CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test TVs

Sony KDL-XBR9 review: Sony KDL-XBR9


David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
15 min read



The Good

Reproduces a relatively deep shade of black; generally accurate color; good dejudder processing in Standard mode; extensive feature set with Yahoo Widgets and built-in streaming video options including Amazon Video on Demand; attractive styling with thin bezel; plenty of connectivity with four HDMI, two component-video, and one PC input.

The Bad

Expensive; benefits of 240Hz difficult to discern; dejudder modes can produce artifacts; some screen uniformity and off-angle issues; dark areas tinged bluer; most free streaming-video options not compelling.

The Bottom Line

Sony's high-end KDL-XBR9 series of LCD TV offers a bundle of extras and solid picture quality, but the price will turn off most buyers.

Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.

Sony has always reserved its XBR moniker for its most-expensive HDTVs, and the 2009 KDL-XBR9 lineup is no exception. These sets cost a bundle, and while they deliver plenty of features, including a lot of built-in interactive add-ons, they can't match the video quality of the best plasma and LED backlit LCDs on the market, nor the ultrathin style of Samsung's edge-lit LED models. The Sony KDL-XBR9 series exhibited respectable enough performance, to be sure, and we're sure gadget freaks will find a lot to like about its streaming capabilities and its Yahoo Widgets, but if you don't care about those extras, it's hard to justify the high price tag.

Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 52-inch Sony KDL-52XBR9 ($3,600 street price), but this review also applies to the 46-inch KDL-46XBR9 ($3,100) and the 40-inch KDL-40XBR9 ($2,800). These three sizes in the XBR9 series share identical specifications, and we expect them to exhibit very similar picture quality. This review does not apply to the 32-inch KDL-32XBR9 ($1,100), which has a lower contrast ratio and refresh rate, among other differences.

Sony has gone in a different design direction with this iteration of its XBR models, and we heartily applaud. Previous XBR sets incorporated too much nonscreen real estate for our tastes. From last year, the bottom-suspended speaker and thick-looking frame of the KDL-52XBR6 and KDL-52XBR7, or the side-mounted speakers and even thicker frame of the Sony KDL-55XBR8, are good examples.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
The no-nonsense, thinner black frame of the XBR9 is a departure for Sony.

The XBR9 models, which replace the XBR6s in the company's lineup, do away with visible speakers and edge the screen with a thinner frame that's the same size on all four sides. A subtly protruding lip of see-through plastic around the edge covers a dark silver border, which contrasts nicely with the glossy black of the main frame. The only accents are a Sony logo, whose white glow can be disabled, and a pair of indicators, one for power and one that lights up when the display receives an HD signal. A gloss-black, nonswiveling stand completes the package, which may not be as distinctive as previous Sony XBR efforts, but in our opinion is definitely better looking.

The remote control included with the XBR is the same as last year, but we think Sony can do better. On the plus side, it's backlit with blue lighting, but it has too many small keys crowded onto the top and they are difficult to tell apart. Numerous buttons also ring the main cursor control, and the remote's larger size requires a stretch to reach the volume and channel controls.

Sony's higher-end TVs this year again use the PS3-like "Cross Media Bar" (XMB) menu arrangement. The XBR9 has seven horizontal selections, four of which are devoted to non-TV functions called "photo," "music," "video," and "networking." Given the XBR9's accent on streaming features (see below), the prominence of the "video" option is more justified than before, but we still believe most users will spend the most time in the Settings menu.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Additional explanations are available on the XMB-style menu.

The company did make some improvements in the Settings menu over last year, ditching the input-specific submenus for picture settings and grouping numerous miscellaneous controls together into a Preferences menu. We also laud the expanded explanations, which describe the main functions of various menu topics so you don't have to expand each one to find what you're looking for. There still seems to be too much going on in the main menu, and we rarely used the a secondary menu option, called "Favorites," which offers direct input access along with a few extras like screensavers and sample music. However, we did like the context-sensitive Options menu, which offered shortcuts to setup items during regular TV watching, and switched sorting options when we browsed the online video selections.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
The favorites menu includes some wacky extras like sample music, as well as quick access to inputs.

