The only thing stopping us whooping for joy about the £2,200 KDL-46S2010, in fact, is our concern about what the £2,000 price reduction from its predecessor translates into lost performance. The 46S2010 doesn't deliver the same aesthetic impact as its illustrious X-Series big brother, and actually looks a tad drab with its plasticky, deep grey finish. On the plus side the set rotates on its desktop pedestal - an unusually user-friendly touch for such a large screen.
Connectivity is a harsh reminder that aside from its X range, Sony hasn't gone overboard with sockets on its latest Bravias. There's only one HDMI, for instance, when surely a set of this size should have at least two. And there are only two Scarts when three would be far preferable. But in every other way there's nothing much to gripe about, as you do get an analogue PC port, component video inputs, and a CI slot that immediately alerts us to the presence of a digital tuner.
In terms of screen specification, it's no surprise to find the resolution dropping to 1,366x768 from the 1,920x1,080 heights of the 46X2000. The 46S2010 also lacks the Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) technology used to provide a wider, more natural colour range that is found on both Sony's X- and V-Series models.
The 46S2010 is, though, the beneficiary of two key portions of Sony's latest LCD technology. Most significantly, it sports the new Bravia Engine image-processing system - Sony's first to be developed solely for use with LCD technology, and thus, so Sony claims, the first to contain no compromises for other screen technologies. Bravia Engine's antics include enhanced colour processing, multiple noise reduction systems, a contrast booster and all-digital image scaling.
The other new Sony trick enjoyed by the 46S2010 is Super Vertical Pattern Alignment (SPVA) technology, which allows you to watch from a much wider viewing angle without the customary LCD drop off in colour and contrast.
Impressive here, impressive there
The 46S2010's impressive onscreen menus, predictably, contain all manner of handy features. We can't cover them all, but the highlight options include backlight adjustment, noise reduction, horizontal and vertical shift for some sources, black correction, contrast enhancement, gamma adjustment, and MPEG noise reduction.
So we get to the $64,000 question: how much will we miss the X-Series' 1080-line resolution and wide colour gamut backlight? The answer is: a bit, but not by enough to stop the 46S2010 being supremely desirable for its money.
There's no question that the set's colours pale in comparison to its bigger brother, but that doesn't mean pictures look less vibrant, though; it's more that certain deep shades of red and green look slightly less natural. The set's hues are over-blue out of the box, but careful setup can dramatically improve this colour balance.
Native 1080i broadcasts from a Sky HD receiver aren't quite as pristinely clear, noiseless and sharp as with the 46X2000 either, due to the need to scale down the native 1080i image to the 46S2010s lower panel resolution.
But it's hardly fair to make comparisons with a screen costing nearly twice as much. And if instead you consider the 46S2010 against other screens in its own price bracket, it stands out as a resounding success. Its level of clarity and detailing with HD sources is excellent compared with many rival LCDs, doing good justice to HD's main attraction.
SPVA, meanwhile, lets you successfully watch the picture from quite a severe angle without it deteriorating to any significant extent. And it's a considerable relief to find the 46S2010's black level marking a quantum leap over that of Sony's previous Bravia generation. The tell-tale greyness over dark scenes has been substantially reduced, allowing dark scenes a sense of depth that helps them look a good deal more cinematic.
Also greatly improved from last year's comparable Bravias is motion-handling, with the 46S2010 coping with even the rapid movement of a high-definition Premiership football match without any serious amounts of smearing and lag problems.
On the downside, black level could be better. Plasma screens most definitely have the edge. Also, in keeping with a depressing number of its LCD fellows, even the best efforts of the Bravia's picture processing can't stop lower-quality standard-definition sources looking quite noisy, as grain, dot crawl and smearing suddenly make an appearance. This becomes truly distracting on the feeblest of digital or analogue broadcasts; thankfully most half-decent standard-definition pictures hold up reasonably well.
The 46S2010's sound is a reasonable match for the screen. Treble details are picked out with sensitivity; voices never sound overwhelmed and are always credible, and there's enough openness in the mid-range for the soundstage to go up a gear when required by an action movie scene. For casual viewing the set's speaker complement is more than suitable.
If you really have no intention of getting involved with the HD revolution, we presume Sony's occasional foibles with standard-definition sources probably won't make it your best choice. But if you want a largescreen partner for HD for 'sensible' money, you really owe the 46S2010 an audition. Home Cinema Choice Staff