Sony KDL-XBR9 review:


Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Just like Samsung, Sony can now send out software updates via the TV's Ethernet connection.

We were pleased to see a two-step power-saving option in the Eco menu that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption. Sony also includes a room-lighting sensor, a mode to turn off the screen but leave the sound on, and another mode that automatically turns off the TV after a set period of inactivity.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Engaging Power Saving reduces the backlight intensity to save energy.

The XBR9's connectivity is complete enough, but the company arranged the ports in an unusual way. Instead of mounting the majority of its HDMI inputs on the back panel, Sony stuck three of the four on the side-facing panel, leaving just one to the rear. The side panel also gets the VGA-style analog input for PCs, a USB port for music, photos, and video, and an AV input with composite and S-Video. The rear panel, meanwhile, merits that single HDMI port, two component-video inputs, an RF input for antenna or cable connections, the Ethernet port, and some analog audio connections.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Sony's back panel includes just one HDMI input.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
The side panel is where the action is, including three HDMI and one VGA input.

One benefit for extra side-panel connectivity is improved access, which is a boon for people who frequently swap gear in and out of their systems. On the other hand, users who connect more than one piece of semipermanent HDMI equipment might prefer to see more than one rear HDMI port. In its favor, however, the side panel is roomy and recessed enough to accommodate fatter cables without exposing them to view from the front.

Overall, the Sony KDL-XBR9's picture can compete well against the best conventional LCDs we've tested, but its black level performance still couldn't match that of the best LED-based LCDs and plasmas. The 240Hz refresh rate did improve motion resolution, but we found it hard to tell the difference with normal program material.

TV settings: Sony KDL-52XBR9

Prior to our calibration, the XBR9's most accurate picture mode was, as expected, Cinema, which can be activated by pressing the Theater button or selecting Cinema from the Scenes menu--it's not an option in the standard picture menu. Cinema delivered a slightly bluer color temperature than we'd like to see, and its overall gamma was too high (1.89 versus an ideal of 2.2). After our adjustments, overall color temperature was somewhat improved, although there was still too much variation in the grayscale--specifically, it became a bit bluish in midtones--and gamma was still a bit too dark in dim areas. Engaging the Advanced Contrast Enhancer improved dark area gamma and shadow detail, but we preferred to leave it turned off to preserve overall gamma accuracy and prevent backlight fluctuation.

For our comparison we enlisted a few comparable sets. The LCD camp was represented by Sony's own KDL-55XBR8 and KDL-52XBR7 along with the Samsung UN46B7000 and LN52A650, while the plasma camp contributed Panasonic's TC-P46G10 and the reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. Most of the image quality tests were conducted using the "Transporter 3" Blu-ray Disc.

Black level: The Sony XBR9 produced a deep, convincing shade of black in our dark home theater but it couldn't quite match the darkness delivered by some of the other sets. Shadows and black areas from the darkest scene in the movie, where the opening credits appear over the ship's dim cargo hold, appeared a bit more washed out and less realistic on the XBR9 than they did on the Samsung UNB7000, the XBR8, or the two plasmas, although the XBR9's blacks were deeper than those of the XBR7 or the Samsung A650. In other words, the XBR9 reproduced the darkest blacks among conventional LCDs in our comparison, but didn't match the LED-backlit models.

As we mentioned, shadow detail was also somewhat less than ideal. When the Transporter finds Valentina in the back of the car in his shadowed living room, the shadows on her body and details in his shirt appeared a bit more obscured in comparison to the plasmas. On the other hand, shadow detail looked slightly more natural on the XBR9 than on the Samsung 7000 and A650 models.

Color accuracy: The Sony fared well overall in this category, although skin tones looked slightly off. During the endless shots of redheaded Valentina in the passenger seat in Chapter 5, for example, her pale face and neck seemed a bit paler and a tad green compared with our reference displays, although not as greenish as we saw on the Panasonic G10. Near dark and black areas were also tinged with blue to about the same extent as we saw on the Samsung 7000, which affected the darkest shadows and the letterbox bars.

