It's been a while since we've been able to say this, and another four years before we're contractually obliged to say it again, but Sony's televisions are currently kicking goals!
We were impressed with the company's NX700 television as it had style and performance in equal measure. Even though the HX800 pares the aesthetics down a little it's even better: dare we say it's the best TV we've seen so far this year?
Looking at the Sony HX800 one word comes to mind: classy. While it misses the bezel-less design of the NX700, the bezel does employ a slick two-tone design: the bottom edge is brushed aluminium while the "walls" and "roof" features a piano black colour scheme.
The TV is edge-lit (meaning the LEDs sit inside the bezel) and this enables the TV to be quite slim. Sure, it's not as skinny as a piece of toast, but when you hang it on the wall it won't jut out too far from the wall.
Sony's latest crop of remote controls are "interesting". They're not as ergonomic as Sony's competitors and there's a power button on the underside for some inexplicable reason.
Unlike the Sony LX900 this is a "3D-optional" television and you'll need to spend a little bit extra to watch 3D broadcasts or movies. The stick-on receiver might look a bit ugly, but at least it only costs AU$69, while glasses are also reasonable at AU$99 when compared to Panasonic and its AU$199 models.
Other goodies include Sony's Bravia Internet Video with streaming of content from Yahoo!7, SBS and others plus support for DLNA. All of this is available from the Xross Media Bar menu, but we'll admit a preference for the look of LG's NetCast to the XMB with its big friendly "doors" and weather effects. Sony gets the nod for pure breadth and depth of content though.
This is the 40-inch version, which to our minds is a little too small for immersive 3D viewing, but a decent size for most material in a modest room. It comes with all the Sony niceties such as MotionFlow Pro 200Hz for smoother sport replay, better picture quality thanks to the Bravia Engine 3 and local dimming of the backlight.
Apart from the 3D receiver port the other connections are quite comprehensive with the provision of four HDMI slots, two components, three AV inputs and a PC connector.
Up until this point we haven't been that thrilled with edge-lit LED set-ups — they tend to have poor contrast and muted colours — but Sony's latest version is actually a corker. Mind you, if you turn up the backlight too much you will get some spotting in black areas called "backlight clouding", but turn it down and that's when the fun starts!
We've always had a fondness for Sony's image processing, and think that this year the company has excelled itself. In fact, the HX800 is one of the sharpest, most detailed sets we have seen in a long time. It doesn't even bother with artificially boosting Sharpness levels, its images are naturally razor-sharp and noise free.
This was obvious as soon as we loaded some test discs into the Toshiba BDX2000. The Sony passed all of our synthetic picture tests with flying colours, though it didn't pass all of our real-world tests. Playing the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray disc it did show some slight moire artefacts on parallel lines.
While we had problems with the LG 47LE7500 and its extra shiny screen, we had no such issues with the Sony. Blacks were deep as a result and we found the set performed just as well in the dark as it did in a lit room. In fact, its black level performance in a dark room was just as good if not better than Panasonic's newest flagship, the VT20. This TV is a true all-rounder that and is even viewable off-axis.
Where the Sony excels is with standard-definition content: with the King Kong DVD loaded into the player the TV cleaned up this disc like none we've seen before. Movement was smooth and images three dimensional.
Which brings us to actual 3D content. The quality of 3D replay was on a par with other TVs we've seen recently whether it's with World Cup, 3D Blu-rays or games. Crosstalk wasn't very evident and had as much to do with the source quality as the screen itself.
While we had some problems with the Panasonic glasses flickering with natural or overhead light, we didn't have any of these issues with the Sony. Where we did experience difficulty was with the occasional flicker on white sections of the screen. Otherwise, the experience was immersive and the effect was a lot more scaled back than the "in-your-face" effect we'd seen previously.
The TV has a 2D-to-3D mode and while it added a bit more depth we can't really see why you'd use it. It wasn't all that compelling, even at the highest setting, but at least it didn't make us want to hurl like the Samsung C7000 did.
We did play around with the various modes of 200Hz and found that the "Smooth" mode worked best with most content, but we still prefer the look that the director originally intended.
We tested the Bravia Internet Video service and found that the quality of the material was variable — from barely watchable soccer on the FIFA World Cup channel to near-broadcast quality on Yahoo!7. One thing we would appreciate is if each show thumbnail had a better description field, sometimes all you'll get is a name of an obscure show and no idea of its contents. Though presumably this is the fault of the content providers and not the TV itself.
Lastly, sound quality was a highlight of the HX800, and much better than the speakers found on the LX900. It didn't go that loud, but at least it didn't distort.
It's a pity Sony didn't stick with plasma technology, because if the company can do LCD this well imagine what it could have done with plasma! Oh well, only a couple more years to wait till the game-changing OLED technology goes mainstream.
Even so, Sony has demonstrated that there's still life in LCD and has produced yet another barnstorming television. This is a very deserving Editors' Choice winner.