Monday, November 08, 2010

Sony Bravia KDL-40EX400 LCD TV

So the time came to switch to HD TV, yes I know I am very much behind the times. I reviewed a few TV's, but was blown away by the picture quality on the Sony Bravia TV's. For a while they remained a dream for me as I could get a very good TV for a lot less than a similar spec Sony. Then Sony introduced the EX range onto the South African market, and very competitive prices.

Sony Bravia KDL-40EX400

I read up a bit on room size vs screen size as well as a 4:3 vs 16:9 screen size, and concluded the smallest LCD I would get would be a 40" (102cm). One naturally wants to go for the biggest TV you can get/afford, but I find that the 40" is just wide enough, it fills the whole viewing area of your eyes, without having to move your head from side to side. My seating area is about 3.5m away from the TV.

Inputs and Outputs

I use a Patriot Box Office for media playback, which is plugged in via one of the 4 HDMI ports. There are 2 HDMI ports at the rear, and 2 on the side. I like the idea of an HDMI on the side to plug in an HD camcorder, but I would prefer the other one to be placed on the rear rather. It's not a problem plugging in something permanently to the side, but you would see the wire poking out. I have seen 90 degree HDMI plugs lately, which will help to hide the cable.

The KDL-40EX400 has a convenient optical audio out, which I feed to the optical in of my home theater system. This output feeds whatever audio you pass into the TV, including the audio from the broadcast. This is convenient, in that you leave your home theater set to one input, and the audio switches to whatever you are watching on the TV, (Good WAF).

I tested the audio feed via HDMI through the TV from the PBO, as well as directly from the PBO, and could not pick up a difference, I am confident it's passing the digital signal directly through.

This Sony also has 2 Component inputs, (rear), 3 Composite inputs, (2 rear - 1 side), 1 15pin PC input (rear) and 1 Headphone jack (side). The PC input is nice if you want to connect your Notebook, for a quick slide show, but you would need a DVI to HDMI converter to get HD from your PC. There is a mini phono jack audio input for the PC or HDMI input, which means a simple male to male mini phono jack cable will connect your PC's audio to the TV. This would provide 2 channel audio only. So if you want surround sound from your PC, you would need to feed digital audio (SPDIF) directly to your home theater, or get a video card that supports full HDMI. The inputs can also be viewed in "Picture in Picture" mode, you cannot view 2 TV channels this way, but a combo of any 2 inputs will work.

USB 2.0

The last thing to mention on the inputs is the USB 2.0 port on the side. It will take a normal USB pen drive, and play the media off there. It supports Photo (JPEG, RAW), Music (MP3) and Video (AVC, AVCHD, MPEG4, DivX). I did not do a comprehensive test of all the data types, but a new DivX video I had played very well. AVCHD will give you HD playback, but this format is used mainly by HD camcoders. You can obviously plug your still camera in and view photos and video, but what's neat is plugging your cellphone in. Most new phones support "Mass Storage" mode via USB. I tested this with a Blackberry Curve, and Apple iPhone 4. The Blackberry shares the whole data card by default, so I could display photos, video and play music, which feeds via the optical out to the home theater as well. The iPhone 4 unfortunately only shares photos via USB. The devices also charged when connected, real handy if all you want to do is charge your phone while watching TV. The navigation to get to the media is simple to use, a basic tree structure of your USB devices folders, with thumbnails for images. MP3 playback does not seem to display ID3 tags, just file name.

As far as the TV tuner is concerned, there is an Analogue and Digital (DVB-T) tuner. SABC is transmitting 1,2,3 and eTV over this service in a test phase at the moment, and I am able to pickup the signal perfectly. Compared to the analogue signal, it is noticeably clearer. Although DVB-T is capable of high definition, SABC is still transmitting a 576i signal, so we will have to wait and see if this improves. This signal is also still transmitted in 4:3 format, which can be stretched to fit the 16:9 ratio of the TV. I settled on a 14:9 setting on the TV, that "zooms" the picture in a bit, so part of the top and bottom of the picture are cut off, and the "black bars" on the side are half the normal width. This setting can be changed individually per input, so you don't have to keep changing it when you switch between inputs. The DVB-T signal also transmits the guide information, so you can see what it is that you are watching, as well as upcoming shows on all the channels. You can also set a reminder to switch to a show when it starts.

Talking about the inputs, these can be renamed with any 8 character word you like, and you can change the icon next to the name. This helps a lot when switching between inputs.

Bravia Sync

Connecting Sony products together initiates Bravia Sync, which is effectively a control protocol on the HDMI link between the devices. This worked like a charm with my Sony HD camcoder. When connected to the TV, you use the remote as if you are clicking on the screen of the camera. The exact menu is represented on the screen. So you get the visual index as per the cameras menu, which is much better than trying to browse the files on the device directly. You can even power off the camera from the TV.

Another nice touch is that the user manual is embedded in the menu as an electronic reference. So if you forget how to change a setting, there is no searching for the paper user manual, you "filed" somewhere.

Conclusion

As far as what the TV is meant for, image quality is in my opinion superb. Colours and contrast are spot on. HD in 720p from the media player is awesome, but SD content is not let down either, especially SD versions of files that were converted from an HD version. All in all, the Sony Bravia KDL-40EX400 is a good all rounder, and wonderful at the price. (Makro - R7500.00 - Oct 2010).
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