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Sony has an incredibly wide lineup of displays, but amongst its larger displays, the W-series TVs represent the high-value segment. Eschewing the fancy floating glass styling and uber advanced features of the XBR line, the W-series includes all the really important features, like a full 1080p resolution and 120 Hz processing.
The Sony 52” KDL-52W4100 we tested was a fairly attractive, modern looking HDTV. Missing the fancy floating glass frame of the XBR series, it still has a relatively thin glossy black bezel that frames the screen, and has the silver speakers hanging below. Sony took a bit of a design risk with the design below the screen itself – there is, for lack of a better description, a wide hole under the screen. Unfortunately for Sony, that risk didn’t pay off. It just looks plain weird, as if the TV is looking at you with its mouth open, and many owners complain on AVS forum that it’s a little distracting while watching a movie because it lets light through. I don’t think that this is really a problem for the majority of users though.
Sony includes a fairly basic remote with the W4100 series TVs with no backlighting or fancy intelligent learning features, but it gets the job done. Many people will use their AVR remote or a Harmony remote instead anyways, as they are capable of controlling numerous devices from a single wand.
The GUI is like most other Sonys, inspired by their own PS3 menu dubbed the XMB (cross media bar). It’s really just a horizontally laid-out menu system with pretty graphics, and we like it. It’s not as logical as Samsung’s menu system, which is functional for both novices and experts alike, but if you’re familiar with the PS3, you’ll probably feel at home with it. Tons of tweaks, it does not have, but there’s enough to achieve a reasonable result, and it looks attractive to boot.
The W4100 series TVs have all the important boxes checked off. The panel has a standard native resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, which is the highest available today. Also included is 120 Hz processing, a smoothing mode called CineMotion and the ability to accept a 24p signal. No networking features are included, but even in the best TVs, the streaming/networking isn’t nearly as good as with an addon device such as the PS3, especially given that most, if not all TVs do not come with integrated Wi-Fi.
That 120 Hz native refresh rate allows the TV to accept and display movies at their natural rate of 24 frames per second (only from Blu-Ray), which is great, because then the TV doesn’t have to figure out how to spread 24 frames across the 60 that non-120 Hz TVs show per second (24 doesn’t multiply easily into 60, but 24 x 5 = 120). This means no more judder in panning shots!
There are enough picture presents to please most people, and a couple of modes come pretty close to the 6500k standard that you don’t have to adjust too much further if that bothers you.
The Sony KDL-52W4100 was an average performer in its class when it came to black level and dark room performance. The black level wasn’t great at around 0.030 ft-L , but the experience was also held back by bad uniformity and a floating black level. That’s right, like other reviews, we also found that the black level floating a little! What this meant was that, depending on the brightness of the scene, the darkest shade that the TV was able to display varied. We suspect this is because the TV, even after turning off its automatic contrast (and related features), there’s some built-in control that cannot be changed and alters the backlight level based on the content.
Contrast levels were about average on the W4100 series as well, measuring about 1700:1 at best, and 1200:1 at times. This is about in line with most LCDs, but the W4100’s prime competition, the Samsung A650 series has a contrast ratio of 3700:1 and a far superior black level. Since the black levels are not great, the picture lacks the pop of its A650 and Panasonic plasma competition.
Color accuracy is pretty decent after calibration, coming quite close to the 6500k standard. Flesh tones appear natural and convincing, and greens are not as neon-y as they can be on many plasmas. Color accuracy trails the A650 series by quite a bit, as that set is within a couple of percent of perfectly accurate.
Video processing on the W4100 series was quite good, as Sony has focused a lot of R&D in this area over the past few generations. Upscaling of standard definition content was pretty good, with not too much softness or stair-stepping being visible, but the overall quality still fell a bit short of the upscaling on the Samsung A650 series. 720p images looked quite good, but the difference between 720p and 1080p on this TV was more noticeable than on other sets – not because 1080p was sharper, but because 720p was a little softer. Naturally, 1080p images looked very sharp, and aided by the 120 Hz processing, motion resolution was significantly higher than other Sony LCDs without 120 Hz processing.
Cinemotion, Sony’s name for the interpolation-based smoothing works quite well, introducing less artifacts than Samsung’s implementation of the same feature. If you like this feature (as it’s a matter of personal preference), the Sony does it quite well.
One of the larger issues the W4100 series has is screen uniformity. The backlight spreads unevenly across the screen, and this can easily be seen in dark and even indoor scenes. Next to a Samsung A550 plasma, which has a worse black level than this set, we still preferred the picture of the A550 plasma because the blacks and brightness were at least even across the screen. This issue is also known as clouding and mura, and complaints about it are rampant at the AVS forum.
The Sony KDL-52W4100 was great in bright environments, thanks to its matte screen and bright backlighting. In this type of environments, many of the drawbacks (poor and floating black levels) were not noticeable. This particular TV also had decent viewing angles, better than the glossy-screened A650-series Samsung, which suffers from varying contrast, brightness and black level with viewing angle.
The Good: 1080p, 24p and 120 Hz at a competitive price, decently accurate colors.
The Bad: Floating and not-great black levels, contrast is average.
Overall: Great value for Sony fans, but the competing Samsung A650 series does almost everything better for around the same money.