Pros: Great picture, reasonable price, easy to set up, good brand reputation
Cons: Hard to sync aspect ratio with peripherals, I hate Wide Zoom
Not long before last Christmas, our old Sony CRT TV had to be put out of our misery (yes, our misery - the thing was driving us crazy). Diagnosed with a terminal (and terminally annoying) condition, it was time for something new. It used to be, back in the day when we bought that old timer, that you walked into a store, picked a TV, plugged it in and you were set. Even with cable, one more plug and you were in business. Now the world is filled with scary, giant choices and scarier yet, no CRT TV sets - you have to make the flat screen, probably HDTV, high tech choice! Being the brave soul that I am, I did a little research (then came back and did some more after that initial headache went away) and ended up with a brand new, shiny Sony Bravia KDL-37L4000 37 inch LCD HDTV. To be honest I'm completely intimidated by big electronics purchases. Who am I kidding - I'm completely intimidated by big electronics. But at some point even the most technophobic TV watcher is going to have to replace their CRT TV. If I can do it - you can do it!
Why this one?
Like I said, I did my research, crappy as that may have been. I didn't say I was any good at it. But there seemed to be a general consensus around the internet that the Sony Bravia line was high quality. There was a Panasonic line with even better recommendations online, but when I went to a brick and mortar store and actually looked at the picture, I preferred the Sony. The Bravia was available in the size I wanted and at a price point that didn't give me a stroke. Good test picture quality, decent price and a brand I trust - I win! Wait.....Sony wins and I get a TV!
What do you get?
Yes, I realize that all TVs have certain things (screen, cords, you know, the basics) but with the dizzying array of choices now out there, it helps to know exactly what you're getting with any individual set. The Sony Bravia KDL-37L4000 has a 37 inch, flat panel wide screen, black glossy outer casing and stand with minimal embellishment. It's incredibly light compared to the old CRT TVs, weighing in at a mere 35 pounds. I was able to assemble the stand and set up the TV myself without any trouble at all (it can also be mounted on the wall - please don't ask me to try that). It took three of us to haul our old TV out to the garage. I'm giving that a thumbs up in the "weight improvement" category. The Bravia is an HDTV and with proper antenna, could plug in and go. In our case we have digital cable, so it was more like "screw in cable that runs through DVR, then plug in and go". Not difficult in the slightest. It has two sets of component cable inputs and two HDMI inputs which give us just enough room for our DVR, X Box 360, DVD player and Roku. One of the sets of component cable inputs is on the side of the set, making them easily accessible for the X Box, the only add-on that ever gets unplugged and moved around (as well as being accessible if the set is wall-mounted). There are also a variety of audio cable options that we have not explored, not having any external speakers or peripheral audio devices. It has an LCD screen (as opposed to plasma) which keeps the price point a little lower and some argue provides the best picture. It is a 720 pixel resolution set, though the Bravia line does come in 1080 pixel versions. I chose 720p after much reading, coming to the conclusion that it was more than sufficient resolution for our needs and the size of the set (and also kept the price down). The set comes with a basic remote that controls set-up, power, volume and the rest of the usual stuff.
What do I like?
• Set-up. It's so easy I did it myself. Going into the menu via the remote allows access to the set up the picture, sound, screen, channels (which we did not use - having cable negates that process), parental locks and some general settings (power saving mode, info banner, etc.). There are limited options for everything, making your setup blessedly restricted to a reasonable number of variables that a real, regular person can both understand and handle. For example, in the picture setup there are options for Mode (automatically goes to custom if you change any of the other variables), backlight, picture, brightness, color, hue, color temp (warm or cold), sharpness and noise reduction (on or off). Everything except noise reduction and color temp has a sliding bar scale operated by the arrows on the remote. You can play around and decide just what you prefer. I prefer the backlight, picture and sharpness options higher than default (which is in the middle for everything). I like the color to be warm and the noise reduction to be off. The beauty of the setup is that everything is in the same easy to access onscreen menu - play to your heart's content until you have exactly the audio and video quality that suits you best.
• Picture. I was skeptical about HDTV. It seemed like oftentimes I would see it in stores and the picture looked, to be honest, crappy. Blurry or pixilated or just off. So I dismissed it as an option until I was all but forced to purchase an HDTV set. I'm glad I was. Some of our programming definitely does not look uber-fabulous, but it's the source transmission, not the set. I don't know if the technology has improved over time or we're simply getting more consistently high quality transmission, but the picture on this set is outstanding. Crisp and sharp with beautifully vibrant colors. HD broadcasts and movies are the best, but even non-HD programs look darn nice.
