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Sony KDL-40W5500 Review
Reviewed: 30 April 2009
 
Sony 40W5500

 

40in LCD
Picture
Sound
Features
Usability
Value
The Sony KDL-40W5500 joins an elite group of top performing mid range LCD TV's.
Rating: 92%
   

  Picture quality in particular black level ability

  Benefits of 100Hz do not convince

Design

Whilst we still like the look of Sony's 'Draw the line' styling concept, on the 'W' series it has become more subdued (even compared to the new 'V' series). The screen retains what has now become their trademark transparent strip on the underside of the frame but it is not as visible or pronounced as on previous models, with a dot matrix effect masking most of the transparency.

The end result is still an appealing mix however, with above average build quality and styling which is still very pleasing to the eye - a glossy black finish adds to the overall impact of what is a classy piece of audio visual kit.

Features

With a similar specification to its 40V5500 sibling, the 40W5500 gains the benefit of Sony's 100Hz 'Motion Flow' system along with 'Image Blur Reduction' technology. Contrast ratio also goes up from a claimed 60,000:1 on the V series to 100,000:1 on the W series.

Screen: 40in 16:9
Tuner:Digital
Sound System: Nicam
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Contrast Ratio: 100,000:1
Other Features: 100Hz, Bravia 3 picture processing, Applicast, DLNA.
Sockets: 4 HDMI, 2 SCART, Component Video, Composite Video, S-video, PC input, DLNA Ethernet port, USB, CAM Slot.
   

 

Internet connectivity is fast becoming the must have feature for flat panel TV's in 2009 and Sony have been quick to introduce a solution. Their AppliCast technology does not provide full blown internet access but allows consumers to access 'widget' like applications to subscribe to RSS feeds, look up stock quotes, check the weather etc.

Unlike other manufacturers, Sony have decided to provide access to their own content through a dedicated 'portal'. While the likes of Samsung have forged agreements with various third party information providers such as YouTube and Flickr to provide content for their internet enabled TV's, Sony has decided to hold a tighter grip on the reins - their thinking being to provide content that is perfectly optimized for their Bravia range of LCD TV's.

If Sony create a portal with a wealth of useful online content then their approach could prove to be a success. We can't help thinking however that open internet access is so embedded in the psyche that Sony will struggle to convince people of their approach - only time will tell ...

Alongside 'Applicast' Sony have added the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) standard to the W5500's list of features. DNLA lets users stream video, music and photos from a networked home PC onto the TV screen.

With all the fanfare surrounding the web enabled features of flat panel TV's, some of the core ingredients of flat panel TV's seem to be slipping quietly under the radar. None more so than the arrival of the latest incarnation of Sony's impressive 'Bravia' picture processing technology, making its debut in the form of 'Bravia 3'. Sony have re-engineered their core picture processing technology from the ground up and more than any other component, this element will have the greatest impact on picture performance.

Sony are currently at the forefront of introducing 'Green' features to their TV's. A light Sensor automatically adjusts screen brightness depending on the ambient light levels in your room, and you now have the option to switch the picture off while retaining the sound.

The USB Media Player function provides an easy method for watching digital content at home. Connect any compatible media device to the set’s USB input, select 'Media Player' from the XMB (Xross Media Bar) on-screen menu and you are ready to view digital photos, MPEG1 video clips, or listen to MP3 music tracks through your TV’s speakers.

Elsewhere, the Sony 40W5500 benefits from 4 HDMI's, a Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution along with 24p True Cinema mode, for enhanced 1080p/24 playback.

Performance

Modern flat panel TV's now come with a bewildering array of features and enhanced functions and it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that core picture processing circuitry, to a large degree, determines the quality of performance. The latest incarnation of Sony's picture processing engine, Bravia 3, illustrates how Sony have remained focused on what really makes a good TV.

Despite having to upscale the 576 or so lines of a Freeview source onto a Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel, the 40W5500 produces an above average Standard Definition (SD) performance. With a very small amount of visible on screen 'noise' SD pictures are not perfect, but are good enough to place the Sony's abilities into a top tier of mid range LCD TV's in this respect.

Feed the 40W5500 some High Definition material however, and we really get to see what this TV was created for. Every nuance of HD detail is presented in a gloriously sharp and accurate picture which defies you to reach out and touch, to disprove that the vision of reality is in fact just a collection of pixels on a screen.

The HD picture is further enhanced by a gloriously vibrant colour palette. Sony now do colour as good as any other manufacturer, and the maturity of their Bravia 3 engine is highlighted once again with bold colours which avoid the trap of becoming over saturated. While SD colour is not quite as good as the best LCD's we have seen, the HD performance in this respect is close to faultless.

The Black Level ability of the 40W5500 illustrates the growing maturity not only of Sony LCD TV's but of the technology in general. Less than six months ago such deep lush blacks would have been a revelation. The Sony is still remarkable in that we are now witnessing this kind of ability from a mid level flat panel. Yes, some of the LED equipped TV's recently launched can produce more subtle shadow detail, but for the price Sony have produced a TV which is only bettered by more expensive offerings. 

The 40V5500 we recently looked at suffered from an inconsistent backlight and while there is some evidence of the same problem on the 40W5500 it is present to a much lesser degree. Some reports have suggested that the effect is more pronounced than we experienced on our sample, but we have also heard reports that the inconsistent backlight is present to a lesser degree than we experienced. We can only present findings on our own test screen, and we found that the backlight inconsistencies made little or no difference to the viewing experience.

Once again we are left unconvinced by 100Hz processing, which appears to have a beneficial effect on the motion handling capabilities of some flat panel TV's, but not in our opinion on the Sony. We just couldn't spot a difference between the motion handling abilities of the 40V5500 and the 40W5500 which are in fact better than average on both machines. A small amount of 'flicker' becomes apparent with very fast sporting action (to a greater degree when viewing a Freeview source), but generally the picture retains its resolution very well.

Like the vast majority of flat panel TV's out there, the 40W5500 delivers an underwhelming acoustic performance. As with most of its competitors, lack of top end bass is the main problem and to be fair to the Sony it is no worse than the majority of flat panel TV's out there. Acoustic performance is nevertheless adequate and won't be a problem for the majority of mainstream viewers.

Conclusion

Sony are getting closer and closer to delivering world beating flat panel TV's. So often frustrating in the past, the promise of all of that Sony technology coming together in their TV's finally seems to be happening in the 40W5500 - a class leading mid range performer.

  Picture quality in particular black level ability

  Benefits of 100Hz do not convince