Sony W5500 (KDL-32W5500) LCD TV Review

Every year, the electronics industry manufactures many 32-inch televisions. This is one of them

by AVForums
TV Review

17

Sony W5500 (KDL-32W5500) LCD TV Review
SRP: £700.00

Introduction

In the huge array of BRAVIA LCD TV ranges that Sony offers, the W-Series HDTVs have historically found their place nearer the high end. Back in 2006, the W-Series displays were some of the first to make Full HD 1920x1080p panels (now something of a standard feature) available at a more affordable price point to LCD users. The 2009 W5500 models continue along the path of being feature-packed, yet affordable. You won't find LED or strobing backlighting on this range, but you do get Sony's BRAVIA Engine 3 image processing, 100hz “Motionflow” technology, no less than 4 HDMI inputs, and Applicast, which lets the TV hook up to the internet.

Let's see how the Sony BRAVIA KDL-32W5500 performs in our usual battery of tests.

Styling

The 32” display is framed by a fairly thick gloss black bezel, which for me, had the effect of making the screen feel slightly smaller. These TVs are supplied new with protective film over the gloss parts, which I assume means that they're going to get scratched. Gloss black: the fun continues!

The bottom half of the unit features a shiny, mirror-like strip, with stippled black effect. Below this, there's a stippled speaker bar. The entire contraption then sits on top of a glossy black stand. All in all, the styling is entirely Sony W-Series: functional but by no means earth-shattering.

Menus/Setting Up

Like most of Sony's displays, the KDL-32W5500 does away with the 2005-esque blue and yellow “WEGA GATE” style menus and replaces them with Sony's latest user interface invention, the Xross Media Bar, as seen on the Playstation 3. The concept is pretty neat, but in all honesty, I seem to have a psychological preference for the more traditional menus, and certainly miss how quickly they reacted to user input (this menu is rendered with fancy icons and transparency, and introduces a slight delay in responsiveness as a result).

Regardless of what they look like, there are plenty of options here. The most relevant ones are found in Settings > Picture, predictably enough: in here we have basic adjustments such as Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Sharpness. There's also a Noise Reduction control (it's “3D” or temporal, meaning it detects noise over a series of frames rather than just slicing details off at the single-frame level), and an MPEG Noise Reduction control with Low, Medium, High and Off settings. This control is more intelligent than on many other TVs, as it actually detects block edges and smooths them over. It does not, however, reduce mosquito noise, which was a side-effect of the crude MPEG NR found on older Sony TVs. We're also given control over the 100hz “Motionflow” option, and a Film Mode (cadence detection) option so you can make the most of content originally shot on Film (or with a film-like device).
Moving on to the Advanced Settings: “Black Corrector” changes the black level, which I didn't find any use for, “Adv. Contrast Enhancer” adjusts contrast and backlight controls on the fly to give a superficially punchier image, and there's a very welcome “Gamma” control (although I found that the Standard setting was perfect, reproducing an average gamma of 2.2 – what we want). There's an “Auto Light Limiter” which dims the Backlight intensity on brighter scenes (I'm not entirely sure what the point is), a “Clear White” option which adds a blue tint to the Greyscale (no thanks), “Live Colour”, which selectively oversaturates and tints certain parts of the picture, and, best of all – user-accessible White Balance (in other words, Greyscale) controls for calibration: excellent!

Poke into the “Screen” menu and you'll find control for Overscan, or as Sony call it on their European TVs, “Display Area”. Set this to “Normal” to keep most of the picture visible, and on 1080i and 1080p input, set it to “Full Pixel” to disable scaling for the best quality.

This is probably the best place to talk about a feature I found funny. Sony have a screen called “Scene Select”, which can be accessed through a dedicated remote control button. Bringing this menu up lets you choose from options such as “Cinema”, “Sports”, “Photo”, “Music”, the idea apparently being that the user will constantly change the setting depending on the genre of programme they're watching! Hmmm... here's a better idea – why not just do away with the television's abstracted ideas of what films and TV shows should look like and calibrate the TV to industry standards, so everything will look as it was intended, then sit back and enjoy the best picture possible, instead of constantly readjusting settings? That would probably be too simple for the marketing department, but fortunately, it's exactly what we're about to do.

Test Results

Calibration: Before & After

During the setup process, this TV asks you to choose between a Home or Store environment. Selecting Home gives the user the usual blue, glowing picture preset.

