Sony's 2007 line of Bravia-branded LCD HDTVs includes numerous new models, but the least expensive, and therefore most likely candidate for most popular, is the KDL-S3000 series. The 46-inch KDL-46S3000 represents the largest of the series, and is priced higher than many like-size budget flat-panel TVs but lower than most 1080p models. Nonetheless the S3000 series includes two typically Sony-style "extras": an internal menu design that will be familiar to PSP and PS3 owners, along with the ability to interface with the company's optional Bravia Internet Link module. In case you're wondering, we didn't care too much for the menus and didn't test the Link since it's not available yet. As a big-screen LCD the KDL-S3000 delivered solid picture quality, including relatively deep blacks and commendable processing with standard-def sources, although as expected it couldn't quite match some of the more-expensive 1080p models available today.
Although we found its looks handsome enough, there's no denying that the KDL-46S3000 is one of the most conservative-looking flat-panel HDTVs Sony has ever produced. It's all matte black except for a glossy, black strip along the very bottom edge. The frame around the screen is nested in a slightly larger frame and protrudes a bit more around the edge than many sets we've seen, and below the screen is the standard thicker swath of perforated plastic hiding the embedded speakers. The lone nonblack accent is the prominent Sony logo.
Counting the included black stand, the KDL-46S3000 measures a compact 43.9 inches wide by 30.8 inches high by 12.1 inches deep and weighs 71 pounds. The TV itself, stripped of the stand for wall-mounting purposes, comes in at 43.9x28.8x4.6 inches and 61 pounds.
Sony packages its most basic remote with the KDL-46S3000, but we have no complaints about the clicker's design. The smallish wand feels good in-hand, there's plenty of space and differentiation between the keys, and all of the major functions are accounted for. We'd like to see some kind of illumination (do glow-in-the-dark keys cost that much extra?) but most TV remotes lack it these days.
One item separates the remote from the run-of-the-mill: instead of a Menu key to access the onscreen menus, Sony employs a big blue button labeled "Home." Perhaps that's the company's way of warning you that the TV's menu system looks slicker than the average TV's. The KDL-S3000 series is the first implementation on a TV of Sony's PSP-style menus (the trademark, if you care, is XMB, for XrossMediaBar), with items arranged horizontally and vertically on a sort of tree. We like the clean look of the menus and appreciate the text explanations that appear when you move over a selection, but we had a few frustrating moments when navigating the many items. First off, we didn't appreciate having to scroll seemingly forever on the Settings menu to find the items we wanted (although the Options remote key did allow quick access to important submenus like picture and sound settings). Second, when we landed on the right selection, we would often mistakenly attempt to access it by hitting the right cursor key--a natural tendency given the menu's orientation--instead of the central cursor key. Third, we didn't like having to access a submenu to explore the items inside; on many TV menus, simply landing on the name of a submenu also displays the items therein. After a while, we did become acclimated to the new menus, but overall we really preferred Sony's TV menus from last year.
As a member of Sony's least-expensive series of LCDs, the 46-inch KDL-S3000 has the standard 1,366x768 native resolution, not the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. That means it can resolve every detail of 720p HDTV content. All content--whether high-definition, standard-definition, or DVD--is scaled to fit the available pixels.
Viewers expecting all of the myriad picture controls available on Sony's step-up models will be a bit disappointed by the KDL-46S3000's selection, but it still has more options than most LCDs. The most glaring omission is the ability to fine-tune color temperature beyond the four preset modes--an ability found on many late-model LCDs, including budget models like Vizio. We did like that you could adjust each of the three overall picture modes independently for each input, which makes tweaking the picture for different sources and personal preferences easier. In addition to the usual range of controls, the Advanced menu offers a suite of Sony-specific extras, most of which we left Off, for critical viewing (see Performance for details on our picture settings). Another menu, mysteriously labeled "Video options," hides Sony's CineMotion settings; you can choose between Off and Auto for each input, an unusual touch, and the latter typically engages 2:3 pull-down detection.
Conveniences include a picture-in-picture feature that allows you to watch two programs at once, and a favorite-channel list that's useful when you employ the set's built-in tuners (as opposed to a cable or satellite box), of which one is the federally mandated ATSC variety. There's also a freeze-frame function and a more-comprehensive-than-usual Display feature that lists the signal resolution, aspect ratio, source, and time of day. Speaking of aspect ratio, the Sony KDL-46S3000 offers three choices with high-def sources and four with standard-def. We also appreciated the extra options in the Screen menu, which offered the ability to automatically resize 4:3 material, zoom the viewing area slightly, and adjust the horizontal and vertical position of the entire picture.
The connectivity of the Sony KDL-46S3000 is perfectly adequate for a midlevel HDTV. Its total of two HDMI inputs is one fewer than many HDTVs on the market this year, but otherwise there's little missing. The back panel also includes the requisite pair of component-video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, a second AV input with only composite video, a VGA-style PC input (1,360x768 maximum resolution), and an optical digital audio output for the ATSC tuner. A separate back-panel USB port and mounting slot are available for use with Sony's Bravia Internet Link product. The side-panel sprouts the usual AV input with composite and S-Video along with a convenient headphone output.