Just a touch of contrast (and a digital input) away from LCD perfection
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This LCD offering from Sony certainly has some picture processing know-how - in the shape of its acclaimed Wega Engine - that should be able to help it deliver more impressive pictures from its digital tuner.
The KDL-32MRX1's 32in LCD panel is actually sourced from rival manufacturer Samsung, but the inclusion of Wega Engine should boost image quality. It keeps all picture processing in the digital domain, cutting out flatscreen's traditional analogue to digital conversions. Several of these will take place during each signal processing phase as a 'normal' screen goes about scaling the input signal to the specific number of pixels in the display. And with each conversion, picture noise increases - so Wega Engine should drastically reduce the potential for noise.
What's more, Wega Engine works at both ends of the picture journey, first processing the source signal as it arrives and then applying secondary processing while delivering the image to the screen.
Walking in the air
Fancy processing isn't all that this flagship screen has to offer. As well as that built-in Freeview TV tuner, it features a delicious floating design, with the screen surrounded by a sheet of transparent glass that makes it look as if it's hovering in thin air.
Connectivity comes courtesy of a handy external multimedia/tuner box. There are three Scarts (two RGB-capable), component video inputs able to take high-definition or progressive sources from a DVD player, a D-Sub jack for connecting up a PC and a MemoryStick slot from which you can record 2hrs of video onto a 128MB Stick. A reasonable haul, then, but the lack of DVI or HDMI all-digital connections to take Sky's HDTV programming next year is a shame.
The news gets considerably better when it comes to the Sony's picture performance. Most pleasing is the fact that the image noise that characterised Sony offerings of the past is completely removed, leaving a picture that's blisteringly sharp, direct and natural from our Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind test disc.
Also gratifying are pictures from the Sony's Freeview tuner. Wega Engine is obviously doing its job, because such images are finely detailed. Maybe it's not quite the cleverest picture processing engine out there, but there's a dramatic difference achieved - and without picture noise.
Next on the 'wow' list is the Sony's colour reproduction, which is dazzlingly vibrant and natural. Flesh tones in particular are some of the most authentic we've seen on an LCD TV.
Wrapping up the 32MRX1's delights is a good black level response and the fact that there's practically none of the smearing and lag seen on many LCDs. The very dark Eternal Sunshine scenes outside Joel's house in the aftermath of his out-flanking of the brain-drain did make us wish for a little more contrast, but it's not worth lingering on this point too long - this screen is way too talented in other areas.
While audio doesn't hit quite the same heights, it is still very good. Those skinny built-in speakers pump out stunning clarity and outstanding soundstage width, especially using the 'Natural' mode. Bass isn't prodigious, but it is at least controlled and distortion-free.
Processing of the quality of Wega Engine doesn't come cheap - as the list price of the KDL-32MRX1 attests. Happily, however, real bargains can now be found online, for what is one the finest LCD screens available.
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