With Freeview HD now broadcasting to at least a few patches of the UK, it's impossible not to feel as if Sony's Bravia KDL-32V5810, with its freesat HD tuner, is already a TV slightly past its prime. This feels especially true in light of Panasonic already rolling out sets with both freesat and Freeview HD tuners. But, if the 1080p, 32-inch KDL-32V5810 LCD TV can blow us away with its picture quality, we might be able to put aside our qualms. It's available online for around £500.
Nowt special to look at
Sony has a respectable track record of turning out TVs with really appealing and innovative designs. But the KDL-32V5810 isn't one of them. It looks very generic, and even slightly cheap, with its regulation, glossy black, rectangular bezel.
Fortunately, it sports plenty of high-quality features. For instance, it has Sony's latest Bravia Engine 3 video-processing engine, which does impressive work on everything from colour tones to contrast and sharpness. The TV also has Sony's excellent 24p True Cinema processing for improving Blu-ray playback, and carries standard-definition Freeview and analogue tuners, as well as a swanky freesat HD one.
Connections include a more-than-acceptable four HDMI sockets, and a USB port via which you can play music and photo files. There's also an Ethernet port that you can use to stream in files from your PC and surf Sony's online AppliCast service. On second thoughts, it might be more accurate to say you can paddle in AppliCast, given the paltry amount of content the service currently offers. We presume you'll also be able to use the Ethernet port for accessing the BBC iPlayer service at some point in the future.
The KDL-32V5810's on-screen menus include options for tweaking the gamma controls, Sony's Live Colour Creation processing, the separate MPEG and standard noise-reduction systems, and the white balance.
The KDL-32V5810's pictures look very promising at first glance. For instance, the colours are excellent, with vivid but natural saturation levels. Stripy colour blends and blotchy skin tones just aren't an issue.
The KDL-32V5810 also does a good job of reproducing high-definition sources, including those from the freesat tuner, with the level of clarity we like to see. This is helped by the way in which the set's various video-processing routines keep a tight lid on such sharpness-spoiling LCD nasties as judder and motion blur.
Standard-definition material is also deftly handled by the KDL-32V5810. The TV remaps standard-definition Freeview, freesat and DVD feeds to the screen's 1080p resolution without losing sharpness or adding too much noise.
Unfortunately, the KDL-32V5810's performance with dark pictures is rather disappointing. The main reason for this is the appearance of sometimes quite obvious backlight leakage in the screen's top corners. Needless to say, this phenomenon -- one we've noted before on Sony TVs -- can prove quite distracting at times. It isn't exactly what you want when you're engrossed in a scary horror-movie scene.
The KDL-32V5810's black-level response in general doesn't seem as profound as we'd have liked. The set is perhaps a victim of our increased expectations in this department, following the rise of LED backlighting technology.
The TV does put in a consistently decent audio performance, though, combining plenty of power with an open mid-range and lots of treble detail. The set struggles to deliver much bass, but that's rather inevitable with a TV of this size.
As well as having its freesat HD tuner rendered less impressive by the arrival of Freeview HD, the Sony Bravia KDL-32V5810's problems showing dark scenes are really pretty tough to swallow at this price. There are better TVs out there.
Edited by Charles Kloet