Sony Bravia KDL-XBR7 review:

Sony Bravia KDL-XBR7

Sony KDL-52XBR7
The Sony's back panel connection bay offers three HDMI, one PC and two component-video jacks, along with an Ethernet port and two proprietary connections.

Connectivity on the KDL-52XBR7 matches that of most higher-end HDTVs available today. Around back we counted three HDMI inputs, and on the side the company stashed number four. Two component-video jacks, a VGA-style PC input (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution), an AV input with S-Video and composite video, another with only composite video, an RF-style antenna/cable input, an analog audio output, and an optical digital audio output complete the back panel jack pack, while another AV input with composite video joins the HDMI port on the side panel. There's also a USB port that slows the TV to handle photos and music stored on USB thumbdrives. Unlike less expensive models, the XBR7 also includes an RS-232 port for use in custom installations.

Sony KDL-52XBR7
Side-panel connectivity includes a fourth HDMI input along with an AV jack with composite-video.

Sony also includes a port labeled DMex for BIVL and a few other proprietary accessories including a DVD player, a module with four extra HDMI inputs, and a wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver. If one proprietary jack isn't enough for ya, the DMPort allows connection to even more add-ons, including a Bluetooth wireless audio adapter or an iPod dock.

Overall, the KDL-52XBR7 is one of the better performing flat-panel LCDs we've tested, although it can't compete with LED-backlit models, nor with the best plasmas we've seen. As we mentioned at the top, the main benefit of 240Hz processing was increased motion resolution, which, as we've said before, is difficult to discern in most program material.

Prior to calibration, the KDL-52XBR7's picture quality in Cinema mode was somewhat close to the ideal, although the image was quite dim at 25ftl. For critical viewing in our darkened room we increased light to our standard 40ftl level and tweaked the grayscale to remove the somewhat greenish tinge in mid-bright sections. Despite our adjustments, however, the grayscale still wasn't as linear as we'd like to see. Afterward, color fidelity was much improved along with gamma, which ended up at 2.28 versus an ideal of 2.2. Check out our full picture settings at the bottom of this blog post.

For comparison testing we lined the XBR7 up next to a few standard 120Hz LCD, including the Samsung LN52A650, the Toshiba 46XV545U, and Sony's own KDL-46W4100. Since the XBR7 is so expensive, we also included a pair of high-end LED-based models, the Sony KDL-55XBR8 and Samsung LN46A950, along with our reference display, the Pioneer Elite PRO-111FD plasma. We checked out X Files: I Want to Believe on Blu-ray for the majority of our image quality tests.

Black level: Competing against the LED-based displays and the high-end Pioneer plasma, the KDL-52XBR7 fell short of their ability to deliver a deep shade of black, although it matched or beat the standard LCDs in our comparison. During the initial scenes that jumped between the nighttime assault on the woman and the FBI investigation on the frozen lake, the night sky behind the titles, along with the shadows in the woman's garage and inside her dark car, appeared darker than on the Samsung 650 and the Toshiba and were about equal to the depth of black seen on the Sony W4100. The Sony XBR7's shadow detail was quite good, as evinced by the leaves in the trees and bushes during the woman's ride home, and definitely surpassed the standard 120Hz models, but not the LED sets or the plasma.

We appreciated that, unlike the W4100 we complained about earlier, the XBR7 didn't evince a noticeable fluctuation in black level. During the moonrise under the titles, for example, its black stayed stable while the W4100's brightened noticeably as the moon increased in size. We also checked out the scene from I Am Legend where the camera investigates the very dark bathroom, and unlike the on XBR6, the XBR7's black levels remained perfectly stable. It's also worth noting that while an all-black screen caused the XBR7's backlight to dim completely, it wasn't an issue for us since it never became distracting during normal in-movie scenes.

Color accuracy: The XBR7 performed relatively well in this department after calibration. Skin tones, such as Scully's face as she approaches the camera at the hospital, appeared accurate if not quite as good as the LED models and the plasma. We also felt that the Samsung A650 looked a bit closer to our reference; the XBR7's rendition of her face was very slightly less-saturated and somewhat greenish/yellowish, although the difference would be almost impossible to detect outside of a side-by-side comparison. We did appreciate that whites, such as the snowy ground and her lab coat, seemed quite close to the reference, even in dark areas. Thanks to the Sony's accurate primary colors, greens, such as the trees and grass outside Mulder's house, appeared natural and quite close to the reference.

In blacks and very dark areas the XBR7 also lacked the true black color seen on the plasmas and the LED-based LCDs; instead, black areas were tinged a bit blue while near-black areas tended toward red. In its favor, dark areas on the XBR7 did look more accurate overall than on the W4100, the Toshiba, and the Samsung A650.

