Internet TV is here, but is it worth upgrading to? Panasonic and Samsung have already redefined what a HDTV can do with a broadband connection, and their VieraCast and Internet@TV platforms, respectively, are now joined by Sony’s effort: AppliCast.
A menu of widgets that sit on the screen’s right-hand side, and operated direct from the remote control, AppliCast - which works when you string a network cable between this 46-inch LCD TV’s LAN port and a broadband router - is a decidedly poorer cousin to the others.
While VieraCast offers news headlines and Eurosport video, and Internet@TV offers Flickr - and with both soon to offer YouTube video streaming - users of AppliCast have to make do with, err, RSS feeds.
Oh, and a calculator, a world clock and an alarm. The freedom to enter any RSS address to receive constantly updated news from any website you choose might appeal (the news feeds on the other platforms are locked to various content providers, such as Bloomberg, Eurosport and Yahoo!), but in practice it’s much easier to just use your mobile phone or PC.
AppliCast does offer the chance to download high-resolution pictures from Sony’s online hub to fuel and refresh this telly’s Picture Frame mode. A stack of photos, which can be added to with gems from your own collection, Picture Frame allows you to use this TV as a rolling display of arty pictures - and all while the TV is in low-power mode. With this likely to be a brief novelty at best, it’s quickly obvious that the real appeal of the KDL-46W5500 lies away from the embryonic and decidedly skeletal AppliCast idea.
Inside a modestly designed and rather plain veneer lies a Full HD resolution LCD panel. It’s supported by a total of four HDMI inputs - two on the rear, and two on a side panel on the TV’s left. There’s also a USB input on that side panel, though in practice this is rather restrictive. The TV can play MP3 music files and display JPEG or RAW photo files, but it can handle very few video codec’s - just MPEG1, in fact.
Before we inspect its pictures, it’s worth noting that the KDL-46W5500 uses Sony’s excellent XrossMediaBar, as seen on the PlayStation 3. Giving access - as well as now/next programme information - to digital and (gulp) analogue TV channels and radio stations, XrossMediaBar also shows exactly what’s on a connected USB stick and even PCs on the same broadband home network.
The latter feature might sound impressive, but again it suffers from very limited file compatibility. And if you’ve a Mac computer, forget it. The best reason to buy the KDL-46W5500 is MotionFlow 100Hz. A system designed to reduce blur, it works a treat and really brings a sense of realism to Blu-ray discs.
Set MotionFlow to "high" ("low" mode isn’t worth bothering with) and Blu-ray and HD TV channels appear much clearer. With less loss of resolution, the KDL-46W5500 is better able to display the detail in these HD sources, with lingering camera pans so much more comfortable to watch. The side effects of MotionFlow are few; some shots do suffer from the odd flicker and fuzzy edge, but they are few.
There’s modicum of picture noise in backgrounds and contrast levels could be better, but for all the KDL-46W5500’s tiny problems, a deftly coloured and appealing picture dominates. It’s a similar story with an Xbox 360, where normal gameplay, close-ups and incidental shots from ProEvolution look smooth using MotionFlow, though slow-motion replays still suffer from some blur. In comparison digital TV pictures are left looking poor on this huge screen, with blocking and mosquito noise plaguing moving edges.
Sound quality is above average for a TV of this size, especially its Theatre Mode, which provides an expansive and subtle soundstage - though it’s sometimes at the cost of dialogue clarity.
With an excellent performance with high-def and below-par digital TV, the KDL-46W5500 presents something of a conundrum. If you intend to buy a TV of this size and continue watching Freeview and DVDs, buy a plasma - no question about it. But if a diet of high-def TV, gaming and Blu-ray is on the cards - and you like the idea of AppliCast - the KDL-46W5500 is definitely worth an audition.