Editors' note: Since this review was first published, we've received reader complaints, both in the user opinions and in e-mails, regarding uneven backlighting in XBR2 and XBR series flat-panel LCDs from Sony's 2006 line. Since we didn't notice abnormal backlight behavior in our review samples, we can't comment firsthand one way or the other. Sony did however issue a statement, which you can read here, addressing the complaints. If you notice uneven backlighting, especially in dark scenes, we recommend you contact Sony's customer service (1-800-222-7669). And as always, feel free to post your own user opinion.
Update 5/7/2007: This product was originally given an Editors' Choice award but that award has been removed due to changes in the compeditive landscape.
Flat-panel LCD and plasma HDTVs are locked in a heated war to get your hard-earned dollars, and it's getting hotter as bigger LCDs become less expensive and encroach on plasma-size territory. Sony's latest line of so-called Bravia LCD flat-panels includes more than a few of high-end, bigger-screen models, including the subject of this review, the 46-inch KDL-46XBR2 ($4,299). Its high price buys just about everything you could ask for in an LCD today, namely the vaunted 1,920x1,080 (1080p) resolution, a great feature package, and excellent connectivity. Performance on the KDL-46XBR is almost as impressive as its specifications, although nothing is perfect and some plasmas can still outperform it in overall picture quality. That said, if you are in the market for a big-screen LCD flat-panel, and the best picture is a more important prerequisite than the best price, the Sony KDL-46XBR2 should be among your top choices.
Note: CNET also reviewed the 40-inch version, model KDL-40XBR2. Our findings are mostly similar for both sets, so we awarded them the same ratings. The design of the Sony KDL-46XBR2 is unique in the world of flat-panel TVs. A silver frame or bezel surrounds the screen and houses the left and right speakers. A glass frame extends around the larger silver frame, then a thin silver edge borders the circumference of the glass, making for an extremely elegant look. A large and distracting Sony logo lights up whenever you turn the set on, which is about the only thing we don't like about the design. Happily, the light can be disabled.
As with the 40-inch Sony KDL-40XBR2, you can choose to swap out the silver bezel and stand for any one of five other colors, which cost $299 each. The 46-inch KDL-46XBR2 is wider than many similarly sized LCDs out there, measuring 49.7 by 31.3 by 12.7 inches (WHD) including stand; the panel itself is about 4.8 inches deep.
As far as television remote controls are concerned, we've always ranked Sony's near the top of the list. The remote for the KD-L46XVR2 is a thoughtful design with most of the important buttons within easy thumb reach. While we would've preferred a backlit remote, we don't expect it with an LCD flat-panel that will most likely live in a bright environment and won't require meticulous tweaking in the dark. The internal menu system is not quite as intuitive as it used to be. After hitting the menu button, you now have to scroll to another menu called Settings to get to the audio and video menus as well as the setup features. "Feature-packed" is an understatement for the Sony KDL-46XBR2. First off it has a native resolution of 1080p, meaning that it uses 1,920x1,080 pixels to create an image. This is the highest resolution available in HDTVs today and allows the Sony to display every detail of incoming 1080i and 1080p sources. All other sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard TV, or computer, are scaled to fit the screen.
There are a number of other consumer-oriented features, such as a built-in ATSC tuner for receiving off-air HD broadcasts, but we were surprised to find that the KDS-46XBR2 lacks even single-tuner PIP (Picture-in-Picture). CableCard also goes missing, although we doubt too many buyers will complain.
In terms of picture-affecting features, there are the obligatory selectable color temps (four in all) and picture modes (only three). A backlight feature that controls the amplitude of the lamps driving the panel is largely responsible for the panel's good black-level performance. DRC (Digital Reality Creation) modes for the video processing are largely ineffective, and the CineMotion feature that engages 2:3 pull-down is buried in a completely separate area of the menu.
A number of features in the advanced menu are best left off, including Black Corrector, Advanced C.E. (Contrast Enhancer) and Gamma, to name a few. The Color Space feature should be set to Normal for SD sources and Wide for high-def ones. Good news for people who like tweaking the image: Sony has chosen to remove the grayscale, or White Balance, controls from their service menu on this set, and has placed them in the Advanced Menu for anybody to use. We also appreciate that grayscale calibration can now be done for each input separately. A Color Matrix feature offers a Custom setting allowing you to actually choose the color decoding scheme for each source. This is a great addition that will allow you to get your color decoding correct for all your sources.
The Screen menu has four aspect-ratio controls for both standard-def and high-def sources. A Display Area control adjusts overscan; we loved its Full Pixel option because it showed the extreme edges of the image and didn't subject 1080-resolution sources to scaling. We recommend using this setting unless you see interference along the edges.