Before formal image quality tests we submitted the Sony to our standard calibration and as usual, color fidelity improved quite a bit over the best picture preset, which in this case was Sony's Theater mode. We were able to bring color temperature more closely into line with the 6500K standard (see the Geek Box below) and disable most of the less-helpful picture features. Check out our complete picture settings for details.
For testing we compared the KDL-W4100 with last year's best Sony LCD, the KDL-46XBR4, this year's best LCD so far, the Samsung LN52A650, along with a pair of superb plasmas, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD and the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U. Our disc of choice was I Am Legend on Blu-ray played via our trusty Sony PlayStation 3.
Black level: Yes, the KDL-46W4100 is capable of displaying a very deep shade of black. The dark areas, such as the shadows that appear as Robert closes up the apartment for the evening, looked as inky as any LCD we've seen except for the LED-powered Samsung LN-T4681F, slightly exceeding the darkness of the black areas on the other two LCDs in our comparison--a solid point in the W4100's favor. The two plasmas, for their part, still appeared a bit darker overall than any of the LCDs. Sony's shadow detail was also very good, appearing as natural as on the Samsung, although not quite as good as the plasmas.
Unfortunately, the W4100's level of black fluctuated noticeably with picture content, specifically when the screen went completely black, such as during the credits or between scenes. The fluctuation was most obvious when moving from light to dark to light again, such as when Robert closes the final window of his apartment in preparation for the night, and the screen goes completely black (about 12:08 into the film). After a second the W4100's screen got a few steps darker still, spontaneously and with no other change in picture content, an effect that appeared quite unnatural compared with the other displays, whose blacks remained constant. A second or two later when the white door fades into view, the backlight kicked in and the letterbox bars and shadows brightened, again in obvious steps that were distracting compared with the other displays.
In most scenes, the backlight didn't dim or brighten, but we still wish there was a way to make it constant in every scene, as there is with the variable backlight on the Philips 42PFL5603D. We couldn't find any setting that prevented the Sony's backlight from fluctuating, including engaging the Custom picture mode as opposed to Cinema.
Color accuracy: The KDL-46W4100 did well in this category, although it couldn't quite equal the Samsung or the Panasonic. Primary color accuracy measured very close to the HDTV standard and while green was off just a bit, the shots of the trees and grass in overgrown Manhattan still appeared as natural as on those displays. The secondary color cyan was less-accurate than the primaries, however, which made the deep blue sky above Robert as he tees up on the wing of an SR71 Blackbird, for example, appear a bit too deep and blue compared with the others.
On the down side, color decoding pushed red so we had to reduce the color control a bit to preserve accurate skin tones. As a result the colors overall looked a bit less punchy and vivid than those on the Samsung and Panasonic, although there was still plenty of pop thanks to the Sony's deep black levels. We also appreciated that the black areas didn't tend strongly toward blue, as we've seen on so many other LCDs. Yes, they were a tad bluer to our eyes than the excellent Samsung and the plasmas, but better than the XBR4 and certainly not distracting in most dark scenes.
Video processing: Like similar modes available on other displays, Sony's MotionFlow processing is designed to smooth out motion--including the judder or faint stuttering inherent in 24-frame material such as that found on most films. Judder can be perceived most easily in pans and camera movement, but once you notice it, it seems to pop up everywhere. Some viewers find the smoothing effect desirable, while some think it looks too videolike and even cartoonish in some instances, particularly Hollywood films. We're of the latter camp, but we feel dejudder processing can be effective in some scenes.
Of the two MotionFlow modes available on the KDL-W4100, Standard introduces less smoothing while High, naturally, introduces more. That's the same arrangement as last year, but when we compared last year's KDL-46XBR4 with the KDL-46W4100, it became obvious that Sony has adjusted its MotionFlow processing for the better. The W4100's Standard setting didn't look quite as smooth as the same setting on the XBR4, leaving a bit more judder while still introducing some smoothing. The W4100's standard was about equal to the Medium setting on the Samsung. The ultra smooth High setting on both Sonys looked about the same, and we saw similar artifacts on both, including the "halo" distortion that appeared around an object moving against a detailed stationary background. Speaking of artifacts, however, neither Sony introduced any trace of the "triple puck effect" that was still a bit visible on the Samsung.
