Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
In case you haven't noticed, "green" is big business. One way for HDTV makers to cash in on the public's craving for efficiency is to label a TV "eco-friendly." Sony's KDL-VE5 series does just that, but unlike a lot of so-called green electronics, this TV can actually save power in a new, potentially very effective way. That's because it incorporates a "presence sensor" that can automatically turn the picture off when it detects nobody's watching. Amazingly, the feature worked pretty well in our tests, and we hope to see similar automatic turn-offs in future televisions--as long as irate couch potatoes don't flood Sony's customer service call centers to complain of malfunctioning TVs. Otherwise, the Sony uses about as much power as a typical LCD--it's nowhere near as miserly as the LED-backlit
The KDL-VE5 also offers very good picture quality for a standard LCD, but on the downside it charges a hefty premium over the step-down KDL-V5100 series--the only major differences between the two are styling and the VE5's presence sensor. If you're prone to forgetting to turn the TV off, however, the KDL-VE5 might be able to make up the difference in a few years.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sony KDL-46VE5, but this review also applies to the 40-inch Sony KDL-40VE5 and the 52-inch Sony KDL-52VE5. All three sizes in the series share identical specifications aside from screen size and should exhibit very similar picture quality.
[Editors' Note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the KDL-VE5 series and the KDL-V5100 series we reviewed previously, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.]
Sony models typically bring a bit more style to the tabletop, or the wall, than your average TV, but the KDL-VE5 series is an exception. Its squared-off panel looks pretty conservative next to the designs of Samsung and LG, or even Sharp. The speaker bar along the bottom of the panel is silver for a classic two-tone flourish, and above it runs a reflective strip that provides further accent. The glossy black of the square, nonswiveling stand matches the frame around the screen, which is average in thickness and otherwise unremarkable.
We actually prefer the VE's smaller remote to the many-buttoned clicker included on Sony's higher-end models. The central cursor is plenty prominent and surrounded by four buttons that are difficult to confuse--one of which is the important "wide" key for aspect ratio control. A cluster of keys at the top of the remote can command other gear that's compatible with the HDMI-CEC control-over-HDMI scheme, but the remote can't control other devices via infrared. One missing item for an eco-conscious TV is a dedicated button to easily access all of the power-saving features; as it stands you have to delve into the menus to do so.
The menu system is also a refreshing, relatively simple affair compared to the company's PS3-inspired cross media bar used on step-up models. All of the major categories, from picture to setup, are arranged to the far left and stay visible no matter where you are in the menu. Nesting of multiple menus is kept to a happy minimum by grouping numerous selections on the screen at once. We also liked the one-line descriptions of various menu functions, as well as the separate Tools menu with easy access to oft-used items (although controls for the MotionFlow and Eco modes are regrettably absent). On the other hand, the Favorites bar, to quickly jump to a last-used input, channel or USB content, seemed somewhat extraneous.
The VE5's main differentiating feature is the ability to sense your presence and, if it detects you're no longer in the room, turn off the picture until you return, saving significant amounts of power. A small motion sensor in the middle of the silver speaker bar monitors a 45-degree arc directly in front of the television, out to a distance of about 10 feet according to the manual, and when it fails to detect movement after a specified period of time--you can set it for 5, 30 or 60 minutes--the picture goes dark (the sound remains turned on, however) and power consumption drops to about 51 watts. That's at least half, depending on your other settings, of the VE5's normal power use. If the sensor detects movement again within 30 minutes the TV turns back on. If not, it shuts off completely, cutting power use down to nearly zero watts.
In our tests the system worked well, turning the TV off after we left and re-engaging power when we returned after a brief time. We liked that a "TV is about to turn off" warning message appeared prior to automatic shutoff, and that simply moving an arm or head served to reset the timer, remove the warning and keep the picture on as we watched. Only once over a couple days of testing, all in the most sensitive "5 minute" setting, did the VE5 turn off while we sat in front watching it. Naturally this occurrence depends on how much you move or fidget within the sensor's range while watching TV; also, the sensor has more trouble in darker rooms.
We would like to see a completely customizable timer, or at least a 2- and 3-hour mode to accommodate most movies, and we'd be happier if the TV drew even less than 51 watts while the picture was off. All told, however, the sensor provides a practical and useful way to reduce energy use, especially for people who duck in and out of the TV room frequently or often fall asleep in front of the TV without setting the sleep timer.
Although it lacks a dedicated power saver mode, the VE5 does offer a few other ways to cut down on power use. You can manually turn off the picture and leave the sound on. A room lighting sensor brightens and dims the screen according to ambient light levels; the backlight can be made to fluctuate depending on program content as well; and turning off the "energy saving switch" (essentially, a power toggle) on the side eliminates the miniscule, 0.013-watt draw used when the TV is turned off yet awaiting the remote control's signal (e.g. standby mode). Of course, using this switch means you'll have to walk to the TV and turn it on manually.
Sony also claims that its "HCFL" backlight improves on conventional CCFL backlights ("H" is for "hot," "C" is for "cold) by using up to 65 percent less power, but in our tests we didn't notice any improvement. See power consumption below for more details.
The VE5 series is bereft of the interactive doodads available on the company's step-up sets starting with the W5100 series. It does sport 120Hz processing however, which enables improved motion resolution (a.k.a. less blurring) when you turn on the company's MotionFlow dejudder processing. Unlike Samsung's and Toshiba's video processing schemes, Sony's doesn't allow you to get the antiblurring effects without dejudder--not that the effects of blurring are generally visible anyway (see Performance below).
Other picture controls are relatively extensive. Sony offers three global adjustable picture modes and a fourth, called Custom, that's independent per input. A Theater key on the remote puts the TV into the Cinema global preset.
In addition to the three color temperature presets, full white balance controls are available to help customize the grayscale. More advanced settings include gamma and a Game Mode to disable video processing, along with dubious extras like Live Color, Clear White and Advanced Contrast Enhancer that we left turned off for our evaluation.