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Sony KDL-W4100 review: Sony KDL-W4100

Sony KDL-W4100

David Katzmaier

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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12 min read

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


Sony KDL-W4100

The Good

Produces a deep level of black; accurate primary colors; dejudder mode smoothes moving video with few artifacts; screen attenuates ambient lighting; solid connectivity with four HDMI and one PC input; numerous picture controls including white balance; attractive styling with transparent pane below screen.

The Bad

Black level fluctuates in dark areas; less accurate color decoding; below-average viewing angle; cumbersome menu system.

The Bottom Line

Sony's midlevel KDL-46W4100 gets you solid dejudder video processing but otherwise its picture quality falls short of the top tier.

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.

Sony KDL-46W4100
Although still tedious to navigate, at least the PS3-esque XMB menu system finally groups all of the picture controls under the appropriate heading.

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 KDL-46W4100
Sony's Motion Enhancer dejudder video processing is available in two strengths.

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.

Sony KDL-46W4100
Among numerous other advanced controls we found the important user-menu white balance settings.

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).

Sony's back panel includes the requisite three HDMI inputs along with a PC input.

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.

Sony KDL-46W4100
The side panel offers a fourth HDMI port plus an AV input with composite video.

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.

For testing we compared the KDL-W4100 with last year's best Sony LCD, the KDL-46XBR4, this year's best LCD so far, the Samsung LN52A650, along with a pair of superb plasmas, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD and the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U. Our disc of choice was I Am Legend on Blu-ray played via our trusty Sony PlayStation 3.

Black level: Yes, the KDL-46W4100 is capable of displaying a very deep shade of black. The dark areas, such as the shadows that appear as Robert closes up the apartment for the evening, looked as inky as any LCD we've seen except for the LED-powered Samsung LN-T4681F, slightly exceeding the darkness of the black areas on the other two LCDs in our comparison--a solid point in the W4100's favor. The two plasmas, for their part, still appeared a bit darker overall than any of the LCDs. Sony's shadow detail was also very good, appearing as natural as on the Samsung, although not quite as good as the plasmas.

Unfortunately, the W4100's level of black fluctuated noticeably with picture content, specifically when the screen went completely black, such as during the credits or between scenes. The fluctuation was most obvious when moving from light to dark to light again, such as when Robert closes the final window of his apartment in preparation for the night, and the screen goes completely black (about 12:08 into the film). After a second the W4100's screen got a few steps darker still, spontaneously and with no other change in picture content, an effect that appeared quite unnatural compared with the other displays, whose blacks remained constant. A second or two later when the white door fades into view, the backlight kicked in and the letterbox bars and shadows brightened, again in obvious steps that were distracting compared with the other displays.

In most scenes, the backlight didn't dim or brighten, but we still wish there was a way to make it constant in every scene, as there is with the variable backlight on the Philips 42PFL5603D. We couldn't find any setting that prevented the Sony's backlight from fluctuating, including engaging the Custom picture mode as opposed to Cinema.

Color accuracy: The KDL-46W4100 did well in this category, although it couldn't quite equal the Samsung or the Panasonic. Primary color accuracy measured very close to the HDTV standard and while green was off just a bit, the shots of the trees and grass in overgrown Manhattan still appeared as natural as on those displays. The secondary color cyan was less-accurate than the primaries, however, which made the deep blue sky above Robert as he tees up on the wing of an SR71 Blackbird, for example, appear a bit too deep and blue compared with the others.

On the down side, color decoding pushed red so we had to reduce the color control a bit to preserve accurate skin tones. As a result the colors overall looked a bit less punchy and vivid than those on the Samsung and Panasonic, although there was still plenty of pop thanks to the Sony's deep black levels. We also appreciated that the black areas didn't tend strongly toward blue, as we've seen on so many other LCDs. Yes, they were a tad bluer to our eyes than the excellent Samsung and the plasmas, but better than the XBR4 and certainly not distracting in most dark scenes.

Video processing: Like similar modes available on other displays, Sony's MotionFlow processing is designed to smooth out motion--including the judder or faint stuttering inherent in 24-frame material such as that found on most films. Judder can be perceived most easily in pans and camera movement, but once you notice it, it seems to pop up everywhere. Some viewers find the smoothing effect desirable, while some think it looks too videolike and even cartoonish in some instances, particularly Hollywood films. We're of the latter camp, but we feel dejudder processing can be effective in some scenes.

