Sony WE5 (KDL-40WE5) LCD TV Review

Sony's eco-friendly TV is kind to the planet, but not necessarily to your wallet.

by AVForums
TV Review

Recommended
Sony WE5 (KDL-40WE5) LCD TV Review
SRP: £1,000.00

Introduction

Being green is all a part of a company's image nowadays, and quite rightly so. Unsurprisingly, Sony are eager to promote their environmental responsibility with the new KDL-40WE5 “Eco TV”, a display in the company's range of BRAVIA LCD TVs which claims to use 50% less energy than competing models. Can this display put out a satisfying image and help reduce your energy bills? We're about to find out.

Styling/Inputs

Sony describe the 40WE5 and its gloss white bezel as “chic”, but personally, it reminds me more of a 1980s portable Trinitron CRT. Of course, that may indeed qualify as “chic”, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so perhaps the 40WE5's styling will appeal to the Apple crowd. Inbetween the glossy white bezel and a silver dotted speaker grille, there's a transparent plastic strip, which curiously enough covers the top part of the grille.

In the very middle of this silver strip lies the Presence Sensor. This is some very clever thinking from Sony: working off the idea that the TV's backlights and LCD panel might as well be shut off if nobody is there to look at them, the Presence Sensor scans the vicinity for movement and optionally switches the TV into this power-saving mode if it thinks you're no longer in the room. The sound, however, carries on. Picture a scenario where you're walking around between rooms but still want to hear what's going on in a news broadcast: the KDL-40WE5 makes this possible and can do so with minimal wasted power.

Continuing the eco-friendliness, there's a real Off/On switch on the side of the unit, so that the TV doesn't continue to suck up Standby power between viewing sessions.

In terms of connectivity, the KDL-40WE5 covers just about all bases with 4 HDMI inputs (2 rear, 2 side), 2 SCART terminals, Component inputs, an RF input for the Digital Terrestrial/Cable tuner, a VGA PC input, and a Composite video input on the side. There's also an Ethernet/LAN port for hooking the TV up to your home network or to the web, and a USB port, which you can use to either update firmware or to view photos and movies on the TV.

Menus/Setting Up

The WE5 features Sony's Xross Media Bar OSD, which Playstation 3 users will be somewhat used to. It's been a while since I first saw this Emmy Award winning interface on a TV, and frankly, I still miss the old BRAVIA menus. The XMB design is nice to look at, but I find its horizontal/vertical design concept harder to keep track of than traditional menus, and it's a tad less responsive, too.

Regardless, a great amount of control is given to us in these menus. In the Picture menu, we can choose from either Vivid (ahh, my eyes!), Standard, or Custom picture modes, and alter the Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, and Colour controls. We can define the Colour of Grey with one of four “Colour Temperature” options (“Warm2” is the most accurate), add more or less Sharpness to the edges of the image, enable a 3D Noise Reduction function, and also choose to apply somewhat ineffective but also unobtrusive MPEG Noise Reduction to ugly digital TV broadcasts.

Sony also allow us to use their Motionflow processing, which is the company's motion compensated frame interpolation mode. This attempts to combat the timeless LCD panel response time problem, which has always been an issue with this particular display technology, to varying degrees. I'm of the opinion that the LCD panel's optical blurring effect is easier on the eyes than the digital video processing artefacts and unfilmic motion that result from using interpolation, though, so I appreciate the opportunity to turn this “feature” off.

With that said, Sony's motion vector analysis is impressive for a consumer-level product. Remarkably, it's completely unphased by Chapter 22 of Pixar's Wall-e (this is the part of the film where the robots are whizzing around space, spraying pixel-sized particles in all directions), which I wasn't expecting. It did, however, cause starfields to disappear and warp during a horizontal panning shot earlier in the film, as is to be expected. Overall, it's a technical achievement, but in this film lover's opinion, a fairly useless one due to the changes it makes to the film's movement.

