No brand currently epitomises the phrase 'hit and miss' more right now than Sony. Recent Sony TVs have veered wildly between deliriously good and disturbingly flawed. So as we take delivery of the new KDL-40V5500, we really don't have a clue what to expect. All we can do is hope that Sony has sorted out the various issues that let down some of its recent TVs, and that the 40V5500 will therefore sit at the 'deliriously good' end of the Sony TV spectrum.
The 40in set gets off to a solid if not quite inspiring start thanks to its design. For while there's nothing exactly innovative about its basic sculpting, the bezel is at least slender and glossy enough to appeal. Plus the set has the nifty transparent strip running along the bottom edge that's now a Sony trademark.
Where the 40V5500 really starts to get interesting, though, is with its connections. For a start, there are four HDMIs when past Sony experience would only have led us to expect three. Another highlight is a USB port through which you can play MP3, JPEG and even movie files. But what's really intriguing is the discovery of an Ethernet port.
We have seen such jacks on previous Sony sets, for streaming in files from a connected PC. But crucially the DLNA Ethernet jack on the 40V5500 takes things a significant step further than this by allowing you to take the TV online.
Exploring the features available via this online system - dubbed Applicast - immediately reveals that Sony has gone for the 'ring-fenced' approach to online functionality. In other words, rather than allowing you unfettered access to the joys of the World Wide Web, the TV 'only' lets you through a Sony portal to material specially prepared for presentation on a TV rather than a PC.
This approach to online access is easily the most common to date in the TV world, with only Philips so far announcing an intention to let you access the Internet as a whole. But I have to say that Sony's desire to control your online experience seems particularly extreme. For while other manufacturers tend to be forming partnerships with other third party content providers, such as Yahoo, YouTube, Flickr and so on, Sony, for now at least, is providing all the content itself.
As a result, it's not especially surprising to discover that the service's scope is pretty limited. Probably the highlight is an RSS newsfeed 'widget', enabling you to subscribe to news letters from your favourite sites. Also notable is Photo Frame online, which provides a selection of photographs and artwork to download for use as screensavers. There were only a handful of images available during our review, under Nature, Architecture, and Art categories, but I guess/hope this number will grow considerably over time.
Beyond this, though, you're limited to a World Clock, an onscreen calculator and, well, that's about it really. Everything works well and is beautifully presented, but it really is hard to ignore the amount of extra stuff that other brands of online TV - especially Samsung - can offer right now.