During Legend the modes behaved about as we expected. In High, we saw numerous artifacts, such as brief halos and breakup along the edges of Robert's red Mustang as he speeds through deserted Manhattan, but the extreme smoothness, which made every shot seem a bit fake or too videolike, was the most-objectionable issue to our eyes. For those who still want some smoothing the Standard mode made one of the better compromises we've seen; the helicopter shot down over the Manhattan buildings to find the car evinced a bit of filmlike judder and didn't look as fake as High, although we still preferred the look of Off.
Speaking of Off, that's the setting we used when evaluating the Sony with a 1080p/24 source. Comparing it with the plasmas, which were set in standard 60Hz mode, we did see a bit less of the judder associated with 2:3 pull-down on the Sony and the other 120Hz LCDs sets. The best example from Legend came during a long approach shot over the Intrepid; the wings of a white aircraft in particular moved more smoothly on the LCDs and looked a bit worse on the plasmas. We must say the effect was quite subtle, however, but it will give purists a good reason to use the 1080p/24 output on their Blu-ray players.
Our 1080i deinterlacing test revealed that while the Sony doesn't fail the test in the way the XBR4 did, it still didn't maintain full resolution with 1080i film-based sources. When displaying the deinterlacing pattern from HQ, our standard test, the W4100 softened the highest-resolution areas, causing them to lose that full detail, and so it failed the test as well. Of course, this failure and softness was very difficult to spot in program material.
As usual we found that engaging either of the dejudder modes also eliminated motion blur according to a test disc designed to show such blur in scenes like a series of cars driving past a stationary camera. With MotionFlow turned off, however, the cars' license plates showed the same kind of blurring and stutter we've seen on non-120Hz LCDs. Of course, both plasmas introduced no blurring, and indeed looked a bit sharper than the Sony even with MotionFlow engaged, but the difference was not drastic.
Uniformity: The Sony's screen was not as even across its surface as we expected from a high-end LCD. We noticed a brighter area on the left side of our review model's screen in dark areas, and a significantly brighter patch on the lower left edge that became even more distracting when we moved off-angle. When we viewed the Sony from either side it tended to be a bit discolored toward red or blue, and its black levels went south and washed out faster than the Samsung.
Bright lighting: This year's screen, in terms of reflectivity, splits the difference between the Samsung and last year's XBR4. The new screen certainly doesn't reflect as much ambient light as that of the mirrorlike Samsungs, and it did a noticeably better job of attenuating reflections than either of the two plasmas (despite their fairly effective antireflective screens), but it wasn't quite as good at cutting down reflections as last year's LCD. Still, for rooms with a lot of ambient light, especially windows opposite the screen itself, the KDL-46W4100 is a better choice than the Samsung LN52A650.
Standard-definition: The Sony tested as a below-average standard-definition performer. It displayed every line of the DVD format, although details in the stone bridge and grass looked relatively soft. It did a slightly better job than the XBR4 at removing jagged edges from moving lines and a waving American flag, although it still wasn't as effective as many HDTVs we've tested. Sony's noise reduction is still excellent, cleaning up the noisiest areas of low-quality material almost completely in its strongest NR mode, and offering a great selection of NR settings between to deal with higher-quality material. Finally, while the Sony did engage film mode to remove the moire from the bleachers behind the speeding car on the HQV test disc, it fell out and then back in to film mode quickly, thus failing our 2:3 pull-down test. The results for this test were the same in both Auto 1 and Auto 2 CineMotion settings.
PC: With analog PC sources connected via the VGA input, the Sony performed very well, resolving every pixel of a 1920x1080 signal with no overscan and delivering crisp text, although we did see a bit of edge enhancement, even in the special "Text" TV preset, that we couldn't eliminate. Via a digital HDMI connection PC performance was as perfect as any 1080p TV we've seen, with every detail resolved, no edge enhancement or overscan.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6416/7040||Average|
|After color temp||6501/6528||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 424K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 98K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.639/0.333||Good|
|Color of green||0.278/0.601||Good|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.051||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||N||Poor|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Sony KDL-46W410||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||274.43||140||96.4|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.3||0.15||0.11|
|Cost per year||$85.47||$43.86||$30.36|
|Score (considering size)||Average|