Sony KDL-37S5500 television review

Available for around £650 online, Sony’s latest 37-inch LCD TV is part of its brand new line-up of Bravias for 2009. So why does it look like last year’s tech?

LCD TV technology has moved on from 2008, when blur, poor contrast and limited viewing angles were much more commonplace. But on the KDL-37S5500 it’s almost as if time hasn’t moved on at all.

Not that this nicely designed - though chubby - LCD TV doesn’t compare well with Sony’s entry-level TVs from 12 months ago. It does. For a similar price another HDMI input has been added on the set’s side - bringing the total haul to three - and it’s been fitted with a Full HD 1080p resolution panel.

Perfect for Blu-ray? Only on paper, because once you get the KDL-37S5500 up-and-running there are some significant issues with its picture quality.

That’s probably because Sony’s picture processing from last year, Bravia Engine 2, carries on its work here while Motionflow 100Hz - something that’s usually so important in lessening irritating blur and judder - is also missing.

Although the KDL-37S5500 can accept 24fps material from a Blu-ray player - a movie mode that’s supposed to slow-down the action ever so slightly to reduce judder - the picture isn’t always smooth. And though colour is reasonably good during brightly lit scenes and outdoor shots, as soon as the murk descends - as it does so often during our test disc Transiberian on Blu-ray - it becomes hard to make out much detail within blocks of dark colours.

Dark clothes, hair and even backgrounds too often merge into one solid block. A still image of Jessie staring into the snow is impressive, with both the falling snow and a tear on her face in close-up exceptionally detailed, though this set’s "black hole" approach to contrast means that some of her dark hair isn’t discernable. The latter problem with contrast also affects the latter, gloomier cabin scenes with Grinko, Ben Kingsley’s character.

The KDL-37S5500’s other main issue is with motion. Again during Transiberian, a horse and cart pulls away from a shop, quite slowly, but the driver’s face is blurred. With little in the way of picture settings to tweak, what you see is pretty much what you get.

Switch to Freeview and you start to see why the inclusion of a Full HD panel is actually quite risky on a TV that’s primarily aimed at the mass market – and certainly not at HD aficionados. Digital channels look noisy and very soft by comparison to Blu-ray, with DVDs suffering a similar fate.

We’re in a crossover era where both Full HD splendour and lower-quality standard definition are commonplace - and this LCD TV doesn’t handle either with any aplomb. Though the set’s surround mode doesn’t deliver much in the way of side effects, sound quality overall - and especially its Clear Voice mode for dialogue-heavy fare - is better than on most TVs this size.

Verdict

Packed with HD goodness it might be, but the KDL-37S5500’s versatility is limited. With a picture that never extends beyond average, it’s a stark reminder that LCD TV tech hasn’t yet caught up with plasma - even HD Ready models - in this price bracket. The KDL-37S5500 is not a bad television, but there are others out there that offer better value for money.