Sony finally got its LCD act together with the latest range of Bravia TVs. We found ourselves won over by the W5500, V5500 and recent Freeview Z5800 models in particular – but there were still some occasional niggles with models being let down by a recurring inconsistent backlight problem.
But what about the Japanese giant's entry-level S5500 range? Can the quality still shine through when the bells and whistles have been stripped away?
Aesthetically, the 40-inch 40S5500 is rather confusing. From certain angles it looks attractive with its unusual two-tiered bezel and glinting black finish. From other angles, though, the design looks bitty, messy, and overly reflective.
The 40S5500 does what it needs to with its connections without really going any further. Which is to say, you get highlights of three HDMIs and just a JPEG/MP3-enabled USB port and D-Sub PC jack for multimedia use. There's no sign of the Ethernet port sported by the step-up V5500 and W5500 models, via which you could access a DLNA PC or Sony's AppliCast online service.
The compromises Sony has made to the 40S5500's picture technologies are more concerning, though. There's no 100Hz for boosting motion, for starters – though this is arguably fair enough on an entry-level TV. Rather more surprising is the fact that the 40S5500 uses Bravia Engine 2 processing rather than the BE3 engine found inside Sony's higher-specced models.
Given how much we've raved about the advances in picture quality ushered in by BE3, it's fair to say that the decision to leave the 40S5500 with BE2 hasn't gone down too well here. Our concerns prove well founded, too.
Right away, it's obvious that the 40S5500's picture lacks the finesse, sharpness and, for want of a better word, sparkle of Sony's other LCD ranges.
Driven to distraction
The biggest single cause for concern is the amount of motion smearing in the picture, which can be quite distracting at times. The picture also looks noisy and 'bitty', even when watching HD, reminding us of just what an improvement Bravia Engine 3 delivers in this key area.
It has to be said, too, that the 40S5500 falls short of Sony's higher-spec sets in the contrast department, producing quite noticeable greyness over dark scenes – as well as some evidence of the dreaded backlight inconsistency issue mentioned earlier.
In fact, we spotted four or five quite pronounced pools of brightness inconsistency while watching dark scenes on the 40S5500, even using the backlight-limiting Cinema preset. Most distracting.
Even the 40S5500's sound is nothing to write home about, courtesy of a rather unhelpful tendency for the speakers to distort or at least sound overloaded when pushed hard by a half-decent action scene.
There are some areas where the 40S5500 gets its house in order. Its picture is generally very bright and punchy, with vivid, well-saturated colours and crisp peak whites. HD images look quite detailed, too – except when impacted by motion blur.
Standard-def pictures don't actually look bad when considered against the standards of the affordable LCD market as a whole rather than Sony's own higher-spec models.
It is the bad points that linger in the mind the longest, though, and in doing so make the 40S5500's £700 price tag also look a bit steep.
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