With Sony's Bravia X4500 LED-backlit models and Z5500 200Hz sets catering for the fortunate crowd for whom money is no object, it falls to Sony's W5500 LCD TV series to cater for those who want quality but don't have bottomless wallets. If the 1080p, 46-inch Bravia KDL-46W5500 LCD TV is anything to go by, this series caters for its target market exceptionally well.
The Bravia KDL-46W5500 can be snapped up for around £1,150.
The KDL-46W5500's design doesn't exactly set our pulses racing, with its slightly dour finish and shape. The best that can be said about its exterior is that it's very robustly built.
It's reassuring, though, to find the KDL-46W5500 sporting plenty of heavy-duty picture-processing technology. Leading the way is Sony's proprietary Bravia Engine 3 system. This has been redesigned extensively from last year's Bravia Engine 2. Bravia Engine 3 benefits from improved algorithms and faster processing speeds with which to tackle such issues as colour range, standard-definition rescaling, detailing, noise reduction and contrast. From what we've seen of it on this set and the Bravia KDL-40V5500, it really does work a treat.
Bravia Engine 3 is aided and abetted by Sony's Motionflow 100Hz system, which doubles the image refresh rate and interpolates extra frames of image data to tackle motion judder, while also reducing the motion blur caused by LCD technology's relatively slow (compared to plasma TVs) response time.
There are one or two other interesting picture-processing features contained within the KDL-46W5500's slightly complicated on-screen menus, too. Sony's Live Colour Creation engine, for instance, is on hand to boost the saturation and subtlety of colours, and there's also the option to use Sony's 24p True Cinema processing to boost Blu-ray playback.
An examination of the connections reveals yet more strings to the KDL-46W5500's bow. As well as a four HDMI ports, there's a USB socket for playing audio, photo and video files, and an Ethernet jack that you can use to access files on a DLNA-enabled PC or Sony's online AppliCast service.
Before you get too excited by the prospect of AppliCast, though, we should say that it's currently seriously lacking in interesting content, compared with similar systems offered by rival brands. The only features of even passing interest are an on-screen calculator and a small selection of downloadable images that you can use as screensavers, in conjunction with the TV's low-power 'picture frame' mode.
One thing you certainly can get excited about, though, is the KDL-46W5500's picture quality. Black levels are particularly striking, as dark scenes suffer remarkably little from the grey fog problem that's common with LCD TVs. In fact, they're among the very best black levels we've seen on a non-LED-backlit LCD TV. The KDL-46W5500's colours are rivetingly intense too, yet their aggression doesn't come at the expense of natural tones and almost infinite blend subtleties.
Sony has long had an uncanny knack for making high-definition images look ultra-sharp on its LCD TVs, and this trend continues with the KDL-46W5500. In fact, the size of the KDL-46W5500's screen really shows off the amount of detail and texture that the set is capable of reproducing from a good Blu-ray or HD source.
It's a relief, too, after our disappointing recent experience with Sony's entry-level Bravia KDL-37S5500, to see that the KDL-46W5500's impressive sharpness isn't badly affected by motion blur. The 100Hz engine does a very respectable job of reducing judder, too, bolstering the image's sharpness even further.
With Bravia Engine 3 also doing a tidy job of upscaling standard-definition material to the screen's 1080p pixel count, the KDL-46W5500 really is a terrific picture performer.
The picture quality isn't quite perfect, though. Firstly, really dark scenes occasionally show up some very slight backlight-level inconsistencies. Also, the 100Hz system sporadically spits out an unwanted side effect, such as flicker or edge twitch. But that's about it for the bad stuff, and it really isn't very bad at all.
The KDL-46W5500's sound isn't quite as excellent as its pictures, but it's powerful enough to always sound clear and free of distortion, even during action scenes. Also, vocals sound natural and there's no shortage of treble details. All that's missing is more rumble depth at the low end of the audio spectrum.
Sony's Z5500 and X4500 ranges are undoubtedly talented, but they're also rather expensive -- intimidatingly so in the case of the X4500 series. It's a relief, then, that the relatively affordable Bravia KDL-46W5500 is both an excellent performer and full of genuinely useful features. Really, the only weak link is Sony's AppliCast online system, but there's always the potential for that to be improved in the coming weeks and months.
Edited by Charles Kloet