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.
Connectivity is also quite generous. A total of three HDMI inputs, with one on the set's side, was an unusually pleasant surprise since most HDTVs have just two. Two component-video inputs, one S-Video input, three composite-video inputs (one also on the side panel), two RF inputs (one for cable and one for antenna), and a 15-pin VGA input (1,920x1,080 resolution) complete the video connections. A set of stereo audio outputs and a digital optical audio output are also on board. Finally, a headphone jack is also included on the side A/V input. Having lived with the Sony KDL-46XBR2 for a couple of weeks before reviewing it, we came to the conclusion that we liked just about every aspect of picture quality with only one exception: black levels. Although better than just about any LCD panel we've ever seen in that area, there were still times when black and dark areas of the picture were a bit noisy and not quite rich enough compared to those of the best plasma sets, such as Pioneer's PDP-5070HD. Color accuracy and clarity, on the other hand, are the XBR2's main strengths, and it produced color more accurately than any other LCD flat panel we've ever evaluated.
We began our evaluation by tweaking the picture settings to our liking. After some experimentation, we chose to set Gamma to off, and it was still not quite right, resulting in somewhat rocky or choppy grayscale tracking. Video processing was a bit noisy, and 2:3 pull-down, although present when Cinemotion is engaged, was a bit slow as evidenced by the Film sequence on the HQV test DVD. However, the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection was rendered smoothly and cleanly.
As we mentioned, color accuracy on the Sony surpasses that of any LCD we've seen yet. While the primary colors are not spot-on, they are much closer--especially in green--than most LCD panels' we've tested to date. Nonetheless, a Color Management System (CMS) that enables a technician to completely correct color would be a welcome feature on this set. Color decoding is also very accurate, which means that color saturation was excellent, with no dreaded
Scenes from the Seabiscuit DVD looked pretty darn good, with outstanding color saturation and natural skin tones. The grass on the inside of the race track looked particularly natural, thanks to the accurate primary color of green. For black level testing, we used the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back DVD. Blacks in space shots were convincing, and star fields looked solid with few visible artifacts. Training Day, arguably one of the sharpest transfers ever done on DVD, looked superb indeed. Chapter four, during the chase scene involving the cops and the VW bug, looked as sharp as we've ever seen it.
We were pleased to find that both the HDMI and the component-video inputs delivered all the resolution from a 1080i HD signal. We did not test the KDL-46XBR2's HDMI inputs for the ability to accept 1080p signals, but Sony's literature claims that they can, and the 40-inch KDL-40XBR2 handled 1080p/60 sources fine (however, not 1080p/24). The 46-inch KDL-46XBR2 also appears to de-interlace 1080i HD material correctly, preserving all the resolution.
HD material appeared exceptionally sharp on this panel. Natural Parks, a program on the Discovery HD channel, mostly looked awesome, but there was some visible noise in darker scenes. Tennis on the INHD channel also looked virtually razor sharp, with excellent color saturation and natural-looking skin tones.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,100/6,220K||Good|
|After color temp||6,800/6,350K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 303K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 250K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.651/0.320||Average|
|Color of green||0.298/0.621||Good|
|Color of blue||0.142/0.086||Poor|
|Black-level retention||Gray pattern stable||Average|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|