The rest of the ADVANCED VIDEO menu is replete with image “enhancements,” so many of which I preferred to turn off that I’ll simply outline the few I preferred to turn on. CINEMA BLACK PRO is at least partially an iris adjustment that sacrifices light output for better blacks, and I much preferred it set to “on.” I also preferred the WIDE COLOR SPACE setting, which deepened reds and greens. In my room the REDUCED POWER SAVING setting (a lamp-intensity adjustment located in the SETUP menu) worked well, producing deep, dark blacks while still offering enough horsepower for daytime viewing. The protective screen Sony uses does a marvelous job of suppressing glare and also provides an exceptional viewing angle in the horizontal and vertical planes. Standing up or sitting down, I saw no meaningful changes in image quality, and had to move further off-axis horizontally than I can imagine anyone going in real life to see a slight drop-off in light output.
For sources I primarily used the Samsung SIR-TS160 DirecTV HD STB via DVI-HDMI breakout, and Arcam’s excellent FMJ DV29 via HDMI at 480p. I also occasionally used a JVC HM-DH5U D-Theater deck with 1080i HD via HDMI.
The Qualia’s image detail goes beyond stunning, especially with a 1080i HD source. It consistently gets to the “looking through a window” level of sparkling resolution with the best HD sources—a sensation that’s all the more impressive on a screen this size. It’s one thing to see it on a 42" plasma and quite another, I assure you, to see it on a 70" RPTV! I’ve never seen an RPTV of any kind that matches the extraordinary, crystalline resolving power the Qualia 006 delivers with 1080i HD.
Aside from truly spectacular resolution, the Qualia’s black levels are simply outstanding for a fixed-pixel device. I can unequivocally say this set has good enough blacks to be the centerpiece of a movie lover’s home theater.
True, in scenes with almost no light whatsoever (a cabin in the woods late at night during Friday the 13th on HDNet Movies, for example), the details near darkest black were simply lost (this is something only CRTs can handle well). Otherwise, the Qualia 006 is right in there with the very best fixed-pixel displays I’ve seen. Even with challenging material like the DTheater HD tape of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and dark but spectacularly detailed DVD transfers like XMen 2 and Spider-Man 2, the Qualia maintained excellent contrast and detail. If you read this magazine you know this is not something we’ve said of many microdisplay RPTVs. As with the Qualia 004 front projector, the 006 could occasionally look slightly washed out during bright scenes, which is surprising considering how good it typically looks during darker ones. And the only issue I’d point to during dark scenes is that the image looked a little brighter than I’m used to on some very familiar reference material, as if the gamma curve weren’t quite dialed in for movie performance at low levels.
An area where the 006 parted company with the 004 was in the persistence of false-contouring artifacts with certain program material. This manifested itself so: The point at which a dark area in an image transitioned into a significantly lighter area showed tiny, moving, pixelated blocks instead of a smooth contour from dark to light. Examples include the area where the glow of a streetlight meets the night sky in Chapter 3 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and many sequences in Finding Nemo where darker areas of the sea meet lighter ones (especially evident in Chapters 10 and 11—check the light of the Anglerfish). The contouring artifacts were consistent across all sources, including HD broadcasts, with component and DVI/HDMI connections.
While I’ve not seen this to a noticeable degree in fixed-pixel front projectors, I have seen vestiges of it in a number of microdisplay RPTVs that use a variety of technologies. The phenomenon was obvious on both the 006 and other DLP and LCD RPTVs I saw at a reputable Bay Area retailer. Here the Qualia’s size, brightness, and resolution might be working against it. Anything that appears on the Qualia 006’s screen (including artifacts in the program material) is ruthlessly revealed. Whatever the reason for the artifacts, they were very distracting with certain program material.
I was absolutely thrilled with the Qualia’s colors, in particular the quality of flesh tones, which were wonderfully natural and realistic, especially after ISF calibration. On some shades of green, usually in trees or grass, yellow jumped out enough to give an unnatural if not nuclear glow. But as I said, this only happened on some shades. In Chapter 25 of Sea Biscuit on DVD for example, the darker greens were rendered well enough. I also found that reds, in spite of how well they measured, looked slightly more orange than I prefer. Changing the COLOR SPACE adjustment from WIDE to NORMAL calmed the greens down somewhat, but made reds more orange. I stuck with WIDE COLOR SPACE as the lesser evil (or weevil). With both HD and particularly with the best DVD transfers (at 480p), I did notice noise in the image—a problem that was worse with component video. Engaging a modest amount of noise reduction (never more than MEDIUM, as the HIGH setting made things look funky in different ways), mostly solved the problem, but noise reduction isn’t typically necessary for high-quality sources like DVD and HD with DVI/HDMI connections. With DVDs I also ran the sharpness up a little higher than I’m comfortable with— high enough that I saw some artifacts around edges and even some grain. These artifacts were preferable to the slightly soft look without them. Though DVD pictures scaled up to the Qualia’s 1920x1080 pixel count were very good, I had to work a little harder twiddling the controls to get them right—and had to live with some imperfections that I’m not sure I could lay entirely at the feet of the DVDs.