Friday, October 27, 2006

Product Review: Sony Bravia KLV-V40A10 LCD TV

The Product


The Sony Bravia KLV-V40A10 is the 7th generation LCD panel from Sony featuring a 40 inch (102 cms) screen with a wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio. This panel features a screen resolution of 1366x768 making it a tad over 1 mega pixel ( 1,049,088 pixels). The V series also incorporates the Wide Color Gamut - CCFL technology that is supposed to emit deeper reds and greens for more accurate color reproduction.

Specifications
The two main contenders in the Sony stable of LCDs in the 40" range are the KVL-V40A10 and KVL-S40A10 - the differences between the two are listed below.

Differences between V series vs S series
The key differences between the V and S series are as follows:
  • The V series panel has more connectors than the S series. For instance the High Speed USB port and HDMI input is available in the V series but not in the S series (except the 46" S series). Also the V series has an extra component input as well. Non-availability of HDMI on the S series (except the 46" S Series) is a deal breaker for me.

  • The V series has more brightness at 500 cd/m2 as opposed to 480 cd/m2 for the S series.

  • The V series also has more contrast at 1300:1 as opposed to 1000:1 for the S series.

  • 2 Tuner Picture And Picture (PAP) is available in the V series while a single tuner Picture In Picture (PIP) with Picture Freeze is available in the S series. The former allows you to watch two video sources at the same time while the latter allows you to freeze an image from the programme while the programme continues playing in a smaller screen. I am not sure this is such a big deal because I seriously doubt if I will be using this feature a lot.

  • The V series also has powerful audio output 13Wx2 as compared to 10Wx2 for the S series. There is also a built in digital amplifier in the V series that is missing in the S series. This again is not a critical difference because I will hardly be using the TV speakers and will rely on my home theatre receiver to do this job.

  • The V series has a cloth finish on the front speakers compared to a silver metal grille on the S series. In my opinion, the latter finish is more sleek as the cloth cover tends to gather dust over a period of time.

  • The V series also features the Wide Color Gamut - CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp) that uses improved phosphors to emit deeper reds and greens for more accurate color reproduction. This feature is missing on the S Series models.


Review


External Appearance


The Sony Bravia KLV-V40A10 has a nice black bezel surrounded by a thin silver frame giving it an elegant and presentable look, specially when it is mounted on the pedestal stand. The BRAVIA badge is prominently displayed on the top left. The speakers are integrated in the bottom of the panel giving it a sleek look and making it a lot less wider than other panels in the market allowing it to squeeze into display cabinets a little easier. The right side of the panel contains the following buttons:

  • Power On

  • Channel +/-

  • Volume +/-

  • Input Selector (allows you to select the signal source in case multiple sources are connected)

  • Wega Gate (brings up the On Screen Display)


The front of the screen has the remote control sensor, power indicator, standby indicator and picture off indicator (picture is switched off, sound is unchanged).



The left side of the panel has easily accessible connectors for:

  • High speed USB port to connect your digital camera or multi-card reader.

  • Component Input

  • Composite Input with L/R audio

  • Headphone out


The back of the TV has the main connector panel with the following connectors:

  • 2 Component/Audio In

  • 1 S-Video

  • 3 Composite/Audio In

  • 1 HDMI Input

  • 1 HD15 PC Input

  • 1 PC Audio Input

  • 1 Audio Out


My main gripe with the back panel is the lack of an extra HDMI connector. Sony is charging a lot for their panel as compared to other vendors in the same panel size, so in my opinion they should have added an extra HDMI input. This would allow me to connect my XBox 360 (when they come out with the HDMI cables) and my HD-DVD or Blu-Ray DVD player when I buy one without having to keep switching out the HDMI connector at the back of the panel. Of course, this is a solution for this in the form of a HDMI switch - that is available in a 4x1 model that allows you to connect upto 4 HDMI input sources into a single HDMI input connector. But adding this box means one more device in my rack along with the additional cables and remote.


The other thing I didn't like is that the PC input is on the back panel - in my opinion it should have been on the side - as the PC is something one would connect to the TV once in a while and not leave it connected all the time. The position of the PC input on the back means that I need to leave a dedicated HD-15 PC connector always connected to the back of the panel and dangling down my display cabinet for use whenever I connect a PC. If it were on the left side panel instead, then I would not have to leave it always connected and could stow the cables away and connect it only when I use my laptop or computer with the panel. However I don't think that this is a serious defect - just something that would have been nice from a logical and ergonomic perspective. The same comment applies to the PC audio input cable which needs to be left connected to the panel for the same reasons as the HD-15 PC connector.



The other thing I would have liked is an extra component input - I wouldn't have minded if one of the composite inputs was discarded in favor of an extra component input because it doesn't make sense for a high-definition panel to have more low-resolution connectors than high resolution connectors.



The ergonomics of the layout are good and allow easy access to common connectors whether the panel is wall mounted or on a pedestal. The absence of controls on the front panel gives it a nice sophisticated look which I like. The stand design is also clean and uncluttered and features a strap that you can connect to the base of back of the stand and the cabinet on which the TV is placed in order to secure it and prevent it from toppling over. Sony also features a simple plastic wire manager at the back of the panel running behind the stalk of the stand to organize and reduce clutter arising from the back panel connections. The stand also let's you swivel it in a 30 degree around the horizontal and tilt it around 3 degrees to the front and 8 degrees to the back.



The Remote




The Sony remote is a programmable remote - but the catch is that it recognizes only Sony devices such as Sony DVD players, VCR's, Home Theatre Systems and Amplifiers. The remote is fairly cleanly designed with a plain look. The center of the remote has a Wega Gate button (also available on the right side of the panel) that activates the On Screen Display which is well laid out, easily navigable and looks quite nice. The main settings and configuration of the TV can be accessed with the Wega Gate function. The remote also has DVD/VCR stop/play/rewind/pause/skip forward-behind/fast forward/fast rewind/record buttons that can be used to operate a Sony DVD or VCR player. It also has a Return To Previous Channel button that I really like while watching TV which allows you to toggle between two channels rapidly. It also has a Power Saving button that allows you to view pictures with reduced power consumption. You can also turn the picture off with this button leaving the sound unchanged. There is also a light sensor button that senses the ambient light in the room and automatically adjusts and optimizes the picture settings. Through the Wega Gate menu you can also access the Game Mode which is optimized for playing games on consoles like XBox 360 or PS3. There is also a video labeling feature that allows you to assign a name (such as XBox 360, DVD Player) to the input video source and this is displayed on the screen while switching between the video sources. It also allows you to skip connectors to which no input video sources have been connected so that these don't show up when you are switching between the input jacks. The remote also controls the twin picture function that allows you to see two pictures side by side. There is also a Freeze function that allows you to freeze the current picture on the screen - this is handy if you need to take down phone numbers or addresses from the screen.



The Picture


And finally the most important part of the review - the picture quality! I took a bunch of DVD's to view on all the Plasma/LCD screens that I had shortlisted, they included:

  1. Super Speedway

  2. King Kong

  3. Dark City

  4. Kingdom of Heaven

I took Super Speedway to look at fast moving scenes, King Kong for the tremendous amount of detail that it has in each scene, especially the scenes on Skull Island and Dark City and Kingdom of Heaven for their dark black levels. The DVD player was a Denon and was connected to the displays via component output.


  • Fast moving picture: I ran Super Speedway on four display panels side by side: LG, Panasonic, Hitachi and Sony. The LG, Panasonic and Hitachi are all plasmas while the Sony is the lone LCD in the lot. Traditionally plasmas have an edge over LCDs when it comes to displaying fast images due to the slower response time of the LCD pixels to switch from one color to the other often causing a motion blur which can be quite unpleasant. I am happy to report that with the 8 millisecond response time of the Sony panel, there was hardly any motion blur that I could make out between the LCD and Plasma panels. I am sure if you go up close with a magnifying glass, the plasma picture may have a few pixels lighted up better than the LCD - but from where I was sitting, it was hardly obvious. The LCD performed as well as the plasma and even though I looked very hard for motion blur in the fast moving race track scenes, I was hard pressed to see any lack of resolution on the LCD. The scene where the race car speeds along the track with the camera mounted on the front, where the clouds and trees on the track are reflected on the nose of the car are rendered equally well on the plasma and the LCD. The Sony picture has a slightly warmer red color compared to the other panels and this was evident from time to time - but I found it pleasing rather than annoying - but this is something to look out for as a personal preference. There was another scene with the camera mounted on the back of the car with the name of the sponsor GoodYear in a small font on one of the panels of the car. As the car sped by, the reflections from the side and clouds on this panel showed the name GoodYear clearly on the LCD but this had a lot of flicker on the plasmas.




  • High Level of Detail: Next I popped in the King Kong DVD - which has a tremendous amount of detail and dark scenes. I started off at Chapter 20 where the ship gets stuck on Skull Island and the crew move ashore where they meet the islanders. The Bravia had a very clear crisp picture and was able to hold its own against the plasmas. The dark and black levels in the Sony could not match the plasma if one looked very closely - and did not capture the detail in the black level that the plasma did so well - but this is noticeable only if you are looking for it - otherwise if you are not analyzing the pixels as each frame goes by, then this is rendered with acceptable quality on the Bravia LCD panel. There are many scenes in Kind Kong that I froze on the DVD player and examined all the four display panels closely, the Sony did a decent job with resolving detail and providing image depth - though there were many cases where the plasma, specially the Panasonic, had a great deal of depth. Again, this is subjective and the store owner thought the plasmas had better depth but I was not convinced and in my eyes the LCD did as good a job as the plasmas. At this point I just want to point out the most important tool while making your decision - your eyes! That's right - ultimately the specifications and technology boils down to how your eyes perceive the picture - so always go do a test before you but your high definition display panel and trust your eyes over some one's opinion.


  • Black Levels: The plasmas have traditionally have an advantage in this area with the ability to reproduce much deeper black levels than an LCD and it was evident during my test. However the old days where black was represented by dark gray is long gone and the Bravia's display the deepest blacks that I could see. But please note that I was watching this during the day in a well lit room, if I turn off all the lights and view the Bravia in the night, then I am sure some dark gray would be evident in the black scenes - but this can be countered by soft ambient lighting or back lighting in the room - which will fool the eyes into accepting the dark grays as blacks. However I must stress that the picture quality did not look awfully bad during the black scenes - just that the plasmas did a better job there. The other interesting thing was that the level of detail in the dark areas was captured better by the plasma, for instance in scenes in Dark City where Jack Murdoch goes into a dark alley or under a stairway, the plasma always revealed some detail that the LCD just displayed as black with little or no detail. However personally I did not find this black level handling so poor as to pass over the Bravia and consider a plasma instead. However this is a personal preference and one area I would like you to be aware of and take a look at yourself and decide before making the purchase.



  • Normal picture: As far as the normal picture with adequate lighting levels and normal motion were concerned, I for one was not able to see a huge difference between the extremely capable Panasonic/Hitachi plasmas and the Sony LCD. The Sony had a very clear crisp picture with good detail level and color reproduction. As I mentioned before, the Sony has a different red compared to other vendors and this was plainly evident - however I found it very pleasing and natural - but your opinion may be different - so watch out for this. I was able to discern a good amount of detail in the Sony and did not see a striking difference between the plasma and LCD from normal viewing distance in this regard - which goes to show how much progress the LCD technology has made in the recent past. Sony had great color reproduction, a crisp bright image and good color tone that was very compelling to the eye. I am sure when I get my TV, the first thing I would do is get an Avia disk and adjust the color and contrast - the On Screen Display of the Sony provides ample scope for adjustment and tweaking to get the best picture.


Conclusion


After a long slow patient wait and comparing many plasma and LCD panels from different vendors, I finally settled on the Sony KVL-V40A10 and I think I made the right decision given my key decision making criteria mentioned on a previous posting. The main driving factors that made me take up the Sony LCD versus the Panasonic or Hitachi plasma (LG was never even in the race) was because I mainly intended to use the TV in my living room which is rather bright. LCD's have much higher brightness as compared to a plasma, also the plasma panels have a tendency to reflect a lot while the LCD panels have almost zero reflection. The other main criteria for me that made me choose the LCD over the plasma was that I planned to do a lot of XBox 360 gaming and use my panel as a computer monitor - both of which can cause image retention and burn-in in a plasma - where a static image can burn into the screen and remain visible long after the image goes away. Also from all the information I had read about the plasma, a lot of care had to be taken specially during the initial 100 or so hours where one had to be very careful about the video sources connected to the plasma taking care to avoid TV shows with a ticker tape or watching movies with side bars that could burn into the plasma. LCDs don't have any image retention or burn in issues like the plasma - so this was a very important factor for me that made me choose LCD over Plasma. In the LCD's, Sony definitely had the best picture and styling, not to mention reliability - my current TV is a 32" Sony Trinitron that I have had for 10 years and still performs superbly, my first DVD player was a 1st generation Sony DVP-S500D that I got for a whopping $500 in the US about 8 years ago and is still going strong - so this is a brand that I am very comfortable with due to my personal experience. So I am very happy with my purchase, which I expect to be delivered in the next couple of days. I will do another posting once I receive and setup the TV. Till then - good bye!


Resources
CNet Review for Sony Bravia KLV-V40A10 LCD television
Bouncy Balls: The BRAVIA Commercial
Exploding Paint: The BRAVIA Commercial

2 comments:

sachin said...

this is a very useful review for me comparing the pros & cons of an LCD vs plasma. I am also migrating from a 30" WEGA to an LCD.

sachin said...

very useful review as I am also deciding to migrate from a 30" WEGA to an LCD. Pros & Cons vs. the plasma TVs cleared up a lot of confusion for me. Thanks.