Sony has enjoyed a lofty place on our top HDTV products lists for a long time, first with the KD-34XBR960 CRT television, then with the KDL-V40XBR1 LCD, and most recently with the KDS-R60XBR1 rear-projection, our highest-rated HDTV for 2005. So it stands to reason that we'd expect big things from the less-expensive successor to the 60XBR1, Sony's KDS-60A2000 ($3,699). On paper, this HDTV offers just about everything its predecessor delivered: an SXRD light engine, full 1,920x1,080 (a.k.a. 1080p) native resolution, and scads of inputs and picture controls. It also brings a couple of improvements, including the ability to accept 1080p sources via HDMI and a more compact cabinet. In person, its image quality is just as impressive, delivering all the sharpness of the highest-resolution HDTV formats, excellent black level performance, and good color. Of course, it also costs a few hundred more than some of its competition, but if you're looking for the state of the high-def art, it's worth it.
Editors' note: When we first received our KDS-60A2000 review sample we noticed that it could not resolve any of the finest details in a 1080i test pattern. When we showed Sony's engineers the failed pattern, they promised to look into it. After issuing a vague preliminary statement that was originally printed here, the company followed up by admitting that some models in the field may indeed be incapable of resolving all of 1080i. Click here for details.
Sony also provided instructions that allowed us to modify the service menu to address the issue ourselves (we encourage owners who want to get the fix for their TVs to contact Sony directly). After the fix, our KDS-60A2000 passed the test pattern normally. Overall, we don't consider this issue a deal-breaker either way, since we found it impossible to discern prefix images from postfix with normal program material. See the Performance page of this review for more.
Series info: This review is of the 60-inch version, but our comments apply to every screen size in the series, namely, the 55-inch KDS-55A2000 and the 50-inch KDS-50A2000. Meanwhile the company also sells a step-up XBR2 series with different features, albeit very similar performance. See the KDS-R60XBR2 review for details. The Sony KDS-60A2000 has tighter dimensions than earlier Sony SXRD rear-projection televisions, thanks to Sony's wise decision to move the speakers from the sides to the bottom. Its big 60-inch screen is surrounded by a thin, black frame that's set forward from the mostly silver cabinet. A subtle strip of translucent blue-green runs the width of the cabinet's front, sitting above the perforated silver speaker panels and a flip-down door that hides a few principal controls as well as a set of inputs. Overall, we found the look attractive enough, striking a nice middle ground between the understated Panasonic PT-61DLX and the ultraslick Samsung HLS-6187W.
Measuring 55.75 by 39 by 20 inches (WHD) and weighing in at 94 pounds, the Sony KDS-60A2000 is right around the same size as the 61-inch Samsung, although about 3 inches deeper. To get this "tabletop" 60-inch HDTV up to eye level, you'll have to put it on a stand such as Sony's matching SU-RS11X.
Sony also retooled its remote for 2006, and while we would have appreciated glow-in-the-dark keys or other illumination, the longish wand generally stands out as a model of ergonomics. The remote can operate three other devices, and naturally, the company behind Blu-ray took care to equip its clicker with device controls for BD/DVD gear. The big central cursor control falls naturally under the thumb, and just enough shortcut keys are available to quickly cycle through picture, sound, and wide (a.k.a. aspect ratio) settings. A convenient tools key calls up a couple oft-used submenus, including picture and sound modes, wide-screen controls, and closed-captions.
The tools menu is even more welcome, because the main menu key summons a seemingly unnecessary interstitial screen that seems too focused on tuner controls: three of its five options pertain to cable and antenna channels, which cable and satellite box owners will rarely, if ever, utilize. Otherwise, Sony's menu design is characteristically clean and thoughtful throughout, offering text explanations of various functions and generally logical progression from basic to advanced functions. We also like the input menu, complete with options to label (with custom names as long as 10 characters) used connections and skip unused ones.
The Sony KDS-60A2000 uses exactly the same LCoS-derived, SXRD-branded chips as its predecessor, the KDS-R60XBR1. There are a total of three chips, one each for red, green, and blue, each with 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels. This arrangement differs from that of DLP-based 1080p displays, which generally use a single chip and a color wheel to produce red, green, and blue. The Sony's 1,920x1,080 pixels exactly match the resolution of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources, and should deliver their every detail (see Performance for more). Other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-def television, are scaled to fit the pixels.
