As if keeping track of the plethora of flat TVs being released isn't difficult enough for the average consumer, some manufacturers seem determined to make things yet more confusing. In the past we've come across a 32in LCD offering from Sony, the KDL-V32A12U.
Now we're faced with the brand's KDL-S32A12U - but don't be fooled, as these two sets are far from the same. The KDL-S32A12U is a stripped down version of its sibling, which means it costs a good £600 less, at around £1,200. But what has been changed to achieve this?
They look different, for starters. But while the KDL-S32A12U's silvery finish is less dramatic than the black of the V32, it still has enough subtle curves and little touches to make it a pretty little thing.
Connections haven't suffered much from price cutting either. That digital HDMI input is still there, which, along with component video and a native resolution of 1,366 x 768, makes this set fully HD-ready. There's also a VGA input for connecting to a PC, and two Scarts - although only one is RGB-capable, unlike the three on the V32A12U.
This isn't the end of the world, though, and happily there's a digital tuner with support for Freeview's seven-day EPG and a CAM slot for adding Top Up TV. There aren't many other features, however, and it's here that we see where cost cutting has occurred - this set is missing Sony's Wega Engine processing, which is found on the V32A12U.
Still, the KDL-S32A12U manages to produce pleasing pictures without Wega Engine, with its key strength being colours. The rich blues and reds of the protagonists' costumes in our The Life Aquatic DVD were expertly handled during our tests, with plenty of vibrancy. More subtle, darker tones looked natural, too, and didn't have the green tinge that LCD can suffer from, while there was little in the way of fuzzing noise.
In fact, picture noise in general is well handled, and even Freeview broadcasts via the digital tuner are smooth and clear.
The Sony's picture is also bright and respectably sharp. Detail was certainly good enough to clearly show an improvement when we gave the set a run-through with our sample high-def material, although the HD performance isn't quite as stunning without the detail-boosting talents of Wega Engine.
As is so often the case with LCD, it's the KDL-S32A12U's black levels that let it down slightly. Dark scenes from our test DVD were 'greyed over', rather than having true blacks, and lacked a bit of depth as a result. This also meant that some details were lost, and colours weren't quite as vibrant.
It's back to the good stuff with the Sony's speakers. They managed to create a wide and accurate soundstage from our DVD, with believable vocals and no overt distortion or cabinet rattle, and even a fairly solid amount of bass. They won't do for an all-out action movie, but did The Life Aquatic proud.
The KDL-S32A12U puts in a very enjoyable performance, and is certainly worth a look. However, there are a few similarly priced sets that also offer detail-enhancing technology, and come without the black level flaws.