Sony's KDF-50WE655 replaces 2003's as the company's entry-level 50-inch LCD-based rear-projection TV. While not quite as stylish as last year's model, the KDF-50WE655 has an improved menu system and a few major additional features, including an HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot, all for about the same price as last year's model: the set lists for $3,299 and can be had for a good deal less online. We were a little disappointed that Sony, after showing marked improvement in black-level performance, didn't raise the bar further with this year's model, but that's our only real image-quality gripe. Otherwise, the 50WE655 is a solid performer in the microdisplay pack and strongly worth considering, especially if you can see the rainbows in DLP sets such as the Mitsubishi WD-52525.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.As we mentioned at the outset, the exterior of the KDF-50WE655 is not quite as impressive as that of its predecessor, the WE610. It lacks the attractive and functional dark-black bezel surrounding the screen and now sports an all-silver finish. The stereo left and right speakers are artfully concealed behind a microperforated baffle on either side of the screen. Yes, the set's simplistic elegance should blend in well with most decors, but we suspect that the plain-Jane design will cause some buyers with their hearts set on a Sony to consider instead better-looking, pricier 55-inch models such as the KDF-55WF655 or the (no, the company does not offer a step-up 50-inch model).
You'll need some sort of stand to elevate the 50WE655 to eye level. Sony conveniently offers a matching model, the SU-GW11, for $499 (list). This set weighs only 85 pounds and measures 54 by 37 by 17 inches (WHD).
The remote remains one of our favorites, as it is extremely well laid out, easy to use, and not too large. Happily, the internal menu system has been radically redesigned for the better. For starters, the main categories are now vertically oriented, and when you select a picture parameter, it falls to the bottom of the screen, making image tweaks easier to perfect.Despite its designation as an entry-level television, the 50WE655 is almost as feature packed as the other Sonys and equals most other microdisplays in spec-sheet bragging rights. The 1,386x788-pixel native resolution of its three LCD chips should qualify it to display every detail of 720p HDTV signals, but it doesn't quite get there (see the Performance section for a full explanation). All other sources, such as DVD and standard TV, are converted to fit those pixels. Unlike many such displays, the 50WE655 does not come equipped to display computer video.
Many of the newest large-screen HDTVs come with a CableCard slot, as does this Sony, making it digital cable ready. This feature allows you to get digital cable and/or HDTV without a separate cable box--as long as your cable provider is onboard with this relatively new service (most are). There's also an integrated ATSC tuner for over-the-air HDTV reception via an antenna.
Sony's dual-tuner picture-in-picture (PIP) lets you put two images side by side, although component and HDMI sources can appear only on the left side. There are three picture modes with very different factory presets for the picture parameters (we recommend using Pro for serious viewing). Three selectable color temperatures are onboard, and a 3D comb filter improves picture quality for composite-video sources such as VHS. Aspect-ratio choices include four modes for standard-def and three for high-def--an improvement over last year's Sony HDTVs.
On the audio side, you get a powerful 30-watt amplifier that drives the stereo speakers and internal subwoofer. TrueSurround helps provide a semblance of the surround experience using the set's stereo speakers.