I completed a Basic Calibration by setting Black Level (brightness), dialling the Contrast down a few notches (it was causing visible colour tint with full-white), and disabling the gimmick modes (Black Corrector, Contrast Enhancer, etc). All of these adjustments were made with the TV in THEATRE mode (there's an orange button on the remote control which engages this setting – Sony recommend people use it whilst watching films, but I used it permanently). The image here with standard-def and HD sources was looking fairly good, and the contrast was as I expected from a Sony/Samsung LCD panel. One thing that pleased me very much was the absence of edge enhancement on 1080p input: the Sharpening feature can be disabled on this TV simply by setting the control to the far left. Previous Sony TVs have introduced a little bit of unwelcome distortion here.

Measurements indicated that Greyscale accuracy using the “Warm2” temperature was incredibly close to accurate already, indicating that Sony are aware of the importance of adhering to industry standards – great job! Since they provide easily accessible controls, and since we have the equipment to make use of them, I decided to see if there was any way of refining the result even further, and removing some slight spikes in the chart. Most notably, 10% grey had a blue tint to it (by eye as well as by chart), which did cause darker scenes in films to sometimes take on a colder look.

Attempting to calibrate Greyscale did produce an improvement in accuracy (MOST Delta errors were reduced from around 4 to 1 or below, making inaccuracies basically unnoticeable), but this aspect of the TV's performance was already much better than usual even before calibration. I was not able to remove the blue tint at 10% grey, but it very rarely bothered me during real content.

Colour accuracy wasn't quite as impressive, but is still a far cry from the “Colour.Like.No.Other, Thank Goodness” days of some of the earliest BRAVIAs. Most notably, green was a little pushed towards blue and exaggerated, but this was far from intolerable. If we had had access to the Tint/Hue control, we might have been able to improve overall accuracy a little (albeit in a clumsy way), but this TV forbids you to alter this on Component or RGB signals, only allowing it for Composite NTSC.

So, how about a 3D Colour Management system for the future, Sony? Samsung are offering this feature already, and you're clearly on the right track to video accuracy yourselves.

Video Processing

Also improved over older Sony displays is the video processing. Inputting 576i (Standard definition Digital PAL) from a DVD player revealed scaling that was slightly softer than that of my HQV-equipped AV receiver's own upconversion process, but was nevertheless very acceptable. (For such devices, be sure you have the “Display Area” overscan setting set to +1 in the menu, revealing all of the image).

Congratulations also to Sony for including 2:2 Film cadence detection. In the past, Film Mode detection only worked for the US/Japanese NTSC standard, but Europe is being left out in the cold no longer. Most impressive was the speed at which the detection lept into action.

Lastly, I had a look at how effectively the KDL-32W5500's video processor smoothed motion jaggies in Video content. The results weren't the best I've seen, but perversely, the LCD panel's natural response time deficiencies actually smoothed out some of the flicker on its own.

Let's not forget the 100hz Motionflow system. Frankly, I'm still not entirely sure what the point of this is meant to be: like any fairly-priced system which works in real time by estimating picture data, there will always be occasions where the system trips up and creates digital artefacting. And, there are some cases where it's totally unwelcome: turn it on while you're watching a film and you'll get very un-filmic, smoothed-over motion in stops and starts. (Consider for a moment the irony of Sony's own broadcast arm selling cameras which produce film-like motion, only for their consumer televisions to be messily reversing the effect).

But what about video-based content, where filmic motion was never the goal and we're not really stepping on anyone's directorial intent by interpolating new inbetween frames - can Motionflow help here? Yes and no. Using motion resolution test patterns, I gauged that turning Motionflow on could increase the resolution from around 300 lines to around 500-600, which is an improvement not to be sniffed at. And, using content specifically hand picked to test such systems (the FPD Benchmark Software Blu-ray Disc), improvements were plain to see – as were some processing artefacts. For example, in the clip of the girl swinging back and forth on a hammock, the hammock would occasionally pixellate and blend in with the in-focus gravelly background.

This is always the problem with detailed motion on LCD: you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't, and it's often the case that the natural, optical blurring of an LCD panel looks better than the processed, digital corruption introduced by frame interpolation. None of this really changes my opinion that 100hz/200hz systems are just the latest “big numbers” exercise from marketing departments, but at the same time, the 100hz Motionflow system can improve, or degrade the content, depending on what you're watching. I'm glad that Sony provide control over it, and allow the user to turn it off if they find it objectionable.

Gaming Responsiveness and Input Lag

Input lag – that is, the delay introduced by the TV's video processor before it sends pixel data to the LCD panel - is a primary concern for video gamers. Individual perception to input lag varies, with some owners claiming they can't spot it and others having to stop themselves from throwing their game pads at the wall in frustration (I'm in the latter category).

