Sony has gone for the stylish approach with its latest Bravia, the KDL-40E4000, but it's not sacrificed picture quality.

An expensive upgrade on a regular Bravia, our sample came in pearly white, with brown, blue and aluminium also on offer.

A simple black frame sits around all the variants, lending the KDL-40E4000 the look of a picture frame. Sony's intention is that you use it as much as a 'digital canvas' as a TV.

Picture perfect

Sony has provided a small selection of digital images of paintings, which can be set to display on a loop for anything up to four hours on low power mode. You can load your own JPEGs to be displayed in this way via a USB stick.

Of course, the quality of a TV has a lot to do with processing, and the appearance of Sony's reputable Bravia Engine 2 is pivotal to the KDL-40E4000's success.

A 100Hz mode is conspicuous by its absence and the set's chief feature is Live Colour Creation. Its roster of other picture pushers is aimed at Blu-ray playback, so a 24p mode teams up with a full HD resolution, x.v.Colour and three HDMI inputs (one of which is side-mounted).

There's no S-video option, although an optical digital audio output should prove useful to bypass the built-in 10W speakers.

Ease of use

The appearance of Sony's XrossMediaBar (XMB) will be familiar to owners of a PlayStation 3 and makes using the KDL- 40E4000 a doddle, since the XMB puts everything in one place, unlike a lot of TVs that keep their various inputs and built-in TV tuners separate.

Backed-up by high-resolution graphics, the XMB sets icons for external sources, digital and analogue TV, its photo software and picture settings along a sliding horizontal scale. Hover over an icon using the remote control and a vertical list is created to scroll down.

At its most rudimentary you simply select which input you want, but for digital TV it displays the name of each channel, what's currently being broadcast and the timing of the programme. A less impressive, but more thorough EPG can also be accessed to inspect TV schedules over the next seven days.

Fitting in with Sony's eco-friendly claims for this set is a power reduction feature that reduces the brightness of the panel, while a light sensor adjusts the TV to suit ambient lighting conditions.

In keeping with its 'Picture Frame' moniker, the built-in store of arty screensavers can be accessed via XMB, as well as digital pictures from anything connected via USB.

Somewhat at odds with the generally outstanding user-friendliness of the KDL-40E4000 is an over-complex remote control that's short on quality and is often slow and unresponsive.

Improved picture

The digital tuner races into action and returns a correctly numbered full set of channels within a minute or two. Pictures hold up well despite the low quality of broadcasts, with accurate colour and high detail more noticeable than the inevitable MPEG blocking.

It's not perfect, but certainly a vast improvement on recent Sony LCD TVs. That trend continues with DVD playback, which enjoys similar strengths, although some blur doesn't go unnoticed.

Switch to Blu-ray and the set's three main strengths become apparent. Pictures are colourful, clean and precise, and you'll struggle to find high definition looking this good on an affordable, consumer screen.

During a scene from Oliver Stone's W, when the ex-president helps out on his Texas ranch, panoramas are clear and smooth, with enough detail to make out the smoke from a distant smouldering bonfire. There's little sign of judder or image retention, though slow pans are stepped, typically during gloomy scenes.

We could question the brightness of the set's backlight, having noticed slightly differing levels across the panel, but this doesn't prevent the TV from producing an HD picture above the norm.

Contrast is good and black areas of the picture are relatively solid, though never class-leading. Black backgrounds can swallow other dark areas of the picture, such as clothes and hair, but otherwise this set's Live Colour Creation never skips a beat on its way to ensuring terrific realism.

Good results

There's little difference between this set and Sony's W4000 series of slightly cheaper screens. The same user-friendliness and reliable pictures across all sources are present, despite its irritating remote control and lacklustre speakers.

One criticism would be that the USB input doesn't play MP3 music files, but overall this fine-looking set excels with HD and deserves an audition if you're after something reliable, but a little bit different.