This year most major TV makers are using interactive features to distinguish themselves from the others, and unlike differences in black level performance and off-angle viewing, it's easy for shoppers to tell the various interactive add-ons apart. Whether they actually want said add-ons is another question. Sony's KDL-W5100 series represents the company's most affordable attempt at interactive TV, although it still costs a few hundred dollars more than the entry-level Internet-ready sets from its competitors. Sony offers a lot of extras, including select Yahoo widgets, scads of streaming Web video (much of it pretty niche), Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Shoutcast, and, coming soon, Netflix. The latter will propel the W5100 and other interactive Sony series past the current content-on-TV champ, LG's LH50 series, in the add-on arms race. Meanwhile the W5100 delivers better picture quality than most standard LCDs out there, making it a well-rounded package if you have the extra cash and really want streaming video on your TV.
The external look of the KDL-W5100 series is refreshingly low-profile but still stylish enough to pass muster with the decor police. The sharply angled, compact frame measures about an inch and a half from the edge of the picture to the edge of the panel along the top and sides.
The W5100's connectivity is complete enough, but the company arranged the ports in an unusual way. Instead of mounting the majority of its HDMI inputs on the back panel, Sony stuck three of the four on the side-facing panel, leaving just one to the rear.
The side panel also gets the VGA-style analog input for PCs, a USB port for music, photos and video, and an AV input with composite and S-Video. The rear panel, meanwhile, merits that single HDMI port, two component-video inputs, an RF input for antenna or cable connections, the Ethernet port and some analog audio connections.
We actually prefer the W5100's smaller remote control to the many-buttoned clicker included on Sony's higher-end models. The central cursor is plenty prominent and surrounded by four buttons that are difficult to confuse. 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 W5100 also adds a couple of buttons to the middle of the wand for interactive functions, one labeled "widgets" and the other "video." The former jumps directly to Yahoo widgets, while the latter summons the Video bar of the company's XMB menu interface.
The W5100 offers the same interactive capabilities as the XBR9 series. That includes select Yahoo Widgets--Internet-powered content and information modules that can be downloaded and activated right on the TV screen. Unlike the Samsung models the W5100 we reviewed doesn't offer access to the full panoply of widgets; as of press time it had only Twitter along with Yahoo's basic trio of weather, finance, and news. Check out the full review of Yahoo widgets for a look at the latter three, and our dedicated Twitter widget review for the former.
Sony's implementation of widgets is similar to Samsung's with a couple of important differences. Instead of confining the individual widget snippets to a bar along the bottom of the screen, Sony lets you move them around and place them wherever you'd like. Widgets can be called up individually, and depending on the widget, you can have more than one snipped visible at a time (to show the weather in more than one city, for example). In general we liked Sony's take better, especially because the system was much snappier than the relatively sluggish Samsung widget experience. We just wish Sony would include more widgets.
The other major interactive feature is streaming video. The W5100 basically offers all of the functionality of the Bravia Internet Video Link (BIVL) built-in--no need to buy the actual $199 box. The most compelling video client so far is Amazon Video On Demand, which also offers high-definition videos. Amazon VOD worked well in our tests, once we waited the 20 or so seconds for the store to load (on more than one occasion the load screen actually gave us a "timed-out" message before it finally appeared), although we missed being able to watch previews--the service on Panasonic's VieraCast TVs and Roku enables previews, while on BIVL and TiVo, for example, it does not. Videophiles will appreciate that picture settings can be modified for the Sony's online video content, just like for other inputs.
Turning on Sony's MotionFlow dejudder mode is required if you want to get the antiblurring benefits of the W5100's 120Hz refresh rate, but doing so has the usual effect on film-based sources like "Walk Hard"--it makes them look more like video.
The scads of more-advanced settings, which can't be adjusted while in the Vivid preset but can on many of the others, include a white balance control to further tune color temperature, a gamma setting and a few other adjustments that we generally left turned off for best picture quality.
We were pleased to see a two-step power saving option in the Eco menu that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption. Sony also includes a room lighting sensor, a mode to turn off the screen but leave the sound on, and another mode that automatically turns off the TV after a set period of inactivity.
Overall the KDL-W5100 series exhibited very good picture quality, characterized by deep blacks--for a standard LCD--and mostly accurate color, along with the best dejudder processing available, if you like that sort of thing (we don't). On the other hand its uniformity was definitely below average, dark area exhibited a bluish tinge and we'd like the option to get antiblur without having to dejudder. All told however the W5100 was definitely the equal of, and receive the same score as, its more expensive cousin the KDL-XBR9.