Sony Bravia KDL-40V5100 LCD HDTV
Price: $1,500 At A Glance: Plasma-like blacks and shadow detail • Good color and resolution • At its best with 1080p sources
As the most expensive entry in the group, as well as the smallest—though not by much in either case—a lot was expected of the Sony. True, it lacks many of the bells and whistles that raise a ruckus on the company’s higher-end sets. There’s no sign here of Sony’s award-winning Xross Media Bar (XMB) menu system. It doesn’t have optional color matrixes or color gamuts, a color management system (CMS), or a DRC (Digital Reality Creation). It also doesn’t have picture-in-picture or another way to display two images on the screen at the same time—unless of course it’s in the source (such as a PiP commentary on a Blu-ray Disc).
But the set doesn’t really need a CMS (the color gamut needs no help), the menus use many of the same icons that decorate the XMB, we’ve never found Sony’s DRC truly useful, and many PiP features don’t always let you choose the two sources you want to see.
The Sony does have a useful lineup of features; some were useful, others not so much. More importantly, its black-level performance and shadow detail surprised almost everyone when I revealed the sets’ identities.
Behind the Curtain
The KDL-40V5100 is the smallest model in Sony’s V5100 series, which includes 46- and 52-inch siblings. It offers the usual complement of inputs on its side and rear jack panels, including four HDMI connections and two component video connections. It also has a USB connector to access your photo and music files, but it doesn’t have an Ethernet (LAN) terminal for connection to a home network.
The Sony’s single-language, 24-page owner’s manual is one of the skimpiest we’ve ever seen for a television. Sony must have been reading studies showing that most folks never crack them open. But at least this one isn’t intimidating. It will get you up and running quickly, even if it leaves you uninformed about the most of the set’s features. Sony also offers a larger manual on its Website.
Apart from the usual video controls and picture modes (we used Cinema, tweaked as needed, for the tests), these features start with the set’s color adjustments. As I noted above, the Sony doesn’t offer a color management system. But it does have the usual color temperature options. You’ll want to choose Warm, as we did. There are also white balance adjustments at both the high and low end of the brightness range for use in a full calibration.
You can set up the video controls separately for each input and picture mode. If you choose the same picture mode for more than one input, you can also adjust the controls differently for each of them. This provides tremendous flexibility. But if you want to use the same settings for different active inputs, you’ll have to remember to manually copy them into each one.
Sony’s Motionflow is the company’s 120-Hz technology. It worked about as well as any similar feature I’ve seen, although I’m not a fan of this sort of processing, particularly for movies. It does smooth out motion, which some viewers might find useful on sports or other video-based programming.
The Sony accepts 1080p/24 material and displays it by either repeating each real frame four times to reach the display’s refresh rate of 120 Hz (in other words, 5:5 pulldown). Or, with Motionflow engaged, by inserting four interpolated frames for each real frame. It does the same with 1080p/60 (either a native 1080p/60 at the input or upconverted from 1080i or a lower resolution to 1080p by the set’s internal processing). However, in this case, it inserts a single interpolated frame instead of four to reach the set’s 120-Hz refresh rate.
The Advanced Contrast Enhancer dynamically adjusts the backlight in response to the image’s characteristics. Sony’s literature claims that the set offers Dynamic Contrast, but unless this is the same as the Advanced Contrast enhancer, I couldn’t find another control that performed this function. We didn’t use the contrast enhancements on any of the sets for the panel tests. More to the point, the Sony’s black level and shadow detail didn’t need them.