Inventing new names for existing technologies is nothing new. Consider SXRD, which stands for Silicon X-tal (crystal) Reflective Display, Sony’s implementation of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). It first appeared year before last in their $30,000 Qualia 004 front projector, then last year in the $13,000 70" Qualia 006 rear-projection set (TPV 61). Recently, Sony introduced a smaller, more advanced version of the SXRD chip featuring closer inter-pixel spacing and improved black levels. Its first application is this mid-priced ($4999) RPTV and its smaller 50" cousin—the first non-Qualia sets to use SXRD.
The tiny 0.61" (diagonal) chip contains 2 million pixels, which provide 1920x1080 HD resolution—over twice as many pixels as competing 720p sets, including Sony’s own LCD RPTVs. Like all LCD and LCoS displays, one chip is used per primary color (three total) rather than using an artifact-prone color wheel like singlechip DLP sets. Combine this resolution with the promise of dark blacks and you have two of the most necessary ingredients for a stunning picture, now at a price many more people can afford. I’ll tell you right up front, if you’re shopping for an HDTV, you need to read this review.
You can expect all the high-end video features on any Sony XBR set, but this one adds an innovation first used in the company’s excellent VPLHS51 front projector (Issue 61) but not seen before in RPTVs. The ADVANCED IRIS feature monitors the signal’s brightness level and automatically closes the iris in dark scenes and opens it up in bright scenes to improve the overall contrast. Also available is a manually adjustable iris that lets you reduce the light output as needed to favor dark blacks over maximum brightness, a feature that was in the Qualia 006. Both of these functions have several settings, but the ADVANCED IRIS adjustment is only available in PRO mode. The iris definitely contributes to this set’s dark blacks, though they’re actually quite dark even with the iris fully open.
A built-in ATSC (terrestrial HDTV) tuner allows digital reception from an antenna. If you have digital cable, a CableCARD slot lets you receive it without the cable company’s set-top box. Two zoom modes are available when watching HD sources, so you’ll always be able to fill the screen.
Unfortunately, you must scroll through a list when selecting video inputs, though unused ones can be removed from the list, which does speed up the process. Two HDMI inputs are provided, as is a PC (VGA) input. Unlike plasma, it’s safe to use this set as a PC monitor (1280x1024 maximum resolution). Although this is a 1080p display, the HD display inputs will not accept a 1080p source (not that there are any). A Memory Stick viewer lets you view stills and movies taken with your Sony digital camera.
A sleep button is included on the remote, but there’s no button (and no menu item) to monitor digital signal strength when aligning the antenna.
Right out of the box, this set’s video controls, in their default positions, were remarkably well set—in fact, the best I’ve ever seen for factory presets. Of course, VIVID mode is way overdone unless you’re watching in bright sunlight. STANDARD mode using all the factory defaults (except the WARM color-temp setting) was really quite nice for SD broadcast TV. For DVDs, however, this mode was a bit overenhanced, so I reduced the SHARPNESS control to compensate. Set the manual- iris control in the lowest two positions for best blacks in darker program material, higher for a brighter picture (such as sporting events).
I did most of my viewing in PRO mode, which opens up another full page of options. Here you can tweak the automatic iris for more or less contrast. Higher settings give stunning blacks and dark-scene detail in a dark home-theater environment. If you’re using the WARM color temperature, turn the COLOR CORRECTOR off to reduce reds and flesh tones to the correct level.
The DTE (DIGITAL TEXTURE ENHANCER) and DETAIL ENHANCER functions both artificially sharpen the picture. If you were viewing a finger, DTE would make the fingerprint more distinct, while Detail Enhancer would enhance the outline of the finger. Avoid excessive settings of either, but especially DTE. DRC (DIGITAL REALITY CREATION) PALETTE also has the ability to make an over-enhanced mess, so keep the dot reasonably close to the lower-left corner of the onscreen two-dimensional control area. Don’t forget to engage CINEMOTION (3:2 pulldown) if you’re using an interlaced DVD player. A reduced-power setting is available in the setup menu that slightly reduces light output while extending bulb life and even further reducing black level—very useful.
Modes can be associated with specific inputs, then customized for that particular input. For example, you could use PRO mode with two different inputs and have different settings for each.