There's a degree of uncertainty surrounding Sony's W5100-series LCD televisions, but the mystery only heightens the anticipation. The line consists of three models, the 52-inch KDL-52W5100, the 46-inch KDL-46W5100, and the KDL-40W5100, which are all set to replace the 'W4100' models from last year.
What's most intriguing about the W5100 models is the language used by Sony to describe them. Despite the fact that these 1080p televisions include features typically seen on higher-end flat-panel televisions, Sony calls them "an economic HDTV option," and directly contrasts them to their XBR9 and Z5100-series televisions.
Those lines are very high end, and very expensive. The XBR9 LCDs cost between $1,200 and $3,600, for size ranges of 32, 40, 46, and 52 inches. The Z-series models, which come in sizes of 40, 46, and 52-inches, will be in the same neighborhood, though perhaps slightly cheaper due to some minor technological differences. The W5100 models still do not have manufacturer's suggested retail prices yet, but if the W4100 models were any indication, expect something in the range of $1,500 to $2,500.
Despite this dearth of pricing information, the potential for a truly economical BRAVIA LCD with the kind of feature set found on the W5100 televisions is worth keeping tabs on. It's a nice, reasonable array of specifications that are neither excessive, nor lacking.
120Hz refresh rates and their alleged anti-judder, smoothing capabilities were the hot specification last year. Though it does have some benefits, the additional premium for a 120Hz set seemed out of proportion. This year, however, 120Hz is essentially a standard feature, and prices have normalized accordingly.
This has left TV manufacturers struggling for a new marketing hook. For 2009, that hook is 240Hz--double the 120Hz refresh rate. It's also twice as ridiculous. The benefits of 120Hz were visible, but subtle and really intended only for nitpicking videophiles. 240Hz is simply beyond the realm of perception. Any perceived improvement in image quality will merely be the power of positive thinking. 240Hz is all hype, no substance, and should be avoided.
That's why the W5100 models stand out against the expensive XBR9 and Z5100 lines. The W5100 keeps things simple by sticking with 120Hz; the latter two lines have pushed ahead into 240Hz territory, which accounts for their daunting price tags. Consumers would be smart not to get suckered into such gamesmanship. If you're really looking to save cash, perhaps the S5100 series, which lacks 120Hz entirely (and sticks with plain old 60Hz) is more your speed. That 720p line is expected to retail for between $800 and $1,800.
Internet Content on Your HDTV
The reason the W5100 series is so remarkable is that it's allegedly affordable, but still offers the Internet connectivity found on the higher-end models. The W5100 televisions have a built-in Ethernet jack for direct connection to your home network. This puts it in direct competition with similar Internet-enabled devices from LG, Panasonic, and Vizio.
Viewers can access Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, and a selection of Sony Pictures films directly from the television screen. Previously, Sony required that a separate Internet module be attached to their HDTVs in order to gain access to the Web. The W5100 series does away with that accessory, integrating its features directly into the set. It's a nice, clean way of providing access to streaming video. Low-end Sony televisions, ones without Ethernet ports, still require that BRAVIA Internet Video Link device.
Update: On July 9th, 2009, Sony announced a partnership with Netflix, that would allow Sony Internet Video Link-enabled TVs to stream movies from Netflix's online Instant Queue.
Another appealing feature on the W5100 models is the TV's ability to interact with computers on your home network. Thanks to the integrated DLNA capabilities, a W5100 television can detect your personal computer on the network (provided it has been configured to act as a media server) and play music, video, or photo slideshows stored on your hard drive right on the TV's screen. It's a simple way to make the most from your home entertainment devices, linking your digital media library with your fancy HDTV.
Conclusion: Waiting On The Price Tag
We're very eager to see how much these W-series LCD televisions are going to cost, and optimistic that the price points will be low enough that consumers who prefer Sony can enjoy integrated broadband on their new televisions. Low-cost Internet-enabled televisions will spark a revolution in how media is delivered to living rooms, and we're waiting to see whether the W-series is part of that movement, or if high-prices will delay it for at least another season.