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Sony KDL-V40XBR1 LCD HDTV Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 August 2006
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The Downside
While the great light output and huge range of displayable colors produced fantastic picture quality compared to televisions costing three times as much, several features are less than well implemented. To begin with, the user-adjustable video controls are buried deep in the WEGA menu system. It takes a whopping eight button clicks to find your way even to the Contrast control, and even more clicks to get to the Brightness, Color, Tint, Sharpness, Noise Reduction, Color Temperature and other critical adjustments. Furthermore, there is a whole additional WEGA submenu which offers many, many other critical image controls that are simply too hard to access to be useful by most consumers. I went into and out of these menus several thousand times during my 12-week Video Calibration Labs mandatory testing and evaluation period and it was a total chore, only exceeded by working with the service menu for this set to calibrate color temperature accurately.

There are no usable service modes (only the factory mode) to achieve calibration with the user controls at their default (reset) positions, allowing for changes in the user controls for a particular program, which can then be returned to the calibrated reset position at the push of a single reset button. Right now, end users can make some adjustments to color temperature and gamma using the sub-picture menu, but these are rather coarse in comparison to what can be achieved with this and other televisions when a true service or factory mode can be easily accessed. Consequently, I was able to calibrate this honey of a set only so close to our HDTV and SDTV broadcast standards, unlike the entire series of Qualia display products, which offer a much more refined service mode of adjustment. The picture was stellar for the money, but could be twice as good at least through simply calibrating the service modes using instrumentation. Either more accurate controls need to be made available in the User Menu or a service mode must be made available to qualified and certified calibrators. Customers have a right to expect their A/V purchases to operate at full power, and this can only be adjusted properly at the end user’s home with its own sources.

Black levels are better than most plasma screens but still, as with the Qualia 005, they are not those of a good SXRD or DLP front projector. Light-transmitting technology (like LCD, SXRD, Plasma and DLP) can only filter light down to so much black. This is certainly true of 35mm and IMAX film in their respective theatrical versions, but they are the source that we are trying to duplicate with these technologies. Consequently, until light output improves to include a dark, neutral density filter that increases the contrast ratio while darkening the blacks, some kind of 10 percent bias light solution behind the set will greatly improve the contrast ratio and impression of rich and dark blacks. This engine does provide better low-level detail than the Qualia 006 SXRD rear projector, which can become splotchy in the blacks.

The front bezel is literally littered with gray and white text logos for WEGA and Bravia, alongside SRS True Surround, the Sony logo, etc. These stand out from the set’s black frame, which surrounds the image, offering occasional distraction which could have been deferred had these been removable stickers. If there was any light on in the viewing room, I found the logos to clutter the border of the image. Needless frame clutter is visually wasteful to an otherwise beautiful design, and since the Qualia products along with earlier XBR efforts have never had this much of a problem, I feel Sony must make these removable as they have in the past.

The sound was quite lovely, with clean highs and reasonable bass. But my Bose Wave Radio, as it has done in the past, dwarfed the sound of the TV’s amplifier and speakers, creating a wide and deep soundstage with much more pleasing and accurate timbres throughout the presentation. Clearly, the sound of the Sony TV is better than some efforts in the past, but remains somewhat disappointing in comparison to many inexpensive surround audio breakout solutions for less than $400.

XBR sets have always (as a rule) offered a more or less accurate picture mode, so that consumers can simply choose the NTSC or Professional Mode and all images are displayed without adding or subtracting any actual picture information. Usually the color temperature and gamma are considerably closer to the 1953 NTSC television standard, which are used in the production of nearly every broadcast, cable, satellite, LaserDisc, DVD, HD DVD and now Blu-ray Disc program ever available. Each of these sources will be reproduced inaccurately, except when viewed using the correct picture mode. And while the Custom mode does come set up out of the box to look quite good, it would take only another few dozen lines of code in the operating system to allow end users the choice of an accurate mode for sources that merit it – straight out of the box.

Neither the Text nor Video mode for the PC input number 7 ever came close to being accurate vs. the Sony GDM-FW900 HDTV computer monitor, which has been an industry reference for the last five years. The text mode was always slightly dull and flat with a 1.0 gamma that only a tech could love, while the video mode was exaggerated and overblown with too wide a color gamut and crushed blacks. A computer input must have one accurate, adjustable mode so that anyone can make a computer image that actually looks like the source. Deep red should not suddenly appear as dark magenta, nor should skin tones be either washed out or blotchy with out of the box settings. I encourage Sony to test all inputs on these new television designs to make certain adjustment modes are available, which truly allow for calibrating the image to the most accurate capability of the set. If a customer wants an exaggerated image, they can go to the “Vivid” mode, where everything is as bright and popping-out at you as it is likely to ever get.

I really felt a need for at least two HDMI inputs on the set itself, despite the presence of both DtroVision and Geffen HDMI switchers. Certainly anyone purchasing this set will likely have or be adding additional HDMI-equipped sources. It would be really nice not to have to use an external HDMI-equipped receiver or switcher in order to address these other sources, particularly with digital here to stay. In other words, manufacturers like Sony should anticipate the needs of the customer, particularly ease of set-up and use, instead of just guessing or including features without actual testing in the marketplace.

The Sony Bravia KDL-V40XBR1 is indeed a formidable contender in the 40-inch television market, easily displacing the picture quality available from similar-sized plasma and LCD displays costing between one-half and four times its price. The television has a small, fairly thin case, which is light enough in weight that two people can easily set up the display on its supplied Lazy Susan 120-degree swivel base in under five minutes or slightly longer if mounting to the optional wall bracket.

Picture quality sets a new benchmark for active matrix (AM) thin film transistor (TFT) liquid crystal display (LCD), offering a considerably wider range of colors, combined with outstanding brightness and resolution for a 40-inch television or any display short of the Qualia 005, also an AM-TFT-LCD television. The set’s 1366 x 768 resolution clearly demonstrates the improved depth of field seen on 1080i movies (up-converted onboard to 1080p by the internal Sony WEGA engine) vs. the same program viewed at 720p. At the same time, 720p sources were displayed with precise details and virtually no additional image artifacts, certainly none that were not also found with the 1080i sources.

Of possible concern to black-level aficionados is a typical grayish quality to the blacks (found in most LCD and Plasma displays) unless a 10 percent bias light is used behind the set while viewing. Even here, this 40-inch XBR Bravia offered slightly better black levels than the Qualia 005 Tri-Luminous LCD television, certainly much better than most plasma or other LCD displays available today.

Lastly, it is clear that Sony is positioning itself at the pinnacle of picture display technology, both professionally and residentially. In continuing their 50-plus year trek through improving our daily lives through technology, such as the first commercially available transistor radio, video cassette recorder (Betamax), in-home large-screen projection television, 3.7-inch flat Trinitron TV, CD, DVD, SXRD, etc., I trust that the company who started the miniature home electronics revolution with quality in mind for all customers will continue their quest for the best possible picture and sound in each of its products, alongside both great attention to design and aesthetic details, as it has in all of its creations.

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