In a market dominated by minimalist, black designs, Sony clearly feels there's room for something different -- something like the 32-inch, 1080p Bravia KDL-32E5500 LCD TV, with its striking glossy white inner bezel and black outer frame. Its extravagant design is just the tip of a rather charming iceberg, but, at about £900, is it really worth its premium price compared to other less exotic-looking TVs in Sony's range?
Whether or not you like the KDL-32E5500's photo-frame design (office opinion was divided straight down the middle), there's no denying that it's a breath of fresh air, and we suspect it might find quite a fan base among the females of the species.
The KDL-32E5500's distinctive design is geared around its 'photo frame' mode, in which the TV can show photos or digitised artwork as screensavers when you're not watching anything specific, rather than leaving you staring at a blank screen with the TV switched off.
The KDL-32E5500 is also notable for the amount of screensaver sources it provides for. You can play images direct from a USB storage device, a DLNA-enabled PC, or even the Internet. Indeed, the set can play a healthy variety of file types -- music and video, as well as photos -- from your PC or USB sticks.
Weak Web suite
The KDL-32E5500 sports Sony's AppliCast system, which allows you to access online content such as news, downloadable images, an on-screen calculator, an on-screen clock and an alarm. This online content is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far. At the moment, Sony's online offering is easily the most content-light of all the Internet TV options available. Here's hoping much more content gets added soon.
More usefully, the KDL-32E5500 offers an extensive suite of picture-processing tricks. These are lead out by Bravia Engine 3, Sony's latest picture-processing engine, which is almost a complete revamp of the previous generation. Also likely to be handy are a 100Hz system for increasing motion clarity, and Sony's Live Colour processing, which is intended to improve -- you guessed it -- the saturation and tone of colours.
Thankfully, given the KDL-32E5500's high cost by 32-inch TV standards, all of its video-processing software, for the most part, helps to produce really excellent picture quality. Colours, for instance, are rich, dynamic and often outstandingly natural in tone. They're further boosted by an excellent brightness output for a 32-inch LCD screen.
The KDL-32E5500 also put a smile on our faces with its knack for reproducing every tiny pixel of sharpness and detail from high-definition sources. In addition, we were pleased by the way Bravia Engine 3 manages to make standard-definition pictures look much crisper and less fuzzy than we usually find with 1080p LCD TVs.
The KDL-32E5500's black-level response is good too. Dark scenes suffer far less than usual from the grey-fog problem that's common with LCD TVs at the 32-inch size level.
A couple of picture issues stop the KDL-32E5500 from completely blowing our socks off, though. Firstly, bright parts of otherwise dark scenes sometimes seem to glow slightly. Secondly, while the Motionflow 100Hz system is impressive at reducing judder, we still found fast-moving video looked more blurry than we'd have liked.
The set sounds slightly better than most of its 32-inch rivals, however. Respectable volume levels are achieved without compromising on clarity. There's even a decent amount of bass in the mix, which is a rarity with relatively small flat TVs.
The Sony Bravia KDL-32E5500's bold, eye-catching design plays host to a really serious set of features and some sporadically excellent, always enjoyable pictures. That said, you can get Sony's almost identically specified, but black, Bravia KDL-32W5500 TV for about £250 less, making the KDL-32E5500's fancy outfit look very expensive indeed.
Edited by Charles Kloet