Of the two MotionFlow modes available on the KDL-W4100, Standard introduces less smoothing while High, naturally, introduces more. That's the same arrangement as last year, but when we compared last year's KDL-46XBR4 with the KDL-46W4100, it became obvious that Sony has adjusted its MotionFlow processing for the better. The W4100's Standard setting didn't look quite as smooth as the same setting on the XBR4, leaving a bit more judder while still introducing some smoothing. The W4100's standard was about equal to the Medium setting on the Samsung. The ultra smooth High setting on both Sonys looked about the same, and we saw similar artifacts on both, including the "halo" distortion that appeared around an object moving against a detailed stationary background. Speaking of artifacts, however, neither Sony introduced any trace of the "triple puck effect" that was still a bit visible on the Samsung.

During Legend the modes behaved about as we expected. In High, we saw numerous artifacts, such as brief halos and breakup along the edges of Robert's red Mustang as he speeds through deserted Manhattan, but the extreme smoothness, which made every shot seem a bit fake or too videolike, was the most-objectionable issue to our eyes. For those who still want some smoothing the Standard mode made one of the better compromises we've seen; the helicopter shot down over the Manhattan buildings to find the car evinced a bit of filmlike judder and didn't look as fake as High, although we still preferred the look of Off.

Speaking of Off, that's the setting we used when evaluating the Sony with a 1080p/24 source. Comparing it with the plasmas, which were set in standard 60Hz mode, we did see a bit less of the judder associated with 2:3 pull-down on the Sony and the other 120Hz LCDs sets. The best example from Legend came during a long approach shot over the Intrepid; the wings of a white aircraft in particular moved more smoothly on the LCDs and looked a bit worse on the plasmas. We must say the effect was quite subtle, however, but it will give purists a good reason to use the 1080p/24 output on their Blu-ray players.

Our 1080i deinterlacing test revealed that while the Sony doesn't fail the test in the way the XBR4 did, it still didn't maintain full resolution with 1080i film-based sources. When displaying the deinterlacing pattern from HQ, our standard test, the W4100 softened the highest-resolution areas, causing them to lose that full detail, and so it failed the test as well. Of course, this failure and softness was very difficult to spot in program material.

As usual we found that engaging either of the dejudder modes also eliminated motion blur according to a test disc designed to show such blur in scenes like a series of cars driving past a stationary camera. With MotionFlow turned off, however, the cars' license plates showed the same kind of blurring and stutter we've seen on non-120Hz LCDs. Of course, both plasmas introduced no blurring, and indeed looked a bit sharper than the Sony even with MotionFlow engaged, but the difference was not drastic.

Uniformity: The Sony's screen was not as even across its surface as we expected from a high-end LCD. We noticed a brighter area on the left side of our review model's screen in dark areas, and a significantly brighter patch on the lower left edge that became even more distracting when we moved off-angle. When we viewed the Sony from either side it tended to be a bit discolored toward red or blue, and its black levels went south and washed out faster than the Samsung.

Bright lighting: This year's screen, in terms of reflectivity, splits the difference between the Samsung and last year's XBR4. The new screen certainly doesn't reflect as much ambient light as that of the mirrorlike Samsungs, and it did a noticeably better job of attenuating reflections than either of the two plasmas (despite their fairly effective antireflective screens), but it wasn't quite as good at cutting down reflections as last year's LCD. Still, for rooms with a lot of ambient light, especially windows opposite the screen itself, the KDL-46W4100 is a better choice than the Samsung LN52A650.

Standard-definition: The Sony tested as a below-average standard-definition performer. It displayed every line of the DVD format, although details in the stone bridge and grass looked relatively soft. It did a slightly better job than the XBR4 at removing jagged edges from moving lines and a waving American flag, although it still wasn't as effective as many HDTVs we've tested. Sony's noise reduction is still excellent, cleaning up the noisiest areas of low-quality material almost completely in its strongest NR mode, and offering a great selection of NR settings between to deal with higher-quality material. Finally, while the Sony did engage film mode to remove the moire from the bleachers behind the speeding car on the HQV test disc, it fell out and then back in to film mode quickly, thus failing our 2:3 pull-down test. The results for this test were the same in both Auto 1 and Auto 2 CineMotion settings.

PC: With analog PC sources connected via the VGA input, the Sony performed very well, resolving every pixel of a 1920x1080 signal with no overscan and delivering crisp text, although we did see a bit of edge enhancement, even in the special "Text" TV preset, that we couldn't eliminate. Via a digital HDMI connection PC performance was as perfect as any 1080p TV we've seen, with every detail resolved, no edge enhancement or overscan.

Before color temp (20/80) 6416/7040 Average
After color temp 6501/6528 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 424K Average
After grayscale variation +/- 98K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.639/0.333 Good
Color of green 0.278/0.601 Good
Color of blue 0.148/0.051 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps N Poor
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Sony KDL-46W410 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 274.43 140 96.4
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.3 0.15 0.11
Standby (watts) 0.85 0.85 0.85
Cost per year $85.47 $43.86 $30.36
Score (considering size) Average
Score (overall) Poor
*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


Sony KDL-W4100

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7
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