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Sony Bravia KDL-S3000 review: Sony Bravia KDL-S3000

Sony Bravia KDL-S3000

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David Katzmaier
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David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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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.

7.0

Sony Bravia KDL-S3000

The Good

Produces relatively deep shade of black; very good standard-definition video processing; accurate Cinema preset; numerous picture controls.

The Bad

Lacks user-menu fine color-temperature controls; somewhat uneven backlight uniformity; slightly cumbersome menu design.

The Bottom Line

Sony's entry-level LCD, the KDL-46S3000 offers fine picture quality for most viewers, but bargain shoppers and home theater sticklers alike may want something different.

Design
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.


The KDL-S3000 series is the first to feature Sony's new TV menu system.

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.

Features
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.


Two HDMI inputs and a PC input highlight the Sony's rear-jack pack.

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.


Side-panel connectivity on the KDL-46S3000 is standard.

Performance
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 Rodríguez 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.

TEST RESULT SCORE
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
Overscan 3.3 % Average
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
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 202.58 111.17 61.56
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.22 0.13 0.07
Standby (watts) 0.51 0.51 0.51
Cost per year $61.83 $34.07 $19.00
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Average

7.0

Sony Bravia KDL-S3000

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7