If you're a global megacorp like Sony and you're struggling to make your customary critical and commercial impact in a particular area of technology, you can do one of two things. You can bail out and plough a fortune into coming up with a new rival technology. Or you can knuckle down and stick at it in a bid to finally do it better than anyone else.
Sony has gone for option two with its LCD TVs, throwing all manner of technological innovation into the second generation of its Bravia range. But has the flurry of R&D paid off, or will the HD Ready KDL-40V2000 fall short of the sort of quality we expect from one of the world's most trusted tech brands?
Although the Sony Bravia KDL-40V2000 perhaps doesn't look as high-tech as it might, considering how much innovation is going on inside, it's still attractive, in a slightly butch kind of way. Particularly striking is the way the set avoids the high-gloss finish favoured by so many LCDs now, and in doing so focuses your attention more on its impressive build quality.
The 40V2000's connections throw up an immediate disappointment: just one HDMI jack. Oh well -- we suppose having to add an HDMI switching box if you do end up with two or more HDMI-based sources (such as Xbox 360) isn't the end of the world.and the
There's also a pair of RGB-capable Scarts, component video inputs and, significantly, a 15-pin PC socket. Why is this PC socket significant? Because Sony has been curiously reluctant to include them on many of its previous LCD sets, so it's nice to find the new Bravias apparently embracing the convergence age.
One final socket, a PCMCIA slot, reveals the presence in the 40V2000 of a built-in digital tuner. You use the PCMCIA slot for adding subscription TV services like Top Up TV to your basic Freeview channel selection.
The remote control supplied with the 40V2000 is a beauty, in terms of both design and usability, and it harmonises superbly with an onscreen menu structure that's the most friendly Sony has delivered in ages.
We've already mentioned that the Bravia KDL-40V2000 has a digital tuner, but we should add that it also offers full support for the Freeview seven-day electronic programme guide, including letting you set timer events simply by selecting programmes from the listings, and letting you filter the listings by programme type.
As you'd expect, the 40V2000 also hits the specification targets required by the industry's HD Ready standard, adding to its HDMI and component connections an HD-friendly native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels and compatibility with the 1080i and 720p formats. It can't take the more advanced 1080p resolution -- but then neither can the vast majority of its rivals right now.
Final little bits and bobs before we get into Sony's key new technologies include backlight adjustment, a contrast booster, MPEG noise reduction for reducing the blocky look of some digital broadcasts, gamma adjustments and a system for souping up pure whites.
And so to the first of Sony's innovations, starting with the rather grandly named Bravia Engine. This replaces the WEGA Engine picture-processing system used in some previous Sony LCDs, and differs from its predecessor in that it's designed 100 per cent for LCD TVs, ditching the compromises that allowed WEGA Engine to function with CRT and plasma TVs as well as LCD.
Among the reams of stuff Bravia Engine brings to the party are increased sharpness and detailing, richer but more natural colours and multi-faceted video noise-reduction routines.
Next on the 40V2000's tech list is Super Vertical Pattern Alignment (SPVA). The main objective of SPVA is to tackle LCD's customary viewing-angle problems, whereby contrast levels and colours tend to reduce dramatically when viewing an LCD TV from the side. SPVA works by incorporating into each individual pixel a trio of smaller subsections that are used to refract the light over a wider angle as it emerges from the screen.
Sony's final key innovation for the 40V2000 is its hefty-sounding Wide Colour Gamut technology -- part of a colour system Sony dubs Live Colour Creation. Sony has redesigned its LCD backlight system using newly developed phosphors with better light-emitting properties, resulting in, so Sony claims, the reproduction of a much wider section of the visible colour spectrum the human eye detects in the real world.
So, do Sony's new technology tricks make a difference? Indeed they do. Colours, in particular, show huge signs of improvement over Sony's previous LCD efforts, finally managing to match its customary vibrancy with natural tones.
Also much easier on the eye are the Bravia KDL-40V2000's black levels. Previous Sony LCD offerings have tended to look washed out and flat where dark parts of a picture are concerned, but here dark areas not only deliver a genuine sense of black but also have enough subtle shadow detailing to add real depth to the image as a whole.
Yet more key improvement can be seen when things get moving, as the smeary look to motion seen on previous Sony LCDs gives way to a much cleaner, sharper impression. There's still room for improvement -- but not much.
Connected to this is how fantastically sharp and crisp the 40V2000's pictures look with high-definition sources. In fact, if there's a sharper, more detailed HD TV around, we haven't seen it. The Bravia Engine also earns its stripes by making standard-definition sources look clean and sharp too -- even pretty ropey stuff from the built-in digital tuner.
Particularly impressive in all this multi-source sharpness is the fact that it's achieved with precious little sign of any accompanying processing noise, leaving the picture clean and direct.
Finally in the positive column, watching the 40V2000 from even quite extreme angles results in far less image degradation than with most LCDs, proving the worth of the new SPVA system.
Only two small negatives warrant a mention. First, even though colours are much improved over previous Sony efforts, a trace of orange can still occasionally slip into rich reds. And second, sharply contrasting edges can sometimes appear with a glowing 'echo' around them. But neither of these issues is hard to live with in the context of all the positives.
The 40V2000's talents extend to sound as well as pictures. Its two 12W speakers deliver more sheer power and dynamic range than practically any other LCD TV in its class, meaning it can rise effortlessly to the challenge of even the most cacophonic of movie action scenes.
In fact, whichever way you look at it, the 40V2000 is not only the finest big-screen LCD all-rounder we've seen to date, but also a scarily high benchmark for other pre-World Cup LCD wannabes to aim for.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide