Although a little late to the 3D HDTV party, Sony is moving into the important fall selling season with a fairly broad range of 3D-capable models, and have already lowered list prices on select models, such as the top-line Bravia XBR reviewed here, which is as feature-packed as one could ask for.
Sony touts their end-to-end 3D experience, starting with the studio cameras, 3D movie mastering and 2D-3D upconversion, 3D broadcast and Blu-ray authoring, 3D gaming and finally the 3D displays themselves.
Consider this HDTV if: you’re into 3D and want a top-performing set that’s as feature-packed as you’ll find anywhere.
Look elsewhere if: price is a consideration as this is most assuredly a premium-priced model.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced HDTVs):
• Overall picture quality (SD): 8
• Overall picture quality (HD): 10
• Features: 10
• Connectivity: 8
• User interface: 8
• Value: 7
In a word, this Sony is loaded. As it’s at the top of their premium Bravia XBR range, they’ve tossed in just about every feature you can find in HDTV sets today. The two main differentiators are the set’s 3D capability, and the local dimming LED backlighting.
Unlike some other 3D sets that come already equipped with a built-in front panel IR “blaster” that syncs the special 3D LCD shutter glasses, this Sony instead offers an external IR synchronizer that is parked on the top edge of the TV. At a 3D press conference at their Los Angeles movie studios, Sony took pains to point out that their external sync has a wider dispersion capability than a competitor’s set, so presumably those seated far off axis won’t lose IR sync (which is necessary for the 3D glasses to work). The device, a tube about the size of a small cigar, clips on to the top center of the TV and plugs into a jack on the back panel.
The local dimming backlighting system uses the preferred behind-the-LCD panel location for its array of white LEDs working in concert with 240 Hz refresh (Sony calls their processing MotionFlow). While edgelit LED sets are becoming more popular (they can be made to be extremely thin), the configuration poses challenges in terms of image uniformity across the screen. This Sony is an all-out top performer with great image quality, and although there’s some contrast loss well off axis, it’s not nearly as much as with typical LCD HDTVs.
Plug the Sony into your home broadband network (there’s a wired RJ-45 connector for that), or acquire a USB Wi-Fi adapter (they’re widely available and not expensive at all). Once you’re connected to the Internet, sit back and enjoy the broadest range of Internet apps and services we’ve yet seen on a multi-media HDTV.
In the video category, there are the usual Internet widgets or apps, such as the YouTube channel and Yahoo!, but for many prospective buyers what counts most is the area of movie and TV streaming, where the Sony supports no less than four content providers, including Netflix, Amazon, Sony’s new Qriosity service and Hulu Plus, which is slated to go live this fall and will offer ABC, NBC and Fox shows (both current and past seasons) for $10 a month. There are over 30 video apps and channels, plus there are additional audio apps such as Pandora Internet radio and Slacker, and the set has photo viewing via Picassa or plug-in media.
Out-of-the-box the set looks pretty good, although switching to the Cinema mode delivers a better picture that will appeal to purists. In fact, in that mode the set matches, to an extremely close degree, the typical performance found from a bona fide HD studio monitor, scoring very high on the test bench. Like the 3D Samsung sets we’ve recently tested, this Sony features 2D-3D upconversion, so 3D fans can get their kicks with regular 2D shows and movies. However, the effect is mild at best, and is in no way comparable to what true 3D encoded content looks like.
Sony’s 3D glasses might elicit some grumbling from wearers as the curved temples on the hinged frame are quite rigid and do put pressure on the skull by the ears. They can be adjusted for a wider fit, but even so there’s still noticeable pressure. While the front bridge has nicely soft rubber pads, I found that after finishing watching one 3D movie I was only too happy to yank the glasses off (and my head isn’t Jesse Ventura large either). The glasses are not rechargeable, but instead use the commonly available 2032 disc type battery, which typically retails for about $3.00 at the local supermarket. Sony advises that typical battery lifespan is around 100 hours.