Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sony 32W5500 32W5710 review

Yes I've finally picked up an HD television and a Blu-ray player when the Kidderminster branch matched the Merry Hill's offer.

The 32" LCD is  obviously bigger, but also a lot lighter than my previous CRT and neatly fits into the slot I which to place it I won't get bogged down in technicalities size-wise pick up a poster and spec-wise visit Sony's website.

I've got the 32W5710 which is identical to the 5500 except for a silver rather than black trim at the base; only noticeable if you're looking for it or had the two models displayed side-by-side; I made that choice because it seems only Sony Centres offer the 5710.

Measuring by thumb the bezel is an inch around the screen except at the base where the speakers mean it's a couple of inches high; the TV itself is also just a couple of inches wide.

Connections at the back with two vertical SCART connections one of which has separate stereo connections above it. Two HDMI to the right of those and some other connections that I don't care about. More connections down the left-hand side as you face the screen and controls down the right. The left-side connections are inset behind the screen so you won't see cables sticking out the side and the right side controls are also slightly recessed.

The stand was easy to fit on, it just slots in and takes four cross-head screws (provided) to secure, and is wide-enough to provide a steady base. Once fitted the TV can revolve on its axis but can't tilt up and down.

Power-on and as it asks me what language to use I scramble to fit the, provided, batteries to the remote. Okay English and into tuning - antenna connection and away it goes. Hmm shame it doesn't offer a manual tuning option at this point as it takes a while. After digital tuning it performs analogue tuning which I don't want, but see no way of stopping without cancelling the entire tuning procedure.

It finishes and displays its findings, do I want to reorder things? Not at this time no.

All tuning complete it wants my postcode. I look at the numeric pad on the remote and wonder how I'm supposed to do that. I put down the remote and flick through the manual. Hmm no mention of entering a postcode at all even as a step. I wonder if I can skip it and pick up the remote to press next. I'm back at the tuning stage? I try next again and I'm back even further.  I look down and note that I'm holding the remote upside-down.

See fundamental design flaw - remotes should always be weighted towards the palm, in this case there was no weighting it felt equally 'right' either way.

Anyway back through the tuning process again - no I couldn't skip it as going back had lost the information. Finally back to the postcode entry and I hit upon selecting the highlighted field with the middle button on the remote. Ah I can scroll up and down to enter numbers and letters.

Do I want GuidePlus? I don't know ah what the hell. It performs stage 1 of 2 quite quickly then settles in for stage 2. I go and make dinner, I eat dinner, it's almost finished now.

I have television programmes, so how does SD look? On the BBC I've a choice between a old programme and an old American Show, which are lousy quality on SD anyway. On ITV I've got an old film, and Racing on 4; that'll do. Hmm yeah that's okay. Obvious visual difference is due to screen size, but it is amazing just how bad SD broadcasting is via digital.

I try to find one of the music channels, by pulling up the guide; yuck! Live TV is shoved to the top-right corner with a big advert underneath and an almost primary coloured guide. The guide itself is pretty standard to navigate, but flipping to the top gives you some extra options to navigate around. Including a Search. Loads-up quickly, it's supposed to download overnight if left on, but still some blank spots that don't fill in. Highlight a programme and you can set a reminder; if the TV's on it'll pop-up; if in stand-by it'll turn on; but settings can be changed.

With that all sorted out and some basic channel hopping I turned to Favourites. These are handy shortcuts that allow you to pick your favourite channels and keep them together in one list. I tag channels I view regularly and then look for the option to sort them... there isn't one. You can't sort the favourites list. You can sort the main list and that will affect all the favourite lists, but if Dad wants the main channels at the top and Junior wants the Music programmes being displayed first; tough!

At least accessing the favourites is easy enough with a dedicated button you then scroll down and... heh it's changing the channel. It's as if I'm using the PROG +/- buttons but for a different list; so what's the point of displaying them on the left and popping up with what's currently showing as I scroll down. Do that, but don't change the channel until I select it because it's darn distracting with it flicking in the background as I scroll through.

Messing with all this means using Sony's new XMB interface which I'm familiar with from the PS3; however it's very sluggish not only to appear, but in the initial 'load' once it's been up for a while it's fine but for quick changes it's not practical. Fortunately you can by-pass it with the Options buttons which instantly pops-up the most essential menu items on the left to select - much, much easier.

Okay onto aspect ratio important for a 16:9 screen when broadcasts can switch ratios. This can be easily cycled via a single button on the remote with options depending on input. The general selection is Smart, which isn't that smart. For a 16:9 broadcast it seems to want to use the overscan feature and cut off the edges, for a 4:3 broadcast it wants to stretch the picture. I ended up using Wide and switching it to 4:3 manually when necessary which as mentioned isn't that difficult.

Okay other bits - changing channels results in a transparent bar across the top detailing input, channel, audio which fades out after a while. Pressing the "..." button has the same effect as well as setting subtitles. Depending on the input you can set different Scene 'modes' which is pretty useless as it pops up over the entire screen so you can't easily compare the effect one Scene has over another. All other tweaks I left at the default values with no problems.

That takes care of the visuals onto the sound. It's poor though to be honest this has become almost the norm in every flat TV I've listened to. To keep things small the speakers are tucked away in this case along the bottom strip and this means pretty much zero bass. I wouldn't say things sound tinny, but there's definitely a higher note to things. I've got a couple of larger external speakers which I've used the analogue inputs for and this happily compensates, but it's something to bare in mind if you're expecting just to use the internal speakers.

Volume can be tweaked for treble and bass and nicely even includes an time offset if due to connection issues video and audio aren't quite synced. Some pre-set options allow boosting off types such as a voice gain for those of us who consider everyone in modern productions to be mumbling.

It also comes with a network connection for the Applicast and possibly for updates, in a strange touch for this day and age it's a wired connection so you're expected to trail a wire over to your router or pick up a WAP. although I've got some WAPs around at the moment I have little intention to piss about with this.

That's for the internals of the television itself, how does it handle external inputs? Swings and roundabouts for the most part. If the connection supports it it'll automatically switch when an external device is powered up, if not it's a single cycling button press away. Picture settings can be adjusted and retained for each input and best of all is a sound offset so no need to keep adjusting the volume up and down whenever devices are enabled.

Okay the minor faults - each device can be labelled so you know that AV1 is this and AV2 is that without worry; and this worked perfectly when I labelled AV1 as HUMAX; but when it came to labelling HDMI1 as BDDVD it would not display that except when manually switching, which to be fair is when you want to see it, but the information displayed would just show BD. Another point is that coming out of stand-by the television will also default to the last input regardless of what devices are switched on. So finish watching a BD/DVD and switch everything off; then switch the television back on and you'll be looking at a blank screen as it waits for input from the player. Again not a hardship, the input can be switched or changing channels will poink it back to digital input; just an odd quirk in my opinion.

One last point about settings though more specific to me. The Humax DVR-9200T via an RGB SCART connection produced a worse picture than the internal digital tuner. Maxing the noise correction options and minimizing the Sharpness option produced comparable results which suggests that the TV is applying different degrees of filters without telling you.

For the Blu-ray player I also set the options to Full Pixel which eliminates the overscan, but only seems to kick-in on Wide mode.

All-in-all I'm happy with the TV, as mentioned some annoying decisions such as unorderable Favourites and wired network connections; but they're liveable with. Picture quality is fine, HD picture quality is fine, sound is tolerable, the shortcuts to the menu are fine and how it saves settings are fine. Not a television I'd rave about, but it does the job.