Sony XEL-1 review: Sony XEL-1

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Typical Price: $6,999.00
4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Absolutely staggering image quality. Luxury build. HD tuner. USB port.

The Bad It's how much??. Reflective. Low resolution.

The Bottom Line Sure, the Sony XEL-1 OLED is ludicrously expensive, but it is also hands-down the most impressive television we have ever seen. Read our Australian-first review.

8.5 Overall
CNET Editors' Choice May '09

It's taken 12 months for one of last year's CES darlings, the all-singing, all-dancing XEL-1 OLED panel to reach Australia, and it's not going to be cheap — going for the price of a 55-inch plasma. But was it worth the wait? Is this, indeed, the future of television?

Design

While the Koreans think they've got a handle on design with televisions like LG's Scarlet and Samsung's 9 series , this has only been a recent development. In comparison, Sony knows about design. As proof, the Japanese company brings us the XEL-1. While it may look like a trumped-up itty bitty booklight in the thumbnail, in the flesh it is simply exquisite.

The highlight of the design is the chrome arm that connects the 3mm thick display to the main media box, which is complemented by a piano-black powder coating and further chrome accents. The base is reassuringly heavy and the entire unit feels solid. The display is tiltable by almost 90 degrees, which is handy because the screen itself is quite vulnerable to ambient light.

We really liked the controls on the base as they change depending on whether you're inside the menu system to up, down etc, or to Ch/Vol/Input. It's really cool, and intuitive.

We were also a little amused to see that the display (which can only be comfortably watched at arm's length, at the very most) comes with a remote. It's a credit-card style unit, and comes with all of the functions you'll need. It's actually pretty nifty, and fun to use.

Features

For what appears to be a barebones unit, the XEL-1 is actually quite well featured. While it looks almost identical to the overseas model, there are some important differences. Namely it now comes with a USB port instead of the much-maligned MemoryStick slot, and it boasts a local HD tuner. And while it does away with most input choices, it does have two HDMI ports.

As this is only an 11-inch screen, the resolution isn't so hot — it's not even quite standard definition (PAL) at 960x540, but the screen is so tiny that it's hard to notice. It will accept inputs of 1080p and scale them down to the natural resolution without a problem, however.

Though it lacks 100Hz, it does come with a similar feature called Fine Motion, which seemed to ease motion artefacts like judder somewhat. Of course, as OLED response time is instantaneous, unlike LCD, there is little need for these motion compensation features.

The TV is one of the first to receive an Energy Star rating and we were a little surprised to see it receive only 3.5 out of six — especially considering that Sony repeatedly tells us that OLED uses a lot less power than LCD. In contrast, the recently released Sony WE5 42-inch got an impressive 4.5 stars.

Performance

We've seen the XEL-1 on display at previous events before, but usually at an arm's length. It's only when you get a hands-on that you realise the depth of this product. Having attended the Panasonic event last week we saw some "nice" plasmas, but it's only when using a product like the XEL-1 that you realise that plasma technology still can't get near the "lifelike" blacks of OLED. In comparison, plasma's blacks looked over-punchy, and not especially "true". In some way, blacks in video are akin to bass in hi-fi: you need it for a complete experience, but a balanced sound is preferable to an overly boomy one.

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