If you happen upon Sony's 42-inch KE-42XS910 ($5,999 list) plasma TV in a store, it's hard not to stop and admire it. Cosmetically, this 42-inch flat-panel model and its step-up sibling, the $7,999 list KDE-42XBR950, are among the best-looking plasmas on the market, sharing a distinctive glass frame and a blue-backlit Sony logo that help differentiate them from competing high-resolution plasmas, such as Panasonic's 42-inch model. The Sony KE-42XS910 is also pretty well stacked from a features standpoint and includes plenty of connectivity options. However, this model's picture quality, especially out of the box without professional calibration, isn't in the same class as its design. That's not to say it's bad; it's just not stellar, which makes it tougher to recommend over something like the .
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.As we mentioned, style is the key strength of the KE-42XS910. The panel sits on a squat, all-silver stand (included), and the speakers flanking the screen are all silver as well. A black bezel surrounds the screen, enhancing the high-tech look of the set and the perceived contrast ratio of the picture. The bezel and the screen sit behind a single pane of glass that allows your wallpaper to show through the bottom inch or so--not quite the floating-glass design of the XBR series, but still pretty cool looking.
The KE-42XS910 measures 48 by 30 by 11 inches (W, H, D) with stand and weighs 45 pounds. Mounting the set on a wall requires an optional bracket, which takes advantage of the panel's 4-inch depth.
The remote is standard fare for a non-XBR Sony TV. It's very slender, fits comfortably in the hand, and is fairly easy to operate. The internal menu system remains one of our favorites, with easy-to-understand icons and text explanations for most of the functions. To the uninitiated, the Sony KE-42XS910's native resolution of 1,024x1,024 may seem superior to that of other high-resolution plasmas, including the more expensive Sony KDE-42XBR950. But this panel uses ALiS, which means that those technically aren't physical pixels; the panel has only 512 physical pixels on each vertical line, each of which is electronically divided in half (more info). Like all 42-inch plasmas, it can display standard and high-definition signals, and while it lacks sufficient resolution to convey every detail of high-def, it is often marketed as a high-definition plasma.
Happily, Sony has come around and made the adjustable picture modes (Vivid, Standard, and Pro) assignable to individual inputs, providing a way to customize three of the TV's inputs. But Sony still lags behind virtually every manufacturer by not giving each input its own custom memory. There are three selectable color temperatures (Warm, Neutral, and Cool); four selectable aspect ratios (Full, Zoom, Wide Zoom, and Normal), which unfortunately don't work with high-def sources; and 2:3 pull-down in the video processing.
From a convenience perspective, the KE-42XS910 is well endowed, starting with single-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture), which places two images next to one another on the wide screen. The obligatory Memory Stick slot is also in attendance. On the audio side, the stereo left and right speakers are driven by a reasonably powerful 15 watts per channel, and the TruSurround feature simulates the surround experience.
The KE-42XS910's connectivity suite is also generous. On the rear panel, we counted one DVI input with HDCP (no HDMI on this set), two sets of component-video inputs, two sets of A/V inputs with S-Video and composite video, two RF inputs, one RF throughput for routing to a cable box, one set of fixed/variable audio outputs, and a subwoofer output. The aforementioned Memory Stick slot is on the right side of the panel, along with some of the more commonly used functions, such as power, input, channel, and volume. An A/V and S-Video input for camcorders or video game consoles is located on the left side. Unfortunately, using Sony's factory presets, the Sony KE-42XS910's out-of-the-box performance was average at best. The color decoder exhibited severe red push, and the grayscale needed adjustment even in the Warm color-temperature preset. Calibrating this set took hours of experimentation, but we were finally able to figure it out, and the results were reasonably good (see technical details in the geek box).
Sony's Digital Reality Creation (DRC) video processing did a fairly good job of eliminating motion artifacts, such as jagged lines, but you will need to select CineMotion in the Advanced menu; otherwise, the set defaults to High Density mode, which lacks 2:3 pull-down.
Aside from red push, this set's inability to deliver deep blacks is its biggest flaw. We've seen the same thing with other ALiS-based panels; the blackest blacks they can muster aren't as deep as those on other plasma panels. On the other hand, DC restoration, or the set's ability to hold black (actually dark gray) at black (yes, dark gray), independent of picture content, was quite good.
After putting the TV through our usual regimen of test patterns, we sat back and watched some DVD movies and HDTV material. Chapter 5 of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, where Gollum argues with himself over whether to betray the hobbits, is a fairly dark scene and makes a good torture test for plasma panels. We saw some false contouring in the shadows, but it wasn't as bad as we've seen on some other plasmas. However, the grayish blacks did rob the scene of a lot of visual impact.
HDTV from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked better, especially on bright material. Bright scenes had snap, and color saturation was also quite good. Darker areas suffered from problems similar to those on the DVD, however.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,375/7,475K||Average|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,400/6,600K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 861K||Average|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 69K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||+15% (+5%)||Poor (Good)|
|Color decoder error: green||-15% (-15%)||Poor|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|