As befits a Sony TV branded with the "XBR" label, the KDL-XBR9 series is rich in features. One thing it lacks, however, is LED backlighting--unlike the Sony XBR8 models from last year, the XBR9's have a standard cold-cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlight. Aside from slightly wider color gamut on that backlight--which should have no effect on color accuracy--and styling, the XBR9 models are identical to the less-expensive Z5100 series.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Two strengths of dejudder are available.

Much like the Sony KDL-52XBR7 we reviewed last year, the XBR9 series features a 240Hz refresh rate, which is twice as fast as the 120Hz refresh rate found on many other high-end sets. Sony's processing interpolates three extra frames for every original frame instead of one. Naturally Sony includes its MotionFlow dejudder processing, which is available in two strengths of smoothness. See the Performance section for more information.

The XBR9 offers extensive interactive capability. As we mentioned, these TVs are equipped with Yahoo Widgets--Internet-powered content and information modules that can be downloaded and activated right on the TV screen. Unfortunately, our review sample didn't have widgets active yet, so we can't comment on how they performed--specifically, whether they were any more responsive than what we experienced with the Widget-equipped Samsung UN46B7000. We'll update this review when widgets are enabled, but in the meantime, you can check out our full review of Yahoo Widgets review for more information.

In addition to widgets, the XBR9 basically offers all of the functionality of the Bravia Internet Video Link built-in--there is no need to buy the actual $199 box. The most compelling such functionality so far is access to Amazon Video On Demand, including high-definition videos. Amazon VOD worked well in our tests, once we waited the 20 or so seconds for the store to load (on more than one occasion, the load screen actually gave us a "timed-out" message before it finally appeared), although we missed being able to watch previews--the service on Panasonic's VieraCast TVs and Roku enables previews, while on BIVL and TiVo, for example, it does not. Videophiles will appreciate that picture settings can be modified for the Sony's online video content, just like for other inputs. On the other hand, we did encounter more than a few bugs with the system, such as when a screen full of thumbnails failed to load.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Streaming video options abound on the XBR9's main menu.

The free, non-Amazon content includes YouTube (where nearly full functionality is provided), Sports Illustrated (no sports highlights--just swimsuit model clips when we checked), and a bunch of less-compelling online video sources, including the minisode network, blip.tv, style.com, howcast.com, and numerous video podcasts. In most cases, the video quality was generally bad, especially on the big screen--it was designed for the Web, after all. On the plus side it's free, and in many cases it's still better than what's actually on TV.

The free videos from CBS offer generally better video quality in most cases, but despite the "Watch full episodes free" tagline next to the CBS logo in the menu, don't expect anything close to TV.com, the network's official Web portal for full TV episodes. Instead there's a confusing hodgepodge of clips and the rare full episode, such as the last "CSI: NY"--but no earlier ones. The worst experience came when we selected "Harper's Island" and found 23 separate 2-minute clips that together may have composed the whole episode--but we didn't have the patience to find out since as each clip ended with a CBS promo. We wish there was an option to sort by full episode, but the system seemed designed to stymie that sort of satisfaction. For more information, check out the complete review of the Bravia Internet Video Link. It mostly mirrors the experience we had with the XBR9, although the TV itself was less sluggish and does away with the My Yahoo page described in the BIVL review--presumably to avoid duplication with widgets. (Note: CNET is a division of CBS Interactive.)

The final piece of the interactive puzzle, and one we didn't test for this review, is the Sony's capability to stream photos, music, and video from networked PCs that are running compatible DLNA-compliant software, such as Windows Media Player 11. All of these interactive features require running an Ethernet connection to your TV or installing a third-party wireless bridge--Sony doesn't sell its own TV-specific wireless network solution.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
The main picture menu offers the usual suite of adjustments.

The XBR9 series offers a host of picture-affecting features beginning with three picture preset modes in the main menu, each of which can be adjusted independently per input. Confusingly there's an additional Scene Select menu that adds a few more presets like Cinema, Game, PC, and Sports, which are also adjustable and independent per input yet not available from the standard picture menu. We'd prefer to have access to all modes from one menu to make keeping track of adjustments easier. Finally there's a Theater button on the remote that instantly engages the Cinema preset.

Among the basic settings, available on all presets, is a pair of noise reduction settings and four color temperature presets. The scads of more advanced settings, which can't be adjusted while in the Vivid preset but can be adjusted on many of the other presets, include a white balance control to further tune color temperature, a gamma setting, and a few other adjustments that we generally left turned off for best picture quality.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Sony's advanced menu delivers plenty of extra tweaks.

