So far Sony hasn't delivered the same sort of consistency with its flat TV picture quality that it achieved – to world-conquering effect – with its CRTs. But with the KDL-46X4500 LED LCD TV, the firm finally gives its Bravia TV name some mouthwatering quality to go with the dazzling ad campaigns and marketing spin.
As you'd expect of a 46in TV costing £3,500, the 46X4500 is packed with technology and tweaks. The fun starts with the set's design, which niftily has an expanse of clear glass to each side, into which have been inset some very swish silver 'pole' speakers.
The set is extremely well connected, too, with highlights of four HDMIs, two component video inputs, a port for playing various multimedia file formats from USB devices, and even a DLNA-enabled ethernet port for streaming files from a connected PC.
Please note, though, that surprisingly, this ethernet port doesn't let you connect to the new Sony online service, mentioned in the review in our previous issue of Sony's KDL-40V5500.
The standout feature of the 46X4500, though, has to be its LED lighting system, which illuminates pictures using an ingenious array of separate, individually controllable clusters of LEDs.
This is different to the static, edge-based LED backlight employed by the recently reviewed Sony 40ZX1.
The main advantage of the dimming approach versus edge based LED lighting or the static, single backlight of normal LCD TVs is that it enables really deep black colours to sit right alongside really bright picture elements.
This is because the LED clusters in dark picture areas are switched right down, while those in bright areas can be run at full power. Cue a claimed contrast ratio for the 46X4500 of 1,000,000:1.
The flatscreen also uses full RGB dimming for its LED array, rather than the much cheaper black and white option used by most rivals currently deploying similar technology. This method, Sony claims, should produce a more natural white balance.
Bravia Engine 2 Pro
Other key 46X4500 specs include the inevitable full HD resolution, Sony's admirable Bravia Engine 2 Pro video processing. The 100Hz processing is further supported by the company's MotionFlow system for inserting new frames of image data to make motion more fluid.
Proprietary Live Colour Creation circuitry for enhancing colour vibrancy also features and, of course, there's Sony's 24p True Cinema for Blu-ray playback.
Inevitably, the sheer complexity of the 46X4500's myriad options make it rather complex to use. But to be fair, the TV's so-called Xcross Media Bar interface, with its dual-axis approach, makes accessing everything the TV has to offer as straightforward and as fast as it probably could be.
Although Sony's recent LCDs have shown signs of improvement, we were still caught completely off guard by the sheer awesomeness of the 46X4500's pictures.
Take its black level response, for instance. There's practically no trace at all of the grey clouding impact during dark scenes found to some extent on any normal LCD TV. Even better, the rich, deep blacks sit right alongside dazzlingly bright whites and superbly well saturated colours.
In other words, there's practically no sign of the general flatness noted with single light screens when they portray shots containing a combination of dark and bright material. The remarkable dynamism of the 46X4500's pictures doesn't come at the exclusion of subtlety, though.
The amazing colour range is blended with a finesse we'd previously only seen on Pioneer's soon to be defunct Kuro plasma TVs; shadow details abound to give dark scenes a sense of depth, and the sharpness and clarity on show with HD sources is jaw-dropping.
Making the set's precision with fine detail all the more mesmerising is its excellent suppression of video noise, and the way objects move around the screen without anything like as much smearing and resolution loss as happens with most of Sony's standard LCD TVs.
Thankfully, all that digital processing doesn't generate loads of unwanted video side-effects, either, provided you keep the MotionFlow system set low.
While the 46X4500 is, inevitably, at its sensational best with HD footage, it's also an adept standard def performer. The latest Bravia Engine system does an excellent job of upscaling sources to the screen's full HD resolution.
If pushed to find fault with the pictures, we might say that occasionally dark scenes take on a fractionally green undertone. Also, some of the TV's picture presets are pretty dire, making manual calibration a must.
Finally, pictures set up to look their absolute best aren't especially bright, but this won't matter if you're watching the TV in a sensibly darkened room.
Audio is reasonably clear, decently loud, possessing of a respectable dynamic range and it's underpinned by a passable dollop of bass. But at the same time, the sound doesn't deliver quite the levels of power and precision that those glorious pictures deserve.
At £3,500 the 46X4500 is extremely expensive for a 46in TV, having said that, its picture quality is so good that it arguably justifies the expense. As the saying goes, if you want the best, you just have to pay for it. Better start saving now.
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