- Review Price: £890.00
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.
You may have noted, too, that I’ve yet to make any mention of wireless functionality with the 40V5500. The reason for this is simply that the set doesn’t support it! There’s no wireless receiver/transmitter built into the TV, and unlike Samsung’s online TVs, you can’t add wireless functionality via an optional dongle inserted into the USB port.
Having to hardwire the TV to your broadband connection – not always an easy job, depending on the site of your router/phone line – is a potential aggravation that to be honest feels hard to swallow in today’s Wi-Fi age, and adds to the rather ‘unfinished’ feel of the 40V5500’s Internet functionality.
Turning to other key features of the 40V5500, I quickly found a couple of interesting ‘eco’ tricks: a two-stage power saving system that knocks back the output of the backlight, and the facility to actually switch the picture off if you’re ‘watching’ something where the only thing that really matters is the audio track.
A more common eco element carried by the 40V5500 is a light sensor, so that the picture’s brightness can be automatically adjusted in response to the amount of ambient light in your room.
When it comes to picture quality, I was intrigued to find that the 40V5500 sports the latest generation of Sony’s Bravia Engine video processing, cunningly called Bravia Engine 3. And although we haven’t been furnished with full details of all its improvements and refinements, we have been assured that Bravia Engine 3 is no mere slight upgrade. Indeed, the chipset driving it has been redesigned more or less from scratch.
Not that Bravia Engine 3 is the only processing trick of note. An advanced picture adjustment submenu also gives you control over a host of further processing tweaks, such as Sony’s vibrancy-boosting Live Colour system and a black correction tool. Blu-ray fans, meanwhile, will be pleased to learn that the 40V5500 features Sony’s 24p True Cinema mode, for enhanced 1080p/24 playback.
All in all, despite not finding any 100Hz processing (for that you’ll have to step up to Sony’s new W5500 range), there’s enough going on behind the scenes of the 40V5500’s pictures to raise real hopes about how good they might be. And for a while, at least, it seems as if the 40V5500’s picture performance will more than live up to our hopes.
Take its colours, for instance. They’re startlingly good, looking sensationally rich and bright but crucially also eye-catchingly natural and believable, especially with high definition fare.
Such a definitive colour performance can only be achieved if a TV has a credible black level response, and this is certainly true of the 40V5500. Dark scenes suffer less tell-tale greyness than the vast majority of rival LCD TVs, producing the deepest black levels Sony has yet managed outside of its 55X4500 LED TV.
Concerns I’d had about the lack of 100Hz processing on the 40V5500 prove largely unfounded, too. For it actually handles motion very well, with, for instance, football players charging around the screen without losing severe amounts of detail and clarity. Camera pans can look a little stuttery and indistinct if they’re really fast, but for the most part there’s nothing motion-wise to complain about here given the 40V5500’s reasonable price point.
The KDL-40V5500’s solid clarity with motion helps it do a great job, too, of reproducing the glorious sharpness and texture of HD sources. The set’s Full HD resolution doubtless plays a part in this too, but so exceptionally clean and sharp are the 40V5500’s HD pictures that the new Bravia Engine 3 circuitry also has to be heavily involved, boding well for Sony’s other upcoming TVs for this year.
Actually, the new Bravia Engine update does a mighty fine job with standard definition too, making it look sharper but also cleaner than it did on previous Sony LCD TVs.
As you’d probably imagine from all this positive talk, the 40V5500 can produce some truly outstanding images. Indeed, it does this for the vast majority of its running time. Yet you’ll doubtless have noticed that it still only scores an eight for pictures.
There’s really just one reason for this, and it couldn’t be more frustrating: backlight inconsistency. In other words, very dark scenes can suffer light pooling, where some areas of the picture look brighter than others. This is clearly distracting, and is made all the more upsetting by the fact that I’ve had cause to moan about the same issue on some previous Sony TVs I’ve tested.
To put this into perspective, though, I should stress that the issue is much, much less pronounced than it was on, say, Sony’s W4500 TVs. You won’t see it at all except during very uniformly dark scenes, and provided you’ve got the backlight, brightness and contrast settings sensibly reined in, the effect is very subtle.
But while it’s possible to calibrate the problem almost completely away, the resulting image will not be as bright as many people would like it to be, especially if their living room is regularly filled with ambient light. And since TVs from many other brands exist without the sort of backlight inconsistencies spotted on this Sony, I really don’t see why anyone should have to be forced by an inherent panel flaw into having their picture settings imposed on them.
The excellent but flawed pictures from the 40V5500 are joined by some pretty satisfying audio. Vocals sound credible and clear even under duress, and there’s a startling amount of harshness-free treble detailing to be heard too. I was also struck by how nicely the mid-range expands during action scenes, with my only gripe being that there’s not as much bass around as I’d ideally like to hear.
In many ways, the 40V5500 really is a terrific TV. After all, for much of the time that you sit there watching it, its pictures could well have your jaw hanging open in admiration. It’s just a real shame that all this quality should be blighted by the return of Sony’s inconsistent backlight problem.
To be fair, the subtlety of the problem here is such that it only very rarely troubles your viewing, and so it’s possible that some, maybe even many people who take a 40V5500 for a test run will end up buying one anyway. But such a flaw to my money makes it impossible to give this set a whole-hearted recommendation.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
Sound Quality 8
|Size (Inch)||40in, in|
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||50Hz|
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