Sony S5500 (KDL-40S5500) LCD TV Review

Can Sony's budget screen offer top quality images?

by Phil Hinton
TV Review

3

Sony S5500 (KDL-40S5500) LCD TV Review
SRP: £850.00

Introduction

When it comes to entry level budget HDTV models you can expect that these products will not have all the fancy bells and whistles seen on the more expensive TVs. You may even dismiss such models because the marketing department wants you to have the latest 20 billion to one contrast model with 16,000HZ processing. Ok, so maybe I am being a little sarcastic with the last few comments, but in a market where the biggest number must mean TV greatness, just what do you get for your money in the lower reaches of the market?

Design and set up

For a product where you would imagine cost cutting is key, the S5500 certainly doesn’t look cheap. The bezel is robust with a solid build quality and instead of the usual black gloss; the frame has a matte style dark grey finish. There may be a lack of any designer flourish but the TV looks understated and slick. Also included in the box is a table mount stand that gives the set its finishing touch.

Moving around the back we have every connection that a consumer will possibly need, with some cost cutting applied. Instead of the now standard four HDMI connections we are given three here, two on the rear panel and one side mounted. Also included are two scart sockets and other legacy inputs such as s-video and composite. Unlike the more expensive Sony panels the S5500 does not have an Ethernet connection, so you will not be able to hook up your PC or Sony’s Applicast online service. However, for those looking for music and video playback of MP3 and MP4 files, the TV does have a USB port for that functionality. Rounding off the package is the TV remote which as you would imagine is cheap looking plastic, but is well laid out and intuitive to use.

Setting up the TV is a pretty straight forward affair with the analogue and Freeview channels tuned automatically when you first switch the set on. This takes all of 10 minutes and you are ready to start watching content. So with that done we better set up the picture options available.

Menu systems

Unlike the higher-end Sony models, the S5500 has a very basic menu design with a distinct lack of advanced picture controls. What we do get are the usual front panel controls (Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Sharpness etc.) as well as a backlight control and colour temperature selection. Rounding up the picture menu are two noise reduction systems. As this is a budget TV there is no 100Hz processing or frame interpolation technology.


Other menus cover the sound set up options as well as manual tuning and other basic set up controls. Overall, there is a very basic feel to the menus and it looks like we will be forced to enter the service menu to get the very best out of the S5500.
So lets look at the best out of the box picture options and how they measure up to the industry standards for TV and film playback.

Test Results

Out of the box measurements

Looking through the various picture presets I found that the cinema picture mode and warm colour temperature looked the most accurate to the standards by eye. This was after doing a basic set up using the usual pluge and contrast test patterns to get the dynamic range set for the viewing room and calibrated pattern generator. Once this was done, it was time to measure the actual cinema and warm settings to see if I was right.

Surprisingly the results looked very good for such a budget TV and points to Sony listening to the feedback given to them over the last few years about their out of the box results. The results are not perfect, far from it, but as presets go they are also not a million miles away from the standards we review to. Greyscale looks acceptable with 5% errors for red and blue from about 40ire upwards and gives us DeltaE errors under 2.3 across the scale. Where things do look off more is the gamma curve which takes an S-like curve and has errors high and low (as you can see in the chart with high points in the low and high reaches). This is quite usual for an LCD based panel, but as there is no gamma correction tool, it will be difficult to fix this. What this translates to in picture terms is that the greyscale has a slight redness and gamma is dark in the low end.

Moving to the colour gamut performance of the S5500 and again we have seen far worse results than those here on the Sony. In terms of hitting the Rec.709 standard, things do not look that bad. Green is slightly oversaturated and has a hue error and the secondary’s are also slightly out with hue errors for cyan and magenta. There are also a few other slight errors in there such as over saturation but looking at the DeltaE errors and things are not on the extreme side. In fact unless you look at accurate images every day (like us here at AVF Reviews) you may be hard pressed to even see these slight errors with the Gamut. Some issues we would like to have fixed are the luminance results for blue and the slight hue and saturation issues with green and the secondary colours. So although it’s not perfect in greyscale and colour results, the S5500 out of the box is better than many competitors in this regard. Sadly there are no calibration controls for users to further improve on these results.

Calibration

So, moving to an advanced calibration to the industry standards we hit the first snag with the S5500. Despite the very good results out of the box we want to try and get the results even closer to how TV and Films are mastered and sadly that’s were we struggle. There are no calibration controls in the user menus of the Sony so we are forced to enter the engineer’s service menu to calibrate the greyscale correctly. This is far from ideal and is best left to suitably qualified calibrators. LG and Samsung are two of Sony’s rivals that do offer such controls as standard on all their TVs, so we would like to see Sony follow suit and compete in this regard. Indeed the LGs all have ISFccc controls.

Entering the service menu we are given access to the white balance controls for correcting the greyscale on a two point basis. This allows us to correct the greyscale at the top end (80ire) and low (30ire). So upon doing this and checking the results on screen we managed to improve on the out of the box results as you can see below.

Apart from a slight dip in the red performance we managed to get the errors down to levels where they are not perceivable to the human eye and also managed to get the gamma curve to track a little better and towards the 2.2 goal. Although the gamma is not perfect in the results I was happy enough with the on screen performance, which was a plus point as we have no way to correct it further.

