Sony dithered a bit at the start of the LCD race, but is now fully into its stride. The 40W2000 is the company's latest attempt to bag itself some of the lucrative middle ground between standard-issue front room sets and the silly sized universe of 42in and beyond.
Spec-watchers will be drawn immediately to that vertical resolution of 1080 pixels. This enables a 1080i resolution, which while stopping short of Full HD, is still capable of rendering enough detail to boggle most minds. Other goodies include the much-vaunted Bravia processing suite, Freeview and analogue tuner and a comprehensive array of tweaks for pictures and sound.
Connectivity is exactly what you'd expect from this sort of set at this price. There is a brace of HDMI inputs, which has become the de facto standard on any flatscreen worth its salt over the last year or so. If you were feeling churlish you might look to recent bigger and barely more expensive offerings and feel cheated of a third such socket, but two should suffice for all but the most demanding setups.
These are joined by a component video input, a pair of Scarts (both of which are fully wired for RGB) and every other kind of telly jack you can think of. Sony knows its target market exactly and has taken pains to ensure that not one of its design-conscious (but not very technically minded) audience will be baffled.
The colourful menu system is so user-friendly you could give the remote to a five year-old and be watching CBeebies on Freeview in minutes. Which isn't to say the controls are basic: there are plenty of 'Advanced' subsections if you are that way inclined. It's all presented in such a way that ordinary mortals won't break into a sweat the first time they press the 'Menu' button, though, and operation is further enhanced by a sensible, surprise-free remote.
The most obviously noteworthy aspect of the Sony's picture performance is its way with blacks. Rendering the very lowest reaches of the darker end of the spectrum convincingly has thwarted many an LCD screen, but this Sony seems to have cracked this particular nut.
We watched our test discs, both Blu-ray and DVD, in the kind of near-total blackout conditions that normally reduce even the best LCD pictures to greyed-out disaster areas, and were thoroughly impressed with the integrity of the picture, which is partly due to an adjustable backlight.
This can be dimmed or brightened to suit the ambient lighting. Turn it up to counter the daylight glare that always gets through the curtains to spoil the FA Cup Final, or throttle it back when the lights dim for the evening's feature presentation. Picture settings can be assigned to specific inputs, so we'd recommend having a dark, movie-optimised configuration for whichever socket you are using for film and a brighter, brasher setup for normal TV viewing.
The facility with darker shades also helps to underpin the other elements of what is a generally impressive performance, with well-saturated colours and fairly scorching peak whites combining to produce a picture that is punchy and vibrant when needs be, but also capable of great delicacy and has an equally sure touch with dull, but nuanced fare. Witness, for example, the excellent treatments of pea-brained, multicoloured action movie, Stealth and smog-choked gloomfest, From Hell, on Blu-ray.
The problems, when they arise, are straight from the usual list of LCD gripes. Motion is shaky on occasions and skin-tones can sometimes look a little too uniform, giving actors strangely artificial pallors that veer from the sunburned to the positively cadaverous, depending on the lighting.
The bottom-mounted speakers do a decent, if unremarkable job and are more than adequate for bog-standard broadcasts. There is just enough bass to give movie audio a decent amount of slam without cracking the plaster in your walls and the overall soundfield is reasonably accurate and absorbing.
It's worth having a fiddle with the settings, though, as we found that some of the default modes made for a slightly skewed balance of frequencies. This is particularly true when the pseudo surround mode is engaged, when dialogue and much of the mid-range becomes indistinct and swamps everything going on around it. The effect of this mode isn't particularly three-dimensional, so you'll probably manage perfectly well without it.
The best part of two grand is a lot of anyone's money, especially considering the spec you can get for it on a plasma of roughly equivalent dimensions. Still, the 40W2000 goes a long way towards justifying its price tag with irresistible styling, a smorgasbord of features and solid, all-round performance. Not an outright winner, then, but definitely an interesting contender.