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Sony Bravia KDL-W5100 review: Sony Bravia KDL-W5100

Sony Bravia KDL-W5100

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

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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sony-kdl-65w5100-65-bravia-lcd-tv-1080p-fullhd-iridescent-silver.jpg
6.9

Sony Bravia KDL-W5100

The Good

Reproduces a relatively deep shade of black; generally accurate color; good dejudder processing in Standard mode; extensive feature set with Yahoo Widgets and built-in streaming-video options including Amazon Video On Demand and soon Netflix; attractive styling with thin bezel; plenty of connectivity with four HDMI, two component-video, and one PC input.

The Bad

Expensive; benefits of 120Hz difficult to discern; cannot separate dejudder and antiblur modes; some screen uniformity issues; dark areas tinged blue; most free, streaming-video options not compelling.

The Bottom Line

With a full suite of interactive features as well as solid picture quality, the Sony KDL-W5100 series might be worth the higher price to streaming video fans.

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.

This year most major TV makers are using interactive features to distinguish themselves from the others, and unlike differences in black level performance and off-angle viewing, it's easy for shoppers to tell the various interactive add-ons apart. Whether they actually want said add-ons is another question. Sony's KDL-W5100 series represents the company's most affordable attempt at interactive TV, although it still costs a few hundred more than the entry-level Internet-ready sets from its competitors. Sony does offer a lot of extras, however, including select Yahoo widgets, scads of streaming Web video (much of it pretty niche), Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, Shoutcast, and, coming soon, Netflix. The latter will propel the W5100 and other interactive Sony series past the current content-on-TV champ, LG's LH50 series, in the add-on arms race. Meanwhile the W5100 delivers better picture quality than most standard LCDs out there, making it a well-rounded package if you have the extra cash and really want streaming video on your TV.

Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Sony KDL-46W5100 but this review also applies to the 52-inch KDL-52W5100 and the 40-inch KDL-40W5100. These three sizes in the W5100 series share identical specifications, and we expect them to exhibit very similar picture quality. This performance section of this review does not apply as closely to the 65-inch KDL-65W5100, which has a lower contrast ratio and thus may exhibit worse black-level performance.

Design
(Editors' Note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the Sony KDL-W5100 series and the Sony KDL-XBR9 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.)

The external look of the KDL-W5100 series is refreshingly low-profile but still stylish enough to pass muster with the décor police. The sharply angled, compact frame measures about an inch and a half from the edge of the picture to the edge of the panel along the top and sides, thicker along the bottom, and is colored a tasteful dark charcoal gray fronted by a sleek transparent layer. The speakers are completely hidden, and a nonswiveling stand supports the panel.

Sony W5100 series
The W5100's charcoal gray bezel gives it a refined look.

We actually prefer the W5100'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. 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 W5100 also adds a couple of buttons to the middle of the wand for interactive functions, one labeled "widgets" and the other "video." The former jumps directly to Yahoo widgets, while the latter summons the Video bar of the company's XMB menu interface.

Said interface, which will be familiar to users of Sony's newer gaming systems, has seven horizontal selections, four of which are devoted to non-TV functions called "photo," "music," "video," and "networking." Given the W5100's accent on streaming features (see below), the prominence of some of these extra selections is justified. The company did make some improvements in the Setup menu over last year, ditching the input-specific sub-menus for picture settings and grouping numerous miscellaneous controls together into a Preferences menu. We also laud the expanded explanations, which describe the main functions of various menu topics so you don't have to expand each one to find what you're looking for.

Sony W5100 series
Expanded explanations under the options makes it easier to navigate the menus.

On the other hand, there still seems to be too much going on with the XMB, and we anticipate some people having a tough time finding what they're looking for. Shortcuts are available, however, including a secondary menu option, called "Favorites," which offers direct input access along with a few strange widgets like screensavers and sample music. We rarely used it, although we did like the context-sensitive Options menu, which offered shortcuts to setup items during regular TV watching, and switched sorting options when we browsed the online video selections.

Features
Sony's least expensive model to feature the company's new interactivity suite, dubbed Bravia Internet Video, the KDL-W5100's feature set is distinguished mostly by what comes over its Ethernet cable. The company does include 120Hz processing, however, 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.

Sony W5100 series
There aren't many Yahoo widgets currently available, but we liked the flexibility to move them where we liked.

The W5100 offers the same interactive capabilities as the XBR9 series. That includes select Yahoo Widgets--Internet-powered content and information modules that can be downloaded and activated right on the TV screen. Unlike the Samsung models, the W5100 we reviewed doesn't offer access to the full panoply of widgets; as of press time it had only Twitter along with Yahoo's basic trio of weather, finance, and news. Check out the full review of Yahoo widgets for a look at the latter three, and our dedicated Twitter widget review for the former.


