What a TV! Sony's Freesat enabled Z5800 series of LCD TVs are a thrilling example of how good a cutting-edge, CCFL backlit screen can be.
We recently reviewed the 40-inch model in the Z5800 series and were mightily impressed, so much so we have chosen to review its 46-inch brother, the Bravia KDL-46Z5800.
On looks alone, the KDL- 46Z5800 could easily be dismissed. It's thin without being really skinny, but is, from the front, just an anonymous black rectangle. There's little or no flair displayed, save for a glowing Sony logo that you'll invariably turn off anyway, else it hampers the viewing experience.
It has a relatively drab aesthetic – in essence, the telly equivalent of holidaying in Burnley. However, none of this matters when it's switched on. In fact, the blandness of the exterior helps draw the eye to the glass itself. And maybe that's the point – it's here where the magic happens, after all.
The 46Z5800 casts a colour filled, detail-rich spell, which dazzles, excites and provides AV lobbyists with enough irrefutable evidence to turn any HD-abstainee into a true believer. In picture performance terms, it is, quite simply, the best CCFL-backlit LCD TV I've clapped eyes on this year.
It's a free for all
To be completely honest, Freesat has lost a little of its shine for me since Freeview HD came into the frame (the hardware may be thin on the ground but I know a bigger rollout is now just months away).
I'm a big fan of free high-definition programming, and applaud any such technology on offer, but because I live in London, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to satisfy my needs via a conventional rooftop aerial – a less bothersome route than a satellite dish, and one most can undertake even if they're in a listed building or rented property.
However, not everybody lives in a Freeview HD-capable area, so Freesat remains a smart and viable option. It's also one that the Z5800 handles very admirably indeed.
The quality of images delivered via the Sony's Freesat tuner is remarkable. Often, I'll gloss over a flatscreen's TV-viewing performance because digital terrestrial pictures invariably look poor no matter what fancy processing is employed. The transmission signal is usually so broken and muddied that even the greatest panels can look like a unkempt building site.
This is where Sony's Motionflow 200Hz technology comes in. When enabled, specifically on its 'Low' setting, the processing makes both SD and HD programming appear sharp, and aids smooth movement without introducing the sort of edge artefacts often associated with rival brand's technologies.
Other similar high-frame rate systems can also add a fake sheen to pictures, giving them a camcorder-style feel, but this Sony doesn't. Dare I say it, I'd be tempted to leave the processing engaged for Blu-ray movie playback, too.
The effect is less impressive with the set's in-built Freeview tuner, probably because the source's frailties are harder to gloss over, but that's a fall-back position anyway. I can't see anybody shelling out just shy of two grand on a 46in Freesat TV and not have a satellite dish to plug it into. They'd certainly be pleased they did.
That's not to say the set is faultless, though. For a start, whilst picture quality is superb, audio performance is not. The speakers are functional at best, and I found both of the available sound modes (dialogue and surround) lack any form of dynamism.
I'm not entirely sure that surround does what it says on the tin, either. The soundfield on offer is clean and crisp but as flat as week-old cola.
In addition, AppliCast, Sony's current internet widget feature, is as useful as a glass jockstrap. The meagre array of RSS feeds and applications on offer is almost insulting, especially in comparison to rival manufacturers' similar technologies.
There are plenty of good options when it comes to buying network-capable TVs and if that feature is high on your shopping list, you might not give this model a second chance. Sony is apparently addressing criticisms on the tech for future panels, and extra functionality may come down the pipe for this set, but buyers should take these reservations on board.
The Z5800 does, however, offer a full set of media streaming and playing abilities, via Ethernet or USB memory stick. And, unlike other Sony kit I've seen of late, this screen can handle the full family of video, audio and photo files through both delivery formats.
In addition, there's a picture frame mode on the TV that can turn it into a work of art in your living room. And that's quite apt, because I'm happy to call this TV a work of art. Its picture performance alone demands such praise.
Best of both words
After viewing a mix of Terminator Salvation and Ice Age 3 on Blu-ray, I can safely confirm that it handles dark, murky, shadow-filled or explosive, vibrant, saturated scenes with the same aplomb. The latter, animated movie is awash with stark, vivid blues and greens, and the Z5800 shows them with an intensity that no cinema screen could possibly achieve.
The latest in the Terminator franchise, however, requires deft control over sepia tones and an ability to pick out detail in darkness – a doddle for the display. The HCC proprietary Test Card has been designed to expose TV's common foibles, and there are some areas where LCD technology can often struggle.
Yet in this instance I noted no problems. Even reds look bold and authentic, before (in 'Standard' mode) and after calibration. Our test regime also highlights gradation issues, with some panels exhibiting light banding: the Z5800 passed with flying colours.
While the contrast levels are good, they could've been awesome with the adoption of an LED backlight (local dimming, especially). It's also the only sticking point that I can imagine somebody having when considering this screen over other comparable 46-inchers.
I believe that other issues, such as the audio performance, are almost irrelevant. It's hard to imagine that anybody willing to invest heavily in a flatscreen of this pedigree won't be matching it with a well-specified home cinema system, 5.1 or more. Flatscreens per se have rotten audio – it's a side-effect of having such a thin footprint.
CCFL fights back
So will the Z5800 struggle when placed alongside a 46in LED TV? In picture quality and features, I don't think so.
However, buzzwords mean a lot in this market, and there is no more attractive moniker than LED at the moment. Therefore, this set may get overlooked. I hope not, though. It's exceptional.
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