The CineMotion option affects the TV's 2:3 pull-down performance, while the Game picture preset removes most video processing, disabling MotionFlow, for example, to eliminate delay between a game controller and the onscreen action.

Sony includes four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, and a "Full Pixel" that displays 1080-resolution content without any scaling or overscan. We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which is the fault of the channel or service, not the TV.

The TV Guide onscreen electronic programming guide (EPG) is a rarity among late-model TVs, but the XBR9 has it. TV Guide lets the Sony display a grid of information for antenna and cable channels, but people who tune primarily with an external cable or satellite box will probably use their box's EPG instead. In other words, TV Guide won't be useful for most XBR9 series owners, and we didn't test it for this review. We did appreciate that TV Guide is powered by the Sony's Ethernet connection, which also lets the TV receive any firmware or software updates the company may send out.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Just like Samsung, Sony can now send out software updates via the TV's Ethernet connection.

We were pleased to see a two-step power-saving option in the Eco menu that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption. Sony also includes a room-lighting sensor, a mode to turn off the screen but leave the sound on, and another mode that automatically turns off the TV after a set period of inactivity.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Engaging Power Saving reduces the backlight intensity to save energy.

The XBR9's connectivity is complete enough, but the company arranged the ports in an unusual way. Instead of mounting the majority of its HDMI inputs on the back panel, Sony stuck three of the four on the side-facing panel, leaving just one to the rear. The side panel also gets the VGA-style analog input for PCs, a USB port for music, photos, and video, and an AV input with composite and S-Video. The rear panel, meanwhile, merits that single HDMI port, two component-video inputs, an RF input for antenna or cable connections, the Ethernet port, and some analog audio connections.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
Sony's back panel includes just one HDMI input.

Sony KDL-52XBR9 series
The side panel is where the action is, including three HDMI and one VGA input.

One benefit for extra side-panel connectivity is improved access, which is a boon for people who frequently swap gear in and out of their systems. On the other hand, users who connect more than one piece of semipermanent HDMI equipment might prefer to see more than one rear HDMI port. In its favor, however, the side panel is roomy and recessed enough to accommodate fatter cables without exposing them to view from the front.

Overall, the Sony KDL-XBR9's picture can compete well against the best conventional LCDs we've tested, but its black level performance still couldn't match that of the best LED-based LCDs and plasmas. The 240Hz refresh rate did improve motion resolution, but we found it hard to tell the difference with normal program material.

TV settings: Sony KDL-52XBR9

Prior to our calibration, the XBR9's most accurate picture mode was, as expected, Cinema, which can be activated by pressing the Theater button or selecting Cinema from the Scenes menu--it's not an option in the standard picture menu. Cinema delivered a slightly bluer color temperature than we'd like to see, and its overall gamma was too high (1.89 versus an ideal of 2.2). After our adjustments, overall color temperature was somewhat improved, although there was still too much variation in the grayscale--specifically, it became a bit bluish in midtones--and gamma was still a bit too dark in dim areas. Engaging the Advanced Contrast Enhancer improved dark area gamma and shadow detail, but we preferred to leave it turned off to preserve overall gamma accuracy and prevent backlight fluctuation.

For our comparison we enlisted a few comparable sets. The LCD camp was represented by Sony's own KDL-55XBR8 and KDL-52XBR7 along with the Samsung UN46B7000 and LN52A650, while the plasma camp contributed Panasonic's TC-P46G10 and the reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. Most of the image quality tests were conducted using the "Transporter 3" Blu-ray Disc.

Black level: The Sony XBR9 produced a deep, convincing shade of black in our dark home theater but it couldn't quite match the darkness delivered by some of the other sets. Shadows and black areas from the darkest scene in the movie, where the opening credits appear over the ship's dim cargo hold, appeared a bit more washed out and less realistic on the XBR9 than they did on the Samsung UNB7000, the XBR8, or the two plasmas, although the XBR9's blacks were deeper than those of the XBR7 or the Samsung A650. In other words, the XBR9 reproduced the darkest blacks among conventional LCDs in our comparison, but didn't match the LED-backlit models.

