There was a time when you could release any old LCD TV and people would 'ooh' and 'aah', astounded by its svelte charms. Now, though, you have to offer something different -- see Philips' Ambilight or Sharp's wireless LCDs for proof. Freeview has been a massive success since its launch, and now that it's here to stay, people are asking for digital tuners to come integrated in their TVs (or iDTVs as they're called) as standard.
Sony is happy to oblige, of course, but with one small caveat: the KDL-L32MRX1's digital tuner isn't integrated, but housed in a separate media box. This part of the system has to be near the TV, but it offers the added benefit of increased connectivity. AV nuts will go wild -- three Scart sockets and a set of component inputs -- but computer users and high-defininition fans will rue the lack of a DVI socket. Hi-def compatibility is a constant theme with us at CNET.co.uk -- when you're spending this much on a TV, you don't want it to be redundant within a few years.
If style's your thing, though, this Sony might just be enough to convince you it's worth the high price. It's simply gorgeous, perhaps only beaten by Bang & Olufsen and Loewe in terms of design. The picture quality is also excellent, due to Sony's Wega Engine technology. The ability to record to Memory Stick is novel, but limited -- you can play back recordings on the TV itself, but not in other Sony equipment such as the PlayStation Portable. By not being compatible with the company's biggest piece of new technology, Sony is missing a huge opportunity here.
The KDL-L32MRX1 looks the business. The package consists of the gorgeous TV itself and a slinky white media box, reminiscent of Apple's school of design. The two don't really match, but they're equally good looking.
The screen itself is surrounded by a thick glass panel -- a completely novel approach that has worked beautifully. Sony hasn't stopped with one innovative piece of design, though. The on/off and status LEDs appear to be housed inside the glass panel, as if powered by some magical source that can conduct electricity through glass. It's an optical illusion -- the glass has been etched to reflect a light from the main panel -- but the effect is absolutely stunning. It's the kind of outside-the-box thinking that other companies should take note of.
The same precision applies around the back -- there are only two AV connections and a power supply that go into the TV itself. But since the Freeview decoder is sitting in a separate box, it makes sense to have that same box handling the connectivity. AV buffs will find the provision of inputs to their liking, as there are three Scart terminals and a set of component inputs. It also has stereo audio outputs and an aerial loopthrough (in case you have a hard drive or DVD recorder). Uniquely, you can also use the two speakers on the TV as a centre channel if you're slotting the display into a home-cinema system.
The KDL-L32MRX1's VGA input is compatible with all computers (PC or Mac), but as the TV is a digital display, it would have made sense to use a DVI digital video connector. This omission not only impacts modern computer systems, but also, and more importantly, means the TV isn't truly high-definition compatible. It will display 720p and 1080i signals over component video, but Sky has confirmed that its service will require DVI or HDMI, and we expect Blu-ray and HD-DVD players to go the same way.
The lack of high definition is always a real sticking point for us, but this Sony LCD still has a few tricks up its sleeve to win back favour. Far from settling for vanilla Freeview compatibility, it has a Common Interface slot on the rear that will accept a TopUp TV subscription card. Much like Panasonic and its support for SD cards, Sony's flat screen has a slot for Memory Stick, on to which it will record TV (it can display images from the Stick, too). Sadly, Sony's masterplan doesn't stretch to supporting its own equipment -- recorded programmes won't play back on a PSP. It won't play MP3 or ATRAC music files either -- another missed opportunity.