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Sony Bravia XBR-HX909 review:

Sony Bravia XBR-HX909

Internet apps
Yahoo widgets No Skype No
Vudu apps No Weather No
Facebook No News No
Twitter No Sports No
Photos Picasa and others Stocks No
Other: Other photo services include Shutterfly and Photobucket

Sony has ditched Yahoo Widgets on the XBR-HX909, although numerous other Sony TVs, like the LX900, the KDL-NX800 series and the KDL-EX700 series, have them. As a result it lacks the array of utilities found on most competing TVs.

The only nonstreaming applications the TV offers deal with viewing photos from Web sites, and in that arena the HX909 excels (although we'd like to see Flickr added to the list). Still, if you want to check the weather on this TV, you'll either have to get your app elsewhere--Verizon's Fios service has widgets, for example--or actually tune to The Weather Channel and wait for the ticker to hit your city. The horror!

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 9 Independent memories per input Yes
Dejudder presets 4 Fine dejudder control No
Aspect ratio modes -- HD 4 Aspect ratio modes -- SD 4
Color temperature presets 4 Fine color temperature control 6 points
Gamma presets 7 Color management system No
Other: Two modes for LED local dimming

That nine-spot under "picture modes" isn't a misprint; counting the three standard picture modes available from the main menu (Vivid, Standard and Custom) plus the six from the Scene Select menu (which also includes the nonadjustable Auto mode), tweakers have numerous adjustable presets to futz with. New for this year, Sony provides the choice of applying any preset, including any adjustments made to it, to just the current input or globally to all inputs. The result is a relatively confusing albeit staggeringly customizable array of settings, and we're willing to bet folks who care deeply about having different settings for every input/situation will be OK with the complexity.

The XBR-HX909 lacks the kind of adjustable dejudder found on Samsung and LG, but it does offer an extra dejudder preset compared to last year. The four presets are called Standard, Smooth, Clear 1 and Clear 2. The latter two incorporate backlight scanning, where according to Sony, "the rows of the LEDs in the backlight light up sequentially from top to bottom," which improves motion resolution. Clear 2 adds black-frame insertion, for what the company says is even better motion resolution, at the expense of some light output (a similar array of settings is found on Samsung's 2010 LED models, although they addressed by separate controls). Like Samsung, Sony also sports two modes for LED local dimming, as well as the option to turn it off--although doing so obviates the purpose for paying extra for the HX909 in the first place. See performance for more details on how these settings affect image quality.

Advanced controls are extensive and include two modes that affect local dimming.

Other features
Power-saver mode Yes Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture No On-screen user manual Yes
Other: Picture Off (sound-only) mode; optional automatic software update

The HX909 lacks the presence sensor found on the LX900 and the EX700 but still offers a few ways to reduce power use, including a brightness-limiting power-saver mode and one that turns off the picture yet leaves sound turned on. We didn't miss the TV Guide feature found on some other Sony models.

The onscreen user manual is among the best we've seen, with a full index and easy navigation. The prominent product support section also shows a Web site and phone number to call, along with the set's serial number and software version, to help communication with customer service reps. Speaking of software, we also appreciate the option to enable automatic updates when the TV is turned off. According to our tests this function consumes essentially the same standby power as usual, so we recommend using it.

Sony's onscreen manual is among the best available.

HDMI inputs 2 back, 2 side Component video inputs 2 back
Composite video input(s) 1 side S-video input(s) 0
VGA-style PC input(s) 1 RF input(s) 1
AV output(s) 0 Digital audio output 1 optical
USB port 1 side Ethernet (LAN) port Yes
Other: RS-232 port; proprietary 3D Synch port for 3D emitter

While the number of HDMI and component-video inputs on the HX909 is standard at this level, we'd like to see an extra standard-def input here. The RS-232 port is nice to have for custom installations, but seems physically glommed-on since it sticks prominently from the back of the TV. Sony offers just one USB port, so if you buy the USB Wi-Fi dongle, there's no extra port for USB-based streaming files.

The back and side panels of the HX909 house plenty of jacks, including that protruding "Remote" box for RS-232 control.

