The 46HX853 is Sony's flagship 46in LED TV and the first of its 2012 models to be released into the wild. It's a high-end (i.e. expensive) set, but that means it's crammed with Sony's finest features and boasts a comprehensive array of tweaks and improvements that Sony hopes will bring about better fortunes for the company after its recent financial troubles.
Design and connections
One of the first improvements you'll notice is its snazzy new Monolithic design. It's absolutely gorgeous, with a newly-added silver outer rim that frames the slim black bezel beautifully, and a jaw-dropping tabletop stand finished in brushed silver. This flat stand enables the screen to be tilted back at a six-degree angle, and cleverly contains a more powerful speaker system than the regular speakers inside the screen.
Talking of which, the screen measures a slinky 35mm, but that doesn't seem to have affected the connection selection. You get four HDMI v1.4 inputs, which enables active 3D signals to be piped into any of them. These are joined by an Ethernet port, providing a wired alternative to the built-in Wi-Fi adapter for all your DLNA and Internet needs. Two USB ports allow you to play music, photos and videos from memory devices - plus you can record TV programmes with an HDD connected.
Completing the range are a PC input, optical digital audio output, a Scart input and component video input. Unusually the Scart and component sockets are the regular types, which means you don't need a special adapter to use them but does mean they face outwards.
There's an obscene amount of technology inside the 46HX853 but let's start with the picture processing. Motionflow XR 800Hz uses blinking backlight technology, frame interpolation and a 200Hz panel to achieve an 800Hz effect, which helps motion to look smooth and blur-free. There's a new Impulse setting that looks to combat motion blur further.
The LED backlight of choice is termed Dynamic Edge LED, with an advanced local dimming system that gives it more control over individual parts of the picture. The OptiContrast panel (covered by Gorilla Glass) and built-in Advanced Contrast Enhancer boost the quoted contrast ratio to over 1,000,000:1.
Also on board is the X-Reality Pro chipset, which not only upscales standard definition material and web videos, but also applies its magic to 3D images in order to increase their sharpness even further.
Talking of 3D, the 46HX853 obviously uses the active system to display its stereoscopic pictures, but sadly there are no glasses supplied in the box, which will add a significant chunk to the cost, if buying for all the family.
Another optional accessory you might want to invest in is the CMU-BR100 camera and microphone, which allows you to use the set's built-in Skype video calling.
No flagship TV would be seen dead these days without a cavalcade of multimedia features and the 46HX853 is as well-equipped as they come.
The highlight is the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), which is your gateway to a wealth of online content, replacing the previous Bravia Internet Video (which was already pretty impressive).
The selection is second to none, featuring such useful apps as BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, BBC News, Sky News, Skype, Facebook and Twitter (both of which are discreetly displayed in a timeline on the main SEN screen), Eurosport, YouTube, Dailymotion, Netflix, Sony Entertainment Television, Picasa and other niche content like golflink.com and Billabong.
Crucially, this line-up is rich in catch-up TV and video streaming services, which makes SEN by far the best online portal - even with the likes of Viera Connect, Smart Hub and LG's Smart TV improving every year.
Elsewhere, there's loads more on offer, including Sony's Music Unlimited service, a built-in web browser and the ability to use a smartphone or tablet as a remote (or send videos and photos from the device to the TV). The built-in tuner is of the Freeview HD variety, bringing you crisp hi-def content for free. Track ID brings up information about music you've heard on a TV show or movie.
The TV also plays a range of media formats via DLNA and USB devices, plus there's a Homestream feature that makes it easier to pull files from PCs and Macs to the TV. The set's format support isn't particularly wide-ranging, failing to play some hi-def AVI files, MKV and FLAC but none is a deal-breaker.
The Home menu uses the same layout as last year's Sony TVs, reducing the channel or input you were watching to a small box and wrapping the options around it - the main option groups along the bottom and the corresponding submenu on the right.
It's split into the obvious groups - Settings, Inputs, Media, TV menu, Applications, Widgets, SEN and so on, each represented by a simple yet helpful icon. This row of icons scrolls smoothly and the set reacts promptly to commands, yet there are too many options to choose from - some simplification wouldn't have gone amiss. For instance, you can get to the online content in a variety of ways (through the Widgets, SEN, Internet Content and Applications), which doesn't make life particularly easy.
The SEN layout is more impressive, breaking down the content into different sections - main, video and music apps, while a small box on the left shows whatever you were watching when you left off, with a small Twitter or Facebook feed below it. It's really easy to use, logical and visually engaging, although it takes longer to load than expected.
