Small TVs -- those with 26-inch screens or less -- tend to be much of a muchness, with uninspiring performance standards and precious few features. The thinking, we guess, is that most small TVs are going to be bought by people who just want a cheap and purely functional set for a second room. With that in mind, Sony's truly extravagant, 22-inch Bravia KDL-22E5300 LCD TV, with an HD Ready resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, comes as one heck of a surprise. It's available for about £450 online.
The second you get the KDL-22E5300 out of its box, you know you've got something out of the ordinary on your hands. Its combination of a shiny white bezel with a starkly contrasting black border looks strikingly pretty and unlike any other small TV we've seen before.
Also unusual is way the KDL-22E5300 sits unusually low and slightly tilted back on its silver legs, making it look more like a photo frame than a TV. That's entirely appropriate, because the KDL-22E5300 carries Sony's Picture Frame technology, enabling you to play back photos as screensavers when you're not actually watching TV. This is an unusually thoughtful feature for a small TV. But it's just the tip of a very large feature iceberg.
For instance, Sony has decided to equip the KDL-22E5300 with its Bravia Engine 3 video-processing engine. This is the latest, most highly specified version of Bravia Engine, and is a quite startling discovery on such a small screen.
Then there's the TV's connectivity. Its four HDMI ports, PC input, USB socket and Ethernet jack shame many TVs of twice the size. The USB socket can play MPEG-1 video and MP3 music files, as well as the usual JPEG fodder, and the Ethernet port can take the TV online, as well as allowing you to stream files from a PC.
Before you start dreaming of surfing the Net on the KDL-22E5300, though, you should know that the TV only allows you to access Sony's currently rather limited AppliCast online service, and not the Internet as a whole. Still, even being able to access AppliCast's weather reports, basic news functions, world clock and small archive of digital stills and artwork (for the Picture Frame function) seems a pretty cool feature on such a tiny TV.
As if all this wasn't enough, the KDL-22E5300 also claims a contrast ratio of 80,000:1 -- a truly mammoth figure for the small-TV market. The only area of the KDL-22E5300's specification that could reasonably look any better is its resolution. It has an HD Ready resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, rather than a 'Full HD', 1,920x1080 pixel count. But any picture-quality advantages from having a 1080p resolution on a TV this small would be marginal at best.
Indeed, the KDL-22E5300's pictures manage to look superb even without a 1080p resolution. In fact, this set's images are so good in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin describing them. Let's start with the TV's truly outstanding black-level response, on the grounds that the freedom from greyness exhibited by the KDL-22E5300 during dark scenes is so unprecedented in the small-screen world.
Sitting side by side with the KDL-22E5300's impressive black tones are colours that enjoy a vibrancy and naturalism of tone that again break new ground for small tellies. Then there's the clarity and purity of the KDL-22E5300's high-definition performance, which is enough to make us forget that the screen only has an HD Ready resolution.
Among other strengths, images generally look bright, standard-definition pictures look terrifically clean and sharp, thanks to the impressive work of the Bravia Engine 3 processing, and the set suffers surprisingly little from LCD technology's motion-blur problem, considering the level of the market it sits in.
Even the KDL-22E5300's sound is better than the feeble efforts usually delivered by small TVs. Our only serious gripe is that the set's far from cheap. But, if any small TV could ever justify such a price, it's the KDL-22E5300.
Although you have to pay more for Sony's Bravia KDL-22E5300 than you do for most small TVs, its remarkably ambitious feature set and utterly irresistible AV performance make it a premium telly. If you can afford one, buy one.
Edited by Charles Kloet