Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
Sony has always been a go-to brand for people who don't mind paying more for HDTVs, or just about anything else for that matter, and the company's least-expensive 2008 32-inch HDTV, the KDL-32M4000, exemplifies the trend. This little set costs a couple of hundred dollars more than no-name LCDs, and generally a hundred more than competing name-brand sets such as the Samsung LN32A450 and the Sharp LC-32D44U. For your extra cash, you'll get great design and, yes, very good picture quality for the smaller HDTV category, but we don't think, for most people, that going Sony at this size is worth the price.
Just about every HDTV on store shelves has glossy black finish, and the KDL-32M4000 is no exception. Sony differentiates it from the pack with a few attractive accents, however, including organically rounded-off-corners, an inset panel with the perforated speaker grille along the bottom, and a subtle matte black ring bordering the entire frame. We liked the look, but overall it wasn't quite as attractive as Samsung's LN32A450 to our eyes. All told the KDL-32M4000 measures 31.9 inches by 23 inches by 9.6 inches and weighs 36 pounds including stand.
Sony's menu system is a straightforward affair with a few thoughtful touches, including a "Shortcuts" menu that gathers a few oft-used functions, such as aspect ratio, closed caption, and input selection, in the first screen you see after pressing the big Menu button. Other screens are arranged well and we had no problems finding what we wanted--a distinct relief after having to slog through the XMB interface on higher-end Sony sets such as the KDL-46XBR4. The remote on the little KDL-32M4000 is a model of efficiency and friendliness, offering the right size, the right number of buttons and nice tactile differentiation to make finding your way by feel a cinch.
Like just about all manufacturers' entry-level LCDs, the Sony has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which is perfectly adequate--1080p would be wasted at this screen size. Its array of picture controls falls into the lower end of the name-brand pack--not as extensive as Toshiba, Samsung, or LG, but still enough to get the job done. Sony includes three picture modes that are all adjustable and independent per input. Major controls include a trio of three color-temperature presets (but no way to adjust white balance further), a three-position noise reduction control, four steps worth of gamma control, and a few other settings we left turned off for critical viewing; see Performance for details and our full picture settings.
The Sony offers four total aspect ratio modes for standard-definition and three for high-definition sources. Unfortunately none of the HD modes eliminate overscan completely, which would be a nice option for people interested in seeing to the extreme edge of the image. Many sets we've tested, including 32 inch models from Toshiba, Samsung and LG, have a zero-overscan option. (Updated 5/15/2008: Originally we mistakenly indicated that the Sony did have such an option).
Among other features, the KDL-32M000 lacks standard picture-in-picture, but you can watch a little subwindow when the main screen is the input from the VGA connection. Unfortunately, the subwindow won't display any external sources such as HDMI or AV, just channels tuned by the TV itself. The Sony is also missing any kind of Energy Saver function, although it is one of the more energy-efficient HDTVs we've tested (see the Juice Box for details).
Unlike many 2008 HDTVs, including significantly less-expensive models such as the Toshiba 32CV5210U and the Insignia's NS-LCD32-09, the KDL-32M4000 has just two HDMI inputs as opposed to three. The rest of its connectivity is fine, however, and includes two component-video inputs, one PC input, one AV input with composite and S-Video, one RF input for cable and antenna, and stereo analog and optical digital audio outputs. The side panel adds another AV input with composite video and a headphone jack.
With its relatively accurate color and solid black-level performance, the Sony can definitely be counted among the better-performing small-screen LCDs we've tested. Its screen uniformity was a disappointment, however, and we would have liked the ability to tweak the picture further.
Setup and calibration of the KDL-32M4000 went quickly thanks to a relative lack of advanced controls. All we really had to do was choose the Warm2 color temperature preset, dial down the backlight control and engage the Off gamma setting, which produced the most natural rise out of black. Our full picture settings tell the whole story. For our comparison and image quality tests we set the KDL-32M4000 up next to the Toshiba 32CV510U, the Insignia NS-LCD32-09, the LG 32LG30, and the Samsung LN32A450 and spun up our trusty copy of No Country for Old Men on Blu-ray played from the PlayStation3.