Sony's 32-inch KDL-32EX524 is aimed at budget-conscious family buyers who don't want a humungous TV taking over their lounge and aren't fussed about 3D, but are instead looking for good online features.
This model faces stiff competition from similarly priced sets around the £500 mark from the likes of LG and Samsung. So just how well does it stack up against them?
Sony recently gave its Xross Media Bar (XMB) menu system an overhaul and this set uses the updated version. One of the key differences is that when you now call up the menus, they don't completely obscure the programme you're watching. Instead, the video feed is reduced in size and shifted towards the top-left of the screen. This leaves room for a rotating menu bar at the bottom and a vertical sub-menu bar on the right-hand side.
The new system looks quite sleek and the animations and graphical effects are smooth. However, although it's quicker to use than the old XMB menus, we still don't think it's the easiest system for novices to get to grips with. Nor is it the fastest to use when you're looking to tweak an individual feature or setting.
Sometimes you find yourself shuffling around the menus, wasting time, just trying to find the place where the settings you want to change or services you need to access are located. Some of the blame for this can be laid at the icons that Sony has used to distinguish between the different menus. You just can't tell at a glance what many of them are meant to represent as they're too similar in appearance.
The electronic programme guide (EPG) for the onboard Freeview HD tuner is, however, one of the better ones to be found on current TVs. When you call up a channel, it's shuffled to a video thumbnail in the top left-hand corner of the screen. Next to this is a summary of the programme that you've got highlighted in the EPG. Below this is a large grid showing eight channels' worth of data.
The EPG is responsive when you're moving around it and if you hit the Option button on the remote, you can quickly set favourite channels or switch to browsing by genre, such as movies or sports.
Digital media and Internet features
Despite coming in towards the budget end of Sony's line-up of LED TVs, this model does have two USB ports, as well as both Ethernet and Wi-Fi support. However, its media playback capabilities are mixed, like a lot of the latest Sony TVs we've had in for review.
Although it will play Xvid and DviX files, both locally via USB or remotely across a network from a PC or NAS drive, it refused to play our selection of HD MKV files. That's disappointing as most Samsung and LG models now support the MKV format, which is becoming an increasingly popular one for high-definition videos on the Internet. Nevertheless, it did play a range of MP3 music tracks, as well as JPEG pictures, without any problems.
For quite some time, Sony's online features were the envy of its rivals. However, the Bravia Internet TV platform is starting to lose ground to Samsung and LG when it comes to the breadth of content available and, more specifically, the range of Internet apps on offer.
The video side of things remains reasonably well stocked. In the Internet video menu you'll find the BBC's iPlayer as well as Five's Demand 5 catch-up service. Other welcome services include Lovefilm, YouTube, Dailymotion, Sony's own Qriocity Video Unlimited movie rental offering and some content from Sony Entertainment Television.
Where Sony's Internet platform really falls behind its competitors though is in its support for apps. There's just so few of them on offer here. You only get Twitter and Facebook, widget support for Picasa and Skype (although you need an optional camera and mic to even launch this), and an RSS news reader.
There's an Internet browser, but unfortunately this doesn't support Adobe Flash, so you can't view video on some websites. The lack of decent support for apps on Sony's Internet platform may be one of the reasons why it was toying with Google's TV operating system on some of the devices it was showing at the recent CES show in Las Vegas.
Design and connections
The 32EX524 isn't quite as sexy-looking as some of Sony's higher-end models, but it's still got a decent design. The set is fairly slim for a 32-inch model and the piano-black bezel around the screen is quite narrow too.
There's a nice brushed metal effect on the panel directly beneath the display, but unlike the models further up the range, this one doesn't have a row of touch buttons across the front. Instead, you'll find a column of traditional buttons on a small panel behind the right-hand edge of the TV.
Take a peek around the back and you'll see that Sony has been quite generous when it comes to ports. Rather than the three HDMI sockets that we usually see on 32-inch models, this one sports four, with one side-mounted and the other three found on the back panel. The rear is also home to a full-sized Scart socket, a set of component inputs, an optical audio output and an Ethernet port.
Along with the extra HDMI port, the side panel on the left also houses two USB ports, a headphone socket, a CAM slot and a standard VGA port for connecting the display up to a computer. You couldn't really ask for more in terms of connectivity from a 32-inch model.
Sony has taken a leaf out of Panasonic's book when it comes to how it's mounted the speakers on this set. The chassis flares out towards the bottom to provide some extra space for the speakers. However, while this does give them a tad more presence and definition for dialogue, it doesn't unfortunately seem to help their bass performance much.
They're certainly a lot lighter on low frequencies than most of Panasonic's recent TVs. This isn't hugely noticeable on standard TV fare like soaps and quiz shows, but you do feel the loss with action movies and music channels.
In the audio menu you'll find just bass and treble controls, rather than the graphic equaliser that many other brands sport. Sony has added a basic virtual surround mode, which does add a touch of extra width to the stereo image. So, overall, while it's not a stand-out audio performer, it certainly doesn't disgrace itself.
The 32EX524 doesn't exactly deliver the last word in picture performance, but the images that it produces do have their strong points.
The X-Reality picture processing chip does a good job of upscaling standard-definition images so that they look crisp and sharp on this model's 1080p-resolution panel. And if you slap on a Blu-ray disc, you'll be pleasantly surprised by just how much detail the set manages to wring out of 1080p feeds, despite its relatively small screen size. Colours are also generally punchy and have a pleasing warmth.
This model's LED backlighting does help it to deliver very bright images. Its black levels are quite deep too, but sadly the contrast performance is somewhat lacking. This is true even after you've had a good go at tweaking the settings to improve things. As a result, darker scenes tend to look muddy and gloomy because the set's panel just can't render finer contrast details.
Another issue that raises its head from time to time is motion blur. The lack of 100Hz processing on this model means that the picture tends to degrade and blur when there's lots of quick motion on the screen. For example, when there's a fast camera pan during a football match, the image tends to look a touch smeary.
The Sony KDL-32EX524 certainly isn't without its flaws. Motion handling could be better and we would have liked to have seen more contrast in its pictures.
It's still a stylish set with a decent line-up of Internet video services and good upscaling of standard-definition channels. However, we think it's easily outclassed by LG's feature-packed and similarly priced 32LW550T.