Our measurements of the XBR9's primary colors, on the other hand, were nearly perfect, which was reflected by the natural look of the blue sky and green plants racing by alongside the road. Saturation was also quite good, if not quite at the same level as our reference displays; the bright colors of the parasols in the market in Chapter 8, for example, looked punchy and rich.

Video processing: Much as we observed with the KDL-52XBR7, the principal impact of the faster 240Hz refresh rate can be seen in the reduction of motion blur during test patterns. In our motion resolution tests, the XBR9 scored between 900 and 1,000 lines of resolution, equaling the XBR7 and surpassing every LCD-based HDTV we've reviewed aside from the LED-backlit XBR8 and Samsung LN46A950. We found it difficult to see the effect of the antiblurring processing when watching normal program material as opposed to test patterns.

Disengaging dejudder caused the display to revert 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. Samsung's 2009 models such as the B7000, on the other hand, allow you to get the benefits of blur reduction without the smoothness of dejudder--an option we much prefer.

As usual, engaging dejudder processing on the XBR9 caused the film-based sources like "Transporter" to take on a more video-like look, an issue that became most apparent in scenes like the ludicrously awesome bike-to-car chase in Chapter 8. The smoothness, whether we watched Standard or High mode, removed some of the visceral impact of the shaky camera and the Transporter's movements through the alleys, into the warehouse, and through the factory workers. High mode, as usual, was prone to artifacts, such as breakup on the trailing edges of fast-moving objects, like the Transporter himself as he skids across a table. Such artifacts were much less common in Standard, and we did prefer the look of Sony's Standard to dejudder modes on other the displays, but again we preferred to leave MotionFlow turned off.

With our Blu-ray player set to 1080p/24 output mode the 240Hz XBR9 behaved as it should. It preserved the judder of film with CineMotion set to Off and showed none of the hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down, which was visible in 60Hz mode on the Panasonic G10, for example, during the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend."

In other resolution tests the Sony performed well, delivering every line of 1080i and 1080p sources in "Full Pixel" mode and deinterlacing both video-based and film-based sources properly, although the latter required us to engage either of the two Auto settings in the CineMotion menu.

Uniformity: The screen of our KDL-52XBR9 review sample didn't appear as uniform across its surface as many LCDs we've seen, with about as many variations as the Samsung 7000 and more than the other displays. In middark areas the edges of the screen appeared brighter than the middle, while in very dark areas like letterbox bars and nighttime scenes, we could make out brighter areas in three of the four corners.

From off-angle it performed better than the Samsung 7000 and about the same as the other LCDs, losing contrast and pop at about the same rate but not becoming too discolored or washed out, like we saw on the 7000.

Bright lighting: The Sony performed well in brighter rooms. The mostly matte screen of the XBR9 handles reflections from windows and lights facing the screen quite well--better than the other non-Sony displays in our comparison, which all have glossy (the Samsungs) or glass (plasma) screens. It also preserved black levels in dark areas better than either of the two plasmas.

Standard-definition: The XBR9 turned in an average standard-definition performance. It resolved every detail of a DVD source and fine details in the grass and stone bridge looked as sharp as we expected. With video-based sources we saw more jaggies on moving diagonal lines than on other displays, and more even than on Sony's KDL-51V5100, although the waving American flag appeared about the same on the two Sony displays. The XBR9's noise reduction performed very well, cleaning up the snowy, noisy shots of skies and sunsets with aplomb, although the MPEG noise reduction option didn't seem to do much in those areas. CineMotion set to Auto1 engaged 2:3 pull-down to remove moire from the grandstands.

PC: As we expected from a 1080p LCD displaying computer sources, the XBR9 resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080-pixel input via HDMI and VGA and delivering crisp text with no overscan or edge enhancement.

Before color temp (20/80) 6551/6650 Good
After color temp 6436/6458 Good
Before grayscale variation 159 Good
After grayscale variation 158 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.647/0.324 Good
Color of green 0.295/0.609 Good
Color of blue 0.15/0.055 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y

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