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Sony Bravia KDL-M4000 review: Sony Bravia KDL-M4000

Sony Bravia KDL-M4000

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.

Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
7 min read

Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.

6.7

Sony Bravia KDL-M4000

The Good

Produces deeper blacks and more accurate color than many small LCDs; decent standard-definition processing; slick styling.

The Bad

Relatively expensive for an entry-level HDTV; light on the picture controls; subpar screen uniformity; just two HDMI inputs; stand does not swivel.

The Bottom Line

While it's blessed with attractive looks and a solid picture, the higher price of Sony's KDL-32M4000 will turn off many 32-inch LCD comparison shoppers.

Sony has always been a go-to brand for people who don't mind paying more for HDTVs, or just about anything else for that matter, and the company's least-expensive 2008 32-inch HDTV, the KDL-32M4000, exemplifies the trend. This little set costs a couple of hundred dollars more than no-name LCDs, and generally a hundred more than competing name-brand sets such as the Samsung LN32A450 and the Sharp LC-32D44U. For your extra cash, you'll get great design and, yes, very good picture quality for the smaller HDTV category, but we don't think, for most people, that going Sony at this size is worth the price.

Design
Just about every HDTV on store shelves has glossy black finish, and the KDL-32M4000 is no exception. Sony differentiates it from the pack with a few attractive accents, however, including organically rounded-off-corners, an inset panel with the perforated speaker grille along the bottom, and a subtle matte black ring bordering the entire frame. We liked the look, but overall it wasn't quite as attractive as Samsung's LN32A450 to our eyes. All told the KDL-32M4000 measures 31.9 inches by 23 inches by 9.6 inches and weighs 36 pounds including stand.

Sony's menu system is a straightforward affair with a few thoughtful touches, including a "Shortcuts" menu that gathers a few oft-used functions, such as aspect ratio, closed caption, and input selection, in the first screen you see after pressing the big Menu button. Other screens are arranged well and we had no problems finding what we wanted--a distinct relief after having to slog through the XMB interface on higher-end Sony sets such as the KDL-46XBR4. The remote on the little KDL-32M4000 is a model of efficiency and friendliness, offering the right size, the right number of buttons and nice tactile differentiation to make finding your way by feel a cinch.

Features
Like just about all manufacturers' entry-level LCDs, the Sony has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which is perfectly adequate--1080p would be wasted at this screen size. Its array of picture controls falls into the lower end of the name-brand pack--not as extensive as Toshiba, Samsung, or LG, but still enough to get the job done. Sony includes three picture modes that are all adjustable and independent per input. Major controls include a trio of three color-temperature presets (but no way to adjust white balance further), a three-position noise reduction control, four steps worth of gamma control, and a few other settings we left turned off for critical viewing; see Performance for details and our full picture settings.

Sony KDL-32M4000
The primary picture menu has a few extras, but it's not as extensive as those of many HDTVs.

The Sony offers four total aspect ratio modes for standard-definition and three for high-definition sources. Unfortunately none of the HD modes eliminate overscan completely, which would be a nice option for people interested in seeing to the extreme edge of the image. Many sets we've tested, including 32 inch models from Toshiba, Samsung and LG, have a zero-overscan option. (Updated 5/15/2008: Originally we mistakenly indicated that the Sony did have such an option).

Among other features, the KDL-32M000 lacks standard picture-in-picture, but you can watch a little subwindow when the main screen is the input from the VGA connection. Unfortunately, the subwindow won't display any external sources such as HDMI or AV, just channels tuned by the TV itself. The Sony is also missing any kind of Energy Saver function, although it is one of the more energy-efficient HDTVs we've tested (see the Juice Box for details).

Sony KDL-32M4000
Sony's back panel offers the usual array of inputs, including two HDMI and one for PCs.

Unlike many 2008 HDTVs, including significantly less-expensive models such as the Toshiba 32CV5210U and the Insignia's NS-LCD32-09, the KDL-32M4000 has just two HDMI inputs as opposed to three. The rest of its connectivity is fine, however, and includes two component-video inputs, one PC input, one AV input with composite and S-Video, one RF input for cable and antenna, and stereo analog and optical digital audio outputs. The side panel adds another AV input with composite video and a headphone jack.

Sony KDL-32M4000
The side input section lacks the HDMI jack that's becoming more common, but at least there's a headphone output.

Performance
With its relatively accurate color and solid black-level performance, the Sony can definitely be counted among the better-performing small-screen LCDs we've tested. Its screen uniformity was a disappointment, however, and we would have liked the ability to tweak the picture further.

