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After a slow and inconsistent start, Sony has finally started to make waves with its flat TVs. Its new W5500 and V5500 ranges have both earned respect for their affordability and performance. Hopes are understandably high, then, that the brand's entry-level 37-inch screen, the 1080p Bravia KDL-37S5500 LCD TV, will continue the winning streak.
The KDL-37S5500 is available now for the remarkably affordable sum of around £600.
The KDL-37S5500's design is not, it has to be said, nearly as eye-catching as its price. Its fairly standard rectangular lines and chunky profile both make it look rather dated, although, on the upside, it does feel robustly built for such a cheap machine.
Its connections are respectable for the price, too. Highlights are three HDMI ports, a dedicated analogue PC input and a USB port able to play JPEG and MP3 files. We couldn't help but notice that there's no Ethernet jack, though, denying you access to Sony's AppliCast online system. Since this system is, frankly, pretty pants at the moment, the missing Ethernet port isn't really something to shed a tear over.
Bravia Engine blues
A bigger disappointment by far is the discovery that the KDL-37S5500 uses Sony's Bravia Engine 2 processing system rather than the latest, much-improved Bravia Engine 3. Bravia Engine 2 looked the part when it first appeared last year, but it's now likely to be outgunned by rival processing systems. This is especially true seeing as the KDL-37S5500 doesn't have 100Hz processing to help it handle motion better.
Another concern is the KDL-37S5500's quoted contrast ratio of 33,000:1. While such figures always have to be treated with an almighty pinch of salt, it's impossible to ignore the fact that 33,000:1 is far below the 100,000:1 or so quoted by Sony for its higher-spec TVs. Many budget brands also tout higher contrast ratios.
Unfortunately, the concerns raised by the KDL-37S5500's claimed contrast ratio turn out to be entirely justified. This set produces a black-level response that's way down on that of Sony's V5500 and W5500 models. Dark scenes struggle to appear through a pall of the grey mist that's all too familiar with LCD technology.
Making matters worse is the way that black levels reduce further if you're sat at any sort of angle to the TV. Also, the on-board dynamic contrast system is slightly hyperactive, causing visible jumps in the image's overall brightness.
The KDL-37S5500's pictures also suffer due to the lack of 100Hz processing. Fast-moving objects look slightly blurred and smeary.
On the upside, when not troubled by motion blur, high-definition pictures look quite crisp, while standard-definition pictures are upscaled to the screen's 1080p resolution adroitly by the Bravia Engine 2 system, so that they look sharper without suffering badly from noise.
Colours are richly saturated too, and mostly natural in tone. Plus, for all our concerns about the KDL-37S5500's black levels, there's no major evidence of Sony's frequent backlight-inconsistency issue, whereby some parts of the picture look brighter than others.
It's back to bad news with the KDL-37S5500's audio, though. The built-in speakers are consistently incompetent with any sort of explosion or high-octane action scene, succumbing to humming and vibrational interference. The best you can say about the KDL-37S5500's sound is that it's solid enough with undemanding daytime TV fare, such as Cash in the Attic or the diabolically horrendous Loose Women.
Sadly, the Bravia KDL-37S5500 isn't the answer to cash-strapped Sony fans' prayers. It's not an unmitigated disaster, but its performance falls so far short of that of Sony's V5500 range that you'd be well advised to spend an extra £100 or so and go for a V-series model instead.
Edited by Charles Kloet