Delving deeper into what makes the 40S5500 tick, though, there are further price-based compromises to swallow. For instance, although the screen does manage a Full HD resolution, its claimed contrast ratio is just 33,000:1 – a relatively meagre figure in these days where contrast ratios of hundreds of thousands or even millions to one are becoming commonplace.
Such figures always have to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, of course. But it’s hard not to feel concerned when this is the highest figure Sony itself can muster for the set, no matter how optimistic its measuring techniques might be.
Then there’s the Bravia Engine processing. While every Sony 5500/5800 model from the V5500 up carries the latest and comfortably greatest Bravia Engine 3 system, the 40S5500 only has Bravia Engine 2. It will thus miss out on the advances BE3 had brought to the table, such as much-refined noise reduction processing. There’s also no 100Hz processing, raising concerns over potential motion blur. To be fair, though, it would be very unusual indeed for an entry-level TV to have 100Hz built in.
Does the 40S5500 have any interesting features up its sleeve? Well, it carries Sony’s nice 24p True Cinema processing for enhanced 24p Blu-ray playback, so that’s something. Otherwise, though, there’s nothing to stop me from getting stuck into the main testing phase.
During which it takes around 50 seconds for me to get seriously, seriously aggravated. For as soon as I get to one of the night-time car-nicking sequences in Gone In 60 Seconds (showing in HD on Sky), I can’t help but notice how the darkest shots are plagued by patches of inconsistent backlight.
This problem has been reported with various Sony TVs in the brand’s current generation, but actually, the 40S5500 suffers from it arguably worse than any other Bravia to date.
It seemed to me that there are no less than five distinct areas where dark scenes look slightly brighter/greyer than their surrounding bits, throwing up an immediate wall of distraction between you and any dark scene you’re watching.
I tried following Sony’s advice regarding these light patches and cranked the backlight well down – to two, as suggested by Sony’s own built-in Cinema preset. But if anything this merely made the bright ‘pools’ more obvious! Turning the brightness way down as well as the backlight did improve things a bit, but then, of course, the image was starting to look a little duller than most people would be happy with.
What’s worse is that the 40S5500’s black level response isn’t actually all that great anyway. There’s a definite pall of grey hanging over even the parts of the picture that aren’t affected by the pools of light. And to wrap up a distinctly underwhelming contrast performance, the 40S5500 also loses contrast if watched from an angle (like most LCD TVs), and suffers with a rather over-aggressive dynamic contrast engine that can make the picture’s overall brightness level jump around a bit too obviously at times.