LCD already reigns supreme over small screen sizes but we've been unconvinced that the technology can outperform plasma in the large screen stakes…until now, that is.
Usually, plasmas display deeper black levels, creating enhanced contrast with colours that appear more natural. But, even compared to our class-leadingplasma, Sony's KDL-40W2000 comes out on top.
Unrivalled image quality is accompanied by outstanding design and a future-proof specification that features uncompromised connectivity, sophisticated picture processing and full high-definition support including the latest 1080p formats. If there is a better picture for the price than this, we haven't seen it.
We've always been admirers of Sony's design ethos. There isn't anything particularly striking about the matte-grey frame supported by a slim speaker system beneath -- but attention to detail and ergonomic finishing means the W2000 series exudes aspirational quality.
The compact design is comparatively lightweight, encouraging wall-mounting options. Alternatively, there is an accompanying fixed stand, although a swivelling model would allow more flexibility with placement and seat positioning.
Connectivity is impressive, with all analogue and digital options present. High-definition sources can be directly connected using two HDMI digital video inputs or by using an adaptor with the analogue component or PC input. This means you can connect up to four HD sources at the same time including devices like Sky's HDTV receiver and next-generation DVD players and games consoles -- although HDMI offers the best performance and is usually the only connection that supports full 1080p signals.
If high-definition is still an afterthought then conventional users can rely on two Scart terminals or the component inputs. Both Scarts are RGB-enabled so the quality of the incoming signals will not be compromised. In typical setups the component inputs can be used to display progressive scan video from a compatible DVD player while the Scarts can be used for recording devices and a satellite/cable receiver.
There are some standard, easy-access AV inputs as well, but they are best reserved for short-term connections like a camcorder or games console, as quality is poor. You can also use the screen as a large monitor when connected to a PC or media centre and there's an often-ignored PC audio input too.
The screen features a so-called 'Full HD' resolution that provides the basis for an impressive future-proof specification. The 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution means you can display standard 720p and 1080i high-definition formats in their entirety -- without any of the downscaling typically employed by lower resolution models.
Unlike Full HD models, the screen has also been engineered to accept the latest 1080p format being used by next-generation devices like Blu-ray/HD DVD players and thegames console. This technology is still in its infancy and 1080p content is relatively scarce, but having a compatible screen will prepare you for the future and eventually even HDTV programmes are expected to be broadcast using 1080p.
High-definition applications are supported by integrated analogue and digital terrestrial TV tuners, with a CI card slot for receiving various subscription-based channels from TopUp TV services.
The quality of the screen's picture processing is equally as important as the on-paper specification. Like all of Sony's second-generation LCDs, this model features proprietary Bravia Engine technology. The system is specifically developed for LCD and has been receiving rave reviews around the world for its impressive image performance. There are several supporting systems such as Live Colour Creation, which claims to deliver a 30 per cent wider colour gamut than conventional models.
Thankfully, this state-of-the-art technology doesn't confuse the screen's user-friendly functionality. On-screen menus, including the seven-day electronic programme guide that accompanies digital broadcasts, are superbly presented and easy to navigate using the stylish remote. There's an extensive array of adjustments, ranging from basic preset modes to more advanced settings for controlling elements like colour temperature, backlight brightness and a sensor that automatically adjusts settings according to your room's ambient light.
Sound options are supplemented by a BBE digital audio system and a SRS TruSurround XT mode that creates a sense of spaciousness from the stereo speakers.
LCDs have been improving so rapidly that it was only going to be a matter of time before the technology took its small screen dominance to larger screen sizes.
Whereas detail has always been exceptional with LCDs, this is the first large screen model we've seen that can rival plasma for contrast and colour reproduction. Black levels are so deep they create densely defined images with perspective and realism -- even in darkly lit scenes. Traditionally over-cooked colours appear more naturally balanced, especially with skin tones and landscapes, without losing vitality. And images are immaculately clean and noise-free.
Picture performance consistently impresses across all sources, including off-air broadcasts and standard-definition images. But with high-definition it scales new heights with exceptional sharpness and clarity that at times makes it seems as if you're looking through a window.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin
Update: Sony has posted a notice to owners on its support site for anyone experiencing 'slightly uneven uniformity' on their Bravia TV.