The XBR-HX929's jack pack, as on many thin TVs, relies on sideways- and downward-facing ports as well as a breakout cable for component or composite video (you can connect one or the other, but not both). The headphone output is welcome, but the aforementioned bulge for the RS-232 port, which will only be used in custom installations, is not.
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.
The Cinema preset came closest to ideal on the HX929, enabling local dimming by default (unlike Custom) without being overly bright for darker rooms, as well as showing solid color accuracy and gamma. We used Custom for calibration since it offered the full range of controls without having to utilize Scene Select to get to the Cinema preset. The available 2-point grayscale controls were mostly adequate, although we'd have liked the ability to tweak 10 points. It also would have been nice to get some color management tweaks, although the primary and secondary colors were very good, as you can see from our test results.
Despite the relatively sparse color controls, we achieved excellent results. Unlike last year's HX909, the HX929 showed nominal color drift for an LED-based LCD, while the 2010 version shifted significantly toward blue in the first 90 minutes of so of on time. That difference alone made the HX929's picture significantly better.
For our image quality tests we checked out "Tron: Legacy" using the comparison lineup below.
|Comparison models (details)|
|Sony XBR-52HX909||52-inch full-array local-dimming LED|
|Vizio XVT553SV||55-inch full-array local-dimming LED|
|Samsung UN55D8000||55-inch edge-lit local-dimming LED|
|47-inch edge-lit local-dimming LED|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD||50-inch plasma|
Black level: Producing a deep shade of black is the HX929's specialty. The black areas of dark scenes, such as the letterbox bars above and below the image and areas of night sky, were the darkest in our comparison aside from the Pioneer. The darker the scene, the more the difference became apparent, and at times the Sony's screen seemed to blend completely into the blackness of our viewing room. The result was excellent contrast and pop in many scenes.
Blooming, in which that inky blackness gets brightened by adjacent lighter areas because the backlight zones aren't small or numerous enough, was more noticeable on this set than on the other local dimmers (aside from the 909). One big reason, we're guessing, is because the Sony is so black to begin with, but regardless, it's a visible problem, especially in letterboxed movies. In chapter 3 of "Tron: Legacy," for example, the bars were brightened in parts by a moonbeam (18:27), two ceiling lamps (19:46), a bright plastic dust cover (20:38), and a flashlight-illuminated bit of door (21:29). Aside from the bars we saw blooming in many scenes with bright elements surrounded by darkness, like credits, the PS3's menu displays, and other text. That said, overt blooming was less of an issue than on last year's 909, and in most scenes with normal program material--as opposed to graphics or text--we didn't find it distracting when watching even this relatively dark film.
Comparing the HX929 to the plasmas we also noticed that black areas brightened somewhat when they were surrounded by lighter areas, such as the dark space under the bridge (15:09). This effect was a more subtle form of blooming, but its result was that the plasmas showed better contrast, with a bit more pop, in many mixed scenes. We doubt the difference would be visible outside a side-by-side comparison, though.
The Sony managed excellent shadow detail in most areas, outdoing both the Samsung PND8000 and the HX909 at showing details in Sam's and the guard's clothing (13:30), while avoiding the somewhat too-bright shadows of the VT30. It matched the Vizio and LG in this department, while delivering deeper blacks than either.
Color accuracy: The Sony performed well in this area, beating its predecessor in dark areas and delivering excellent saturation and richness. The skin tones of Sam and Quorra on the motorcycle in Chapter 19 (1:57:18), for example, looked very close to our reference, as did the green of the trees and the overcast sky. We did detect a blue tinge and very slightly washed-out highlights at times, but it wouldn't be visible outside of a side-by-side comparison.
In near-dark and black areas the Sony did turn bluer, but not to the same extent as most other LED/LCDs. Since blacks were so dark the blue cast was not apparent, and shadows stayed relatively true, albeit worse (bluer) than the plasmas.
Video processing: With Motion Flow set to the Off position, the HX929 correctly handled 1080p/24 film cadence. All of the other settings introduced some degree of smoothing (dejudder), although Clear 1 came closest to Off, preserving a good deal of judder and keeping smoothness to a relatively low, albeit still easily discernable, level. As usual we wished for a Custom implementation similar to what Samsung provides, as opposed to having to select from presets.
Two of those presets, Clear and Clear Plus, use backlight scanning for maximum. The other two, Standard and Smooth, do not, and come in at around 900 lines. As usual we couldn't tell the difference in normal program material between any of these settings, including Off.
We also checked out Sony's Reality Creation system and preferred to leave it set to Off for high-quality sources. The Resolution portion seemed to act a lot like a sharpness control, adding edge enhancement at high levels and softening the image when we turned it down. The Noise Reduction section might be useful (along with the three other NR settings) for some lower-quality material, but had no impact we could discern on high-quality sources.
We chose to turn on the Smooth Gradation control, however, choosing Low, because the default Off position left small artifacts around the diagonal lines on our Sharpness test pattern. We noticed no ill effects in Low, and no difference in false contouring regardless of which setting we used.
Unlike the 909 and most other TVs we've tested, the 929 failed our 1080i de-interlacing test, so you may see some minor artifacts in 1080i film-based material.
