However, Sony's competitors have gotten better — so has the HX820 got what it takes to repeat the same trick in 2011?
While Sony recycled its "EX" look from 2010 for this year's range, the company has changed the design on its HX8xx series this time around. The HX820 features a borderless, or what Sony calls the "monolithic", design, which has a single sheet of glass over the TV's outer bezel and screen as well. While this may seem like a subtle change, the new sheet of glass also has a practical benefit: protection. The new design features Corning's Gorilla Glass — a tough, impact-resistant surface that's also used on a number of smartphones. Your TV should be well prepared if a spontaneous mosh pit springs up while watching the Moshcam channel.
While both LG and Samsung are shipping "special" remote controls with their high-end TVs, the HX820 features the same remote as before. It's black, it's convex and it has a power button on the underside.
If you want to upgrade your stand, Sony makes an optional version that features active speakers and a six-degree tilt. All this young Marlon Brando swagger can be yours for AU$349.
The Sony HX820 is a "smart TV" that features all of Sony's current know-how in terms of both picture processing and features. This 46-inch LCD features a "Dynamic Edge LED Backlight", with a number of picture gubbins including MotionFlow XR 400 and the top-end replacement to the Bravia Engine 3: the X-Reality PRO picture engine. It promises not only better standard-definition performance, but better web-standard video as well, which is helpful for IPTV.
The Sony's IPTV channels include catch-up from ABC, SBS and Plus 7, and our favourite concert series Moshcam. Web-browsing is also included, though it's even harder to control than the PlayStation 3 browser, and doesn't support Flash.
All of this is available from a newly redesigned Xross-Media Bar (XMB), which now sits at the bottom of the screen. This allows a picture-in-picture of the content you are watching.
Instead of apps, the TV includes two "widgets" — Facebook and Twitter — and we look forward to more being added in the future. However, Sony has some catching up to do, as Samsung is boasting that it has hundreds of TV apps.
The television also includes 3D playback, and this year the 3D receiver is integrated into the TV rather than being an external add-on. The TV includes two sets of coin-battery-operated active glasses in the box.
Unlike the EX series, the HX820 has integrated Wi-Fi, in addition to an Ethernet port. Other connections include four HDMI inputs (version 1.4 with two Audio Return Channels), two USBs, an adapter dongle with twin composite inputs and a single component on-board, VGA, and a digital optical and an analog audio output.
We began our testing with some free-to-air car racing, and found that the boundary lines of the track were beautifully rendered and smooth instead of jaggy. Some Sony tuners have a tendency for smearing, but not this one — images remained solid.
Whipping out our HQV test discs we discovered that the TV needed a bit of tweaking to get the best performance out of "video" content. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell what the Cinema Drive's two options, Auto 1 and Auto 2, do at a glance and so most people will leave them alone. If you do ignore the options, you'll find this TV routinely fails the picture tests. However, setting the TV to Auto 2 meant it passed most jaggies tests without a hitch.
Noise reduction wasn't as impressive as the Samsung TVs we've seen this year, but it does help when setting the HX820's noise reduction to low, which doesn't add any noticeable artefacts.
When we played the King Kong DVD, the Sony was able to make an accurate attempt at the sunrise over the Empire State building with a very deep picture. Compared against the Panasonic VT20, Sony has again managed deep blacks, but overall contrast levels and "naturalness" isn't there.
Availing ourselves of the ABC iView service, we found that the X-Reality Pro engine flicked the right amount of fluff off some of the lower-bitrate material, and made it easy to watch.
We found that the TV wasn't quite up to replaying 24p content smoothly with high-definition discs — there were a couple of hiccups in both our synthetic tests and the opening tracking shot from Mission Impossible III's bridge scene. Moire was also visible on the bridge railings during this sequence. While noise was there, it wasn't overpowering and the combination of detail and deep blacks made the image quite punchy.
If you don't have a separate sound system the Sony's speakers make dialogue clear and concise, and the TV can go quite loud without distorting. Only with action scenes did the speakers lack the punch needed to fully convey explosion impacts.
Turning on 3D we found that images had a "you are there" tangibility and none of the cross-talk we had seen in the Sony EX720. We had come to wonder if Sony had been ashamed of 3D by bundling an on-board 3D sensor with the EX720, but then no glasses. But the HX820 suggests that Sony might not be ashamed after all...
Now, we must come to the parts where the Sony doesn't do so well, and if you have to share the TV with someone else this may become an issue. This television has a very tight "sweet spot". While contrast is great when sitting directly in front of the TV, if you sit more than a person's width on either side of this you will lose contrast, with blacks turning grey. In this way it reminded us of the LG 47SL90QD and we wouldn't be surprised if the TV uses the same panel.
In addition, though less crucially, the TV exhibited a small amount of backlight leakage in the bottom right corner, which we just couldn't get rid of. Dimming backlights or fiddling with brightness settings could not get rid of this 20-cent-piece-sized, dark blue splodge.
Last year, Sony brandished an award-winning TV with its HX800, but ... the HX820 isn't quite as good. While picture processing is up to the usual Sony standard and we love features like Moshcam, the TV doesn't perform at the same lofty level. That said, it's still a very good TV, but best suited to loners.