Lastly in this list is “Film Mode”. Normally on TVs, this option only affects cadence detection – that is, the detection of film content inside an interlaced video signal. Other users have told me in the past that Sony's “Film Mode” is more than this, though, and they were entirely correct. The “Auto1” Film Mode setting combines cadence detection and occasional Motionflow-style interpolation. “Auto2” is classic cadence detection without any interpolation, and “Off” forces Video mode deinterlacing at all times. Remember, cadence detection does absolutely nothing on a Progressive signal, only Interlaced. I've actually read reports from some users claiming that it increases the output quality of their 1080p Blu-ray Disc player, which demonstrates the powers of the placebo effect.

Finally, we have a screen of Advanced Settings. Many of these are not useful at all, but the good options are for adjusting Gamma and White Balance. The latter option takes you to a screen which allows adjustment of the RGB Cuts and Gains – in other words, it's a greyscale adjustment menu – excellent!

Test Results

Calibration: Before and After

When first powered on, the KDL-40WE5 asks where it's installed: in a Home or Store environment. “Home” results in curtailed light output, but the picture is still not entirely accurate. However, we can select a “Cinema” mode, which dramatically improves accuracy, and therefore picture quality. I found that with my BD Player, I could raise Brightness by 2 clicks to reveal more shadow detail without compromising black level. Additionally, I had to reduce contrast, as the default value resulted in visible discolouration in bright areas.
Confusingly, there is also another orange button on the remote which enables “Theatre Mode”. This appears to be a shortcut to selecting the “Cinema” mode, turning off Motionflow, and also selecting Film Mode “Auto 1”. “Auto 1” in fact appears to interpolate and cause the “fast-forwarded motion” effect under very rare conditions, so I'm surprised that “Auto 2” isn't selected instead.

Having to correct this each time you turn on Theatre Mode is quite irritating, so I chose to simply calibrate the “Cinema” mode and leave the TV in this permanently. After all, the entire point of a Calibrated display is to have the screen relay the intentions of the content producers, rather than to indulge in whimsical tinkering.

Measurements revealed the true extent of the Cinema mode's accuracy. The most surprising aspect of the performance is the Greyscale tracking: it's excellent, considering that it's out-of-the-box. (It might not look it on the chart at first glance, but please pay attention to the scale at the left!) From the low intensities to the brightest shades of white, the colour of grey is unusually consistent and unusually accurate for a freshly unpacked LCD. At 10 IRE, there is a visible emphasis of red, but the rest of the tracking hovers very close to industry-standard Film and TV production standards. Very impressive.

The Gamma characteristics of the display were a little different, though: overall Gamma was unusually high, coming in as high as 3 at times, which will result in crushed shadow detail. Ideally, it should lie at around 2.2. Sony do provide a Gamma control in the TV's menu, though, so it's highly likely that this can be improved upon.

Next, I measured the TV's colour performance. This, too, was very good. Sony has well and truly grown out of it's “Colour Like No Other” phase: granted, some of the colours are a little undersaturated, but I suspect that this is a physical limitation of the panel itself, so even if we were given access to individual Colour controls, it probably wouldn't be fixable. I would still like to see a Colour Management System from Sony, though: their business partners and rivals at Samsung provide this as a standard feature, and it has worked wonders in correcting off-hue colours on those displays. In any case, this display's colour gamut is very close to the Rec.709 standard with absolutely minimal adjustment, and when combined with the accurate greyscale will result in satisfyingly lifelike, accurate video.

Sony do provide Greyscale controls (they go by camera lingo and call it white balance but it's the same thing), so as per our review procedure, I attempted to improve upon the surprisingly excellent out-of-the-box tracking further. Afterwards, I was left with Greyscale tracking that was overall more consistent: the discolouration at 20 IRE was gone, the tradeoff being slightly reduced accuracy at 40 and 50 IRE. However, the end result was still more accurate than the surprisingly close pre-calibration measurements. Gamma accuracy was improved too, by setting this option to +1.

