While its competitors have begun releasing their latest TV ranges, Sony is waiting till September to release an update to its X series. Will it be too little too late? Especially after Samsung gets a three-month jump on its ally with its series 6 and 7 TVs...
Sony has flirted on and off with its floating glass styling for several years, and on the X series it looks rather stately. We looked at the 52-inch XBR about six months ago and the major difference between the two TVs is the bezel. While the XBR uses a fixed brushed aluminium fascia, the X series has a removable plastic back. The TV we received had the standard black bezel fitted, but there are other colours available at an extra cost.
We really like the X series' integrated stand — which makes setting up a snap. Pull it out of the box, plug it in, and you're ready to watch TV.
There are very few features that the Sony leaves you wanting for with a full 1080p resolution, high-def tuner and three HDMI ports. Another new feature that's generated some minor controversy elsewhere is 100Hz motion compensation. While this process can remove judder from movies it can have some unpleasant side effects — the most benign of these is how it renders human movement. Using 100Hz at the highest setting can make actors look like they're computer animated — sort of like a "live-action" Toy Story, if you like.
The other more serious problem is artefacting or "haloing" around static elements in a moving scene. The effect is similar to ghosting except that instead of disappearing instantaneously the ghost stays there.
In addition to the inclusion of 100Hz, other image processing features include support for 24p and a 2000:1 true contrast, which is a little low now considering that Samsung's new panels offer up to 50,000 "dynamic contrast".
Considering that the X series is so similar to the XBR it was no surprise to find that they performed similarly. However, this time we paid special attention to 100Hz MotionFlow to determine how effective it was.
We've found that the rooftop scene in Mission Impossible 3 is a stern test for 100Hz systems, and in this case it demonstrated that the Bravia just wasn't up to the task. While the "impossible craneshot" started well — with the buildings trickling smoothly by — artefacts appeared as the camera swung around Tom Cruise's head. There was heavy artefacting with lots of ghosting and unnatural movement especially when set to "High".
The House of Flying Daggers is an excellent tester for 100Hz processing, with plenty of tracking shots and frenzied movement. We took some photos of the effect that motion compensation can have. If you look at the photo on the right you'll see the shoulders appear to be ghosting. Imagine that continuing for the length of the shot and you have the haloing effect. (Just ignore the red and green discolouration — they were errors that only occurred by the camera).
After using the MotionFlow feature for some time, we determined that most material simply looked better with it off. Images were bright and detailed, and black levels were strong despite the relatively low contrast ratio. Only when switching to the on-board tuner did smearing and ghosting begin to creep into the image. As this is something we didn't see during our other testing this is likely an issue with the tuner itself. However, free-to-air images were otherwise natural with HD content looking particularly good. Even Ready Steady Cook looked both muted and detailed and not the day-glo horror that most TVs make of it.
Latest generation LCDs have had some problems with backlight "clouding" — this is where black backgrounds appear mottled with some dark grey patches. However, we were pleased to report there was no obvious clouding — which is great news for a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey which opens with a black screen.
Otherwise, if you discount the performance of the tuner and MotionFlow, the Sony is a good television. Blu-rays look fantastic and DVD performance is excellent too. Even analog TV looked okay. Sound is great for a flatscreen, though not up there with the Sharps we've looked at in the past. But LCD isn't at the level that plasmas are capable of at this size, and for a full two grand less — the PDP-508XDA is currently AU$3999 — we'd definitely choose a Pioneer.