- Review Price: £459.95
TVs don’t have to be big to be HD Ready. Sure, the biggest part of the HDTV market is inevitably based on screen sizes of 32in or more. But there’s still a healthy market out there for folk looking for a small TV for a study or kid’s bedroom where it might well need to be able to play host to such ‘second room’ HD delights as a PC or an Xbox 360 games console. Or maybe even an HD DVD/Blu-ray player, if you’re really lucky.
Usually it’s left to budget brands like Goodmans or Bush to cater for the smaller end of the flat TV market. But not today, for in front of us right now sits a 20in LCD TV, the KDL-20S2020, from no less a big-name brand than Sony. But can such a diddy effort really achieve the same sort of picture highs witnessed on many of Sony’s current large-screen LCD TVs?
It certainly lacks the design panache of Sony’s larger efforts. The monotone silver screen bezel is really pretty drab, and the build quality feels unexpectedly flimsy and cheap. The sculpting, too, is hardly a work of art. Hmmm.
Things start to look up pretty sharply with the 20S2020’s connections, though. Inevitably given the set’s HD Ready status there are single HDMI and component options for digital and analogue HD sources respectively. But there’s also a D-Sub PC jack – far from a given at this screen size – and even a CAM slot for adding subscription TV services that reveals the presence of a built-in digital tuner.
The digital tuner is no half-baked effort, either. Investigation reveals that it’s backed up by full seven-day Freeview Electronic Programme Guide support, and the facility to set recording events just by selecting programmes from the EPG listings.
The 20S2020’s key manufacturer’s specifications are also much better than we’d expect to find on such a small TV. A native resolution of 1,366 x 768 rounds out the TV’s HD Ready status, for starters. But we’re also impressed by a claimed contrast ratio of 1200:1 (a figure that shames many TVs twice the size) and a claimed response time of 8ms, which will hopefully mean this Sony handles motion much more ably than most of its small-screen counterparts.
Other features found within the onscreen menus include manual backlight adjustment, noise reduction routines, Virtual Dolby processing for creating a pseudo surround soundstage from just the TV’s built-in stereo speakers, and further sound boosting from the very latest processing system from BBE Sound, rather grandly dubbed Viva Digital HD3D.
So far, so good. But we’re not talking complete sunshine and light. For starters, it’s a touch disappointing – if hardly surprising – to find that the 20S2020 lacks any form of the excellent Bravia Engine image processing sported by Sony’s larger LCD TVs. Rather more depressing/daft is how incredibly tiny the set’s onscreen menus are. Obviously they’re never going to be king-sized or anything given the space limitations imposed by the 20in screen. But there’s absolutely no need to make them so small that anyone with less than 20-20 vision will be able to read them from more than a couple of feet away.
Hopefully this puny menu situation doesn’t lead to any strain on your vision, for if it does you might not be able to fully appreciate just how excellent the 20S2020’s pictures look.
Particularly impressive is the picture’s level of sharpness and fine detailing. If you thought 20in wasn’t big enough to really see the difference between high and standard definition pictures, this TV will make you think again. Simply switching between the standard DVD and HD DVD versions of King Kong amply proves this, as the TV clearly manages to portray the positive difference created by all the lovely extra fine detail and crispness of the higher resolution format.
Happily the 20S2020 also has the colour capability to do justice to the extra vibrancy of the HD feed. Vibrant hues look extremely rich and bright, without being sullied by dot or edge noise, while subtler hues, including skin tones, all look impressively natural. There’s a pleasing degree of subtlety in the presentation of colour blends too.
Next to impress is the TV’s black level. We usually find small LCD TVs distinctly lacking in this department, greying over dark picture areas and making dark scenes look flat. But with the 20S2020, black parts of the picture are generally free of greyness, and even manage a fair degree of the sort of subtle shadow detailing that gives dark scenes depth.
That good claimed response time of 8ms also seems to pay dividends in the way motion-packed scenes are only slightly afflicted by LCD’s tendency to smear motion. This means that even a full-tilt Locust in Gears of War on the Xbox 360 retains the bulk of its definition.
Elsewhere we find edges looking sharp and free of jaggedness, and impressively little video noise. Even the MPEG decoder noise so common on digital tuner broadcasts seems well handled, leaving us with really no serious complaints about the 20S2020’s pictures at all.
The 20S2020 also delivers a sound performance that wouldn’t seem out of place on a much larger TV. BBE’s new VIVA system is particularly good, helping the TV’s speakers produce a soundstage packed with subtle treble details; surprisingly rich in bass; able to open up to meet an action sequence; and able to go good and loud without distorting.
There’s no doubt that upwards of £450 is a fairly steep price to pay for a 20in LCD TV when you can get one or two 26in models for around the same money these days. But whereas those cheapo 26in models tend to sacrifice performance quality for price, Sony has defiantly chosen to go for broke in performance terms, producing in the process quite possibly the finest 20in LCD picture performance yet. Which all boils down to yet more AV proof of the age-old maxim that if you want the best, you usually have to pay for it.
How we test televisions
We test every TV we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 8