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After repeated generations of TV misfires, Sony has really got its act together for its 2009 Bravia LCD range. We've already been deeply impressed by multiple sets from this range. And I might as well say right away that this run of form continues - maybe even accelerates - with the 40W5500.
The W bit of its name reveals that the 40in 40W5500 sits relatively high up Sony's latest LCD range, and immediately tells us a number of key things about its specifications. First, it's got a Full HD resolution. Second, it's got 100Hz processing. Third, it's got Sony's impressive new Bravia Engine 3 video processing. Fourth, it's got a built-in Ethernet port you can use to connect to Sony's AppliCast online service. And finally, that same Ethernet port can be used to jack into files on a networked PC.
I'll inevitably return to some of these features in the course of this review, but first I should tell you that the 40W5500 looks… OK. The glossy black bezel feels unusually well built, and the severely angular sculpting creates a sense of aggression that will doubtless appeal to some - most likely men. But the addition of a little shiny plastic grey strip along the bottom edge doesn't quite do enough to give the 40W5500 that extra push that makes the latest TVs from, say, Samsung and LG so eye-catching. Oddly, I didn't find the design of this 40in model as impressive as I did on the 46in version I tested previously.
The 40W5500's connectivity is strong. Four HDMIs set the right tone, with able headline support from the already-mentioned Ethernet jack, and a USB port that goes beyond the spec of many by being able to play back video files as well as the more typical JPEG stills and MP3 music files.
Trawling through the 40W5500's features before getting stuck into its picture performance, the first thing to report is that Sony's AppliCast online system still feels impoverished compared with the online services of its competitors, chiefly because it doesn't currently carry any third-party content such as YouTube, Flickr, or even Yahoo.
The Sony-controlled and created content that is there - a few screen saver images, a weather application, access to RSS newsfeeds, a calendar, a calculator and an online 'analogue' clock - all works well and is slickly presented. But the overall lack of content means AppliCast can only currently be considered a thin bonus rather than a truly essential feature. And the lack of any wireless connectivity is a bit aggravating too.