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Sony KDL-46Z4100 LCD HDTV Print E-mail
Thursday, 30 April 2009
Article Index
Sony KDL-46Z4100 LCD HDTV
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That's Nice, But... 

Yes, the KDL-46Z4100 has the premium video capabilities of 10-bit processing combined with a 10-bit LCD panel, x.v. Color and Deep Color - all able to be transported over the HDMI 1.3 path.  The issue is that except for the new Advanced Video Coding High Definition (AVCHD), a version of H.264/MPEG-4 video compression, camcorders and some new Sony Playstation 3 video games being developed, there is NO readily available consumer content being produced with 10-bit, x.v.Color or Deep Color specifications.

Even Blu-ray discs are mastered in a highly compressed 8-bit color space, and there certainly are no high definition television programs available OTA, cable or satellite in a format better than 8-bit.  Don’t hold your breath in waiting for special 10-bit, x.v.Color, Deep Color Blu-ray discs or Internet streaming/downloads.  The increased storage and bitrate throughput required won’t be tackled anytime soon by the manufacturers, studios or carriers.

So what exactly is the point of having all this advanced video capability when the likelihood of those technologies ever encountering content that merits their existence is slim to none?  Does 10-bit, x.v. Color and Deep Color make 8-bit, sRGB, True Color look better?  Questionable.  Off hand, probably not, but I haven’t seen side-by-side tests.  Having the extra horsepower may be useful in assuring that the content that does enter the system looks as good as possible by at least maintaining the incoming quality coming without possibly being degraded.  But it’s not magic, and won’t transform highly banded content into smooth.

It does provide some measure of future-proofing as compression/decompression (codecs) formats improve, allowing advanced standards such as x.v. Color or Deep Color to actually be stored on media, transmitted and sent to your screen via HDMI 1.3.  There may also be some advances in online content delivery that would benefit.  However, 10-bit (30-bits-per-pixel), Deep and x.v.Color capability (aka 30, 36 and 48-bits-per-pixel) in your TV doesn’t guarantee you won’t see a banding effect, as those artifacts might be there already.  The original source material being feed into the system itself may be flawed to begin with, or it could be poorly encoded, or artifacts introduced during transmission before reaching your equipment.

Although the original material for feature films and other HD content is typically captured, edited and processed with professional equipment as uncompressed 10-bit, 12-bit or 16-bit in 2K, 4K and even up to 8K workflows (required for the IMAX scenes in The Dark Knight), high definition content currently delivered to consumers through broadcast, cable, satellite and Blu-ray movies is still encoded as highly compressed 8-bit video with AVC, VC-1 and MPEG-2 codecs.  This is required for smaller file sizes to store the content and much lower throughput bit rates consumer equipment is designed to accommodate.

OK - so, if my WALL-E or The Dark Knight Blu-ray discs are only 8-bit, with no realistic expectation there will be 10-bit BD or other consumer content anytime soon, why should I care if the TV has 10-bit video processing with a 10-bit panel, or whether the Blu-ray players can output x.v.Color and Deep Color?  Numerous Blu-ray players currently offer the ability to “upscale” 8-bit content to these advanced color profile, similarly to how they take 480i DVD-Video and convert it to 1080p.  10-bit players, interface pipelines and displays won’t magically clean up 8-bit which is already compromised, either being present in the master material, introduced during the workflow from capture into an editing system, encoding for distribution and perhaps re-encoded along a transmission path.  Consider it a “Do no harm” type of insurance policy.  The expanded palette offered by x.v. Color and increased precision of Deep Color in newer Blu-ray players and displays is only possible with 10-bit (or better) processing, and if the final piece of the chain, the display, only has 8-bit video processing and an 8-bit panel, the superior quality of x.v. and Deep Color will not be delivered.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve always liked Sony televisions and have owned several models, plus have used many of their professional standard and high definition CRTs over the years.  After dropping its plasma line a couple years ago to first focus on LCDs, Sony has made impressive strides.  Much of the overly sharp, edgy quality LCDs had early on has been mitigated through advances in the core technology, but also through higher frame rates and special motion processing.  Truly deep blacks still elude the Z4100 series, but it is a model position somewhere in the high-middle of Sony’s product offerings, so one shouldn’t expect the very best.

The 46Z4100 is beyond versatile in terms of media format input capabilities.  It’s getting close to being the central hub for audio, video and computer integration, and the addition of BRAVIA Link Modules connected through the DMeX port only enhances that potential.  The sound system is only average.

The on screen user interface works pretty well, but could use a touch-up to enable swifter navigation to the specific settings menus you want.  Luckily, once the primary viewing settings have been made, there are enough direct buttons or short cuts on the remote control that permit quick access to a variety of adjustments you’d make when watching.  People demand them and there are a lot of options on this TV.  With that, there is a limit as to how simple the selection of those choices and operations can be made.

All in all, the KDL-46Z4100 is a terrific LCD TV.  Considering it is last year’s model, but can be had at closeout pricing of half its original $2,800 MSRP (which is also what the new 46” Z5100 retails for), while containing near all the same features, makes it a real bargain.  A curious note is that the new 2009 Z5100 series does NOT include x.v.Color.  That feature is now exclusively with the XBR LCDs.  So, in addition to getting a great deal, you’ll have a set with features only available from Sony’s upper tier.

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