Sony's KDL-55HX823 sits towards the top of the Japanese company's current line-up of Bravia TVs and boasts a super-slim chassis, active 3D support and a bumper array of online features.
Is this enough to justify its asking price of £2,000, especially as no 3D glasses are included as standard?
Sony has recently made some changes to the user interface used on its TVs. It retains much of the feel of the PS3-style menu system of previous models, but there are some welcome changes. For example, when you now press the home button on the remote you'll find that the menus don't completely take over the whole screen.
Instead, the programme or video you were watching is reduced slightly in size and shifted towards the top left-hand corner of the display to make room for a row of icons across the bottom. As you select each of these, a sub-menu of options is listed vertically in a column on the right-hand edge of the display.
If you only want to tweak the picture or audio settings you don't always have to use the main menu. Instead you can just hit the Options button on the remote, which instantly calls up a smaller sub-menu.
The picture menu here gives you plenty of control over stuff like noise reduction, gamma and the backlight, but it's missing the full colour management system that you'll find on high-end sets from other manufacturers.
Naturally this model has a Freeview HD tuner onboard and Sony's electronic programme guide (EPG) is one of the better ones on today's TVs. Its black and white colour scheme isn't exactly inspiring to look at, but the crisp layout and clean font used for showing programming data, combined with its zippy speed, make it a pleasure to use.
You can also record programmes directly to USB keys or hard drives and scheduling recordings using the EPG is straightforward. However, as the TV only has one tuner, you can't record a show while watching another, as you can on most personal video recorders.
Digital media and Internet features
Sony was one of the first manufacturers to get a real handle on Internet TV features and its Bravia Internet Video platform remains strong when it comes to video content. Alongside the usual BBC iPlayer and YouTube offerings, you find the Demand 5 catch-up service, as well as LoveFilm and Sony's own Video Unlimited movie rentals.
It's not quite as strong on the apps front though. You can use Skype if you buy the optional camera and microphone. And there are widgets for Twitter and Facebook that let you show feeds from these social networking services side-by-side with TV shows that you're watching.
However, it lacks the broader range of apps that you now get on Samsung and LG's sets. Sony has added a full Internet browser, but the lack of Adobe Flash support means you can't view videos on some websites.
One cool addition that we like is the TrackID service. If you hear a piece of music that takes your fancy during a TV show or an advert break, but you don't know its name, you can press the TrackID button on the remote and the TV will record a snippet, upload it to an Internet music matching service and then come back with the artist and song title. It works really well and it's a neat feature to have integrated.
As with the majority of Sony's other TVs, this set's support for digital media formats is mixed. It plays JPEG pictures, MP3 music files and Xvid and DivX videos, but it doesn't work with MKV files. This is annoying as MKV is fast becoming one of the most popular file formats for HD video content on the Internet.
Files can be played either locally via USB, or you can stream them across a network from a PC or NAS drive -- it worked fine with our Iomega Home Network drive.
Design and connections
Sony's Monolith design may have a silly name, but there's no denying that it's why this set looks absolutely stunning. The front of the TV is covered in a single sheet of glass that runs from edge to edge, giving it a smooth, seamless look. The super-slim dimensions don't harm its looks either and neither does the thin and elegant pedestal stand that's finished with an attractive brushed metal effect.
In light of the TV's refined looks, the remote is something of a let-down. It's long and thin, but hewn from slightly cheap-looking plastic. Its angular edges mean that it's not all that comfortable to hold. The buttons are nice and chunky though, and the general layout is good, so your fingers are never far from all the key controls.
As with most of today's slimline models, the Scart and component connectors are too large to fit on the chassis, so instead you have small break-out cables. In line with other large screen models, this one has four HDMI ports. Two of these are mounted on the rear, while the other two can be found on the right-hand edge. There are also two USB ports and an Ethernet socket.
Sony is to be applauded for building Wi-Fi into the set too, rather than expecting you to shell out for an over-priced USB add-on, like most of the other manufacturers currently do.
Unfortunately audio is not one of this TV's stronger points. Sony's literature says that it has four 10W 'invisible' speakers, but it certainly doesn't sound like it's producing 40W of sound. The problem is a familiar one with LED TVs -- there's a real lack of bass, which robs the set's sound of warmth and presence. On the plus side, the audio is crisp and bright, so it doesn't suffer from the hollow and muddied dialogue that we've come across on some other LED models.
Sony seems to be aware of the sound issue, as it offers an alternative stand, the SU-40NX1, which looks pretty cool as it tilts the TV back at a slight angle. This also includes a 2.1 speaker system to boost the set's audio. However, it adds a further £200 to an already expensive TV.
2D and 3D picture quality
Thankfully this model is not lacking when it comes to picture processing trickery. It uses Sony's new X-Reality Pro system rather than relying on the older Bravia Engine technology. This includes Sony's new Motionflow XR 400 processing, which uses 200Hz processing in tandem with backlight blinking to reduce motion blur and judder. You won't always want to have this enabled though, as it can flatten the depth-of-field effect in movies, leaving them looking like they were shot on video.
However, the Clear and Clear Plus settings work well on most material. There are also various noise reduction and image enhancement modes, including one that makes low-resolution online content, such as YouTube videos, look sharper and clearer.
All this picture processing power does have a positive impact on image quality. Edge detail is razor sharp across both high-definition and standard-definition content. Colours have fizz and pop too, helped by the high levels of brightness, but they're also refined enough to deliver very natural hues when called upon.
Motion is handled with a deft touch and black levels are deep and inky. However, the edge backlighting is inconsistent. You can see light bleeding from the corners and some clouding during title sequences, especially where there's white text against a black background.
This model supports active 3D and thankfully, unlike older generation Sony sets, the transmitter for the 3D glasses is integrated into the TV's chassis. However, Sony doesn't supply any 3D glasses with the TV, so you'll have to purchase them separately. They're not exactly cheap at around £80 a pop.
The glasses aren't massively comfortable to wear as they're quite large and heavy -- a lot more so than Samsung's active specs. They also seem to be more prone to flicker, which was especially noticeable on the bright menus of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in 3D on Blu-ray.
Sony has definitely improved the 3D performance of this model in comparison to its previous generation of 3D sets, but it hasn't gotten on top of the cross-talk issue -- where images from the left and right channels are not sufficiently isolated to avoid ghosting -- like Panasonic has managed with its TX-L37DT30B.
There's still a fair bit of image ghosting visible on background objects, so this model's 3D pictures aren't as solid or as immersive as they could be. They're not unwatchable, by any means, but if you want top-notch 3D performance, this is not the set to choose.
This model has a number of strengths, including its clean and bright 2D pictures, good range of online video content and sophisticated, classy design.
However, for a model that costs two grand, its 3D performance isn't that impressive and its backlighting is disappointingly inconsistent.