Firing up Halo 3 on the Xbox 360 (with the console scaling to 1080p to ease the processing burden on the TV), I was easily able to detect lag here - the entire game felt heavier, dizzier, and less responsive. Until, that is, I remembered the “SCENE” button and selected the GAME mode. This cut the processing time down and made the game far more enjoyable, but did not eliminate the lag totally.

Extra Features

Since Sony has supplied them, it's worth talking briefly about the value-added features the KDL-32W5500 has. First up, there's the Picture Frame functionality, which lets you view several pre-installed works of art on your TV. A word of warning: if you've used the Theatre mode to calibrate the TV, bringing up the Picture Frame mode turns it off, presenting you with a sharpened, blue-tinted view which thankfully looks like no Picture Frame I've ever looked at! Fortunately, this can be controlled by cancelling the Picture Frame mode, changing the settings, then re-engaging it. Of course, you can also view your own JPEG images on the TV by connecting a USB device.

Next up, we have Applicast, the web connectivity function. If you run a cable from the TV to your home router (which is either going to be a non-issue or an annoyance depending on your home), then you can connect to the web. Of course, you can't actually browse web sites with this setup (that would be silly); instead it's used as a delivery service for “widgets”, which are little applications like clocks and calculators that you can use on the TV. There's also a news delivery widget, which comes pre-configured to beam Sony propaganda into your living room. Quite why a calculator requires an internet connection, I'm not sure – wouldn't it be better to just ship the TV with this functionality already installed? Considering that Panasonic are using internet connectivity on their TVs to connect to YouTube and other news services, I was a little underwhelmed by this offering.

Picture Quality

The images put out by the KDL-32W5500 were as I expected from a Sony LCD TV – unadulterated for the most part, but nevertheless unmistakably LCD. The panel itself is far from the worst I've seen fitted to a 32” display in terms of contrast, but it suffers from a common LCD flaw of “dragging blacks”, only to an unusually severe extent. Fully black portions would leave noticeable trails, especially if the panel's pixels were required to change from black to white (or vice versa). The effect is at its worst with untextured animated shows with thick black outlines (think the 1990s episodes of “Family Guy”). “Persepolis” (an animated feature film done entirely in almost sihlouette-like black and white) was, at times, pretty distracting: characters which moved too quickly for the panel would leave liquid crystal trails.

The viewing angle of the panel is decent, but not up to the standards of the IPS-Alpha panels found in Panasonic LCD TVs (although these TVs have plenty of other flaws of their own!). The entire image takes on the usual grey tinge as you view it from the sides. Watching face-on, all is well, with the exception of the aforementioned black dragging.

Finally, since we're discussing the LCD Panel component itself, it's worth noting a problem that's been present on Sony/Samsung panels in the past: clouding (also sometimes known as "mura", the Japanese term for "blemish"). Clouding appears as uneven patchiness on the LCD panel, especially visible against an all-black background. Some users have reported this issue on the W5500 series, but the 32" version I reviewed was not affected and was actually incredibly even. (Note that the TV we reviewed was, in this case, a randomly-picked one supplied by a store - not a specially chosen unit supplied by Sony themselves for review).

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Black level and contrast are superior to many other LCD TVs
  • Design is fairly pleasing
  • Greyscale is shockingly accurate out of the box using "Theatre" mode
  • And in this case, could be improved further with the calibration options
  • Standard def video processing is very good
  • Extensive networking and connectivity options
  • Game mode allows input lag to be lessened (but not totally eradicated)
  • 100hz Motionflow system can be disabled

The Bad

  • Colour accuracy (although an improvement on older Sonys) could still be improved
  • LCD panel has response time issues with black, and viewing angle is still an issue
  • OSD is slightly unresponsive

Sony W5500 (KDL-32W5500) LCD TV Review

The KDL-32W5500 is a nice little 32” TV, as 32” TVs go. Sony's inclusion of the “Theatre Mode” is a good, quick way to get surprisingly accurate pictures with minimal effort (although even in this case, an improvement was made by calibrating the Greyscale). I ended up feeling that most of the additional extras here (Applicast, Motionflow, and the various other video processing controls) were best avoided.

There's not a lot else to add – people considering smaller screen sizes like 32 inches are unlikely to be buying a display with an immersive Home Cinema experience in mind (if they do, they need to visit their nearest multiplex pronto), and in this context, the shortcomings of the KDL-32W5500 are likely to be forgotten quickly: it's a serviceable 32” display which will please people looking for just that.

Scores

Sound Quality

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.
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5

Smart Features

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.
.
.
6

Ease Of Use

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.
.
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6

Build Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
6

Verdict

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6

Picture Quality

.
.
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7

Video Processing

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8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
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.
.
6

Screen Uniformity

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6
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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