After an alarming amount of missteps and controversies, Sony finally seems to have hit its flat TV stride with its latest generation of Bravias. Its V5500 and especially W5500 and WE5 series have all impressed us in recent times. But as we take delivery of the first model we've seen from Sony's entry-level S5500 series, we can't help but wonder whether the quality can be sustained at a cheap price point.
Especially as when we said cheap back there, we meant it. For we've found today's KDL-37S5500 review model going for just £618 - a price that really allows Sony to get down and dirty with the ‘volume-led' efforts of traditionally high-value brands like LG and, to some extent, Samsung.
Not that the 37S5500 really makes a strong case for itself aesthetically against the usually glamorous offerings of those other brands we just mentioned. It's not ugly, just... dull. Another simple glossy black rectangle, with neither a particularly slim bezel nor any significant design flourishes to make it stand out from the crowd. Even Sony's trademark ‘transparent strip' is conspicuously absent.
Comparing the 37S5500's feature list with that of the step-up V5500 range uncovers a few more absentees, too. Particularly striking is the lack on the 37S5500 of an Ethernet port, meaning that this model can't be used to access either content stored on a PC, or Sony's AppliCast online service.
To be honest, though, while I missed the PC functionality, the AppliCast system is so short of content at the moment that I didn't really feel its loss much at all.
The 37S5500 also only has three HDMIs compared with the V5500's four, and it doesn't carry the Bravia Engine 3 system found on Sony's V series and above. Instead it's ‘only' Bravia Engine 2 - potentially significant given how much effort Sony claims to have poured into improving the Bravia Engine for its third generation.
The 37S5500 also lacks the 100Hz processing engine found on Sony's W5500 range. Not that this is surprising given its entry-level status.
Don't imagine from all this, though, that the 37S5500 is a featureless desert. For instance, it manages to cling on to a USB input for playback of JPEG picture and MP3 music files from USB storage devices.
It also carries a Full HD resolution, and Sony's own 24p True Cinema system for enhanced 1080p/24 Blu-ray playback. Its 33,000:1 claimed contrast ratio looks healthy enough for the sub-£650 price point as well, although it's not in the same ball-park as the 100,000:1 figures claimed for Sony's W5500 and WE5 ranges.
Obviously, manufacturers' quoted contrast ratio figures are notoriously flimsy as evidence of potential picture quality. But since this is a Sony TV I'm looking at, I can't help but fear that the 37S5500's lower contrast claims hint at the reappearance of the brand's sporadic backlight consistency problems.