Recently you'll find Sony showboating one of the most extravagantly innovative – and expensive – TVs we've ever seen, the 40ZX1. Yet it's the startlingly basic Sony KDL-37V4000 that we suspect more of you will actually end up owning.

The 37V4000 is so lacking in frills that Sony seems almost ashamed of it, and hadn't even given the screen a mention on its website while we were writing this review.

There's no 100Hz processing, for instance, even though this is sported by the cheaper Toshiba 37RV555. The image processing employed here is last year's version, too, not the latest Bravia Engine 2 iteration.

And if this wasn't already unimpressive enough, the set can't even handle the 1080p/24p format output that's our preferred method of Blu-ray delivery. The screen's resolution also disappoints, being merely HD Ready.

Making a connection

Connections are at least decent enough: three HDMIs is acceptable for a TV as relatively cheap as this one, and it's a relief to find that Sony hasn't deprived the set of a dedicated D-Sub PC port when cutting corners. It's perhaps a pity there's no multimedia support such as a USB slot or SD card interface.

The TV looks pretty good for such a cut-price set, however, despite lacking Sony's trademark transparent sections of bodywork and its illuminated logo.

Scouting through the 37V4000's onscreen menus uncovers some meagre bits and bobs. You can activate or deactivate the set's dynamic contrast, with a claimed 22,000:1 ratio achievable when it's switched on. Plus, you can manually set the backlight output level, and that's about it. We hope we don't find ourselves needing more image fine-tuning once we start watching what the TV can do.

One advantage of not having many features is that the 37V4000 is really pretty foolproof to use. Especially considering the onscreen menus are well organised and the remote control is tidily laid out.

Picture processing

Despite the shortage of processing tools, the 37V4000 manages to produce some surprisingly tasty looking pictures.

Particularly unexpected is how profound its black levels get when showing dark scenes. There's very little sign of the expected grey mist effect, enabling the 37V4000 to show dark scenes with an authenticity and sense of three-dimensionality that most other sets at this price can only dream about.

More expensive LCD TVs can go deeper still with their blacks, while also portraying clearer shadow detailing. But the 37V4000's black level achievements comfortably outgun those of most other similarly priced rivals.

Another gratifying aspect to the 37V4000's pictures is their sharpness. In this country, 1080p feeds are downscaled to suit the 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution remarkably cleanly. So much so that they look more detailed than some full HD screens we can think of.

If anything, the set's up-scaling of standard definition is even more accomplished, adding sharpness to good SD sources while reducing the appearance of noise.

The usual SD woes

It has to be said that if a digital broadcast is of a very low quality, the Sony does tend to slightly exaggerate its inherent noise. Especially if you forget to use the noise reduction processing and leave the backlight set too high. But these sort of problems with standard definition are hardly rarities on affordable LCD TVs.

The image's surprisingly high sharpness level happily holds true when there's a lot of motion in the picture, too. For even though there's no 100Hz processing, the screen's innate response time is fast enough to portray moving objects with far less blurring and resolution loss than is common in the affordable 37in world. There's a touch of judder, perhaps, especially when watching HD material, but this is no big deal.

Colours are vibrant, naturally toned and generally subtle when it comes to blends and tonal shifts. Even skin tones look credible and that's definitely rare to find at the 37V4000's price point.

Volume levels

Here again the 37V4000 comfortably outguns similarly priced rivals. Volume levels are surprisingly high, trebles are clear without sounding harsh, there's enough breathing room in the soundstage to expand to meet the demands of a good action scene and there's even a solid amount of bass on hand.

Most Sony TVs these days cost the proverbial arm and leg, so the affordability of the 37V4000 almost comes as a shock. But a very nice shock indeed.