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Sony KDL-Z4100/B (black) review: Sony KDL-Z4100/B (black)

Sony KDL-Z4100/B (black)

David Katzmaier
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.
14 min read

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


Sony KDL-Z4100/B (black)

The Good

Accurate primary colors and color decoding; reproduces relatively deep black levels; solid dejudder processing; sleek styling with compact cabinet; plenty of connectivity with four HDMI and one PC input; can access photos over the home network.

The Bad

Occasional backlight fluctuation in dark areas; less accurate color decoding; red trails visible in some moving material, network streaming excludes music and video files.

The Bottom Line

Sony's well-featured, smartly styled KDL-46Z4100 performs well enough, but its picture doesn't match that of the best LCD TVs.

Sony and Samsung have established themselves as the leaders in LCD picture quality over the last couple of years, so we expected a great-looking picture out of the KDL-46Z4100, the highest-end Sony LCD aside from the premium XBR models. While its performance is still solidly in the realm of "very good," this set can't beat the picture quality of the current 2008 LCD champ from Samsung. The Sony Z4100's black levels lose the depth we loved on the company's less-expensive sibling while keeping the unfortunate tendency to occasionally fluctuate the backlight in dark areas. There are still plenty of things to like about the KDL-46Z4100, however, and those looking for a stylish upper-middle-class LCD could do a lot worse.

Sony's "Z series" comes in two styling varieties: the gloss-black version (KDL-46Z4100/B), which we reviewed, and one with a "brushed metal" finish (KDL-46Z4100/S). The black set's handsome styling is a step up in our opinion from that of the KDL-46W4100. The frame around the screen is about half as thick, and there's less frame used below the screen too, leading to a much more compact-looking panel overall. A narrow window in the bottom section reveals your wallpaper or whatever else is behind the TV, but it's a lot more discreet than that of the W4100.

Including the nonswiveling, glossy black pedestal stand, the KDL-46Z4100 measures 42.5 inches wide by 29 inches tall by 12.1 inches deep. Without the stand, it shrinks the dimensions to 42.5 inches wide by 27.1 tall by 3 inches deep. All told, the KDL-46Z4100 is the most compact LCD of its size Sony has ever produced, although it's still bigger than some models, such as the Mitsubishi LT-46148.

The remote control included with the Z series is also different from other models, although, ergonomically we liked it less than the simpler wand that comes with the W models. Yes, the Z remote is bigger, backlit with blue lighting, and festooned with more buttons, but most of the controls are for other gear (the Z remote is universal, unlike the W remote) and the extra controls that actually pertain to the TV aren't arranged as well. It's also difficult to differentiate between the buttons that ring the main cursor control, and the larger size makes the stretch for the volume and channel controls a bit much. It's still not a bad remote; it's just not up to Sony's usual standards.

Sony KDL-46Z4100
Although still tedious to navigate, at least the PS3-esque XMB menu system finally groups all of the picture controls under the appropriate heading.

Sony tweaked its menu system for this year, although we still find its PS3-like "Cross Media Bar" (XMB) arrangement a bit cumbersome to use on a TV. Unlike with the W4100, which only has three horizontal selections among myriad vertical ones, the Z4100's menu adds two more selections, "photo" and "music," for use with the USB port or a networked media server (see below). Of course, the majority of users probably won't access those functions, so we question the value of giving them so prominent a location in the menu.

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 screensaver 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. Despite the Sony's sophistication, we prefer a more straightforward arrangement such as that found on the Samsung LN52A650.

Among the more loaded LCDs on the market, the KDL-46Z4100 improves on the W4100's feature set by adding networking functionality, albeit disappointingly basic. The Ethernet port on the rear of the set allows it to work with DLNA-compatible media server software, such as Windows Media Player 11, to grab photos from a networked PC and display play them on the TV's screen (Update 08-18-08: This review originally indicated that the TV could access music over a home network as well, but that is not the case). Similar functionality is available on numerous devices, including the company's own PlayStation3, and from certain TVs, including Samsung's LN46A750 and Pioneer's PDP-5020FD. However, unlike those products, the Z4100 can't stream video or music via DLNA or play videos from an attached USB flash drive, just photos and music, so it's much less useful. Perhaps Sony excluded video streaming to encourage people to purchase a Bravia Internet Video Link instead. For a complete look at the Sony's DLNA capabilities, check out this blog post.