Elsewhere the displays are clear and helpful, particularly the Options menu, which presents contextual options in a sidebar menu. There are lots of similar little menu boxes offering various tweaks and information.
If you want to go a bit deeper into the picture settings, then be warned that it's not for the faint hearted. There's a long list of options, tackling everything from the basics to motion processing, gradation and film modes - and that's before you've even entered the Advanced menu, which is detailed enough to send cinephiles to calibration heaven.
The remote is a helpful gizmo, using a central multidirectional pad with the most-used buttons circling it. All the other keys are well labelled, leaving little room for confusion, although the volume and channel change keys are too low down for my liking. There are dedicated buttons for Track ID, 3D, SEN and the i-Manual onscreen help guide.
Let's cut to the chase: the 46HX853 offers some of the best LED images I've ever clapped eyes on.
The key is the depth and solidity of the blacks. I used a Samsung HD calibration disc to assess black reproduction, and we've never seen the clips of cameras and black clothing looking deeper or more realistic - plus there's no mistiness or backlight patchiness to reduce their impact.
But this stunning black depth is coupled with excellent shadow detail, which makes even the darkest of scenes seem almost as detailed and nuanced as brightly-lit ones.
Somehow though, the 46HX853's pictures are still remarkably vibrant. Bright colours blaze from the screen and whites are beautifully crisp. This is best demonstrated by our Avatar Blu-ray - the vivid, kaleidoscopic hues of Pandora's rainforests are absolutely mesmerising, particularly the plant life neon and white glow of the Tree of Souls. But it's not just the blue Na'vi who benefit - human skin tones are beautifully rendered too, with no banding or waxiness to make them look artificial.
And the best part is that the set has the dexterity to display those super-deep blacks and blinding colours within the same frame, proving that the local dimming technology is doing a superb job.
That's not all. Its detail reproduction is exceptionally good, pulling every pixel from the Blu-ray disc and resolving them with the utmost clarity. That gives you the glossy, through-the-window quality you crave from a flatpanel set - but when it's backed up by such bright colours and deep blacks, you really won't want to look away.
There's a wide range of motion processing modes to play with, including the Impulse mode, which seems a little too gloomy for our liking, but the Clear mode does the most effective job of eliminating judder - demonstrated by the wonderfully smooth camera pans and moving trains on our HD test disc. That's great news with the summer of sport just about to begin - football, tennis, athletics and other fast moving broadcasts all look fantastic, with none of the finer details getting lost and few traces of blur.
These qualities shine through with 3D pictures too, resulting in a stereoscopic experience that's second to none. The layering is expertly handled, giving the image a natural sense of depth, with bright colours, razor-sharp detail, smooth motion and superb blacks. There's a bit of crosstalk but nothing that will ruin your enjoyment.
We're pleased to say that standard definition pictures from the Freeview tuner and SEN video apps also scrub up nicely. X-Reality Pro's upscaling and powerful noise reduction ensure that the usual block noise and mosquito smudge don't ruin the party quite as much as they do on lesser sets, making this a superb all-rounder.
Hold the front page - here's a super slim LED set that doesn't produce weedy, treble-heavy audio. Those front-firing speakers inside the stand produce a loud, engaging sound with a decent amount of bass and gloriously clear speech. Obviously, it's no match for a home cinema system or soundbar, but sonically this is a much better effort than most.
The 46HX853 is an absolutely stunning LED set that truly lives up to its flagship status. That's primarily due to its extraordinary picture quality, with the sort of black depth, colour vibrancy and sharpness that you don't always get from LED sets. The high-powered picture tech on board plays a big part in its success, not only with 2D and 3D hi-def but also with SD and web videos.
These nigh-on perfect pictures are backed up by a staggering array of features that tick all the boxes in today's wireless, web-enabled world - and it helps that SEN's app selection is still the best around.
Only a cluttered Home menu threatens to rain on the parade, and when that's the only major fault you can find then you know you have a very special TV indeed.
Pros: Stunning pictures; excellent features; stylish design
Cons: 3D glasses not supplied; overly complex Home menu; some media formats not supported
Manufacturer and Model
Screen size (inches)
1,920 x 1,080
Dynamic Edge LED
3D glasses supplied
Sony Entertainment Network
Motionflow XR 800Hz
30W (3 x 10W)
Energy efficiency class
Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)
1,097 x 663 x 255mm
Dimensions (without stand, W x H x D)
1,077 x 640 x 35mm
Digital audio output
SD card slot