Monday, January 24, 2011

When Will Dire Straits Sing "I Love My HD-TV?!" I Know I Love My 40" Bravia!

The Good: Amazing picture, Decent sound, Easy to set up, Fun to use
The Bad: 5 or 6 "Video" channels, CC?!
The Basics: The Sony Bravia 40" HD-TV is a must for any real enthusiast of movies and videos who is looking toward the future.

A few years ago, right before the HD-DVD format war between HD and Blu-Ray was heating up, the wise folks over at the website The Digital Bits were beleaguered with questions over which format was superior and who would win and all that. The Bits staff issued a statement that basically said that the whole format war was, in some ways, utterly pointless and only the consumers were going to lose until a unified format was developed. The staff at The Digital Bits offered sage advice to those of us who were looking at their DVD collection and fearing we might have to buy a whole new medium: Wait. Wait, they said. They observed that 99.9% of the population wouldn't be able to get jack out of the HD-DVD experience right now and it was going to take time for the players, the discs and the formats to shake themselves out and become reasonably priced. The advice they gave was to invest now in the system. Forget the format, get the equipment to play it all on.

It was with that in mind that I went hunting for my High Definition Television. I shopped around. A long time. I went just about everywhere in search of my HD-TV and I had things I very firmly wanted. I wanted a flat screen television. I wanted a wide screen television. I wanted a panel television I could mount on the wall.

I found my dream television in the Sony Bravia 40" LCD Digital Color Television. Oh, yeah! The 40" television is the largest flat screen television that was made when I bought this (at least as far as panel televisions are concerned). I opted for the Bravia when I tested two Sony televisions next to one another with the same two discs. I recommend this for anyone who is seriously looking at getting a high definition television. Take two discs with you to the store and be prepared to play them on a lot of televisions. I chose Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (reviewed here!) and an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ("A Call To Arms") to do my tests.

First off, I've never bought a television before. This is the first television I've ever paid for. Second, going in, I had some very firm ideas of what I wanted. There are certainly larger televisions out there, even HD-TVs, but I wanted something I could mount on the wall. I wanted to make better use of my space, so I didn't want a lot of furniture around, especially under the unit. Some of the giant screen televisions (which cost as much or a little less than this television) take up a lot of space (especially behind the monitor). That is specifically what I was trying to avoid. Third, there are technical specifications for this television that you can get by simply reading product descriptions. My analysis is not based on technical knowledge, but rather by hands on testing of various televisions using controlled (and reasonable) methodology. I spent days narrowing my HD-TV down and this was hands down the best I found.

My test DVDs were chosen very carefully. The Star Wars one was an ideal check for something that was filmed digitally and is using cutting edge effects. Say what you want about Lucasfilm, but the team at Skywalker puts a great deal of attention into the sound and picture detail. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVD was chosen specifically because it was not mastered as well as the Star Wars one and yet it represents something I watch frequently.

By the time I got into the stores, I was pretty much set on the Sonys. They had the basic shape I was looking for, they have an excellent reputation for durability (my grandmother has a Sony that is older than I am) and I have the confidence that if there was a problem, Sony would find it and work with me on it. Also, Sony had a financing wing and they were looking to help finance me on my purchase of my beauty.

Picture quality was similar between the Sony HDs and the Sony HD Bravia. Both units made Star Wars sound great. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sounded virtually identical on both the HD and the Bravia. Watching Episode III on the two systems, I was struck by the difference in picture quality. Even among high definition monitors, the Bravia was significantly clearer than the regular HD. It was surprising to me because I had been watching movies on televisions that were both small and old. So, the step up to HD was a huge transition for me. The little step from HD to HD Bravia (That's Sony's name for their HD+ line) was like the difference between watching something through the cleanest pane of glass and an open window. The Bravia honestly is the next best thing to being in the experience, the picture is so unbelievably sharp.

What caught me more was watching the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode on the two monitors. What shocked me initially was a "well, duh" moment; the space battles are amazingly real. This makes sense because they were no doubt generated on computer equipment with LCD screens with the same or better resolution than the HDTV. Still, I had never seen the show so clear. What was even more significant were the shots of people. Even on an older mastered work, the HD was impressive. But the Bravia blew even that away. Both the old television I had and the Bravia are working off the same source information (in this case a DVD). The Bravia, however, is so vibrant in its colors, whole new images were revealed to me. Bruises, hairs, muscle twitched; the Bravia HDTV reveals them all.

It was seeing the contrasts between the white lights, the dark skin, the blues and the reds that sold me. I've never seen shows like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with such appreciation for depth before. The Bravia, because of the picture clarity, can accurately portray depths much more impressively than ordinary televisions or even other HDTVs I saw.

So, I bought it and took it home. Setting it up was a snap. This is a ridiculously easy television to set up and get running. I will have you know, as well, that I am running the television off an antenna and this is the very first television I have ever programmed (and I have programmed many for other members of my family) that recognized the antenna signal coming in through the line on the first pass. I did not have to adjust anything to get the television to stop looking for a cable signal before it would properly read the stations.

One thing I have learned since; the Bravia is somewhat lazy (this is not truly bad). It has to be programmed by reading stations. What I mean by that is that when UPN became the CW here, I could not just type in 3.2 to find that station, even though that was where it was supposed to be. I had to rerun the channel setup and the television found it just fine, but it couldn't show me digital channels that existed until it had scanned for them. Interestingly enough, there are a TON of digital channels out there now, just shooting out among the airwaves. It's pretty cool! One of the local stations has a digital music video channel (The Tube).

What are the drawbacks to this television that has amazing picture and sound quality? The first is a nitpicky functioning thing. There are like 6 "Video" channels on this television! So, to get to my DVD player, I hit "video." To get back to regular television, I can't just hit "video" again, I have to hit the channel change button or hit "video" five more times. It's nitpicky. Also, when I get phone calls and mute my television, it's eight steps to turn on the closed captioning. It would have been nice if there had been one button to activate closed captioning and then one button to turn it off. Instead, there is an extensive obstacle course on the remote and screen before that simple operation can be achieved. It doesn't much matter; people stopped calling, they know I'm always watching television.

Finally, this is not cheap. People like me are out there buying HD-TVs now so the demand is clear and price goes down for you! Actually, that's partially true. I listened to the Bits and I still refuse to buy any HD-DVD stuff. As it is, I'm finding regular DVDs come in amazing on my Bravia. And when I first fired this puppy up, it was for the second season finale of Lost (reviewed here!). It was an amazing experience; you could count the stubble on Jack and Sayid's chins, that's how clear the picture was. Some of you might think I'm exaggerating; check one of these sets out and you'll see for yourself.

It might be expensive, but it's something I intend to have for quite a while and I use it a LOT. For the last five years, I have watched it and have had no problems with it. That makes it worth it to me.

For other home entertainment electronics, please check out my reviews of:
Playstation 3
Memorex DVD player
Monster Cable AV600 Power Protector


For other electronic device reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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