The first so-called LED TVs were local-dimming models, where the LEDs behind the screen could be dimmed or brightened in different areas to correspond to darker or brighter areas of the picture. The result was excellent contrast, on a level no other LCD-based TV could muster. Since 2007 when these TVs debuted, they've remained uncommon and expensive while so-called edge-lit models have populated store shelves and living rooms with abandon.
The XBR-HX929, Sony's most expensive and, we're willing to guess, best-performing TV of 2011, is also the company's only local dimmer. It boasts that excellent contrast by way of inky black levels not found on any TV aside from the oft-cited Pioneer Kuro plasma, and improves upon the color accuracy of its predecessor XBR. In short, it represents the pinnacle of LCD picture quality, so if you're shopping in the extreme upper end of the TV market and were only going to consider plasma, the XBR-HX929 might change your mind.
In our view the Sony XBR-HX929 is the best-looking TV this year aside from Samsung's thin-bezel UND6400 and UND8000/7000 models. Seen from the front it earns the company's Monolithic moniker: the panel is a featureless black slab when turned off, thanks to its one-piece face and darkened glass. The extreme edge is metallic-looking and very slightly set back from the main pane.
We're big fans of Sony's remote. The logically sized and placed, flush-yet-still-tactile keys emit a satisfying low-pitched click. The concave shape along the clicker's length sends the thumb to the Home key and the middle of the big cursor control. We like the ability to control other devices via infrared or HDMI, but we wish the blue backlight also illuminated more button labels.
Sony revamped its Home menu this year, ditching the PlayStation 3/PSP-style XMB interface for a new scheme that creates a main horizontal bottom row and a right-hand vertical column flanking a smaller, inset TV image (tweakers fret not; the TV image expands back to full size during picture adjustments). The menu shows all of the horizontal options at once, but there are simply too many of them--10 total: Settings, Widgets, Applications, Qriocity, Internet Content, TV, Media, Inputs, Favorites/History, and Recommendations (which is removable...a good thing since it appears to be in-menu advertising). None of the main horizontal choices is labeled until you select it, so you must either remember Sony's quirky iconography or scroll a lot to find the right one. Each option has its own column of suboptions, for a total effect that can easily become overwhelming.
Mildly noteworthy are a few extras designed around a sensor and low-resolution camera (lower right) that can respond to viewers in the room. The Presence Sensor automatically turns the TV off if it fails to detect a viewer in the room (see the EX720 review for details) while the Position Control is said to automatically optimize picture and sound by detecting viewer position.
While the HX929 boasts plenty of streaming apps, Sony's standardized interface for most of the major video services, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant, is worse in general than those services' default interfaces, in part due to relatively small thumbnail images.
The appeal of the numerous niche video services (Sports Illustrated, The Minisode Network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, video podcasts, and so on) is heightened somewhat by the ability to search across all of them. Unfortunately, that search doesn't include any of the mainstream services like Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube, and is a pain to use with the TV remote.
Unlike LG, Samsung, and Panasonic, Sony doesn't have an "app store" for its TVs. The Yahoo widget service is where you'll find Twitter and Facebook, along with numerous even less useful things to occupy your TV screen.
And, yes, the HX929 has a Web browser, although it's even slower and more annoying to use than the ones on Samsung and LG TVs. After a few minutes of frustrated waiting for it to load the Sony Style home page, we feel comfortable saying that it should be avoided entirely.
The Sony XBR-HX929 is the best-performing LCD-based TV we've tested this year, outdoing edge-lit models by virtue of superior black-level performance and very good color. Those exceedingly deep blacks don't sacrifice any shadow detail, but the local-dimming backlight does result in some blooming and off-angle issues. Overall, however, for picture quality the HX929 stands above all but the very best plasma TVs, at least when viewed from the sweet spot directly in front of the screen.