Video processing: In general, the KDL-52XBR7 240Hz display behaved much like the KDL-W4100 120Hz model in this department, and indeed its video processing was similar to what we saw on other 120Hz HDTVs. The 240Hz refresh rate did improve its score in our motion resolution tests, as noted below, but otherwise it didn't have much of an impact we could discern.

As with other Sony 120Hz displays, we preferred the look of Standard, not High, among the XBR7's two dejudder processing modes. It preserved more of the judder of film and introduced fewer artifacts. Compared to the Low setting of the Samsung models and Smooth on the Toshiba, the Sony's Standard looked a bit more natural and smoothed motion in a subtler way. If you must have the smoothing effect of dejudder, Sony's Standard is still the class of the pack--although we didn't see much, if any, difference between Standard on the XBR7 and the W4100. Artifacts returned, as usual, in High mode. The difficult section at the beginning of Chapter 18 in Spider-Man 3, where the camera orbits Peter Parker during the parade, showed the tell-tale "halo" effect around his head, where the buildings, marching band, and signs in the background would become distorted. The halo was smaller than what we saw on the Samsung sets in High mode, and it seems that Sony has tinkered with its High mode processing since the W4100 came out--that set introduced a more-obvious halo effect along with some unnatural-looking separation of onscreen objects, such as the balloons that seemed to come apart as the camera spun. In addition to halos, the XBR7 showed some breakup, too, for example on the hair on the back of Parker's head when he turned around quickly . In short, High is better than on the W4100, but still quite prone to artifacts and a poor alternative to Standard, in our opinion.

As expected, with 1080p/24 sources the Sony correctly matched the native cadence of film with its dejudder processing turned off. We checked out the Intrepid flyover from I Am Legend, and the characteristic, subtle hitching motion of 2:3 pulldown was gone, replaced by the more regular judder of film as the camera swept over the decks. We'd expect film buffs to choose this mode when playing native 24-frame material. It's worth mentioning again that compared to the 120Hz W4100 and to the other 120Hz LCDs, it was almost impossible to see any difference on the 240Hz Sony.

In resolution tests the KDL-52XBR7 fared very well, delivering every line of 1080i and 1080p sources, correctly deinterlacing both film- and video-based sources in all dejudder picture modes, and delivering the best motion resolution measurements of any LCD we've tested, aside from the LED-backlit XBR8 and Samsung A950. According to test patterns, it resolved between 900 and 1000 lines of resolution in Standard and High dejudder modes. Disengaging dejudder caused the display to revert back to the normal LCD motion resolution of between 300 and 400 lines. In other words, to get the benefit of blur reduction on this set, you'll have to engage dejudder processing. It's also worth noting that none of these resolution characteristics, motion or otherwise, were easily discernible in regular program material as opposed to test patterns.

Uniformity: The Sony's screen was relatively uniform for a standard LCD, although in very dark scenes and test patterns we noticed some irregularities. During the almost completely black shot of the titles and the moon in X-Files, for example, we could discern the brighter corners against the letterbox bars, as well as the lighter edge along the left side of the screen, quite easily. As usual, these irregularities were invisible in brighter scenes. From off-angle, the Sony lost black level and color saturation at about the same rate as the other standard LCDs.

Bright lighting: When we raised the shades and turned on the lights the XBR7 performed very well, attenuating reflections better than either of the shiny-screened Samsungs or the Pioneer plasma, and about as well as the other matte-screened LCDs. It also did well at preserving black levels in bright lighting, although not quite as well as the Samsungs.

Standard-definition: The Sony's performance with standard-def sources was just about average. It delivered every line of the DVD format, although details in the grass and stone bridge appeared a bit softer than on some of the other displays. It cleaned up the jaggies from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag quite well, although not as well as the Samsung set did. Noise reduction was solid, removing the motes and snowy noise from skies and sunsets well. As did the XBR6, the XBR7 failed the 2:3 pulldown test, however, falling out of film mode briefly to allow the moire behind the grandstands to show. The results for this test were the same in both Auto 1 and Auto 2 CineMotion settings. As usual, we don't consider this failure a huge deal, especially because most high-def cable boxes and DVD players can upconvert standard-def sources anyway.

PC: As we expect from every 1080p HDTV, the Sony performed extremely well as a computer monitor, delivering every detail of a 1,920x1,080 input via both VGA and HDMI inputs, with no overscan or edge enhancement.

Before color temp (20/80) 6399/6575 Good
After color temp 6628/6596 Average
Before grayscale variation 110 Good
After grayscale variation 118 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.635/0.335 Good
Color of green 0.295/0.613 Good
Color of blue 0.152/0.058 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Fail Poor
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

Sony KDL-52XBR7 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 285.68 161.1 92.97
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.25 0.14 0.08
Standby (watts) 0 0 0
Cost per year $88.42 $49.86 $28.78
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Poor

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