Sony KDL-32CX523 review

The Sony KDL-32CX523 will give you the latest features on a budget, if you don't mind how it looks Tested at £450

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

A feature-packed budget set that only gives away a smidge in performance


  • +

    Great value in terms of features

  • +

    sound isn’t bad

  • +

    good tuner

  • +

    subtle, detailed pictures


  • -

    We aren’t too keen on this Sony’s gloomy picture

  • -

    nul points for style

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Sony is master of the myriad model launch. The CX range is the entry-level series for 2011 – though from the styling you’d be forgiven for being unsure.

It says a lot that this chassis, thicker and more cumbersome than the most, it had some staff here asking whether it was definitely a new model. If it’s style you’re after, this isn’t the one.

A bit of a hefty beast
Part of this relative bulk can be explained by the backlight. It’s not an LED screen, instead using a traditional CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp) backlight to bring the LCD panel to life.

This tech requires more space compared with tiny LEDs (and also uses more power). Claimed contrast levels are different too, with the KDL-32CX523’s dynamic contrast being described as ‘high’ on Sony’s spec sheet, as opposed to ‘mega’ on the EX Series.

Yes, really. Marketing guff aside, you’ll have to make do with a stand that doesn’t tilt like the Sony KDL-32EX524, and a slightly different remote control.

Plenty of the same features and functions are here, however: Freeview HD, four HDMI inputs, Bravia Internet Video and USB recording, to take a handful.

Slick Xross Media Bar interface

Sony’s new Xross Media Bar-derived user interface is also here, and we think once you familiarise yourself with the way it works, it’s a subtle upgrade – not least as you can easier keep an eye on what you’re watching thanks to picture-in-picture.

Without wanting to labour the comparison, the picture character is similar on both these sets, but this less-expensive model gives a little away in places. For the lower price, though, there’s plenty to like.

Broadcast TV proves clean and easy to watch thanks to a relaxed colour palette that trades dynamic excitement for subtlety. It’s a little softer than the best here, but decent nonetheless.

Switch to disc-based stuff and we can’t help thinking the Sony could do with a kick up its chunky backside.

Bright colours aren’t bright enough, whites don’t look too crisp and clean… it’s as if there’s a layer across the screen that can’t quite be removed, no matter how we adjust the picture processing or attempt to boost the brightness, backlight or contrast.

Good Blu-ray performance
The Monsters Blu-ray shows the CX523 is capable. There’s impressive insight and decent black levels, while Sony’s motion processing is smoother than a James Bond chat-up line.

The Qriocity service isn’t working at the time of writing, but our previous experiences have been positive: impressive picture performance, not least from HD content.

Sonically the CX523 is better than your average, too, avoiding harshness with a well-rounded delivery.

This set will almost certainly be available even cheaper – and it’s one of the best budget options, not least if the streaming appeals. But it’s not quite the all-conquering Sony we expected.

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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