• Size. There are a lot of options out there for TV sizes, and it's tempting to get a giant screen just because you can. But it isn't always the best choice. Some of the brands available do not come with screen sizes smaller than 40", which is simply too large for our TV watching space. The Sony Bravia came in exactly the size I wanted and not only fits well in the room but makes for optimal picture quality. A piece of advice - do some research into optimal screen size for the size of your room and your viewing habits. A screen that is too large can easily cause some decrease in picture quality.
• Price. I definitely would not say this was a bargain purchase. At about $950, it was a significant chunk of cash to lay out for a TV. But I'm satisfied that it was reasonable for the quality of the set and the reputation of the brand. I'm not interested in replacing TVs frequently, I want one that will last and give me the quality I want. I'm willing to pay for that, and I was able to get this set for quite a bit less online than at our local brick and mortar store. There are far more expensive options, but I don't think the increase in quality or performance warrant paying more. I think the Sony Bravia is the best set for the money out there for our needs.
• Energy Star Rated. I'm a tree-hugging greenie. Saving energy is good. It also saves me money. Which is also good.
What do I dislike?
• Peripherals. I had trouble syncing the aspect ratio of this set with some of my older peripherals. The DVD player in particular needed to be adjusted, as well as the set, every time we watched a movie. It seemed as if it depended on the age of the disc whether we would be able to get the full 16:9 aspect ratio or end up with a very small letterboxed picture with bars on all four sides. This problem has been entirely eliminated since we purchased an upconverting DVD player (the result of another electronic fatality) but watching movies on our older DVD player was frustrating and we were unable to rectify the issue despite considerable research and effort. We also continue to be unable to get broadcast station movies without four side letterboxing. I suspect it may well be the fault of our older DVR (rented from the cable company) or the cable company itself but have been unable to fix that problem either (that it is the fault of the DVR and or cable is pure speculation, I just have run out of all other theories). I can live with it, but it is annoying. If you have and intend to keep older peripherals, check out their compatibility before buying this (or any) set. Talk to your cable company as well to make sure your service is compatible with your new set.
• Wide Zoom. My kids are constantly tempted to use the "Wide Zoom" picture mode. There are three setting, "Normal", "Full" and "Wide Zoom". For our uses only Normal and Full have any use. Normal gives a side letterboxed picture with a regular 4:3 aspect ratio that is suitable for almost all broadcast TV programs and Full allows DVDs to run on the full wide screen. Wide Zoom does nothing but stretch the 4:3 aspect ratio - you'll see it often in public places on their HDTVs, they have the wide screen and are darn well going to use it despite the fact that it stretches and distorts the images. I think we've finally agreed that Wide Zoom makes even Hannah Montana's butt look wide and are settled into Normal mode but I'm not sure why Wide Zoom even exists.
• Angle Viewing. The picture looks best when viewed straight on. One of the chairs in our family room is at a slightly greater angle than is optimal for picture quality and it can look washed out. I'm the only one in the family that has any issue whatsoever with this, so it may well be a personal idiosyncrasy.
We've now had our Sony Bravia 37 inch HDTV for almost a year and in general we're extremely happy with it. The shift from our old CRT TV to the brave new world of widescreen HDTV definitely took more patience and time than I had anticipated, especially with our older peripherals (and our general curmudgeonly grumpiness). But the picture is gorgeous, particularly with the upconverting DVD player, and I do love the big, wide screen. The set is lightweight, easy to set up and has enough input ports for all of our peripherals. I like being able to fine tune (within reason) the way the picture looks and though we haven't used the parental lock feature I suppose it might come in handy for some families. I think the price point is reasonable for the quality, brand and line reputation and the set was available in the 37" size we wanted (it's also available in 32" and 40" and larger). Being scared of electronics in general and spending a lot of money on them in particular, this purchase is one I would have happily put off forever. But having been forced to make the leap into this century, I'm thrilled to be able to watch movies in glorious wide screen high definition. If I ever figure out how to use the whole screen for TV movie broadcasts I'll be even happier, but I'm more than satisfied with the Sony Bravia and would not hesitate to purchase the brand again were the need to arise. After all, I do have another CRT TV in the house that's probably due to croak any minute. I believe I will officially declare this the Year of the Croaking Electronics.