|Sony KDL-40Z4100 LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Saturday, 01 November 2008|
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Since the arrival of 120Hz TVs, the technology has generally been treated as a premium performance feature, reserved for use in a manufacturer’s highest-end lines. As with any popular feature, 120Hz is now slowly starting to trickle down into less-expensive models, like Sony’s Z Series. The Z Series, which includes screen sizes of 40 and 46 inches, is the step-down line from the company’s XBR Series. These TVs don’t employ all of Sony’s most advanced imaging technologies, but they still offer a higher level of a performance and an excellent complement of features. all for a few hundred dollars less than similarly sized XBR models. The KDL-40Z4100 is a 40-inch 1080p model, priced at $2,199.99.
Features and Set-up
In the design department, the Z Series follows the current trend of offering thinner, more discreet bezels. The KDL-40Z4100 sports a simple gloss-black cabinet (also available in brushed metal) that puts only about an inch of bezel around the screen’s top and sides. The beefier bottom bezel houses a horizontally aligned speaker bar. The TV comes with a detachable stand; in fact, it arrives in the box with the stand detached, which isn’t surprising. Given this model’s smaller screen size and lighter form (it measures just 2.88 inches deep and weighs 40 pounds), it’s easier to hang on the wall. Attaching the stand takes just seconds, should you choose to do so.
Along the KDL-40Z4100’s right side panel are buttons for power, channel, volume, input and home (to pull up the onscreen interface). Along the left side, you’ll find a USB port for JPEG/MP3 playback, one HDMI input and a single set of A/V inputs. The back panel sports three more HDMI inputs, as well as two component video, one RGB, one S-video, two composite video and one RF input. All of the HDMI inputs accept a 1080p/60 or 1080p/24 signal. The TV includes internal ATSC, NTSC and Clear-QAM tuners. It also features the TV Guide on Screen program guide and limited picture-in-picture functionality. Additionally, an optical digital audio and a stereo analog audio output are available.
To call this TV “digital media friendly” would be something of an understatement. In addition to the USB port mentioned above, the KDL-40Z4100 features a DMPort to connect digital media devices, an Ethernet port to add the TV to your home network and stream photos (but not music or videos) from a DLNA-compliant server and, finally, Sony’s proprietary DMeX port, which allows you to attach one of the company’s many Bravia Link devices. The optional Internet Video Link ($299.99) lets you stream online content directly to the TV without a PC. Sony recently announced a partnership with Amazon to make its Unbox service, through which you can rent or purchase popular movies and TV shows, available directly via the Internet Video Link.
The supplied remote is long and skinny, with a clean button layout and helpful blue backlighting. It lacks dedicated input and aspect ratio buttons, but otherwise includes the major buttons you would want. The KDL-40Z4100 uses the XrossMediaBar (XMB) onscreen interface, which you can access via the remote or the TV’s Home button. The XMB system is cleanly laid out and easy to navigate, although its many layers can make it somewhat cumbersome to move through, especially when you want to go directly into the audio and video set-up menus. Thankfully, Sony has also included a handy Options menu; a quick press of the remote’s Options button opens a menu along the right side of the screen, through which you can quickly access picture and sound adjustments, open PIP, change the 120Hz settings and more. The only navigation button that I really wish was on the remote is an exit button to quickly close any onscreen menu.
The XMB menu includes five main categories: Settings, Photo, Music, TV and External Inputs. The latter four help you to navigate the various types of media and input signals, while the Settings menu is where you’ll make your initial adjustments. There’s no shortage of picture adjustments, as Sony has kindly included many of the advanced options you find in its higher-end lines. For starters, you can choose between four picture modes: vivid, standard, cinema and custom. Sony TVs always default to the vivid mode, and you’ll definitely want to choose a less exaggerated option – possibly the standard mode, but preferably the more accurate cinema mode. Naturally, you get basic controls for brightness, contrast, color, hue and sharpness, and you can fine-tune each picture mode separately for each input. Edge enhancement is a concern if you set the sharpness too high, while the picture gets a little soft if you set it at its minimum. I found a setting between 5 and 7 strikes a good balance.
