It’s hard to keep up on technology, particularly when it comes to HDTVs and the variations thereof. If there were ever any question of the complexity of HDTV, look no further than the U.S. government’s decision to delay the Digital TV switch from earlier this year to June. OK, so maybe you shouldn’t use that as an example; non-Defense government agencies have never exactly been “up” on gadgets or electronics. Instead, word of mouth and reputation may be your best source of information. And with that in mind, Sony’s newest Bravia LCD HDTV has our pure, unadulterated and 100% recommendation for your next (or first) HDTV purchase.
To put it plainly, the Sony Bravia KDL-52V5100 is the best 52-inch TV we have ever seen. Sony is often accused of assigning high prices that reflect as much ego as they do quality. To be fair, the retail price of the Bravia KDL-52V5100 1080p LCD HDTV (approx. $2,200) is nothing to sneeze at, but in the world of home electronics, purchase decisions are not to be made lightly, and it’s imperative to know that the item you buy — particularly in the world of HDTVs — will stand the test of time. And the Bravia KDL-52V5100 is one HDTV that will not only stand the test of time, but give ol’ Father Time a piece of its 1080p mind.
Out of the box, the Bravia KDL-52V5100 is primed and ready to go, which isn’t something you often find true with LCD sets. Normally, as was the case with the 42-inch Vizio we reviewed and the Sharp Aquos on which we’ve reviewed games and Blu-ray movies for two years, an HDTV requires an hour or more of calibration to deliver the best possible picture. Whether adjusting the brightness, temperature or sharpening, something generally needs to be altered to bring the set up to par. The Sony Bravia KDL-52V5100 certainly has the settings to accommodate this calibration, from three “in the can” picture modes to completely customizable settings. The thing is, it doesn’t need them.
The four Picture Modes are Vivid, Standard, Cinema and Custom. Vivid Mode increases the backlight to its maximum setting, presumably for rooms with high ambient lighting, but the backlight’s so high and the temperature so cool that it seems more like a default setting for Circuit City or Best Buy than a home installation. The Cinema setting, meanwhile, reduces the backlight considerably (all the way down to 2) and reduces noise reduction, but its color setting is so warm that the picture looks rusted to the point that we can’t imagine anyone ever enjoying it. The Custom Mode lets owners manually set every picture aspect, from backlight and brightness to color, hue, noise reduction and gamma. But amazingly enough, the Standard Mode — which as the factory default is normally the “throw away” setting — is the best of the bunch. It’s a rare treat to see a factory default setting deliver such excellent results, but Sony clearly spent some time fine-tuning the new HDTV’s defaults so it doesn’t take a videophile or professional to deliver outstanding picture quality.
The Bravia KDL-52V5100 also delivers great sound, although the few people buy an HDTV for its audio setup. Like the picture settings, the set offers four options: Standard, Clear Voice, Dynamic and Custom. Dynamic is the best of the four, as it shows a great propensity for accentuating the audio elements that most people are interested in hearing at any given time (voice, special effect, etc.), but it’s best to bring the Bass down a few levels to avoid being overwhelmed. Clear Voice, on the other hand, mutes so many non-voice sounds and makes the voices themselves sound so tinny that it’s essentially the worst setting of the bunch. Standard sounds pretty hollow, while Custom is what you make of it.
We ran the Sony Bravia KDL-52V5100 HDTV through a series of applications for the purposes of this review, and it passed them all with flying colors. The first test was a battery of Blu-ray Disc movies, from action films (Transformers) and dramas (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) to romantic comedies (Bride Wars) and documentaries (Galapagos). Video quality in any movie is largely dependent upon the studio and transfer, of course, but in all three instances the video presentation looked nigh flawless. Comparing the video to our 42-inch 1080p Sharp Aquos, which has impressed dozens of people with its picture quality, Sony’s Bravia KDL-52V5100 made the Aquos look dated and tired. Colors pop from the Bravia’s screen, blacks are deeper than any trench the Aquos could’ve hoped to crawl into, and the sharpness simply has no equal. Even the newer 42-inch Vizio with 120hz technology looked cheap by comparison, although to be fair the Vizio retails for about two-thirds of the Bravia’s price.
One of the largest reasons for the clarity and sharpness on the Bravia KDL-52V5100 is the set’s Motionflow technology, a fancy term that Sony’s coined to refer to the 120hz “picture smoothing” technology used by nearly all new HDTVs. Oftentimes the 120hz technology can lead to some aliasing or stuttering in scenes where there’s lots of motion, an odd reality considering the technology is supposed to make the images look better, not worse. Sony’s Motionflow, however, somehow improves on the formula used by other manufacturers and delivers an image that’s both sharp and smooth.
The Motionflow comes in particularly handy when playing PS3 and Xbox 360 games, which already tend to be highly detailed but benefit exponentially from being displayed on Sony’s new 52-inch Bravia. Whether playing an older and slow-paced game like Oblivion or a newer and fast-paced title like Killzone 2, the Bravia delivers the perfect canvas on which to display games. If you thought titles like Gears of War 2 or Halo 3 looked good before, wait until you play them on the latest HDTV technology. Uncharted 2? We can’t wait to see its lush environments on this set. The Nintendo Wii doesn’t translate as well as the PS3 or Xbox 360, but that’s to be expected considering Nintendo’s Wii console doesn’t display in true high definition.
Our only complaint about the Bravia KDL-52V5100 is how reflective the screen is. On many new sets, the screen has a matte finish so any windows or other light sources don’t interfere with the on-screen image. Unfortunately, the KDL-52V5100 has a surprisingly reflective surface, so any light source on the opposite side of the room appear almost crystal clear on the screen. Reflections can also be a factor with things as simple as furniture, but only in dark scenes when the on-screen colors aren’t able to “overpower” the reflected image. The easy solution? Watch movies in the dark (which creates a more theatrical ambience anyway). But for daytime TV-watching sessions (golf, weekend programming and kids’ shows), it would’ve been nice to have a matte finish on the screen to avoid the problem altogether.
Even with that minor quibble, though, the Bravia KDL-52V5100 sits atop the food chain of modern HDTVs. Sony’s latest set provides a superior picture and more than enough high-definition inputs (four HDMI and one PC port) to ensure that every piece of electronic equipment — including those you don’t even own yet — can be enjoyed in full 1080p. If you’re in the market for your first HDTV and want to see what all the fuss is about, or if you’re an early adopter of HD technology and are looking for the best mix of performance and inputs, look no further than the Bravia KDL-52V5100. We have seen the future of HDTV, and it exists in Sony’s glorious present. But don’t think we’re just talking the talk; the Bravia KDL-52V5100 will be the official HDTV on which we review games and Blu-ray movies from this point on. And that’s the best recommendation we can provide.
- Score: 10
— Jonas Allen