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Sony KDL-46Z4100 LCD HDTV  Print E-mail
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Written by Tom Volotta   
Thursday, 30 April 2009
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Sony KDL-46Z4100 LCD HDTV 
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I wish Sony and other manufacturers offered a way to both copy and paste settings with the unit and to at least save all those AV profiles to a simple text file so it could be easily captured through the USB port, then printed out for reference.

Short of calibrating the Z4100 through its DMeX service port (which Sony doesn’t readily provide the information on how to accomplish), it’s pretty much impossible to set up your TV just by tweaking this and that control while watching for favorite movie or TV show.  An established reference is required.   Not being a professional calibrator, nor having the light meters, signal generators and necessary Sony software, my tool of choice is Joe Kane’s Digital Video Essentials - HD Basis Blu-ray disc.  It’s a good way to bring out nearly the best your set has to offer in picture quality.

As a prerequisite to running the 46Z4100 through its paces, I played DVE Blu-ray through a Sony BDP-S350 connected directly via HDMI 1.3 to calibrate the TV.  If you don’t have Kane’s disc, an abbreviated version of the THX® Optimizer is available on PIXAR and several other feature film Blu-ray titles to help bring your TV into some semblance of calibration.  Without such references, our individual subjective perceptions of content sources and typically less than optimum viewing environments, makes it difficult at best to adjust even the most basic settings on the fly.

Even with a calibration disc, many consumers will find the task somewhat intricate due to the expanded capability of today’s televisions to save brightness, contrast (Sony calls this ‘Picture’), hue, color temperature, sharpness, noise reduction, backlight and other picture settings, all of which are interrelated, and can be applied to a multitude of input sources, formats and even types of content.  Pile on another layer of the 46Z4100’s Advanced Settings such as Black Corrector, Advanced Contrast Enhancer (ACE), Gamma and more, the process of properly setting up your TV to deliver its best pictures is daunting.   It’s better to have them then not, but because all these pieces interrelate, putting the puzzle together can be complicated.  What usually works best is turning nearly all the special features Off to better adjust controls to set the basic grayscale, then modify Sharpness, Gamma and others to suit your preferences.

In using Kane’s Blu-ray disc, I was able to set up in the Sony 46Z4100 pretty well, and viewing real-world content, especially Blu-ray, was really quite impressive.  A nice mix of rich, not overly saturated colors, sharpness without ringing and good blacks, shadows and subtle details.  1080p24 Blu-ray content like The Dark Knight and WALL-E were startling in their clarity and beauty.  Although noticeably better on Blu-ray, the regular DVD of Pixar’s CARS still looked sharp and clean when upconverted though the Sony BD player.  The night scenes driving to California from the opening race were filled with beautiful blacks and shading along with the subtle glow of lights and neon.

What I couldn’t quite do was dial in the grayscale to what the reference was calling for.  Setting the Backlight to its minimum, using the various PLUGE patterns on DVE - HD Basics, it wasn’t possible for me to reach the right balance in brightness and contrast adjustments in order to achieve the relationships between black and white being visible in the different test patterns.  
Black Levels

Switching over to the THX Optimizer from the PIXAR WALL-E Blu-ray disc, the 46Z4100 again balked at displaying the subtle shading variations in brightness and contrast for the grayscale test patterns.  Even going back and modifying the Backlight, then Brightness & Contrast again, and experimenting with Black Corrector, ACE and other advanced controls couldn’t reach the results I was looking for.

Other drawbacks on the panel included a distinct dimness, or darkening in all four corners of the screen when displaying white, light gray or very light color screens.  Brightness, color and general picture quality drops markedly when viewing even slightly off center.  Additionally, the geometry seemed unusually skewed.  Straight on, the 46Z4100 registered perfectly on Kane’s Geometry, Pixel Phase, Overscan and other measurement patterns designed to exhibit those flaws.  When viewed at about 15 degrees or more off center there was a noticeable vertical elongation of circles.

This is a nice set, but not being able to pull the blacks in to where they should be, and the poor off-center viewing was disappointing.  At it’s original $2,800 MSRP, I’d expect more.  But at today’s closeout prices, maybe the lack of fine-tuning for grayscale performance on this grade LCD is understandable.  It’s not a fair comparison, but my reference Pioneer Elite PRO-111FD, handles all the above without breathing hard.
Regardless, even on the more stringent demonstration materials on Kane’s disc designed to reveal a range of flaws from compression artifacts, high contrast, noise, color saturation, sharpness, etc., the 46Z4100 performed very nicely indeed.  As mentioned above, real world content, including some of the most demanding available today, all faired very well on the Sony.

Flowers

Watching a variety of both 1080i and 720p High Definition television via Comcast cable (standard service includes local unscrambled HDTV through Sony’s QAM tuner) and Standard Definition programs was actually quite good.  The 46Z4100 did a respectable job displaying SD on its 1080 screen.  I typically maintain the native aspect ratio coming in, as the distortion when blowing out to simply fill the screen is not acceptable.  High Definition looked especially nice.   



 
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