In the color realm, the KDL-40Z4100 has four color temperature options (cool, neutral, warm 1 and warm 2), as well as precise RGB gain and bias controls to dial in a more accurate white balance. You also get basic gamma adjustment and two color-space options, a standard mode for more natural color and a wide mode for more vibrant color. The cinema picture mode defaults to the warm 2 color temperature and standard color mode; these settings appear to produce the most accurate results. With test patterns, black detail looks solid with the gamma feature turned off, so I left it there.
The KDL-40Z4100 features a 10-step adjustable backlight, as well as a light sensor that automatically adjusts the TV’s light output based on room conditions, and a power-saving mode that reduces the screen brightness to cut down on energy consumption. (The latter two options are located in the General Setup menu, not the Picture menu.) As I usually do, I turned down the backlight to its minimum setting to get the best possible black level and found that the TV still had ample light output at this setting. If you set up the KDL-40Z4100 using test patterns from a disc like Video Essentials (DVD International), you may notice that the TV drives the black level based on the signal content. If you put an all-black pattern on the screen, you can see the black level visibly drop after about four seconds. If I were measuring the TV with a luminance meter, that drop would improve its black level and consequently its overall contrast ratio, but it’s not an accurate assessment of how deep blacks will really look. Thankfully, I never noticed the black-level shift with real-world content, so it didn’t prove to be a distraction. Before the drop occurs, the KDL-40Z4100’s level of black is solid but not as good as the better high-end Sony TVs I’ve seen and definitely not as good as the best plasmas and LCDs I’ve tested. Employing the power-saving function doesn’t appear to improve black level, but it does reduce overall light output with brighter content. The advanced picture menu also includes common Sony features like Black Corrector and Advanced Contrast Enhancer, which dynamically adjust black levels and contrast. These modes produce visible shifts in that I find distracting, so as always, I kept them turned off.
The Motion Enhancer function controls Sony’s Motionflow 120Hz technology. The setup options are standard, high and off. You can select a different option for each input, with standard as the default option across the board. When you choose the off mode, the KDL-40Z4100 still outputs a 120Hz frame rate; however, it simply duplicates frames to get to 120 and does not add any type of frame interpolation. The standard mode uses some frame interpolation to produce smoother movement, while the high mode uses even more advanced interpolation to create very smooth movement. The set-up menu also includes a CineMotion feature that lets you select the type of processing to employ with film sources; the options are off, auto 1 and auto 2. According to the manual, the auto 1 mode applies inverse 3:2 pulldown and adds a type of motion estimation to produce a smoother picture, while the auto 2 mode just applies the traditional inverse 3:2 pulldown. The different Motion Enhancer/CineMotion permutations affect motion in different ways, with varying degrees of success, which we’ll explore in the next section.
Other picture parameters include noise reduction, MPEG noise reduction, a game mode to improve the TV’s response time with gaming consoles and a video/photo optimizer that lets you designate still or moving images for each input. The KDL-40Z4100 offers four aspect ratios for SD content and four for HD. The Screen set-up menu allows you to select a default aspect ratio, turn on automatic aspect-ratio detection, designate a default shape for 4:3 sources and set the desired level of overscan: normal, -1, or -2, plus a full pixel mode for 1080i/1080p sources that lets you view content with no overscan.
In the audio department, the set-up menu includes three preset modes (standard, dynamic, and clear voice), as well as treble, bass and balance controls. Advanced features include the option to enable Sony’s S-FORCE Front surround feature, a Voice Zoom function that lets you adjust the clarity of voices, a Sound Booster to enhance bass and treble and Steady Sound to minimize volume discrepancies. You can set the TV’s audio output for fixed or variable and turn off the speakers altogether if you’re using an outboard audio system.
Should you opt to make use of the KDL-40Z4100’s back-panel Ethernet port, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Network Settings menu to review your network set-up. The default set-up option allows the TV to automatically configure your network settings, but there’s also a custom mode for those who wish to handle set-up manually. If you wish to access a DLNA-compliant photo server, you can add, subtract and view information about connected servers via the Show/Hide Servers menu. The network connection also allows you to perform firmware updates; for that, you must go into the sub-menu labeled “Product Support.”