3D picture quality: We compared the 3D picture quality of the HX909 directly to the two other 3D TVs we have in-house, the Panasonic TC-P50VT25 and the Samsung UN55C8000, and the Sony fell about in the middle. Our side-by-side comparison was helped by Panasonic's DMP-BDT350, which can output two full-HD 3D signals simultaneously via HDMI, and hampered by the fact that we had to switch between the three companies' glasses.

There were differences caused by picture settings (we again preferred the Panasonic's Cinema, which seems to have better shadow detail and color balance than the Sony's default Cinema, although of course both can be adjusted significantly) and screen size (bigger is better for 3D), and many of the 2D characteristics detailed below spill over into 3D, too. Sony does disallow more adjustments than Samsung and Panasonic; in all 3D picture modes local dimming, MotionFlow, and CineMotion are all disabled and impossible to adjust, while Backlight is pegged to Max.

As before, the basic 3D experience was very similar across the three TVs. The 3D effect was immediate and undeniable, and when watching "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," the sense of detail and depth was very impressive. The rain of burgers seemed to pop off the screen, and fine details like Clint's spiky hair were rendered beautifully. The computer-animated presentation wasn't as impressive to our eye as the stop-motion action of "Coraline," but in any case the Sony's 3D effect was as good as that of the other sets. That said, as before we still preferred to watch in 2D as opposed to 3D.

One main reason is the presence of an artifact known as "crosstalk," which appears as ghostly doubled images along the edges of the main image. Crosstalk was less noticeable on the HX909 than on the Samsung; but it was still visible, and to a significantly larger extent than on the Panasonic. One example came during the sequence beginning at 12:06 in "Cloudy" the microphones of the mayor showed the ghostly doubles on the microphone and teal top of Sam Sparks; the ghosts on the Sony were less obvious than the Samsung, but more-so than the Panasonic. In "Coraline" the differences were similar in areas like the bedpost in Chapter 4 or the letters on the Spink & Forcible sign. In the spiraling mice from Chapter 3 the Sony actually evinced less crosstalk than the Panasonic, with none of the amber ghost images seen on that plasma, but in most areas the plasma won.

On the Sony we also noticed some minor flicker in bright fields, like the overcast sky behind Bobinsky from Chapter 5. We felt the same occasional disorientation with the Sony as with the others, including some minor queasiness, especially when putting on the glasses initially--although never as bad as when we watched simulated 3D. We did find Sony's glasses the most comfortable of the three, and their wraparound style was effective at shutting out our peripheral vision--which can be a distraction itself with 3D.

[Update: August 10, 2010] After this review first published, we noticed another issue with Sony's 3D reproduction. When we moved off-angle by more than about one seat cushion to the right or left of the sweet spot, on a couch about 8 feet from the screen, the 3D effect diminished significantly, details blurred, and crosstalk increased quite a bit. The change was abrupt and directly related to how far we moved our head (and thus the glasses) off-angle. The other TVs we tested didn't show this issue.

Sony also offers a 2D-to-3D mode that, as mentioned above, can add a 3D effect to all 2D material, including streaming video like Netflix. We compared it directly that of the Samsung's system, and while the Sony's was a bit better in our view, both had enough issues, despite introducing more of a visible 3D effect than we expected, to prevent us wanting to ever engage the system. Watching "Avatar," for example, the effect of simulated depth was more pronounced on the Samsung at the midpoint of its Depth control than it was even on the Sony's High setting, but more depth tended to introduce more visible crosstalk and, worse, more nausea as we watched, especially with camera movement. As with true 3D, crosstalk was lessened on the Sony but still clearly visible in many scenes. In short, while simulated 3D may appeal to some viewers, we'll leave it turned off, thank you.

2D picture quality: In its favor, the XBR-HX909 delivered some of the deepest shades of back we've seen on any display, darker than the other local dimming sets and nearly as dark overall as our reference Pioneer plasma. It also handled 1080p/24 sources well. Its other issues however, namely excessive blooming, color drift over time, and a bluish cast to the image, spoiled its chance to unseat the best LCD and plasmas available.

TV settings: Sony XBR0HX909
Compared to other high-end TVs we've tested recently, the default picture settings available on the Sony XBR-HX909 were relatively inaccurate. Specifically, its grayscale in the most advantageous setting (Cinema, Warm 2 color temperature) was quite red overall. After our user-menu

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