Sony will produce a truly awesome LCD TV before long, and the 40-inch KDL-40Z4500 shows that it is thinking along the right lines, but has yet to hit on the perfect recipe for success.
The styling, despite a sparkly 'Midnight Sky' finish, is a slight letdown; the 'floating' clear-frame concept may have turned heads a few years ago, but it's starting to look a bit tired on the front of a chassis that is incongruously chunky by today's standards.
The crowd-puller here is Sony's proprietary Motionflow 200Hz technology. This turbocharged scanning facility is designed to reduce blur on fast-moving images in order to render movies and sport more smoothly and without the judder that has plagued so many LCD screens in the past. It joins forces with the latest version of the Japanese giant's Bravia Engine processing, to put every one of these 1,920 x 1,080 pixels to best use.
Other notable entries on a mildly diverting spec sheet include a 'Picture Frame' mode that enables you to deploy your KDL-40Z4500 as a 40-inch, full HD photo display as well as a bog-standard, three top spec HDMI inputs, Ethernet for PC connection and a brace of Scarts.
Ease of use
Using the KDL-40Z4500 LCD TV is frustratingly inconsistent. In common with many new Sonys, it is equipped with the innovative XMB, enabling you to organise your entire (Sony-badged) AV system using one remote control.
So it's a shame, then, that the interface for the TV itself seems to have escaped from 2004, along with the cabinet styling, and the rather spidery text and rudimentary graphics that offer a perfunctory welcome to the various menus. It's adequate and perfectly functional.
In fact, if setting up the Philips Cinema 21:9 is like arriving at an expensive hotel with invisibly efficient porters, then installing this Sony is more like checking into a Travelodge.
The overall experience isn't helped by a slightly ill-conceived remote control. The slender, solid zapper certainly looks the part, but the decision to have some of the major function keys arranged concentrically around the directional buttons is ergonomic suicide. No doubt familiarity quickly brings competence, but prepare yourself for some 'remote rage' in the meantime.
We've had frequent cause to admire the naturalistic fruits of Sony's processing technology in the past, and the KDL-40Z4500 carries on this worthy tradition without really moving it forward any appreciable distance.
The palette is restrained and careful, where many liquid crystal sets are garish and shouty, and all very nice it is, too, but we can't help feeling that we've seen this performance, or certainly one rather like it, several times before.
It's not bad, in fact we applaud the preference for subtlety over retina-blasting pyrotechnics, but it just doesn't seem significantly different to the last lot of Bravias. Detail isn't bad, with anything better than terrestrial digital material being picked out in impressive clarity, although it falls some distance short of the kind of ruthlessly exacting focus that is now commonplace on top-end Philips or Panasonic sets.
Blacks, with fairly wearying predictability, aren't half bad, but not as good as plasma. Perhaps our attention has been unfairly re-drawn to this particular LCD shortcoming by a recent flurry of plasmic activity in the test lab, but the Sony, like so many sets of this type, manages adequately down to a certain level, after which everything collapses into an indistinct collage of murk. The backlight is also a trifle conspicuous on occasion, but not significantly more so than on other sets of this calibre.
The skinny strip running under the screen that houses the speakers doesn't promise a huge amount and the results are expectedly average. It's absolutely fine for television broadcasts, but anything requiring a bit more backbone quickly sounds underpowered and cramped.
To be fair, that unusually spacious cabinet adds a dose of resonance rarely found on most of today's super-slim sets, but the general audio experience is workmanlike rather than mind-blowing.
Anything under £1,500 is about what you'd expect for a halfway decent 40in set, although it is at the pricier end of that scale and there are plenty of bigger, better and cheaper sets out there.
If you are absolutely dead set on having a 40in LCD TV, then the Sony will serve you reasonably well, but anyone with less specific requirements might be better advised to seek satisfaction elsewhere.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview