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.

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.


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.


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!

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

My Hi-Definition Safari

The Jungle
A few months ago I decided it was time to get a high definition TV. I fired up my notebook and started what seemed like a simple search to find a good high definition TV that would suit my needs. What happened in reality was that I was hit by a ton of products and specifications and technologies that I had never heard of - and so I attempted to find out more about the beast before bringing one home. This was a big challenge because researching high definition equipment in Pune is difficult due to lack of knowledgeable folks. That started off my safari in the high definition jungle - the beasts here are cunning and adapt very quickly - by the time you approach them they have changed colors and spots and voltage ratings - and they are quick you devour you if you make a mistake. I oiled my trusty Google rifle and set off to hunt - determined to bring a beast home. Here's how it all played out...

The Beasts
Very quickly it became clear that there were a bunch of key offerings from a technology perspective that could provide me the high definition viewing experience I was looking for:

  • Plasma TVs
  • LCD TVs
  • Rear Projection TVs
  • Projectors

As I ran through the list and started researching it, the pro's and con's of each technology became apparent very quickly allowing me to whittle down my list to the final two technologies -LCD and Plasma - that I would go on to consider. I won't try to go too much in depth here as there are tons of information about the pro's and con's of each technology out there - that it would be pointless to start replicating all that here. So instead I will summarize the information in a separate blog to do it full justice.

The Lure

The key decision factors in the model selection were:

  • Branded product
  • Good product reviews
  • Excellent picture quality for high definition content (DVD, XBox, HD-DVD, Blu Ray, Divx)
  • Acceptable picture quality for standard definition content (cable TV)
  • Good screen life
  • Good dealer/service network
  • Good resale value
  • Easily available finance options
  • Future proof to the extent possible
  • Should have a ton of connectors (composite, component, S-Video, HMDI, VGA/DVI, RF)
  • Width of the panel with speakers should not exceed 46" (limitation of my display rack)
  • Should have Picture-In-Picture facility
  • Should work well in a bright room
  • Must act as a PC monitor for Internet surfing on the big screen
  • Minimal burn-in/static image problems

I thought it would be as easy once I knew what I was looking for, however as I found out, the hunt wasn't going to be an easy matter.

The Hunt

After evaluating the technologies, for reasons mentioned above, it became clear to me that if it was high definition nirvana I was seeking, then LCD/Plasma was the only way to go with either LCD or Plasma at the 42" screen size and LCDs for the 42" and smaller screens and Plasma for the 42" and larger screens. With that clearly established, I started the hunt by going to the local stores in Pune on MG Road and Dhole Patil Road to check out some of the Plasma/LCD panels on display. Fortunately most of the main brands available in the US are available in India - the only difference being that the number of models available in India are only a handful of the complete portfolio of products available with these vendors globally. Given the market in India and the purchasing power, I guess it makes sense for them to focus on the models that are perceived to sell well in India. This is what my experience was like:

LG: The LG showroom in Pune was a great example of people trying to sell products that they don't know anything about. The staff in the store that I went to had no clue what the difference was between an LCD and a Plasma display. They also had no idea what high definition meant and were generally clueless. The safest bet is to ignore everything they say and do your own research. That is what I ended up doing and found that the 42" display that I felt was close to my requirements was the 42PX4RV model. However hard I tried to like LG - I found it really difficult to digest the lack of knowledge of people selling their products - for which I partly blame LG because I believe it is their job to educate their sales force about their products.

Samsung: Samsung has an excellent and very focused India strategy. This is apparent in their high profile advertising in print and TV, billboards all over the city, roping in top tier movie stars to hawk their wares and a India website that stands heads and shoulders above all the other vendors in the market today (other than Sony). This multi-pronged approach to spread knowledge about their products and technology to a wide audience highlights Samsung's commitment to the India market. This should be an important factor in the decision making because this usually means: (a) an extensive service and dealer network (b) perceived brand value which makes it easier when you want to sell your old display panel and upgrade to a new one (c) easy availability of parts in case of repair (d) upto date information available on the Internet which means you are not at the mercy of local dealers to get upto date product information (e) good finance options to purchase their products. Samsung, unlike Sony, has both LCD and Plasma display panels - with LCD panels in the 15" - 46" panel size and Plasma in 42" - 63" range. The only area that I found confusing about Samsung was the sheer number of models that they carry - with very little comparison information about the differences between each model - making it the consumers job to do their homework and figure out what exactly they want. For instance Samsung has the Bordeaux, M6, M5, S5, R5 and T5 series in their LCD range and the P5, D5 and S5 in their plasma range for India. I asked the local dealer in Pune what the difference was between these models - and his answer was that the Bordeaux model was made in India while the rest were imported. I didn't really buy his theory - and will have to load the product manuals for each of the models from the Samsung website (which is something I really like about Samsung) and do the comparison myself. I will post it once I have the details in an easy to understand format - both for me and others looking to buy these products.

