Sunday, June 28, 2009

New TV Set

Recently I bougth a new TV set - a Sony KDL-32W5500 LCD. It replaced the old Soviet-era CRT-based "Akari" TV.

The new TV set receives both analog (still the norm in Russia) and digital stations. It contains an AVC tuner and thus doesn't need a set-top box or a separate decoder to watch the digital broadcasts (Russia, unlike the rest of the world, uses MPEG-4 Part 10, aka H.264, for them).

The default color settings are good, unlike those in the old TV, which gave oversaturated colors by default. The new TV set has a 1920x1080 panel, but I found that, for my eyes, 1080i and 720p (from the computer monitor) look nearly the same. And there is not a lot of HD content in Yekaterinburg anyway.

The default option for aspect ratio, however, is to stretch 4:3 content to 16:9 non-uniformly. The options to preserve the original 4:3 aspect and to stretch the letterboxed content uniformly do exist. I wish it could autodetect the letterbox - this would mean one less button to use.

While digital broadcasts are displayed perfectly, the analog tuner is not so good as in the old TV. Stations that were displayed with "snow" by the old TV now are not watchable at all due to either flashing color stripes or the "no signal" message.

As far as the inputs go, the Sony TV has 4 HDMI sockets, one VGA, one USB and one Ethernet connection. Using a DVI -> HDMI cable and a separate analog audio cable, this TV can be connected to my computer's video card and sound card. The intel driver had no problems recognizing it as a 1920x1080@60p panel.

However, as the primary TV show consumer is my mother, this is still not a very viable solution. I want to work while she watches films. So, I tried using the built-in media playback capabilities of this TV set.

First, it can play files from USB flash drives. The instruction says it accepts only MPEG-1, but de-facto, it accepted non-interlaced MPEG-2, too. It could not play a DVD rip from the flash drive. So, using this option means transcoding everything - not very good.

Second, it can act as a UPnP Renderer. The instruction says that the TV accepts MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and AVCHD formats. So, I thought I could set up a media server on my computer. I have tried MediaTomb and MiniDLNA. MediaTomb did not work at all (the TV displayed the "server is unsupported" message), MiniDLNA worked somewhat. I was able to send MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 files (including the DVD rip that failed to play from the flash drive) to the TV. I could not remux an available H.264 + AC3 Matroska file to MPEG-TS in such a way that the TV understands it. So, for typical torrented video files, this still means transcoding. So, I must conclude that the media playback capabilities of this TV are there only for the marketing department to be able to say that they exist.

So, I am a bit dissatisfied with this offer from Sony.

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