Setup and calibration of the KDL-32M4000 went quickly thanks to a relative lack of advanced controls. All we really had to do was choose the Warm2 color temperature preset, dial down the backlight control and engage the Off gamma setting, which produced the most natural rise out of black. Our full picture settings tell the whole story. For our comparison and image quality tests we set the KDL-32M4000 up next to the Toshiba 32CV510U, the Insignia NS-LCD32-09, the LG 32LG30, and the Samsung LN32A450 and spun up our trusty copy of No Country for Old Men on Blu-ray played from the PlayStation3.

Black level: The Sony fell into the middle of our comparison sets in terms of delivering a deep shade of black, although in truth the difference between it and the deepest blacks (Samsung and Toshiba) was subtle even in our comparison. Nighttime at the Getting Place in Chapter 4, for example, when Anton and his erstwhile employers investigate the scene, looked plenty dark and realistic, although the dark night sky and the letterbox bars didn't look quite as inky as those two. On the other hand, they were quite a bit deeper than those on the Insignia.

Details in shadows, such as the rocks along the ridge or the folds in Anton's black jacket, didn't come through quite as well as on the Toshiba and the Samsung. We could have increased gamma or brightness to get those details back, but that would have spoiled the depth of black. As with black levels, however, this difference was pretty subtle.

Color accuracy: The KDL-32M4000 delivered relatively accurate color overall, starting with a color temperature that came close to the standard. It still appeared a bit reddish in parts, which was visible in the slightly ruddy look to certain skin tones, Anton's mid-bright face when he sits in the trailer before the TV. We also appreciated that the Sony's black and near-black areas stayed free of the bluish tinge seen in so many LCDs. Primary color accuracy also came close to the HDTV specification, so the greens of the palm trees and shrubs outside the Desert Sands hotel and the red of the sheriff's squad car lights looked accurate compared to our color reference.

On the other hand, we did notice some red push in the Sony's color decoding--not as much as the Toshiba, but enough that we had to back the color down to get delicate skin tones, such as Carla Jean's mournful face, to look right. Doing so desaturated the colors, naturally, so they lacked a bit of punch, but all told, the KDL-32M4000 still looked second-best, after the Samsung, in terms of color.

Video processing: Like most HDTVs we've tested, the KDL-32M4000 wasn't capable of correctly deinterlacing 1080i, film-based content, although as usual it handled video-based material fine. Regardless, we recommend setting your HD sources to 720p rather than 1080i, when possible, because according to our test patterns the Sony resolved more detail with 720p material. Test patterns also revealed that the Sony introduced edge enhancement that we couldn't remove by adjusting the sharpness control, although its effects were difficult to spot in program material.

Uniformity: The Sony's screen was the least uniform in our comparison, exhibiting brighter patches in the upper-left and -right corners, as well as a less-bright but still noticeable patch in the middle of the left half of the screen. These patches were visible when the screen went dark, such as during No Country For Old Men's opening titles, and in very dark scenes, such as the initial sunrise over the desert. When seen from off-angle, the dark scenes washed out in about the same way as they did on the Toshiba and the Samsung; the LG and Insignia were worse in that regard.

Standard-definition: The KDL-32M4000 was a bit above average in this category. It resolved every detail of the DVD format according to the resolution patterns, and details were OK, albeit not as sharp as the LG, in the stone bridge and grass from the Detail section of HQV on DVD. We appreciated the Sony's capability to smooth out jaggies from the edges of moving diagonal lines, however. The noise reduction did a fine job of cleaning up the "snow" and moving motes in HQV's low-quality shots of skies and sunsets, and its 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in quickly and effectively.

PC: Via the analog PC input the KDL-32M4000had no trouble accepting the ideal 1,360x768-pixel resolution, but it couldn't quite display every line of horizontal resolution on the screen according to our DisplayMate tests. As a result, text and other sharp edges looked a bit soft compared to the other sets. Via HDMI, we saw essentially the same issues with the Sony.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6,134/6,223 Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 211 Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.622/0.326 Average
Color of green 0.275/0.585 Average
Color of blue 0.149/0.051 Good
Overscan 3 percent Average
Defeatable edge enhancement No Poor
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Yes Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Sony KDL-32M4000 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 112.94 78.09 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.26 0.18 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.97 0.97 N/A
Cost per year $35.56 $24.77 N/A
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

How we test TVs

6.7

Sony Bravia KDL-M4000

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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