Sony's implementation of widgets is similar to Samsung's with a couple of important differences. Instead of confining the individual widget snippets to a bar along the bottom of the screen, Sony lets you move them around and place them wherever you'd like. Widgets can be called up individually, and depending on the widget, you can have more than one visible at a time (to show the weather in more than one city, for example). In general we liked Sony's take better, especially because the system was much snappier than the relatively sluggish Samsung widget experience. We just wish Sony would include more widgets.

The other major interactive feature is streaming video. The W5100 basically offers all of the functionality of the Bravia Internet Video Link (BIVL) built-in--no need to buy the actual $199 box. The most compelling video client so far is Amazon Video On Demand, which also offers high-def videos. Amazon VOD worked well in our tests, once we waited the 20 or so seconds for the store to load (on more than one occasion the load screen actually gave us a "timed-out" message before it finally appeared), although we missed being able to watch previews--the service on Panasonic's VieraCast TVs and Roku enables previews, while on BIVL and TiVo, for example, it does not. Videophiles will appreciate that picture settings can be modified for the Sony's online video content, just like for other inputs.

Even more compelling is Sony's promise to add Netflix-on-demand to the system some time this fall. If it works as well as it did on the LG LH50 series, this will be a great addition to the BIVL feature.

Sony W5100 series
Aside from Netflix, we didn't find the other streaming video options that compelling.

The free, non-Amazon content is less compelling, and the video quality on most of the "channels," which include YouTube (nearly full functionality is provided, and we liked the client better than the Yahoo widget on Samsung TVs), Sports Illustrated (no sports highlights--just swimsuit model clips when we checked), the minisode network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, and numerous video podcasts, is generally bad, especially on the big screen. In most cases it was designed for the Web, after all. The free videos from CBS offer generally better video quality in most cases, but don't expect anything close to TV.com, the network's official web portal for full TV episodes. Instead there's a confusing hodgepodge of clips and the rare full episode. (Note: CNET Reviews is a division of CBS Interactive).

For more information, check out the complete review of the Bravia Internet Video Link, which is still pretty much up-to-date in describing the experience on the XBR9.

capability to stream photos, music, and video from networked PCs that are running compatible DLNA-compliant software, such as Windows Media Player 11. All of these interactive features require running an Ethernet connection to your TV or installing a third-party wireless bridge--Sony doesn't sell its own TV-specific wireless network solution.

Sony W5100 series
Sony includes so many different ways to tweak the picture that it can quickly get confusing.

The W5100 series offers a host of picture-affecting features beginning with three picture preset modes in the main menu, each of which can be adjusted independently per input. Confusingly there's an additional Scene Select menu that adds a few more presets like Cinema, Game, PC, and Sports, which are also adjustable and independent per input yet not available from the standard picture menu. We'd prefer to have access to all modes from one menu to make keeping track of adjustments easier. Finally there's a Theater button on the remote that instantly engages the Cinema preset.

Among the basic settings, available on all presets, is a pair of noise reduction settings and four color temperature presets. The scads of more-advanced settings, which can't be adjusted while in the Vivid preset but can on many of the others, 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.

The CineMotion option affects the TV's 2:3 pulldown performance, while the Game picture preset removes most video processing, disabling MotionFlow, for example, to eliminate delay between a game controller and the onscreen action.

Sony includes four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, and a "Full Pixel" option that displays 1,080-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.

Conveniences start with the TV Guide onscreen electronic programming guide (EPG). TVG allows the Sony to 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 W5100 series owners, and we didn't test it for this review.

We were pleased to see a two-step power saving option in the Eco menu that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption. Sony also includes a room lighting sensor, a mode to turn off the screen but leave the sound on, and another mode that automatically turns off the TV after a set period of inactivity.

Sony W5100 series
The back panel looks relatively sparse, as most of the connectivity is located on the side.

The W5100's connectivity is complete enough, but the company arranged the ports in an unusual way. Instead of mounting the majority of its HDMI inputs on the back panel, Sony stuck three of the four on the side-facing panel, leaving just one to the rear. The side panel also gets the VGA-style analog input for PCs, a USB port for music, photos and video, and an AV input with composite and S-video. The rear panel, meanwhile, merits that single HDMI port, two component-video inputs, an RF input for antenna or cable connections, the Ethernet port and some analog audio connections.

Sony W5100 series
The positioning of the side-panel connectivity makes it slightly easier to swap new gadgets in and out of your home theater.

One benefit for extra side-panel connectivity is improved access, which is a boon for people who frequently swap gear in and out of their systems. On the other hand, users who connect more than one piece of semipermanent HDMI equipment might prefer to see more than one rear HDMI port. In its favor, however, the side panel is roomy and recessed enough to accommodate fatter cables without exposing them to view from the front.

Performance
Overall the KDL-W5100 series exhibited very good picture quality, characterized by deep blacks--for a standard LCD--and mostly accurate color, along with the best dejudder processing available, if you like that sort of thing (we don't). On the other hand, its uniformity was definitely below average, dark area exhibited a bluish tinge, and we'd like the option to get antiblur without having to dejudder. All told, however, the W5100 was definitely the equal of, and receive the same score as, its more expensive cousin the KDL-XBR9.