Additional features of the Z4100 begin 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-46Z4100 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-46Z4100
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/B
We always appreciate having a full set of detailed color temperature controls.

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 "Full Pixel" setting Display Area section of the Wide menu lets you 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 (EPG). TVG lets the 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-46Z4100 owners, and we didn't test it for this review. The TV's picture-in-picture mode unfortunately restricts content in the secondary window to only the TV/antenna input.

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).

Sony KDL-46W4100/B
The back panel's numerous inputs include the standard HDMI and PC ports, plus an Ethernet port for networking and two Sony proprietary connections labeled DMex and DMPort.

Connectivity on the KDL-46Z4100 matches that of most higher-end HDTVs available today. On its back, we counted three HDMI inputs. On its side, Sony stashed four inputs: two component-video jacks, a VGA-style PC input (1920x1080-pixel 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 of the set, while another AV input with composite video joins the HDMI port on the side panel. There's also a USB port, missing from the W4100 series, that lets the TV to handle photos and music stored on USB thumbdrives.

Sony KDL-46W4100/B
Right-side inputs include one AV with composite video, a fourth HDMI and a USB port (not pictured) for photos and music.

A pair of proprietary ports is also available around back. Sony includes a port labeled DMex for its Bravia Internet Video Link, and also throws in a DMPort (not available on the W4100) to allow connection to some of its proprietary accessories, such as a Bluetooth wireless audio adapter or an iPod dock.

The Sony KDL-46Z4100 is certainly a capable performer, especially in terms of color accuracy and video processing, but we were a bit disappointed in its black-level performance for such an expensive HDTV. The Z4100 didn't match the superb depth of black delivered by the W4100. Also, like its less-expensive cousin, it failed to maintain a consistent black level in certain very dark scenes.

Our standard user-menu calibration improved on the Theater preset, bringing color temperature in line thanks to the user menu controls. There was still some inconsistency in grayscale tracking--the Sony tended toward blue in dark areas, and varied a bit more then we'd like to see in brighter areas--but it was still consistent to most LCDs. We chose the Standard color space to achieve those accurate color points noted in the Geek Box. Click here for our full picture settings.

For comparison we had more than a few sets on hand to place next to the Sony, including from the LCD camp the company's own KDL-46W4100, the Samsung LN52A650, and LN46A550, and the Vizio SV470XVT, along with a pair of plasmas, the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U and the Pioneer PDP-5020FD. We played the Blu-ray version of The Scorpion King on our trusty PlayStation 3 for our main image quality tests.

Black level: We lauded the KDL-46W4100 for its depth of black, so we were a bit surprised to see that our Z4100 review sample didn't get quite as deep as the W4100 in side-by-side comparisons. When Balthazar speaks before the tribe in the firelight, for example, the letterbox bars, along with shadows in the background and on the lee side of the actors' faces and bodies, appeared brighter on the Z4100 than on the W4100 and both of the plasmas; the Samsungs were about the same as the Z4100 and the Vizio appeared lighter. We're not sure why the Z4100 would have worse black levels than its less-expensive cousin, and both have the same specifications, but that's what we observed after carefully calibrating both (along with the rest of the sets in our comparison, as always).

We also noticed that the Z4100 showed the same fluctuating black levels as the W4100, which is the biggest weakness of the display in our opinion. During dark scenes that faded completely to black, the display's backlight would darken abruptly and then brighten again, an effect that was clearly visible and distracting in certain transitions. We didn't notice it during the numerous dark scenes in Scorpion King, but in I Am Legend, at the same place we complained about in the W4100 review (about 12:08 into the film), the fade from darkness up to semidarkness as the camera pushes into the bathroom caused the backlight to brighten noticeably. It happened later than on the W4100, however, and was less noticeable overall.

This issue is entirely dependent on content--darker material triggers it more often--but it's still something that's not an issue at all on most other displays we've tested. We tried a variety of picture settings and modes, including switching to the Custom picture mode as one reader suggested worked on Sony's V4100 series, but nothing removed the fluctuation.

Color accuracy: Nearly perfect primary and secondary colors, along a pretty good grayscale after calibration, led to commendable marks in this category. The Z4100 displayed the olive light brown skin tone of Cassandra emerging from the bath nearly as accurately as the reference Samsung A650 and Panasonic plasma, and without the slight ruddiness of the Pioneer and the Vizio. However, we did notice a slightly bluish tinge in midbright areas, especially with more delicate skin tones. The greens of the plants and the orange and red fruit on the tables, for their part, also looked as accurate as the references, as did the cyan of the pool Cassandra and Mathayus fall into.

