Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
When you compare various entry-level LCDs in the price range of the Sony KDL-L5000 series, you'll notice a few that cost a bit less. But for a Sony TV, this set is remarkably affordable, and its design, anchored by a sleek exterior and Sony's typical remote and menu prowess, stands at least a cut or two a cut above that of most HDTVs in its class. Its picture quality also hits most of the right notes, despite a uniformity hiccup and imperfect color accuracy. Finally the feature set has a few extras not often found in this price range, including a smattering of power saving modes and that third HDMI input. If you don't mind spending a couple bucks more than you absolutely need, the Sony KDL-L5000 series deserves consideration.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch Sony KDL-32L5000, but this review also applies to the 26-inch KDL-26L5000 and the 37-inch KDL-37L5000. All three sides share identical specs and should exhibit very similar picture quality. The 22-inch member of the series, model KDL-22L5000, has a lower contrast ratio so this review does not apply to it.
We liked the external appearance this little LCD quite a bit. Its glossy black frame is the same relatively compact thickness around all four sides of the screen, and has a beveled shape that's reminiscent of an actual picture frame. The matching stand doesn't swivel, but it seems a bit nicer than the norm as well.
Sony's design chops also extend to the remote and menu system. The compact clicker is the same as the one included on the step-up V5100 series, for example, and it's the best of the entry-level breed. The central cursor is plenty prominent and surrounded by four buttons that are difficult to confuse--one of which is the important "wide" key for aspect ratio control. A cluster of keys at the top of the remote can command other gear that's compatible with the HDMI-CEC control-over-HDMI scheme, but the remote can't control other devices via infrared.
The straightforward menus list plenty of selections on each screen and are oriented around a column of icons on the left side. Accessing the TV's relatively few functions is intuitive enough, although we would have liked to see text explanations for various menu items. A separate, but welcome, Tools menu offers up a few of the more oft-used functions, such as speaker and sound modes as well as the sleep timer, and yet another shortcut menu, titled Favorites, collects the last-used inputs and channels into a bar along the bottom of the screen.
Like most entry-level LCD TVs, the Sony has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, or 720p, as opposed to the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. Of course, at this screen size the benefits of 1080p are negligible, except with computer sources, so we don't consider this feature omission a big deal.
A good number of picture adjustments are on-hand. There are three adjustable picture modes and each is independent per input. Hitting the Theater key on the remote activates the Cinema preset. We especially liked the capability to tweak color temperature beyond the standard three presets, and unlike many entry-level sets, the Sony's white balance controls include all six main adjustments.
Other adjustments include a CineMotion control to handle 2:3 pull-down, three strengths of noise reduction, and a black corrector that modified the picture on the fly. We left the last two turned off for critical viewing.
Uncommon among entry-level sets, the KDL-L5000 provides a few easy ways to save power. There's a pair of power saving modes that limit peak light output, along with a convenient "picture off" setting that keeps the sound turned-on--great for when you have to leave the room but want to keep listening to the TV's sound. The set can also power down automatically if left "idle," with no input commands, after one, two or three hours.
Sony throws in an average number of aspect ratio settings: three for HD sources and four for standard-definition sources. However, aspect-related options are plentiful, including a mode designed to automatically set the correct ratio based on picture content, a Display Area setting to increase overscan slightly, and the capability to specify how the TV handles 4:3 (standard screen) video sources.
The connectivity of the KDL-L5000 series beats nearly all of its low-buck competitors with the exception of the Panasonic TC-32LX1. The Sony's back panel offers two HDMI, two component-video (one is compatible with standard composite video signals too), one VGA-style (1,360x768-pixel resolution) PC and one RF inputs, as well as an optical digital audio and an analog audio output. The side panel adds an AV input with S-Video and a third HDMI jack.