Having recently liked the performance of Sony's Bravia KDL-46Z4500 LCD TV before being put off by its high price, we took delivery of the much more affordable (for a 52-inch TV) KDL-52W4500 with a real sense of anticipation. If it can provide something like the quality of the 46Z4500 at a much lower price per inch, it'll be just fine by us. The 52W4500 is available now for around £1,600, which is significantly less than its smaller stablemate.
The 52W4500 revels in a typically striking Sony design, complete with a distinctive 'window' running across under the screen. The set also feels extremely well built.
There's plenty to smile about with the 52W4500's connections, too, as we turn up a host of unusual multimedia jacks. For instance, there's an Ethernet port allowing you to hook the TV to your computer for playback of JPEG and MP3 files. Plus there's a USB jack for playing the same sort of files from USB storage devices. Finally, there's even a Digital Media Port, via which you can play AV files from a connected portable media player using a suitable (optional) adaptor.
Although the 52W4500 doesn't sport the headline 200Hz feature of the Z4500 models, it's still got Sony's MotionFlow 100Hz engine. This doubles the usual PAL refresh rate as well as inserting new image frames designed to fill in the gaps between the original, 'real' frames of a source. The point behind all this is to make motion look smoother and sharper than is normally possible with LCD technology.
The 52W4500's onscreen menus contain a pretty extensive set of features and tweaks, and are distinguished by the XrossMedia Bar's clever 'double-axis' design, which will be familiar if you've used the PlayStation 3.
Turning to the 52W4500's pictures, they're capable of looking nothing short of spectacular. The screen's brightness, for instance, is grandstanding, even by LCD's usually glowing standards. And this brightness helps the screen punch out colours with levels of vibrancy and dynamism most big LCDs can only dream about.
Colours aren't just punchy, though -- thanks to a combination of exceptionally subtle blending and an unusually wide gamut, they're also impressively natural for most of the time.
We were also very taken with the 52W4500's sharpness, which reveals every pixel of a good HD source with pin-point accuracy, while also making standard definition look pleasingly detailed.
Finally, while MotionFlow 100Hz doesn't make movement look quite as fluid as the Z4500's 200Hz system, the difference is marginal and therefore easy to take, given the 52W4500's relatively good value.
Although the 52W4500's pictures look spectacular during bright scenes, they rather fall apart during dark ones. Why? Because of the hugely irritating appearance of some distracting pools of light over all four corners of the screen.
We've seen similar backlight seepage problems on other LCD TVs, but never so overtly as they appear here. And while the problem completely disappears with bright scenes, it can at times make dark scenes almost unwatchable, in our opinion.
So distinct is the backlight seepage that at first we thought we might have a faulty model. But trawling through various online forums quickly showed our experiences with the 52W4500 were actually quite common.
Apparently the problem doesn't affect all W4500 sets. But it certainly seems to affect enough to make buying one a lottery.
In other negative news, the set only provides three HDMIs when we'd have preferred four. Also, HD pictures sometimes look slightly grainy, and the MotionFlow 100Hz system can cause a few distracting side effects, such as flickering or shimmering edges over very fast-moving objects.
When it's good, the 52W4500 is very good. But when it's bad, as our sample was during dark scenes, it's so bad you have to wonder how it slipped through Sony's quality-control department. Sure, if you're lucky you might order a 52W4500 and end up with a flawless sample. But do you really want to risk nearly two grand on a gamble? Thought not.
Edited by Nick Hide