TV settings: Sony KDL-46W5100
Setup of the Sony KDL-W5100 for our evaluation involved some tweaking of the Custom picture setting, which we found best for viewing in a darkened room. We're avoided the Cinema "scene" mode, which is also engaged when you press the Theater button, since the TV doesn't stay in that mode after you turn it off. The default Custom's Warm 2 color temperature was relatively accurate if somewhat blue, and calibration of the detailed white balance settings brought it nicely into line. Once we'd adjusted light output to our nominal 40ftl and chosen the most-accurate "1" gamma position, the set's gamma scored a respectable 2.27 compared to the target of 2.2.

After calibration we lined up the Sony KDL-W5100 against a few other comparable sets, including a pair of the company's own 52-inch LCDs--the step-up KDL-52XBR9 and the step-down KDL-52V5100--Samsung's higher-end LN52B750 and LN46B650, LG's 47LH50, Panasonic's TC-P50V10 plasma and the Pioneer PRO-111FD as our reference. The bulk of our image quality tests were conducted using the "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" on Blu-ray.

Black level: Among the displays in our lineup, the KDL-W5100 fell into the middle of the pack at producing a deep shade of black, which is no mean feat considering the quality of the comparison models. In dark scenes like the street outside the club in Chapter 3 or the passing train on the bridge in Chapter 8, black areas like the letterbox bars, the sides of the buildings, and the deepest shadows under the trestle appeared relatively dark and realistic. The plasmas along with the Samsung B750 all delivered a deeper shade of black, while the Sony XBR9 was about the same. The V5100 and B650 were very slightly brighter, and the LH50 was noticeably brighter. Shadow detail on the W510 was among the more accurate of the bunch, surpassing the B650 and the LG, for example, and we didn't notice any overt backlight fluctuations.

Color accuracy: We appreciated the W5100's accurate color in scenes with flesh tones, such as Darlene on the bed in the hotel room during Chapter 8. Her bare arms and face appeared natural and not too ruddy, as we saw on the Samsung B650 or the Sony V5100, but they did exhibit a slightly yellowish tinge we blame on color balance--we saw a similar effect on the XBR9, albeit to a greater extent than on the W5100. The other sets in our lineup looked more-accurate in skin tones. Primary and secondary colors, like the green plant and the red bedspread, were highly accurate.

As usual, however, the Sony's black and very dark areas turned quite blue as opposed to remaining neutral. The Samsung B650 and LG were worse in the regard, but the W5100 was still quite noticeably blue, and worse than the other displays in our lineup.

Video processing: Turning on Sony's MotionFlow dejudder mode is required if you want to get the antiblurring benefits of the W5100's 120Hz refresh rate, but doing so has the usual effect on film-based sources like "Walk Hard"--it 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 Low on the LG, and as in the past we liked the Sony's Standard best. The camera movement and pans of the "Walk Hard" musical sequence in Chapter 5, for example, looked more artificial and video-like, as if the camera was on too-smooth rails, on the Samsung and LG, while the Sony's Standard preserved more of the judder of film and thus looked better to our eye. As usual 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, when we did so the W5100 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, without the characteristic hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down.

The W5100 deinterlaced 1080i video-based sources correctly and unlike the V5100, also handled film-based sources well as long as we engaged either the Auto 1 or the Auto 2 CineMotion setting. Motion resolution 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.

Uniformity: The screen of the W5100 was the least-uniform across its surface among the models in our lineup. The main offenders were brighter areas in the corners in dark scenes, such as the "Springberry High School Talent Show 1953" titles against the black background, as well as the letterbox bars in every scene--those bright spots were more obvious than even the one on our XBR9 sample. We didn't notice any overt uniformity issues in bright areas however. From off-angle, the W5100 washed out at about the same rate as the other Sonys and Samsungs, and looked better than the LG.

Bright lighting: The Sony performed well in brighter rooms. The mostly matte screen of the W5100 handles reflections from windows and lights facing the screen quite well--better than the other non-Sony 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.

Standard-definition: The W5100 turned in an average standard-definition performance. It 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, and more than on the V5100--although the waving American flag appeared about the same on all of the three Sony displays. The W5100's 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: As we expected from a 1080p LCD displaying computer sources, the W5100 resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080 via HDMI and VGA and delivered crisp text with no overscan or edge enhancement.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 5984/6545 Good
After color temp 6505/6593 Good
Before grayscale variation 173 Good
After grayscale variation 74 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.638/0.328 Good
Color of green 0.283/0.601 Good
Color of blue 0.147/0.051 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: The Sony KDL-46W5100 was among the most efficient non-LED-based displays we've measured this year, if only by a hair compared with the like-size competition.

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Sony KDL-W5100 series, but we did test the 46-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Sony KDL-46W5100.

How we test TVs.

sony-kdl-65w5100-65-bravia-lcd-tv-1080p-fullhd-iridescent-silver.jpg
6.9

Sony Bravia KDL-W5100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6