Sony's latest range ofLCDs have been setting the AV world alight. We've reviewed several models from the high-end and series and been stunned by the class-leading standards of design and performance.
However, the KDL-40S2010 is from the entry-level S series and while the screen shares similar design and functionality with more illustrious Sony models we're less overawed by the performance. High-definition image quality is decent but standard sources struggle to justify the comparatively high price.
It is only an entry-level model but Sony's premium pricing means you can get a higher specification and equal, if not better, performance from less expensive alternatives.
Sony's S series may be its cheapest range of LCDs, but you wouldn't tell from looking at the design alone. All Bravia screens share the same clean, elegant styling -- which might disgruntle big spenders, but it means budget buyers are less compromised.
We're always waxing lyrical about Sony's effortless sense of style and Bravia screens really are among the best looking in the business. The subtle design, featuring a matte-grey surround supported by a brushed metal frame, gives the screen an understated appearance that'll stand the test of time while others fall foul of changing fashions.
The 40S2010's build quality is exceptional, with flawless finishing and a secure pedestal stand that can be swivelled without worrying about the screen's safety. There are several stiff, responsive controls at the top of the screen and minimal lighting at the base, but otherwise the front panel is beautifully untouched.
A set of standard AV inputs has been fitted on the left side of the rear panel, offering easy access for devices such as a camcorder or games console that you might not want to leave permanently connected.
All other connections have been tightly arranged into cut-away sections across the rear. There's a reasonable choice but we had hoped to find more than the one HDMI input, especially on a screen of this size that will be used with high-definition films in mind. A single digital input limits the number of HD sources you can connect simultaneously -- unless you use component adaptors. It's a standard gripe that some of the latest screens are starting to address, but even Sony's more expensive ranges have been slow to follow suit.
Nonetheless, if you're still relying on conventional analogue connections there are two RGB-enabled Scart terminals and component inputs that will support progressive-scan video from compatible DVD players. And PC or media centre owners can now connect using a standard D-Sub terminal with accompanying audio input -- a convergence feature that's previously been ignored by Sony.
The silver remote control feels lightweight, but the spacious arrangement, using oversized keys and sensible positioning, offers unconfusing functionality.
The 40S2010's on-paper specification is becoming standard for most midrange LCDs. The 1,366x768-pixel native resolution offers high-definition compatibility with both 720p and 1080i formats -- you won't be able to display the latest 1080p format, but content for that is still scarce and compatible high-resolution screens are much more expensive.
Both analogue and digital Freeview TV tuners have been integrated and the rear panel carries a CI card slot that lets you sign up to a few additional channels from TopUp TV services.
However, there are some differences with the underlying technology that are unique. The screen features the latest Bravia Engine technology, which has been specifically designed for LCD panels. There are numerous picture-enhancing processes at work, but Sony claims the system offers sharper detail, more natural colours and various noise-reduction improvements. More expensive models in the Sony hierarchy are supported by additional processing technologies, but at the entry level you only get the vanilla version.
As always, Sony's menu systems are beautifully presented, using sharp, colourful graphics. There are numerous options available with standard picture presets and customised settings accompanied by several advanced adjustments for elements such as black and white levels, gamma control, contrast enhancement and noise reduction. If your room is susceptible to changing light conditions, a sensor at the front of the screen can be used to automatically adjust settings according to ambient light.
Sound options are equally comprehensive, with additional settings including a SRS TruSurround XT mode that attempts to recreate surround effects from the stereo speakers and a BBE function that enhances clarity, especially with dialogue.
Auto-tuning channels is reasonably fast, although it took several attempts to ensure all digital channels were found. Digital broadcasts are supported by an excellent electronic programme guide that lists the schedules of up to 12 channels at a time and can be used to search for programmes by category, list favourites, and set up programme reminders or timer recordings, if you have a recording device that's Smartlink-compatible.
The 40S2010's picture requires some fine-tuning to encourage the best performance. Try steering clear of the preset options, as the Vivid mode over-emphasises settings, while the Standard mode leaves colours looking subdued. Some of the advanced settings seem to enhance certain picture elements at the expense of others -- correcting black levels improves image density but compromises detail.
Image quality is largely dependent on the source material, with high-definition content excelling, while conventional sources and TV broadcasts appear ordinary. Pictures are enviably clean and colours are natural and evenly balanced. Even using upscaled high-definition signals, however, edge definition and detail doesn't appear as distinct as we've seen in other models. Black levels were not quite dark enough to impose depth-defining contrast.
Sound performance is restricted by the diminutive speakers, which are the same size as those used in smaller screen models. The design doesn't really allow for larger speakers to be integrated, but if you've chosen this oversized screen to accommodate a large room you'll find the sound limited.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide