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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. Click here for more information.
Sony's extensive LCD lineup includes a range of higher-end models, but the KDL-V5100 is not among them. This is Sony's least expensive series of 2009 HDTVs to include 120Hz processing, and it lacks the interactive extras and design complexities of its step-up brethren. It does include nearly all of the picture-related controls on those models, however, and its overall image quality is just as good. Naturally you'll still pay premium compared to bargain brands, but the solid performance and well-rounded, essential features of the V5100 series make it one of Sony's most compelling values.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 52-inch Sony KDL-52V5100, but this review also applies to other sizes in the series, including the 40-inch KDL-40V5100, the 46-inch KDL-46V5100, and the 55-inch KDL-55V5100. All four have the same specs and should exhibit very similar picture quality.
Judging from the looks of the KDL-V5100 series, Sony doesn't devote nearly as much effort to the external appearance of its entry-level HDTVs as it does to its higher-end line, such as the KDL-XBR9 series. The V5100 has a relatively chunky, squared-off, glossy-black frame around the screen, below which is a black strip that fades to a mirror finish, providing a minor accent. The area below the screen is further thickened by the horizontal speaker bar with a matte-black finish--a contrast to the hidden speaker popular on many other HDTVs. Sony does include a matching, square black stand, but it doesn't swivel.
We actually prefer the V5100'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.
The menu system is also a refreshing, relatively simple affair compared to the company's PS3-inspired cross media bar. 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 the control for MotionFlow is regrettably absent). On the other hand the Favorites bar, to quickly jump to a last-used input, channel or USB content, seemed somewhat extraneous.
As one of Sony's least expensive HDTV lines, the V5100 series is bereft of the interactive doodads available on the company's step-up sets starting with the W5100 series. The 5100's principal add-on is with 120Hz processing, which enables improved motion resolution (aka 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. Check out Performance for details.
Other picture controls are relatively extensive for an entry-level model. 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.
In terms of other features, the KDL-V5100 offers four aspect ratio selections, including one called Full Pixel that correctly scales 1080i and 1080p sources to fit the screen. It lacks extras like picture-in-picture, but we did like the handy product support screen, which includes phone numbers for Sony customer service.
We missed having a one-touch Energy Saver mode to reduce power consumption. The Eco menu does include an On/Off/Auto switch for the backlight, as well as a room lighting sensor control. The Off option is convenient for people who just want the TV audio without a picture, and using it reduces power draw to about 30 watts (half of a standard light bulb).
Connectivity on the KDL-V5100 series is solid, if a bit unusual. Sony chose to mount three of the four HDMI inputs--definitely a healthy number--on the side panel rather than the back. That makes temporary hookups more convenient, but on the flipside some users may be less comfortable with wires protruding from the side instead of the back. Sony did inset that side bay enough to accommodate all but the fattest cables, though.
Non-HDMI jacks in the back include two component-video and one RF for antenna or cable, as well as analog and digital audio outputs. That well-rounded side panel boasts a PC input (1,920x1,080-pixel resolution), a USB port for photos and music and an AV input with S- and composite-video.
Sony's relatively entry-level KDL-V5100 series exhibited very good picture quality for the price, and in some ways it bested the company's significantly more expensive, albeit feature-laden, XBR9 model (in fact, the two received the same score in this subcategory). We appreciated its relatively deep black levels and accurate color in bright areas, but wished for better color accuracy in dark scenes and improved uniformity across the screen. Sony also falls short of Samsung in its dejudder implementation.
Adjusting the Sony for optimum picture quality in our dark home theater meant starting in its Cinema mode, also accessible by pressing the Theater button. That mode came relatively close to our ideal settings for calibration, although we had to disable a few picture tweaks, reduce light output to our nominal 40 ftl level, and bring the somewhat reddish grayscale closer to the standard. In the end the adjustments were mostly successful, although the grayscale still varied too much (becoming quite blue in darker areas). Gamma was solid at 2.25 versus the ideal of 2.2.
For comparison purposes we lined up a few competing LCDs, including the Samsung LN46B650 and the JVC LT-47P300, along with the higher-end Samsung LN52B750 and Sony's own KDL-52XBR9. We also threw in Panasonic's entry-level TC-P50X1 plasma, and as always our reference display was the Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma. This time around we conducted most of our with the help of "21" on Blu-ray.
Black level: The V5100 was solid for an LCD in this category, but couldn't match most of the other displays in our comparison. In dark scenes, such as the warehouse in Chapter 5 where Lawrence Fishburne works over the cheater, black and near-black areas such as the letterbox bars above and below the image, the pillars in the foreground and the recesses in the background appeared brighter and less realistic than on the Samsung B750, the JVC and the plasmas, and just a hair brighter than the XBR9--although about equal to the B650. Shadow detail, from the equipment along the edges of the room to the stubble along the shaded side of Fishburne's face, was quite good.
Color accuracy: In bright scenes the V5100 performed well in this category, thanks to its accurate grayscale and primary and secondary colors. The morning-lit face of Kate Bosworth in the hotel room in Chapter 8, for example, exhibited natural-looking skin tone without the slight greenish cast we saw on the XBR9 and the Panasonic plasma. The red headboard, green plant and golden sheets also looked quite close to the colors on our reference display, although sky shots appeared a bit too bluish in side-by-side comparisons--perhaps a symptom of the Sony's less accurate cyan. Overall saturation was about average, and didn't quite match the punch of the more expensive models.
Our biggest knock, as is often the case with LCD, was the bluish cast to shadows and black areas. The effect was less obvious than on the Samsung B650, but worse than what we saw on the other displays in our comparison.
Video processing: As we mentioned above you'll need to engage the V5100's MotionFlow dejudder mode to get the antiblurring benefits of its 120Hz refresh rate, but doing so has the usual effect on film-based sources like "21" makes them look more like video. We compared Sony's Standard mode, the least objectionable of the two MotionFlow settings to our eye, against Standard on the Samsung, and as in the past we liked the Sony's Standard better. A crane shot up and over the pedestrian bridge in Chapter 6, for example, looked characteristically too-smooth on the Samsung compared to the Sony (and, for what it's worth, smoother on the XBR9 than on the V5100). That said, the "beauty" of dejudder is definitely in the eye of the beholder, and we really prefer Samsung's system overall, since it allows significantly more customization than Sony's simple two settings.
Our preference was to leave dejudder Off for films, and we appreciated that when we did so the V5100 handled 1080p/24 sources well. Our preferred test for this capability, the shot moving over the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," revealed that the Sony properly preserved the cadence of film, while the Panasonic and JVC, for instance, introduced the characteristic hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down.
The V5100 but didn't quite resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p still resolution sources, falling short of the format's vertical resolution just a bit according to our test patterns. It deinterlaced 1080i video-based sources correctly but failed with film-based sources regardless of the CineMotion setting we chose. Motion resolution with was normal for a 120Hz LCD: 500-600 lines with dejudder engaged (MotionFlow set to Standard or High), which dropped it to 300-400 lines with it turned off. As usual, we found it difficult to spot the effects of these resolution characteristics when watching normal program material--indeed, the 1080p Sony looked just as sharp as the other 1080p displays and the 720p Panasonic X1 plasma during "21."
Uniformity: The V5100 was less even across its screen than we'd like to see, and exhibited worse overall uniformity than most of the other LCDs, with the exception of the XBR9, which was about its equal. The sides appeared brighter than the rest of the screen, and the upper-left corner was brighter still, especially in black and very dark scenes such as the dark warehouse. When seen from off-angle the screen washed out at about an average rate compared to the other LCDs, and there was no overt discoloration as we saw on the JVC.
Bright lighting: The XBR9 and JVC, both matte-screened LCDs, joined the V5100 as the best in our comparison under bright lighting. It handled reflections from windows and lights facing the screen quite well--better than the other displays in our comparison, which all have glossy (the Samsungs) or glass (plasma) screens. It also preserved black levels in dark areas better than either of the two plasmas, and about as well as the Samsung LCDs.
Standard-definition: The V5100 turned in an average standard-definition performance. The Sony resolved every detail of a DVD source and fine details in the grass and stone bridge looked as sharp as we expected. With video-based sources we saw more jaggies on moving diagonal lines than on other displays, albeit not as many as on the XBR9--although the waving American flag appeared about the same on the two Sony displays. The V5100s noise reduction performed very well, cleaning up the snowy, noisy shots of skies and sunsets with aplomb, although the MPEG noise reduction option didn't seem to do much in those areas. CineMotion set to Auto1 engaged 2:3 pull-down to remove moire from the grandstands.
PC: We were surprised to find that the V5100 couldn't resolve every detail of 1,920x1,080-pixel sources via HDMI and VGA, failing to deliver the full vertical resolution according to DisplayMate. PC sources still looked relatively crisp nonetheless, but not as good as on the XBR9, for example.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5941/6532||Good|
|After color temp||6458/6514||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||174||Good|
|After grayscale variation||89||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.641/0.329||Good|
|Color of green||0.281/0.603||Good|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.051||Average|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
Power consumption: We didn't test the power consumption this screen size, although we did test the 52-inch KDL-52V5100. For more information, please refer to that review.