Uniformity: The screen on our HX929 review sample was quite uniform overall, with no obvious hot spots and similar brightness in the middle and near the edges. We did notice minor banding on occasion; when the camera panned up over the facade of Flynn's, for example (23:33), a pair of slightly brighter horizontal strips appeared in darker areas. This banding was infrequent and subtle enough that we didn't find it distracting--it was nowhere near as bad as we saw on the, for example.
Updated July 8, 2011: After this review posted, we were contacted by a couple of readers asking about the "crease." We missed it the first time around, but looking closely we see it now. It appears as a very slightly darker line running vertically along the left side of the screen, and can be seen most clearly in flat fields of color especially during camera movement. On our review sample we don't consider it a big deal, mainly because it ranges from invisible to barely noticeable in most scenes (see the video at 0:51 for an example), and as such it doesn't affect our overall evaluation. Like many such issues it can vary on different models, however, and we've heard reports of it being more noticeable or appearing along other edges of the screen. Sony is apparently aware of the issue, at least in the U.K., and we've contacted its U.S. representatives for an explanation. As of July 14, here's what we've been told.
From off-angle the HX929 fared poorly, as we expect in general from LCDs and in particular from local dimmers. Dark areas and colors washed out worse the others in our comparison (aside from the 909), and the difference in contrast--for example the lightening of letterbox bars on the far edge and slight rise in shadows--was visible from as little as one couch cushion to either side of the sweet spot at a viewing distance of 8 feet. Areas of blooming became, as usual, more apparent the further we moved off-angle.
Bright lighting: The Sony's glossy screen was a liability when bright lights and objects reflected therein; those reflections appeared brighter than on any other set aside from the Panasonic VT30. The Sony did preserve black levels quite well, however, outdoing the others aside from the 909 in this department. As usual, the matte-screened LCDs, from LG and Vizio in our comparison, looked best overall.
PC: The HX929 performed as well as we'd expect from a 1080p LCD-based TV with PC sources, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution source via VGA with no edge enhancement or softness in text.
3D: We experienced issues testing the HX929's 3D performance and have asked Sony for replacement glasses.
Update August 30, 2011: We've had the chance to test the 3D picture quality of the XBR-HX929 with new glasses, and the short story is that the issues we saw originally are still there, putting a fly in the ointment of the TV's excellent overall performance. These problems won't affect the review score, since we don't take 3D picture quality into account when determining ratings, but they're still worth noting. To test 3D we again used "Tron: Legacy" and kept the set in its default Cinema picture setting.
The biggest issue in our book, and the one that made us ask Sony for replacement glasses, is significant flicker when dejudder (MotionFlow) is turned off. In that setting the entire image flickers visibly, increasing in intensity as the picture brightens (for example, when we turned the TV's glasses brightness setting from Low to Medium to High). The flicker is most obvious in bright areas, such as Flynn's dining room (Chapter 9, 53:12), but still noticeable in all scenes to a greater or lesser extent.
On the other hand, turning MotionFlow on to either setting (Standard or Smooth) causes the flicker to disappear. Of course, doing so artificially smoothes over the film cadence of 1080p/24, something videophiles may object to as much as the flicker. In our opinion the flicker makes the image unwatchable, and as much as we hate smoothing, if we had the HX929 we'd watch 3D with MotionFlow set to Standard, where the smoothing is less objectionable than Smooth.
The Sony's 3D image also deteriorates rapidly--losing the 3D effect and becoming rife with crosstalk, as well as brighter and discolored--when you tilt your head (to place one eye higher than the other relative to the horizontal edge of the TV screen). The LW5600's passive 3D also loses 3D during head tilts, but you have to tilt pretty far. With the HX929, even the slightest tilt of the head spoils the 3D. We don't recommend watching 3D with any angle but straight on (when you lay on your side and watch, provided the TV can even handle it, you're likely to experience discomfort after a few minutes), but the Sony's intolerance for even the slightest tilt is an issue.
We saw neither flicker nor extreme intolerance to head tilts on any of the other active 3D sets. We saw both issues, on the other hand, when viewing 3D on Sony's KDL-46EX720.
If you keep your neck straight and turn on MotionFlow, the HX929 delivers very good 3D performance. Crosstalk was minimal even in difficult scenes like the pattern on the floor of the dressing room in Chapter 5 (28:25) and the stripes on Quorra's suit in Chapter 9 (1:04:00). As expected for an LCD, the HX929 was also significantly brighter than any of the plasmas, with ample light output for even bright rooms, and colors looked fine in the default Cinema mode we tested.
Power consumption: The HX929 is unquestionably our new efficiency champ. Its local-dimming backlight enables it to underdraw the edge-lit competition after calibration, and it even surpasses smaller local dimmers (such as the LG LX9500).
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0001||Good|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.3125/0.3374||Good|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3139/0.3321||Average|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3136/0.3297||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||6641||Average|
|After avg. color temp.||6440||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||0.9198||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||0.1415||Good|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||2.2128||Average|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2308/0.3326||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3181/0.1507||Good|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4251/0.5087||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Fail||Poor|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||400||Poor|
|PC input resolution (VGA)||1,920x1,080||Good|
|Picture on (watts)||127.96||61.39||80.042|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.1||0.05||0.06|
|Cost per year||$28.96||$13.66||$17.75|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)