At all times, Colour accuracy was excellent. The Hue and Saturation of each colour were very close to their targets, and the amount of each colour (Luminance) was miles ahead of previous Sony displays. They've made huge advancements here.
The only other change I made in the “Cinema” preset was to lower Sharpness. Curiously, it comes set to 3, which adds subtle ringing around sharp edges. While a little of this can be worthwhile with SD sources, this is detrimental to most High Definition sources, so I lowered this to 0.

Video Processing

When we ran the KDL-40WE5 through our usual SD video processing tests, the results were average. Unlike Sony displays of years gone by, the KDL-40WE5 does indeed detect and compensate for common film cadences. This means that when you're watching content originally shot on Film (like high-budget dramas, or, believe it or not, Films), the TV won't try and convert it to the panel's display type using Video methods, so you'll get maximum vertical resolution and won't have to put up with annoying flicker.
Of most consequence to us in Europe is the fact that the PAL 2:2 test passed. For Japanese/American style NTSC video, both 2:2 and 3:2 passed.

More disappointing was the Video deinterlacing performance. For content shot with Video cameras (as opposed to Film cameras), there will always be some compromise, as details which simply don't exist in the original video must be “filled in” by the TV. The Sony KDL-40WE5 does not do this very convincingly, with fairly obvious jaggies apparent. The most practical manifestation of this shortcoming is that news tickers and diagonal edges (like pitch markings in a football game) will have a slightly rough look to them.
Again, remember that the SD performance only matters when you're feeding in SD sources to the TV, or when you're watching SD TV on the internal tuner. When you input upconverted DVD pictures, they have already been processed by the DVD player, so in this case, the TV's SD performance is irrelevant.

Gaming Performance




The KDL-40WE5 is the same as other recent Sony displays in terms of video processor lag: on the better end of the scale, but not entirely lag free. There's noticeable lag in the normal modes, but this can be curtailed by pressing the SCENE button on the remote and selecting the GAME mode. This mode disables MotionFlow, Film Mode, and Noise Reduction (presumably because all of these rely on temporal analysis and would slow things down). Even in this mode, the TV isn't as fast as a Plasma display, but will still be very acceptable to just about all users. I was happy to play video games on this display, but was a little annoyed at even the smallest amount of lag after having access to screens with none.

Energy Consumption

Measurements were taken from the calibrated Movie settings, with the Power Saving feature enabled and also disabled. The Backlight was set to 8, which, in the Energy Saving OFF mode, resulted in comfortable light output in my viewing environment.

Mode / Full screen of 0 IRE (black) / 50 IRE (grey) / 100 IRE (white)
Power Saving OFF:
102 / 102 / 102 (watts)
Power Saving LOW: 90 / 90 / 90 (watts)
Power Saving HIGH: 68 / 68 / 68 (watts)

Remember that the higher power saving modes limit the peak backlight intensity, which impacts contrast performance.

Additional Features

The LAN port on the KDL-40WE5 allows you to access Photos, Music and Movies (each accessed through their own menu column) from your computer's hard drive. As it happened, I'd already installed the TwonkyMedia software when I was reviewing another DNLA-equipped TV last week, and this setup worked just fine with the Sony, too. You can also access such files on a USB device connected to the TV's USB port.

If you don't want to get connected, then you can still use the Picture Frame mode, which allows you to look at several pre-installed pictures on the LCD screen, rather than hanging a real picture frame on your wall. Hmm – very eco friendly.

On top of this, the 40WE5 features Sony's Applicast. This lets you use web-based "widgets" on one side of the panel, whilst still watching TV on the other. These widgets include an RSS news reader, an analogue clock, a calendar, and a calculator, and frankly I wasn't excited about any of them.

