After adjustment, and provided it was displaying good-quality HDTV programs, the 52W5100 delivered outstanding performance. High-def coverage of the Little League World Series finals on ABC looked crisp and colorful. The field's green turf was natural looking, while the reds of the Mexican team's helmets and the sea green of the Taipei team's uniforms looked vibrant but not excessively so. But I was most impressed when the action broke to... a high-definition Eggo waffle commercial. A close-up of a waffle sandwich of melting peanut butter sprinkled with chocolate chips looked scary-delectable, with natural brown shadings on the toasted waffle and bright highlights glistening off the ooze. During a tight shot of the Eggo box, I could see how accurately the Sony was reproducing the familiar yellow, orange, and red colors.
Tuning to a documentary about the Kennedy political clan on MSNBC HD, I was struck by the tremendous detail in the 1080p screen, especially in the studio shots of pundits. The image of Frank Mankiewicz, RFK's former press secretary, told the story, from the weave in his dark blue suit to the sharp details of his well-camouflaged hearing aid and the way the studio lights drew out the remarkably deep furrows in his forehead. Fortunately, this program's black-and-white film clips showed no tinting or other evidence of the grayscale inaccuracy I'd detected during setup.
To check out the Sony's black-level performance, I watched Fast & Furious on Blu-ray Disc. A worthy sequel that reunites the original F&F cast, this film is beautifully shot and features many moodily lit night scenes that will test a TV's ability to convey deep blacks and draw out details from shadows.
In one such scene, Dom (Vin Diesel) is chatting with fellow gang member Han at a nighttime beach party where the two are illuminated by a combination of moonlight and bonfires. Even in this dimly lit scene, I could see tremendous detail in the texture and stitching of their white linen shirts, and in the diamond-studded cross that hangs around Dom's neck. When the camera angle shifts so we see Dom's face over Han's shoulder, I saw all kinds of detail in Han's mass of jet-black hair - it was even obvious that he had applied hair gel. Later, in another scene where Dom returns after a long absence to his old garage, I could easily see the racing posters, car parts, manuals, and other objects on the shelves and walls in the shadows behind him as he examined an old hot rod. In these and many other scenes, the Sony's black level and ability to retain shadow details was better than I've seen on any LCD short of the new LED-backlit models. Black letterbox bars in movies, while not quite as dark as the TV's surrounding black bezel, looked awfully close.
Given such excellent performance, I was disappointed to see the 52W5100 falter when displaying not only standard-definition programs but also even some less-than-stellar high-definition ones. SD cable shows delivered as 480i through the component video or HDMI inputs definitely looked a bit softer and noisier than on many other HDTVs I've tested, and ditto for DVDs. Neither of the Sony's noise-reduction options helped much here, although the random NR setting did smooth out some SD content at the expense of making the image a touch softer.
Sony's KDL-52W5100 is capable of delivering one of the best pictures I've seen from an LCD TV, and it competes favorably with all but the very best plasmas on black level. That's impressive for a set that's not boasting a fancy LED backlight - or the price tag that goes with it. Viewers who still watch a lot of standard-def cable or haven't upgraded to an upconverting DVD player may find its mediocre video processing hard to overlook. But if you're after a TV with a striking high-def picture, this Sony LCD, with its inky blacks, strong contrast, and vivid colors, is a serious contender.
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