Life would be so much easier if I didn't care to terribly much about the superficial qualities of my entertainment. If I could content myself with standard definition television and movies, I could get by just fine with the same old TV set I had in college. But not being content with the same old, same old, I picked up my first high definition TV a few years back and loved the new widescreen, hi-def world that opened up for me.
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But little did I know how badly I was limiting myself by buying a TV set with just one HDMI input. It wasn't long before I found myself with hi-definition cable, Blu-Ray, and a variety of video game systems, to so nothing of a home theater PC, all vying for that one HDMI input. Sure, I could have just made do with the two component inputs that came with that first hi-def TV I had gotten (or I could have truly gone luddite and used some of the composite inputs), but it felt like something was missing to have all of those devices that were capable of providing such great video and sound quality through their HDMI connections and not taking advantage of that opportunity. I simply needed to get a new television set with more input options.
I spent some time looking through the various options out there - plasma vs. LCD screen, screen size, variety of inputs and outputs, refresh rate, and so on. After a few weeks of semi-daily trips to the local big box electronics store and uncounted hours spent staring at their wall of display screens aglow with a generic collage of sports, concerts, and action scenes, I finally settled on Sony's 46EX500 Bravia LCD television.
First off, we need the general technical specifications. As those first two digits in the television set's ID indicate, it has a forty-six inch screen. I've set up the television in the modest living room of my one bedroom apartment, and it manages to create a solidly immersive experience for movies and video games without feeling like it dominates the room. All of the buttons and input jacks have been recessed into the set's sides or back. Combine that with the speakers that project their sound from the bottom of the set, and the whole design aesthetic makes for a very economical use of space. The LCD screen takes up almost the entire front surface with just a narrow black plastic border. At a little over four inches deep for the whole set, there's no wasted space in the design, and for the rather large screen size, it never feels like it's in the way whether mounted on a wall or left free-standing on the base that comes included in the box.
With four HDMI inputs and two component inputs, the Bravia 46EX500 is ready to support a wide variety of hi definition video sources - cable box, Blu-Ray player, video game system (or systems, for the gaming junkies), streaming internet boxes, and so much more. Gone are my days of unplugging and replugging devices when switching from one hi-definition source to another. And if there's someone out there with more than six high end video devices that they'd like to keep plugged into their television, they're probably in the market for an even fancier television set than this one. In addition, the Bravia 46X500 includes a pair of the old-school composite inputs for older devices that can only use the old red/white/yellow plugs for audio and video. There's a standard coaxial cable input for over-the-air antenna signals, and even a VGA input that lets uses hook up a PC or Mac and use the Bravia 46EX500 as a great big computer screen (although not every computer has the appropriate output jack - in my case I can't use that VGA input, so I'm using one of the TV's HDMI sockets as a computer input).
As for the main attraction, the picture and sound, the Bravia 46EX500 performs quite admirably. It's capable of displaying 1080 progressive scan video, ready to display up the most highly defined of video images. Its 120 Hz screen refresh rate gives it the ability to handle fast motion video without pixilization, blurring, or any other video artifacts. Now, generally people point to live sports broadcasts to show off how well their television handles fast motion, but not being a big sports guy myself I can't point to how well this TV set will perform for all of your Super Bowl / World Series / Final Four / Kentucky Derby / Competitive Eating Championship needs. I am, however, a rather big fan of action sci-fi flicks. Having just recently re-watched Serenity, I can say that all those chaotically exhilarating space battle scenes were an absolute thrill to see. And as for vivid screen images, I also recently watched Up, and every single balloon practically popped off of the screen with their brilliant colors.
The speakers do a good job of filling the room, and even sound crisp and clear at low volume, but there isn't exactly anything about the sound to make listeners sit up and say "wow." Fortunately, the Bravia 46EX500 includes an optical audio output jack that can send 5.1 surround sound to an external receiver. Anyone who's semi-serious about their home theater is likely to have some sort of multi-channel audio system that they can plug the television into to get the truly immersive audio experience that the Bravia 46EX500 isn't quite up to providing.
Of course, people who expect that a television like this will make everything they watch look that much more amazing are likely to be disappointed. Over-the-air digital broadcasting and hi-def cable channels look fantastic, but standard definition cable programming is likely to look grainy and somewhat pixilated. And your local cable channel may be doing their part to make certain channels look even worse. In an effort to cram as many channels as possible into their cable lines, they're applying some pretty heavy compression to their lesser-watched channels. If you a fan of shows on some of those less than top-tier channels, you'll really a lot of compression artifacts and weird blotchiness in the image. There's absolutely nothing this television set does to enhance poor quality signals that you may be receiving.
The only other real gripe with the Bravia 46EX500 lies with the remote and the on-screen menus. While everything about the television set seems solidly built, the remote feels rather cheap and flimsy. Moreover, the button layout on the remote is awkward and cumbersome. The channel and volume buttons are well places, but the buttons for changing the television's inputs and delving into the menus to change any settings are awkwardly placed, making it nearly impossibly to do anything but the most basic functions by touch alone. Try to switch inputs or adjust the aspect ratio in the dark, and you'll probably find yourself spending a few minutes trying to undo all the accidental damage that you do. It wasn't long after I picked up this television set that I invested in one of Logitech's multi-device Harmony remotes to control all aspects of my home theater, and I haven't even touched the remote that Sony included with this set since.
But those gripes aren't nearly enough to overshadow the great image quality and multi-input options that Sony has offered with the Bravia 46EX500. If you're looking for a flashy centerpiece for a medium-sized living room's home theater system with several components, this television set is a fine choice.