Picture Quality

In real-world viewing, the image put out by the KDL-40WE5 was mostly good. The accurate Greyscale and Colour went a long way in making on-screen images appear realistic, and/or appropriately stylised in the way intended by the content producers. 1080p video from Blu-ray Disc looked wonderful, and I was pleased to see that the Theatre mode automatically disabled Overscan, meaning that the pixels from the video source were directly matched to the panel's pixels, without blurring or cropping. The 24fps frame rate was also correctly preserved, without judder.

With standard definition, the results of our Video Processing tests made themselves apparent: interlacing jaggies were not suppressed nearly as well as on the current Samsung LCD TVs (a comparison that's even easier to make considering that both TVs are using panels of the same SPVA type, and indeed are from the same supplier).

The response of the scaling algorithm also didn't help ugly DTV broadcasts. Other processes seem to do a better job of helping suppress mosquito noise naturally, without the help of any additional processing. On the plus side, the Sony's cadence detection features made sure that films (or TV shows shot on film) didn't pick up any additional jaggies.

Unlike the recently reviewed Sony KDL-32W5500, the KDL-40WE5 doesn't suffer from the “dragging blacks” problem (where black objects left unusually long motion trails on screen). The motion resolution is obviously way below that of even a cheap Plasma display, but it's good by LCD's lowered standards. Viewing angle is also better than most LCDs, but still a little problematic: images are still at their best when viewed face-on. Contrast falls off and images take on a slightly blueish tint from the sides.

Finally, for an LCD display, black level performance was very good. Super PVA (the panel technology developed by Samsung and used in most of Sony and Samsung's LCD lineup) has always had the upper hand here, at least in the LCD world. Again, black level performance is not at the level of the better Plasma displays, but is great by LCD standards. Screen uniformity, too, was good, with slight patchiness all but imperceptible in the lower corner of the screen in a darkened room.

Update, July 13: in the interests of completeness, I should mention that there is a very minor issue in which very hard to detect green pixels can be seen around dark boundaries in the image. Most users will never notice these (it's difficult to spot even right beside the display), however.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Very accurate out of the box Greyscale performance when using Cinema/Warm2 preset helps realism greatly
  • Excellent colour accuracy
  • Black level and contrast performance are amongst the best in the LCD world (not including LED-backlit screens)
  • User-accessible White Balance control for Greyscale calibration
  • Presence Sensor is an innovative, eco-friendly feature

The Bad

  • High price point pits the display against better-performing Plasma displays
  • Video processing is average: deinterlacing and scaling are poorer than on otherwise very similar Samsung LCDs
  • Update, July 13: single-pixel green noise is sometimes visible on the image at close-range

Sony WE5 (KDL-40WE5) LCD TV Review

Sony's KDL-40WE5 is one of the better LCD TVs I've looked at lately. There's only one spanner to throw in the works, though: the price. In the LCD world, Sony's business partner Samsung is, at last, turning their SPVA panels into solid TVs, which offer slightly more customisation, better SD video processing, and usually, a lower price tag. Likewise, this sort of money can buy a Panasonic NeoPDP Plasma Display, which sucker-punches any LCD display in terms of black level and motion clarity (although their lack of user control means that it's difficult to get as accurate and realistic a picture out of them, and granted, these displays are not as eco-friendly).

Unless you're in love with the unique design of the KDL-40WE5, there's not really a lot else to justify the price tag, which is just short of 4 figures at the time of writing. However, when judging the display on its own merits, there is still a lot to like. SPVA is still the panel type to beat when it comes to LCD contrast performance and black level, and the out-of-the-box and calibrated accuracy whilst using the Theatre Mode is absolutely excellent - undoubtedly this TV's biggest strength.

The fact that the contrast performance of even the better LCDs is still lacking compared to the best Plasmas, coupled with the high price, mean that while I can't truly rave about the Sony KDL-40WE5, I can award this eco-friendly display with a Recommendation thanks to the realism of its accurate video. Viewers who can tolerate the limitations of an LCD display should take a look at this screen.

Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
.
6

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
.
6

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
.
.
.
5

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Smart Features

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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