For years, flat-panel liquid-crystal display, or LCD, televisions have taken a backseat in terms of looks and consumer preferences to plasma-screen TVs. Yes, they weigh less, are more durable and energy-efficient, and boast a better viewing angle. But LCDs have been crossed off many shoppers' lists because of their price premium over similarly sized plasmas and more muted color palate in darkened rooms.
Those days may be coming to an end. New LCD televisions from Samsung, Sharp, Sony (SNE) and Toshiba (TOSBF) look brighter and more vivid and are getting cheaper by the month, as giant new manufacturing plants bring down the costs of making such sets. One of the best-looking LCD TVs I've seen in this new crop is Sony's Bravia KDL-V40XBR1, which sells for about $3,000.
When Sony last year redesigned its product and changed the name of its high-end TVs from Wega to Bravia, the new set quickly took the top spot in sales over the holiday shopping season. It's easy to see why: Despite an understated design of a black border with silver trim, the Bravia delivers a beautifully crisp, lifelike high-definition image right out of the box, with little need for tuning.
LOST AND FOUND.
The set offers a resolution of 1,366-by-768, which delivers a pixel count that slightly exceeds the resolution of a 720p high-definition broadcast but is below the 1080i and upcoming 1080p resolution for new Blu-Ray Disc players. Sony plans to update its Bravia lineup later this year to deliver those resolutions.
Even so, a high-definition broadcast of the TV show Lost looked great, especially since Sony has placed a special emphasis on delivering more lifelike reds and greens to the picture, the end result being some of the most realistic-looking skin tones and detail on any set I've seen.
DVD playback also was good, with fast response times in action scenes and solid color reproduction. Like many other high-definition sets, however, analog pictures looked a touch grainy. But because the KDL-V40XBR1 is only 40 inches, those images don't look as bad as they would on larger sets with more surface area to show the warts.
The Bravia set includes many of the must-have features found on most high-end sets, including one known as 2:3 pulldown (called CineMotion by Sony) that automatically adjusts images that were shot on film for TV viewing. It has four color presets: Cool, Neutral, Warm 1, and Warm 2. I found Warm 2, with a hint more red, to my liking, though some may be turned off by the heavier emphasis Sony places on that color right out of the box.
ONE MEASLY HD INPUT.
Newer sets from competitors such as Sharp let you independently adjust the color palette, but most consumers are likely to stick to preset colors, and Sony's options are fine on that front. Most of the other picture-enhancing features, such as contrast enhancer and black corrector, are nice add-ons but do little to help the overall picture quality unless in the hands of a professional calibrator.
Sony cleaned up its historically busy remote as well. It replaces Menu functions with a more user-friendly interface and doesn't seem as unwieldy as some of their previous models. However, it omits a backlit system for operating in a darkened room, and has no individual input-selection buttons.
Another glaring omission that caused me to mark down the Bravia was the decision to include only a single HDMI (or high-definition multimedia interface) input. With many high-end satellite boxes, game consoles, and next-generation DVD players hitting store shelves this year, it's unforgivable that Sony, a champion of high-definition, would skimp on this front. For my evaluations, I've been using Gefen's $300 HDMI switcher, which lets you plug four HDMI-equipped consumer devices into one HDMI display input.
Otherwise, Sony offers a wealth of input choices. There are three component-video, one S-Video, and three composite-video inputs, each with matching stereo audio-ins. In addition, the set provides the CableCard slot, two RF inputs, and a PC-compatible RGB input.
A nice touch, too, was the decision to include a stereo minijack audio output in the event you want to use headphones while watching TV. Outputs include a standard optical digital audio-out and stereo RCA pair. A USB port on the side lets you plug in a digital camera to view photos or video.Though still a bit pricier than other LCDs on the market — and still well above competing plasmas in the 42-inch range — Bravia proves a worthy competitor, and one that would be a welcome addition to any home.