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Sony KDF-XBR950 review: Sony KDF-XBR950

Sony KDF-XBR950

5 min read
Review summary
Sony's KDF-60XBR950 is one beautiful TV. Part of the company's upscale XBR line, which also includes a 70-inch model, it packs in the latest features and drop-dead gorgeous styling. Those extras add up to a good $1,000 price bump over the non-XBR Sony KF-60WE610, which doesn't have the glass front and or the built-in HD tuner, and Hitachi's 60V500, a less stylish set but a better performer out of the box. Money aside, this 60-inch XBR model offers a stunning design and good precalibration performance. However, to perform to its potential it definitely needs to be professionally tweaked--and if it weren't for that caveat, we would have awarded the KDF-60XBR950 an Editors' Choice.

Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.


Sony KDF-XBR950

The Good

Impressive performer when professionally calibrated; solid video processing with 2:3 pull-down, quasi-independent memory per input; striking style.

The Bad

Expensive; severely accentuates reds; calibration a must for peak performance.

The Bottom Line

Like other expensive Sonys, this XBR needs professional help to look its best, but its best is quite impressive.
The Sony KDF-60XBR950 is perhaps the best-looking rear-projection set we've ever seen. Its main visual highlight when turned off is the giant (56-by-35-inch) pane of glass that fronts the screen and the black border around it, extending 1/3 of an inch into space on all four sides. The rest of the cabinet, including the speakers to either side, is finished in silver and set back from the glass. A flip-down door on the front of the set, below the center of the screen, houses a suite of A/V inputs with S-Video, an iLink (1394/FireWire) input, and a rocker button for navigating the internal menu from the front of the set.
This TV's dimensions are tiny for a 60-inch projection TV (67 by 40 by 23 inches, HWD), and it weighs less than we expected, at 177 pounds. The optional custom stand ($999) or some sort of support is necessary to raise this TV to a comfortable eye level.
Sony's remote is extremely sleek yet has a weighty heft in the hand. Most of the keys are too small, making it a bit awkward to use by comparison to earlier Sony remote designs. We were disappointed to find that it is not backlit at all. The internal menu system is identical to that of Sony big-screen TVs for the last several years, except for additional choices in the Video section of the menu. The Sony KDF-60XBR950 has exactly what you'd expect from an HDTV at this price point: everything. Its 1,386x788 native resolution is identical to that of less-expensive Sonys such as the KF-60WE610, and that's enough pixels to show every detail of 720p HDTV. All other sources, including 1080i HDTV, are scaled to fit the available pixels. Speaking of HDTV, the KDF-60XBR950 comes with an over-the-air digital tuner, so you can plug in an antenna and receive high-def stations in your area.
From a performance perspective, the biggest improvement over previous Sony TV designs is the fact that you can now assign one of the three adjustable picture modes (Pro, Standard, and Movie) to any input. Sony still lags behind virtually every manufacturer in that each input does not have its own custom memory, but at least now you can set up three inputs as you'd like.
Of course, the set's video processing does have 2:3 pull-down for the elimination of motion artifacts from film-based video sources such as DVD, but you must choose the CineMotion setting in order to engage it. Numerous performance-affecting features are found in the Video section of the menu, below the picture controls. We tried out the Black Corrector feature and found that it actually just sinks the black level below where it should be. This tended to eliminate shadow detail, so we left it turned off.
Dual-tuner PIP lets you watch two shows at once, and the Memory Stick slot allows you to view JPEGs on the screen, as well as listen to MP3 audio files. The set also sports a multitude of audio features, including Virtual Dolby and Trusurround SRS audio modes.
You get plenty of connectivity options. On the back panel, you'll find two broadband component-video inputs and one DVI input. Two iLink (1394/FireWire) ports are also on tap. There are three A/V inputs with composite and S-Video. All inputs have their own stereo audio inputs, and there's also an optical digital audio output to send Dolby Digital sound from the tuner to an A/V receiver. A set of variable analog stereo audio outputs, a VHF/UHF RF input, and an RF input specifically for cable TV round out the jack pack. The Sony KDF-60XBR950 is not the best performer out of the box, though after a professional calibration, it delivers the best picture quality we've seen from an LCD-based RPTV. Even in the Warm color-temperature setting, we found the grayscale extremely blue (see the geek box), and the color decoder has severe red push--a tendency to accentuate reds--which can be fixed only in the service menu by a qualified technician.
The video processing performed well, successfully detecting the 2:3 pull-down cadence in CineMotion mode, but we still recommend you use a good progressive-scan DVD player with this set. This TV's ability to deliver deep blacks, while significantly better than previous models, is still not on a par with CRT-based rear-projection TVs such as the . We also looked at white field uniformity, or evenness of white across the screen, and found that while it's a lot better than CRT televisions', it's not nearly as good as with DLP-based sets. The combination of the set's high resolution and its finer-pitch lenticular Fresnel screen lend it a smooth filmlike look and minimize the visibility of individual pixels--also called the screen-door effect--that plagues some LCD displays.
We performed an ISF-style calibration for both progressive-scan DVD via component video and HD via the DVI input using our and an Accupel HDTV signal generator. Afterward, we sat back to watch some of our favorite reference DVDs and high-def. Chapter 25 of Seabiscuit, the final race scene, looked pristine, with excellent color saturation and natural-looking skin tones. The Shuttle Launch and Restaurant sequences on Digital Video Essentials also looked really good, with excellent detail and color saturation.
HDTV from our satellite feed, delivered by a , looked spectacular in bright scenes. The big screen really helped high-def come to life. It turns out you have to do a separate red-push fix for the color decoder for the HD, and once we did that, HD's superior color saturation improved the HD picture quality immensely. Darker areas still suffered in comparison, especially the depth of blacks, but in its favor, the KDF-60XBR950 suffered from less video noise (dancing pixels in shadows) than the DLP-based rear-projection televisions we've seen.
Before color temp (20/80)13,150/ 9,300KPoor
After color temp (20/80)6,550/6,475KGood
Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE+/- 3,780KPoor
After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE+/- 72KGood
Color decoder error: red+15% (0%)Poor
Color decoder error: green-15% (-15%)Poor
DC restorationAll patterns stableGood
2:3 pull-down, 24fpsYGood
Defeatable edge enhancementYGood

Sony KDF-XBR950

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7