HDMI connectors.
At the back you'll find the other two HDMIs as well as component, VGA and a pair of RGB Scart sockets. There's also the obligatory CAM socket for adding a TopUpTV adaptor and smart card.
The TV is supplied with a desktop stand, which you have to fit yourself, and there are optional wall and floor standing mounts available too, if you don't have anything knocking around your house to balance it on.
The X3500 is also unusual these days in having a decent set of quite powerful speakers on each side. This is encouraging, because it should -- at least in theory -- mean that the TV produces a clear sound. All too often these days, aesthetic vanity leads to silly hidden speakers, which rarely produce the kind of sound we'd expect from an expensive TV.
The 40X3500 has one of the best implementations of HDMI CEC we've ever seen. CEC, or Bravia Link as it's called in Sonyland, allows your TV to control your AV receiver and Blu-ray player. We were surprised to see full co-operation between our Onkyo TX-SR576 and the 40X3500. With an external receiver, you can opt to mute the TV speakers, and then the TV remote will control the AV receiver.
The TV is also one of the most configurable we've come across, with everything customisable, from the individual colour levels right down to whether the Sony logo glows or not. The menus are a dream to use -- they're slick and fast to respond to button presses with virtually no lag at all.
The USB photo slide-show feature is a smart addition too, and we think the photos were rendered on-screen with stunning detail and colour. The only problem is that it doesn't scale photos especially well, so if you want to get the best out of this, make sure your snaps are 1,920x1,080 pixels and you'll be all set.
We wouldn't say the TV is over-burdened with special features, but what it does do, it does well. We like that it's been designed by someone who cares about looks, and it's refreshing to see a consistent aesthetic style throughout the package.