On the downside, color decoding was off a bit, albeit in a different direction from the W4100 so we had to increase the color control to get full saturation. Afterward the colors were fairly rich, but they didn't have quite the punch of those shades seen on the displays with better black levels. We also noticed that very dark areas tended toward blue, although not as badly as many displays we've seen

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-per-second film material. 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 video-like 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.

The KDL-46Z4100's MotionFlow behaved the same as that of the W4100 as far as we could see. Of the two MotionFlow modes available, Standard introduces less smoothing while High, naturally, introduces more. We preferred the slight judder left by Standard to the ultrasmoothness of High, which often introduced a "halo" distortion that appeared around an object moving against a stationary background. Speaking of artifacts, the Sony evinced no trace of the "triple puck effect" that was still a bit visible on the Samsung A650.

In Scorpion King, we saw examples of the halos everywhere in High, such as when the camera pulls back from Mathayus' face as he's buried in the sand near the fire ants, or when Arpid moves to the rescue against the stationery rocks. Standard was cleaner, and removed the judder from the camera's advance, for example, but the look still appeared too video-like and vaguely fake for our tastes, especially with the unnatural CGI look of the ants themselves. As with the W4100, we preferred the look of the Sony's smoothness to that of the Samsung, even when the latter was in Low mode, but the difference is by no means drastic. The Sony seemed to maintain its rate of smoothing better than the Samsung, where the smoothing seemed to kick in more abruptly.

We preferred MotionFlow's Off position for films, of course, and we also preferred the look of 1080p/24 as opposed to 1080p/60 on the Z4100. Engaging 24-frame output on the PS3 caused the image to judder just the right amount, as it were, which is part of the reasoning behind 120Hz in the first place. During a sweeping pan over some marching minions, for example, the camera movement had a nice, consistent cadence that looked filmlike and not unnaturally smooth, but better than the non-120Hz Samsung A550, for example.

Unlike the W4100 we reviewed, the Z4100 delivered all of the detail of the film resolution loss test from the HQV disc. With regular program material, however, it was impossible for us to see any difference in detail between the two displays.

Update 08-19-2008: We also noticed one other artifact that didn't show up on the W4100 or any of the other displays in our comparison. Darker objects moving against lighter backgrounds, such as the dark hair of the kid whom the King lifts from the basket or of the King himself as he strides across a workshop, showed a brief trailing edge of red. We confirmed the red trails with test patterns, and they appeared regardless of which processing mode we chose. They certainly weren't visible with most moving objects, but we can see how they might become bothersome with certain material. Thanks to Al Griffin at Sound & Vision for pointing this issue out.

Uniformity: Brightness was relatively consistent across the Sony's screen. The left and right sides appeared just a bit darker than the middle in test patterns, but the difference was less obvious than on the Samsung LCDs and invisible in program material. Off-angle viewing was a bit worse, however, with dark areas washing out a bit more and discoloration setting in a bit faster, although it was still better than the Vizio and most other LCDs we've seen.

Bright lighting: The Sony KDL-46Z4100 has the same screen as the W4100, and its effective antireflective properties were apparent in our bright room. Compared with the plasmas and the Samsung A650, it did a better job of attenuating in-room reflections from the windows and light sources.

Standard-definition: With standard-definition sources the Sony fell a bit below average. While it resolved every line of the DVD format, details in the grass and stone bridge appeared softer than we'd like to see. It removed jagged edges from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag somewhat, although there were still more jaggies than on many sets we've tested, such as the Samsung LN52A650. 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, like the W4100, the Z4100 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 pulldown 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 1,920x1,080 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. Strangely, despite the TV taking the 1080p source well, an error message appeared telling us that the signal was unsupported. 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) 6228/6393 Good
After color temp 6454/6531 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 199 Good
After grayscale variation +/- 147 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.646/0.335 Good
Color of green 0.288/0.613 Good
Color of blue 0.151/0.053 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 Pass Good

Sony KDL-46Z4100 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 268.57 124.71 100.97
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.3 0.14 0.11
Standby (watts) 0.37 0.37 0.37
Cost per year $83.36 $38.83 $31.48
Score (considering size) Average
Score (overall) Average
*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-Z4100/B (black)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7
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