Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
As Sony and Samsung continue to battle for LCD supremacy, Sony is trickling down previously premium features to its less expensive models. That's where the KDL-46W4100 comes in; it's the least expensive 2008 Bravia LCD to feature a 120Hz refresh rate and dejudder video processing, and it currently costs hundreds of dollars less than the equivalent size TV in Samsung's 120Hz-equipped A650 series. The bad news is that the Sony can't quite muster the picture quality chops to compete against those models--despite its excellent black-level performance, its fluctuating backlight and a few other gripes spoil its chances. However, if you've fallen in love with the smoothing effect of dejudder and want to avoid completely breaking the bank, the KDL-46W4100 deserves consideration.
Sony's styling flair this time around is supplied by a horizontal window in the midst of the frame, right below the standard glossy-black rectangle and above a strip of silver (perhaps a harbinger of silver's triumphant return to TV design?). You'll get a great view of your wallpaper and the silver pedestal stand. Overall we liked the looks of the KDL-46W4100, and it's refreshing to see an alternative to the standard glossy black rectangles that doesn't involve buying red drapes (we're looking at you, Samsung and LG).
Including the two-tone black-and-silver stand, this 46-inch Sony measures a relatively compact 44.1 inches wide by 30.9 inches tall by 12.1 inches deep and weighs 67 pounds. Without the stand, it's 44.1 inches wide by 29.3 inches tall by 4.6 inches deep and weighs 58 pounds.
We liked the feel of the smaller remote included with the KDL-46W4100, and its buttons are arranged in a thoughtful way that's easy to navigate by touch. The remote doesn't have any backlighting and cannot control other gear, but those are minor gripes.
The company tweaked its menu system for this year, although we still find its PS3-like "Cross Media Bar" (XMB) arrangement cumbersome to use on a TV. There are too many vertical selections and only three horizontal ones, begging the question of why there's a horizontal axis at all. One improvement is that all of the picture-affecting items are now grouped under the picture menu, and another is that the secondary "options" menu calls up a few more selections, obviating the need to visit the main menu much. Sony has also added a third way to access different inputs (in addition to the leftmost of three horizontal XMB items and a dedicated "input" menu), which consists of a new "favorites" screen that includes last-used inputs, favorite channels you manually add as well as a weird screen saver that can be programmed with images grabbed from a composite or TV input only. All told, this is one of the most varied and option-riddled menu systems we've seen, and despite the Sony's sophistication we prefer a straightforward arrangement such as that found on the Samsung LN52A650.
Despite its place in the middle of Sony's 2008 Bravia totem pole, the KDL-46W4100 has as many features as most makers' high-end HDTVs. The list starts with a 120Hz refresh rate, which helps clean up blurring in motion and works hand-in-hand with the company's dejudder video processing, dubbed "Motion Enhancer" in the menu and MotionFlow in Sony's literature (more in Performance on its effects). Naturally the KDL-46W4100 has a native resolution of 1080p, the highest available today, and just as naturally it doesn't make much of a difference at this screen size.
Sony offers four picture presets, each of which can be adjusted independently per input, in addition to a Theater preset that can't be adjusted at all. Among the basic settings, available on all presets, is a pair of noise reduction settings and three color temperature presets. More advanced settings, which can't be adjusted while in the Vivid preset but can on the other three, 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.
Video processing options aside from MotionFlow include CineMotion (notice the theme?) which, among other things, affects the TV's 2:3 pull-down performance; a Game Mode that removes video processing entirely to eliminate any delay between a game controller and the onscreen action; and a photo/video optimizer designed to do exactly that. Sony includes four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, and a setting in the Wide menu allows you to make one of those modes display 1080-resolution content without any scaling or overscan. We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which is the fault of the channel or service, not the TV. The menu has a cool graphical display that illustrates the differences between the various aspect ratio settings.
Conveniences start with an option we haven't seen on many HDTVs recently: the TV Guide onscreen electronic programming guide. TV Guide lets Sony display a grid of information for antenna and cable channels, but people who tune primarily with an external cable or satellite box will probably use their box's EPG instead. In other words, TV Guide won't be useful for most KDL-46W4100 owners. The TV's picture-in-picture mode unfortunately restricts content in the secondary window to only the TV/antenna input.
Sony includes a provision for its Bravia Internet Video Link module as well as, like many manufacturers, a control-via-HDMI scheme (we didn't test either of these options or TV Guide during our review). We were pleased to see a two-step power saving option that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption (see the Juice Box below).
Connectivity on the KDL-46W4100 matches that of most higher-end HDTVs available today. Around back, we counted three HDMI inputs and on the side the company stashed number four. Two component-video jacks, a VGA-style PC input (1920x1080 maximum resolution), an AV input with S-Video and composite video, another with only composite video, an RF-style antenna/cable input, an analog audio output and an optical digital audio output complete the back-panel jack pack, while another AV input with composite video joins the HDMI port on the side panel.
In sum, the Sony exhibited solid black levels and very good dejudder video processing, but we couldn't get over its fluctuating backlight and found its screen uniformity underwhelming.
Before formal image quality tests we submitted the Sony to our standard calibration and as usual, color fidelity improved quite a bit over the best picture preset, which in this case was Sony's Theater mode. We were able to bring color temperature more closely into line with the 6500K standard (see the Geek Box below) and disable most of the less-helpful picture features. Check out our complete picture settings for details.