Sony: The name Sony evokes instant brand recognition in India and is also perceived as high quality brand making it one of the main contenders in my purchase decision. Sony doesn't advertise as aggressively as Samsung - and in my opinion is counting on their brand to speak for itself. However during the recent Diwali festival, Sony's advertisements for their Bravia range was splashed almost daily for a week in the local dailies. Sony also pioneered (pun unintended) the concept of Sony World - a single exclusive showroom for all Sony products available in India which was intended both as a branding exercise, product information and consumer awareness program which in my mind is a huge success - this concept today has become deriguer with all the other manufacturers. Sony used to make both LCD and Plasma panels earlier - but has now officially stopped making plasma displays and are focusing exclusively on their LCD range dubbed BRAVIA (Best Resolution Audio Video Integrated Architecture). With the current technology, LCD's work best in sizes 42" and under - once the panels start getting bigger in size the problems with LCD start becoming apparent. The Sony models that I had shortlisted were the KLV-S40A10, and KLV-V40A10. The model I was really keen on was the KLV-46V2500 model which is not available in India at the time of writing. The other thing to note about Sony is that their TV's are on average more expensive than any of the other vendors for the same panel size - this I assume is Sony cashing in on their global quality brand perception.

Hitachi: Hitachi has a very thin network in India - and they don't seem to be really targeting the Indian high end consumer goods market in a big way like Sony or Samsung. This is apparant from the handful of dealers listed on the advertisements, as well as very sparse information on their India website. Unlike Sony, Hitachi manufactures both LCD and Plasma TV's - with the LCD TV topping off at around 40" and the Plasma TV's taking it over from there. The 42" model that caught my eye was the 42PD8900TA - this is a plasma TV with a 1024x1080 pixel resolution supporting upto 1080i resolution (that's right - no 1080p). This screen has an unusual resolution in that it has 100% of the vertical resolution required for a high definition display - viz. 1080 lines - but is 20% short of the high definition horizontal resolution of 1280 pixels. This difference is not apparent when you play the content available in the market today - but could be a problem a few years down the road when you start getting high definition content - where this deficiency can start becoming a real pain - especially when you have plunked down some serious cash for this display. The retail cost of the 42PD8900TA in Pune was between Rs. 1,75,000 and Rs. 1,79,000. The big problem with buying Hitachi in India is that they are not registered with any of the credit card companies - so getting finance from a credit card company for a Hitachi TV is not an option. You can either take a personal loan (at a whopping 10-14% interest at the time of writing) or make a down payment to the vendor and use your credit card to split down the remaining amounts into smaller EMI's spread out over 6-12 months. This is a serious shortfall of Hitachi in India today. The other issue is the service network - I called their helpline and was relieved to hear that they had at least one service center in Pune - but that's still a concern given the number of service centers that other manufacturers have locally. These are some areas that Hitachi needs to start looking into seriously - because even though they have a fabulous product - getting it into the hands of the consumer and increasing their comfort level with the brand and service will be an uphill battle for them going forward given their current strategy. Detailed reviews and specifications of the 42PD8900TA can be found here.

Pioneer: Pioneer has no India strategy to speak of. The company does not advertise their plasma panels in India, they have no brand recall or recognition to speak of, they have a very sparse dealer/service network - in other words everything designed to keep one from buying their products. I was able to finally track down a small boutique store in Pune that had Pioneer products but even they only had a handful of models and no finance options available. So I didn't pursue Pioneer further even though they have some very critically acclaimed models - the other negative factors far outweighed any advantages that the company had to offer - which is a shame but unfortunately that's how the dice rolls.

Philips: Philips is also a well known brand in India, in my opinion falling somewhere after Sony and Samsung but ahead of LG in terms of brand reputation. Philips sells LCD panels made famous by their AmbiLight feature. The largest model they sell in India at the time of writing was the 42" LCD TV - 42PF7421/98.

Panasonic: Panasonic has been selling products in India for a while, but is not as high profile as either Sony or Samsung. Panasonic is slightly better than Hitachi in my opinion, because they seem to have established a decent dealer network in India - nowhere near the network size of Sony/Samsung/LG - but definitely better than Hitachi or Pioneer. Also the good news with Panasonic is that they offer finance options on their products unlike Hitachi - which means product acquisition is a little easier for end consumers. However there are still a lot of key differences between Sony/Samsung/LG trio vs. Panasonic - the latter has only recently started advertisement campaigns for their plasma range of TV's and don't have such a mass appeal and brand recognition in India (save Mallu's who got back Panasonic stereo systems from Dubai). So it will be an uphill struggle for them to establish their brand name in this high end consumer electronics segment - they will need to have a clear and coherent brand strategy in India to succeed. If they adopt the stand-offish attitude of either Hitachi or Pioneer - they are doomed. The reason why I chose to highlight Panasonic is because they have some excellent reviews for their plasma displays and seemed reasonably priced too (compared to Sony).

One thing I consistently noticed was that the typical large multi-brand showroom have salesman that don't really know much about the product they are selling nor do they understand the typical customer profile for the high end products. This is one area where all the dealers fall short - they just don't understand the profile of the customer who would be interested in such products and how to pitch and sell these products to the consumer. A lot of consumer education is sorely needed in this area - and I think the onus is on the manufacturers to take the lead in this and educate their dealers. This is where the boutique stores shine - they have a very clear understanding of the customer, know exactly how to talk to and treat the customer and have no pressure selling tactics that make it such a pleasure to work with. They are also on average, more knowledgeable about the products they sell and are passionate about it - which gives them a huge edge over the average retailer/dealer who is solely focused on his bottom line.

The Kill

The stalking has started in earnest and the quarry seems near - the grass sways gently in the breeze and I can see the stripes and the swish of the tail - yet as I approach the grasses part and the clearing is empty - I can scent the beast but can't get it in my sights yet - it continues to elude me. I will spend the next few weeks staking out the display panels that make it to my top 3 and provide detailed reviews and specs for each one. Hopefully by then I should be ready to make my purchase. I will keep you posted - hope you enjoyed reading his article.