The highlights of the Sony KDL-46S3000's picture include relatively deep black levels and commendable standard-def video processing, but we would have appreciated a bit sharper of an image with 1080 sources and a more accurate color temperature--or at least the ability to adjust it.
Our evaluation of the KDL-46S3000 began with adjusting its picture for optimal performance in our completely dark theater. Surprisingly, the Cinema mode in its default positions delivered almost exactly our preferred 40 ftl of light output (maybe Sony's engineers have been reading CNET reviews). We chose the Gamma Off position because it provided the most accurate balance between bright and dark scenes and the most realistic rise from black to brighter areas. Playing with the various settings for power saving can sometimes improve black-level performance, but in this case we left power saving in the Off position because High didn't come close to 40 ftl while Low resulted in slightly worse gamma and color temperature performance. Speaking of color temperature, we did not calibrate the Sony's grayscale beyond choosing the Warm2 color temperature preset, because the set lacks user-menu fine color temperature controls and we doubt anyone buying this midlevel HDTV would pay for a professional calibration. For our full user menu picture settings, check out the Tips and Tricks section.
After setup, we sat down to compare the Sony against a few similar-size HDTVs, including the Samsung LN-T4665F and LN-T4661F, the LG 47LB5D and our reference plasma, the Pioneer PRO-FHD1. All of these sets have higher resolution and cost more than the Sony, but we think it's still useful to see how the KDL-46S3000 stacks up side-by-side with other models, and those were the most comparable we had on hand. For critical viewing, we chose Harsh Times on HD DVD played via the Toshiba HD-XA2 at 1080i resolution.
We were relatively impressed by the Sony's ability to produce a deep color of black, although it certainly wasn't the best we've seen from an LCD. Dark areas, like the sky over Los Angeles at night, appeared a bit lighter on the Sony than on the Samsungs, about the same as on the Pioneer plasma, and darker than on the LG. As always, we adjusted the brightness control to balance black level and shadow detail, and in the Sony's case we had to sacrifice a bit of the latter. As a result, some shadowed parts of the picture, like the black, slicked-back hair of Freddy RodrÃguez or the dark suit of Christian Bale, didn't display quite as much detail as the Samsungs or the Pioneer did, although the difference was only noticeable in the very darkest areas.
The Sony's Warm2 color temperature preset came closest to the 6,500K color temperature standard, but it still wasn't as quite as accurate as the other displays. It tended a bit toward bluish, which made skin tones somewhat paler than the models in our comparison and gave the picture a bit of a cooler cast. Of course, the presence of fine color temperature controls in the menu would have allowed us to calibrate the Sony to come closer to ideal color. The Sony's primary color of green was also a rather yellowish, which made areas like the forest around Bale's shack in Mexico appear somewhat less realistic than we'd like. Color decoding was quite accurate, which allowed us to achieve relatively saturated color--superior to the LG but not quite as rich as the other displays.
Uniformity on the Sony was a bit below average for an LCD, although better than some we've seen. When displaying black or dark fields, the edges of the screen did appear very slightly brighter than the middle, which wasn't a major issue. More noticeable were the irregular lighter areas along the top edge that were visible in places like letterbox bars, which we did find distracting at times during dark scenes. When viewed from the sides or above and below, the picture washed out somewhat, but no worse than on either of the Samsung LCDs and better than on the LG. We also noticed that the screen became discolored (redder) from off-angle, in exactly the same way as the Samsung LN-T4661F (the 4665F didn't discolor) and similar to the LG.
According to test patterns from our Sencore VP403 signal generator, the KDL-46S3000 resolved less detail when given a 1080i or a 1080p source versus a 720p source, but as always the difference was less obvious when watching program material. When comparing directly to the 1080p Samsungs, we did notice that the edges of text looked very slightly sharper than the Sony when watching HDNet's Nothing But Trailers in 1080i, and certain fine details, like the compass from The Golden Compass trailer, appeared very slightly less distinct from our 7-foot seating distance. The same can be said for some of the subtitles from Harsh Times but, on the other hand, we didn't see any difference in other areas of fine detail in the film, like the distant buildings of LA, the weave of Bale's girlfriend's sweater, or the chain links in a distant fence (that's perhaps because the film appears bit softer and grittier than many HD sources). We stress "very slightly" because outside of a side-by-side comparison, we would be extremely surprised if the difference was noticeable to even the keenest-eyed observers. Regardless, we recommend feeding the Sony KDL-46S3000 720p material when you have the choice, by setting your HD source(s) to 720p output mode.
We also tested the Sony's 1080i de-interlacing using the HQV HD DVD, and while it passed the test for video sources, like most TVs it failed the test for film-based sources. As a result we saw moire in the upper deck of the football stadium during HQV's pan, but we didn't notice the issue with the program material.
We've complained in the past about Sony's Digital Reality Creation processing wreaking havoc on standard-def sources, but there's no mention of DRC in the KDL-46S3000's menu system, and the set did a very good job with the standard-def material we tested. Displaying the HQV DVD connected via component-video at 480i, the Sony showed every line of resolution from the color bar tests, and rendered the detail test--with its grass and distant shot of a stone bridge--quite sharply. We were even more impressed by the Sony's ability to smooth out jagged edges from moving diagonal lines and the stripes of a waving American flag. We also appreciated the range of noise reduction controls, which were quite effective--about on par with the Samsung LN-T46651F--at cleaning up the moving motes of noise from the disc's many shots of skies, sunsets, and flowers. The Sony also engaged 2:3 pull-down quickly and effectively, removing the lines of moire from the grandstands, although it was a split-second behind the Samsung. All of these tests were conducted with the CineMotion setting at Auto; we found no reason to turn it to Off.
We also connected a PC to the KDL-46S3000's VGA-style RGB input to test its ability as a big computer monitor, and the results were impressive with the highest 1,360x768 resolution source. According to DisplayMate, the Sony delivered every detail of resolution in both the horizontal and vertical axes, and there was no overscan. We did detect very slightly discolored fringes around letters in some text, but it was impossible to discern from further than about five feet from the screen. All in all, the KDL-46S3000 makes an admirable computer monitor, but it's worth noting that higher-resolution 1080p models will probably be more satisfying for heavy PC use.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6671/6992||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 361K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.648/0.322||Average|
|Color of green||0.247/0.628||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.063||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Sony KDL-46S3000||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||202.58||111.17||61.56|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.22||0.13||0.07|
|Cost per year||$61.83||$34.07||$19.00|
|Score (considering size)||Good|