Conveniences on the KDS-60A2000 include a freeze option that devotes half of the screen to a still image, but notably missing is picture-in-picture and its variant, side-by-side viewing. If you want to watch two sources simultaneously on this set, you're out of luck. Sony did throw in the requisite ATSC tuner but neglected CableCard on this model; you'll have to step up to the KDS-XBR2 series for that. In case you're comparing, the XBR2 also offers a different version of DRC processing for standard-def sources (we won't know whether it's an improvement until we test it), an extra HDMI input--but one fewer for component-video, picture-in/and-picture, and a more powerful bulb--120 watts vs. 180, which we don't expect to make a big difference in terms of performance since the A2000's bulb is plenty bright already.
The KDS-60A2000 offers myriad picture controls--no less than its XBR2 cousin, according to Sony. Settings for the standard brightness, contrast, and so forth can be saved individually to each of the three adjustable presets, labeled Standard, Vivid, and Custom. In addition, each of these presets is independent for each input, so your contrast setting in Custom for Input 7, for example, can be different from the contrast level in Custom for Input 6 (Sony likes to call contrast picture, by the way). This provides a huge amount of flexibility in adjusting the picture for different sources, lighting conditions, and user preferences.
We appreciate the four color-temperature presets--the default for Custom, Warm 2, comes closest to the standard--but we're annoyed that only the two least-accurate are available in Vivid and Standard modes. Other picture adjustments include iris, which affects the light output and contrast, with five fixed modes and two that adjust according to picture content; five noise reduction settings; three DRC settings; and a DRC palette control. The last two control Sony's video processing--which bears the always-rib-tickling name of Digital Reality Creation--and are available only with standard-def, 480i sources. We'll cover the effects of these settings in Performance.
There's also an additional menu section labeled Advanced Settings that appears only when you're in the custom-picture preset. In general, your best bet is to leave all of these set to Off. The options include a four-step Black Corrector, which is best left to Off to preserve shadow detail; a five-step gamma control, which is best turned off for the most linear rise from black to white (although Low is better if you have some ambient light since it brings up shadow detail a bit); a three-step Clear White control that belongs in Off, since the other settings just make whites look bluer; and a four-step Live Color setting that seemed to make reds more intense, although Off provided the best color balance. A four-step Detail Enhancer should be left to Off with already-sharp sources such as HDTV and even DVD, since it introduces unnatural edge enhancement, and there's another four-step control entitled Edge Enhancer that had no effect that we could discern. Finally, the Advanced Settings menu offers a white-balance setup screen that includes 20 steps each for Red, Green, and Blue gain and bias, in case the out-of-the-box color temperature doesn't come close enough for your liking.
We tracked down a few more picture-affecting options in other menus. The Screen menu offers a solid selection of four aspect-ratio controls for both standard-def and high-def sources. The zooms modes allow you to adjust the horizontal and vertical position--as well as the vertical size--of the onscreen image. We appreciated the unique option to specify how the set deals with 4:3 programs, as well as the option to automatically detect wide-screen shows and properly size the picture. A Display Area control adjusts overscan; the default normal setting exposes the most picture area to your eyes.
And yes, there's more. The setup section of the menu seems the fashionable place to stash a Game mode. Sony's engineers claim that it skips most of the set's video processing to eliminate the possibility of delay between the controller and what happens onscreen, but during testing we experienced none, whether the mode was switched on or off. The setup menu is also where you'll find CineMotion, Sony's name for 2:3 pulldown detection, which performed spottily at best in our tests. A power-saver mode is available to limit light output. We left it turned on although it reduced light output by only 25 percent, which is a pretty small reduction compared to such modes on other sets. And while the manual claims that engaging it improves black level as well, we couldn't see any improvement. You also can choose between standard def (ITU601) and high-def (ITU709) colorspace for each resolution--a nice option, but usually you'll want to leave these at default settings.
Around back, you'll find a solid complement of inputs, including two HDMI with 1080p input capability (they'll accept more-common 1080p/60fps sources but not 1080p/24); two component-video, one A/V with composite- and S-Video, one A/V with composite-video only; one VGA-style PC input (1,366x768 maximum resolution, a disappointment for a 1080p HDTV); and one each antenna and cable RF inputs. There are also an analog audio output and a digital optical audio output for use with the Sony's ATSC tuner. In an unusual move, the company's designers included a third component-video input on the front panel instead of an S-Video, joining it with standard composite video and analog audio inputs.
(Update 11/14/06) Like all microdisplays, the Sony KDS-60A2000 uses a lamp that must be replaced periodically. That lamp, the XL-5200, retails for $250 and has a "recommended bulb exchange period" of 8,000 hours. The Sony KDS-60A2000 delivered excellent picture quality, with deep black levels, plenty of detail in shadows, exemplary grayscale tracking, and excellent overall detail. Its color reproduction isn't as accurate as we'd like, and it has some issues with standard-def processing, but overall, it's still one of the best 1080p HDTVs we've tested.