Earlier this year, Sony changed the name of its high-end LCD TVs from Wega to Bravia and launched a marketing campaign touting the line as "The world's first television designed for men and women." While it remains to be seen how the sleek, 40-inch Sony Bravia KDL-V40XBR1 ($3,499) scores with the ladies, it delivers a knockout in terms of LCD picture quality. No, it still can't outperform the best similarly sized plasmas on the market, and yes, like most Sonys, this 40-inch flat-panel LCD has a premium price tag and costs quite a bit more than competing plasmas. But if you have your heart set on an LCD or just really like the look of this Sony--or the name Bravia--it might be worth the price. Thankfully, there's not a trace of pink on the Sony KDL-V40XBR1. Silver trim and a slim silver strip along the front dress up the usual black border around the screen. Three tiny indicator lights reside below the right side of the screen next to the IR receiver, but they aren't really noticeable when you're watching the TV. Power, channel, volume, source-select, and menu buttons sit on the right side of the panel. Overall, this is one of the most distinctive-looking TVs we've reviewed.
A silver pedestal comes standard with the TV, though the decor-conscious could certainly mount the 40-by-27-by-5-inch, 75-pound TV on a wall. Sony makes an optional wall-mount bracket (SU-PW2) for just this purpose.
The remote isn't backlit and doesn't include individual input-selection buttons, but we found it comfortable enough to hold. Sony has replaced the usual menu controls with its Wega Gate interface. The remote has a Wega Gate button instead of the more familiar Menu, but otherwise the menu system is essentially the same as any other manufacturer's: logical and intuitively laid out. The major exception is the control for CineMotion (Sony's name for 2:3 pull-down), which resides in the Setup menu rather than the Picture menu. A native resolution of 1,366x768 gives the Sony KDL-V40XBR1 enough pixels to deliver all the detail of 720p HDTV. As usual, the panel scales all incoming signals, from VHS to HDTV, to fit the available pixels. A lone NTSC tuner serves up standard-definition TV, while a single ATSC tuner delivers over-the-air HDTV. The QAM tuner and the set's Digital Cable Ready compatibility let you watch digital and HD cable without an external cable box.
Picture-in-picture tops the list of convenience features, along with independent input memories. Options for changing aspect ratio include Normal (displays 4:3 sources properly), Full (displays 16:9 sources properly and stretches 4:3 sources evenly to fit screen width), Wide Zoom (slightly crops the top and the bottom and stretches 4:3 sources to fill screen width), and Zoom (crops the top and the bottom of 4:3 sources to fit screen width). They all work with standard- and high-def sources. The Freeze feature lets you snap a screenshot of the picture, which is useful for writing down phone numbers on American Idol so that we don't end up with another Kelly Clarkson.
Color-temperature presets include Cool, Neutral, Warm 1, and Warm 2. Warm 2 proved closest to the 6,500K standard (see Performance for more). Otherwise, most of the set's "picture enhancing" features actually harm picture quality and should be turned off for critical viewing. Black Corrector cuts brightness in large chunks and isn't necessary if you set the brightness control properly. The same can be said of Contrast Enhancer, which decreases the detail in the picture. Clear White shifts the color temperature back toward blue and should also be left off.
You can't say the KDL-V40XBR1 lacks connectivity, but we were disappointed to see only one HDMI input--most HDTVs at this price point have two. The back panel also has two component-video, one S-Video, and two composite-video inputs, all with matching stereo audio ins. In addition, the set provides the CableCard slot, two RF inputs, and a PC-compatible RGB input (up to 1,360x768 input resolution) with an accompanying stereo minijack audio input. Outputs include one optical digital audio and one variable/fixed stereo audio RCA pair.
Located on the panel's left side for easy access is a third component-video input, a composite-video input with stereo audio, a stereo minijack headphone output, and a USB port. The USB port allows connection of a Sony camera so that you can view photos or video. We were quite pleased with the overall picture quality of the Sony KDL-V40XBR1. With the backlight control set to zero and the Picture (a.k.a. Contrast) and Brightness controls set properly, this Bravia delivered a surprisingly convincing, deep color of black for an LCD panel. The space sequence at the beginning of "Chapter 2: Autopilot" of Alien: The Director's Cut looked more realistic than on most LCD TVs we've seen this year.
The Sony also served up lots of detail in dark scenes. In "Chapter 3: Awakening," the crew's bodies were clearly visible as the camera entered the hibernation chamber. Some HDTVs can eke out slightly more from this demanding scene, such as the outlines of the crew's arms, but this Sony did a formidable job for an LCD.
Out of the box, with the Cinema picture preset and the Warm 2 color-temperature setting activated, the KDL-V40XBR1's picture had an obvious red cast; the other presets were worse, however, giving the picture a blue cast. After calibration, the color temperature improved greatly, coming close to the 6,500K standard except in the darkest parts of the picture, which were still tinged noticeably blue.
Color decoding is the Sony's biggest weakness, and it kept the set from scoring higher in our picture-quality tests. The panel evinced a nasty red push that we were unable to correct during calibration. It caused Caucasian skin tones, for example, to appear too red. To its credit, the panel had accurate red and blue primaries, though its green was well off the mark.
The TV aced our 720p multiburst resolution pattern from our Sencore VP403 signal generator, and detail in HD sources looked great. In the comedy Doctor Detroit on NBC's Universal HD, the vivid colors of the 1980s fashions practically popped off the screen. We could see every bead of sweat on Dan Ackroyd's face as he feigned material-arts expertise early in the movie.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5,562/5,871K||Average|
|After color temp||6,259/6,506K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 700K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 92K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.652/0.325||Average|
|Color of green||0.193/0.639||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.143/0.068||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||N||Poor|