Although we had controls in the service menu to correct the greyscale there is no Colour Management System available at all, so correcting the gamut to the Rec.709 standard was impossible. However, just by correcting the greyscale we were able to get the secondary colours looking slightly better and luminance errors with just a two click adjustment of the main colour control also improved very slightly. I would have liked to have managed better results here but sadly it’s a lack of controls that have held me back. The Sony has given us far better results than we expected from such a budget LCD but it could have been even better. But lets not scoff at what the Sony is producing here, the real test will be with TV and film material.

Video Processing

The S5500 comes with the Bravia engine 2 for its picture processing and there are no advanced 100Hz or frame interpolation controls here. So the TV will have to handle movement on its own with the bravia 2 scaling and de-interlacing. And sadly everything is not quite correct here.

First of all there is no overscan defeat controls so HD images are not following any 1:1 pixel mapping. As such multiburst tests show a loss of resolution in the high frequency range (fine detail) that point to the scaling struggling to produce a full HD image. And adding to this the de-interlacing also suffers playing back interlaced images with jaggies being the major culprit when running the usual HQV tests. This was also visible on some football coverage I watched on the S5500, with the white pitch markings showing up jaggies. It managed to display correctly both Pal 2:2 and NTSC 3:2 cadences, for the playback of films from Standard Definition sources.

24fps material from Blu-ray was better with correct playback of the frame rate with no artefacts being seen. So, what we can see here is that the picture processing of this budget model suffers with a less than adequate performance with interlaced images and struggling with scaled images. It is noticeable on the majority of material, so if you demo this TV as a prospective purchase make sure you look at a range of interlaced and progressive material.

Picture Quality

The S5500 is one of those LCD TVs that manages to offer some pleasing images at the same time as showing flaws in its performance. As I mentioned above the TV struggles with interlaced material and jaggies are a common artefact seen within most content. While it’s never overly distracting it can however be annoying when viewing from reasonable distances. Another issue that affects this TV is what we refer to as ‘dragging blacks’. Black areas of the image leave very distinct trailing of the black colour especially in mixed scenes where pixels are required to change from black to white quickly. This is most obvious on TV shows like ‘Family Guy’ where the black outlines of the characters show up the trailing. And one slight negative to the Sony’s images is the fact we cannot switch off the 5% picture overscan. This means that when watching Blu-ray material (or Sky HD) we do not get the full image and especially on test patterns we lose some fine detail in the high frequencies. Although on real world material is hard to see this lack of high frequencies the fact the picture is slightly cropped can get annoying. Finally in the negative camp is the image uniformity on offer. Off axis viewing is restricted like almost every other LCD on the market with luminance and images washing out very quickly as you move to the side of the screen. But even when looking directly at the set we have issues with uniformity of the image and backlight. With any dark material on screen it is easy to see clouding of the image in the darkest reaches of the picture, a fault that has hampered recent Sony LCD panels. Looking at the forum it looks like some are lucky and get a panel that shows this effect but in a way that it is very rarely noticeable, to other screens like our review sample where it is quite obvious to see the issue.

And there is nothing we can do about it either. So again if you are going to consider this TV (or any Sony at the moment) have a good look at the screen uniformity in a softly lit room.

So, with some of the negatives out of the way what about the positive? Well the S5500 is capable of producing some very nice images that look in terms of colour and greyscale very accurate. Bright outdoor scenes in King Kong on BD look fluid and lifelike with very good skin tones and fine details. Shading and shadow detailing is also good but there is a lack of absolute shadow detailing due to the high gamma and lack of absolute dynamic range of the panel. Talking about contrast and dynamic range and the S5500 offers a good if average amount of range to its images, with the uniformity and lack of absolute blacks holding it back slightly. Sadly for the S5500 some of the more recent Samsung LCDs at the same price point offer that little bit more in terms of black level and accuracy.

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Good no nonsense design
  • Easy to use menu system
  • Very good colour and greyscale performance out of the box
  • Good build quality

The Bad

  • Poor de-interlacing and scaling
  • Response issues with black trailing
  • Restricted viewing angles
  • Backlight and screen uniformity issues

Sony S5500 (KDL-40S5500) LCD TV Review

Sony certainly produce some solid performers in the LCD market but this budget model just lacks in absolute picture quality terms. Much of this is down to poor picture processing which struggles with interlaced material and scaling. Add to this an inconsistent backlight and lack of absolute dynamic range and you start to see where corners have been cut. In terms of colour and greyscale accuracy the S5500 performs well but a lack of menu control hampers any calibration to absolute accuracy of the image.

So overall, the S5500 is a very mixed bag and with strong competition from rivals LG and Samsung, it fails to impress in every department. Add to this the problems with inconstant backlighting and it becomes a lucky dip with some panels looking good and others suffering from an obvious clouding issue. If you are going to demo the S5500 we suggest you look out for these issues we have found with our review sample (which was sourced from a retailer and not Sony direct).

Scores

Sound Quality

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6

Smart Features

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6

Ease Of Use

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6

Build Quality

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.
.
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6

Value for Money

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.
.
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6

Verdict

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.
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6

Picture Quality

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.
.
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6

Video Processing

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5

Greyscale Accuracy

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7

Colour Accuracy

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6

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

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5

Screen Uniformity

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5
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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