Sony Bravia KDL-40W5100 HDTV
At a Glance
The Sony Bravia 40W5100 isn't just an HDTV with a very good picture--it's a 40-inch window to the Internet.
The Sony Bravia KDL-40W5100 produces a very good picture--one of the best we've seen as of this review. This 40-inch HDTV, which has an estimated street price of $1100 (as of 9/22/09), also provides the most complete collection of Internet-based entertainment features we've encountered in a television. Its selection of DLNA and USB options is among the best (and the most unusual) around. The audio output disappoints, however, and some important settings are difficult to find.
This TV performed exceptionally well in PC World Labs image-quality tests, earning four-star scores (out of five) across the board, and placing second among our test group. No matter what we threw at it--an upconverted DVD, a 720p baseball game, or The Dark Knight's cityscapes in all of their Imax-to-Blu-ray glory--the Bravia 40W5100 gave us great picture quality.
We had a few complaints, of course. I found a scene from the Phantom of the Opera DVD (in Chapter 12) a bit contrasty, with inadequate gradation between light and dark objects. We noticed some digital artifacts, making some images appear less crisp on screen. Colors occasionally seemed dull compared with the hues of some other sets we tested. One judge praised the set for its colors, which managed to be deep and fully saturated without being garish.
The built-in speakers are sufficient if you're watching a talk show, but not what you want for music or action movies. Even with the volume down at 60 percent, I could hear some distortion in quiet passages--and when the content was loud, I detected a lot of it. And yet, when the audio purposely gets loud, as it does in our test sample from Chapter 2 of the Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray, the speakers don't have enough dynamic range for any real effect. The virtual surround sound didn't sound much deeper than standard two-track stereo. Real surround sound, of course, requires a separate receiver, a subwoofer, and at least five well-placed satellite speakers.
The ethernet-equipped KDL-40W5100 has the most comprehensive selection of Internet entertainment options I've yet seen in a television. Offerings include Amazon Video On Demand, Blip.TV, Bravia Internet Widgets (which are based on Yahoo Widgets and include weather, news, finance, and Twitter widgets), CBS (mostly just clips with a few full episodes), Sports Illustrated, YouTube, how-to videos, and far more options than I can list. Netflix on-demand movie streaming is promised for sometime in the fall.
Unfortunately, Sony's YouTube player has a user interface that leaves a lot to be desired. The text-entry screen (needed for searches) is just horrible; imagine sending a text message via the world's worst cell phone, which you're controlling by remote. And while I've always insisted that YouTube on an HDTV should appear in a small frame because of its low resolution, Sony defaults to putting it in too small a frame--you can barely watch it. You can increase the frame by pressing the remote's Select button (the one in the middle of the circle of arrows), then the Up button, but nothing on the screen tells you how to do that.
The KDL-40W5100's ethernet connection also allows it to play music, videos, and photos off of any DLNA server on your home network, including PCs with Windows Media Player 11 or 12 installed. Slideshow options include background music and some of the strangest transition effects I've ever seen. You can, for instance, look at your photos in a virtual museum, with "walls" that move as you "walk" from one framed picture to the next. You can also plug a flash drive into the TV's USB port and play media off of that, using the same tools. When you play media off a USB drive, the 40W5100 plays music only from.mp3 files, but over the network it can also play any format that your DLNA server supports, such as .wma.
Among other features is TV Guide On Screen, which lists shows coming up in about the next 24 hours. But that convenience comes at a price: If you turn on the TV Guide option, the KDL-40W5100 will use an astonishingly high 13.5 watts, even when the set is turned off.
Without TV Guide On Screen, this Energy Star 3.0 compliant HDTV uses less than a tenth of a watt in standby mode; if any other sets use less, our equipment can't measure the difference. According to PC World's Lab tests, the set consumes about 113 watts when in use, which is somewhat high for a 40-inch set; most rivals manage to use less than 105 watts.
This TV is for the most part easy to use, although some features and settings are maddeningly difficult to find--such as the YouTube screen size mentioned above. A wizard helps you set it up the first time, making sure to configure your TV for a home instead of a store and scanning for channels. You control other settings in the crossbar-style menu (similar to the one found on the PlayStation 3 and other recent Sony media products). If you've never encountered this style of menu, it can take some getting used to. One crossbar problem: When you select an item you want to change, you see only one option at a time and have to scroll to see the others. On the other hand, the menu includes useful and clear explanations. Changing inputs (such as going from a TV channel to your DVD player) is simple, as the KDL-40W5100's menu system grays-out and skips inputs with nothing plugged into them.
Long and thin, the remote control seems designed for people who tend to change channels with the numerical keypad rather than with the channel up/down buttons. The number buttons are placed right where your thumb can easily press them, while the four-way directional pad and the volume and channel controls are difficult to reach. The remote is neither backlit nor programmable.
In the end, the Sony Bravia KDL-40W5100 is a very good HDTV and an excellent Internet viewing device.