As we mentioned, shadow detail was also somewhat less than ideal. When the Transporter finds Valentina in the back of the car in his shadowed living room, the shadows on her body and details in his shirt appeared a bit more obscured in comparison to the plasmas. On the other hand, shadow detail looked slightly more natural on the XBR9 than on the Samsung 7000 and A650 models.

Color accuracy: The Sony fared well overall in this category, although skin tones looked slightly off. During the endless shots of redheaded Valentina in the passenger seat in Chapter 5, for example, her pale face and neck seemed a bit paler and a tad green compared with our reference displays, although not as greenish as we saw on the Panasonic G10. Near dark and black areas were also tinged with blue to about the same extent as we saw on the Samsung 7000, which affected the darkest shadows and the letterbox bars.

Our measurements of the XBR9's primary colors, on the other hand, were nearly perfect, which was reflected by the natural look of the blue sky and green plants racing by alongside the road. Saturation was also quite good, if not quite at the same level as our reference displays; the bright colors of the parasols in the market in Chapter 8, for example, looked punchy and rich.

Video processing: Much as we observed with the KDL-52XBR7, the principal impact of the faster 240Hz refresh rate can be seen in the reduction of motion blur during test patterns. In our motion resolution tests, the XBR9 scored between 900 and 1,000 lines of resolution, equaling the XBR7 and surpassing every LCD-based HDTV we've reviewed aside from the LED-backlit XBR8 and Samsung LN46A950. We found it difficult to see the effect of the antiblurring processing when watching normal program material as opposed to test patterns.

Disengaging dejudder caused the display to revert to the normal LCD motion resolution of between 300 and 400 lines. In other words, to get the benefit of blur reduction on this set, you'll have to engage dejudder processing. Samsung's 2009 models such as the B7000, on the other hand, allow you to get the benefits of blur reduction without the smoothness of dejudder--an option we much prefer.

As usual, engaging dejudder processing on the XBR9 caused the film-based sources like "Transporter" to take on a more video-like look, an issue that became most apparent in scenes like the ludicrously awesome bike-to-car chase in Chapter 8. The smoothness, whether we watched Standard or High mode, removed some of the visceral impact of the shaky camera and the Transporter's movements through the alleys, into the warehouse, and through the factory workers. High mode, as usual, was prone to artifacts, such as breakup on the trailing edges of fast-moving objects, like the Transporter himself as he skids across a table. Such artifacts were much less common in Standard, and we did prefer the look of Sony's Standard to dejudder modes on other the displays, but again we preferred to leave MotionFlow turned off.

With our Blu-ray player set to 1080p/24 output mode the 240Hz XBR9 behaved as it should. It preserved the judder of film with CineMotion set to Off and showed none of the hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down, which was visible in 60Hz mode on the Panasonic G10, for example, during the flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend."

In other resolution tests the Sony performed well, delivering every line of 1080i and 1080p sources in "Full Pixel" mode and deinterlacing both video-based and film-based sources properly, although the latter required us to engage either of the two Auto settings in the CineMotion menu.

Uniformity: The screen of our KDL-52XBR9 review sample didn't appear as uniform across its surface as many LCDs we've seen, with about as many variations as the Samsung 7000 and more than the other displays. In middark areas the edges of the screen appeared brighter than the middle, while in very dark areas like letterbox bars and nighttime scenes, we could make out brighter areas in three of the four corners.

From off-angle it performed better than the Samsung 7000 and about the same as the other LCDs, losing contrast and pop at about the same rate but not becoming too discolored or washed out, like we saw on the 7000.

Bright lighting: The Sony performed well in brighter rooms. The mostly matte screen of the XBR9 handles reflections from windows and lights facing the screen quite well--better than the other non-Sony displays in our comparison, which all have glossy (the Samsungs) or glass (plasma) screens. It also preserved black levels in dark areas better than either of the two plasmas.

Standard-definition: The XBR9 turned in an average standard-definition performance. It resolved every detail of a DVD source and fine details in the grass and stone bridge looked as sharp as we expected. With video-based sources we saw more jaggies on moving diagonal lines than on other displays, and more even than on Sony's KDL-51V5100, although the waving American flag appeared about the same on the two Sony displays. The XBR9's noise reduction performed very well, cleaning up the snowy, noisy shots of skies and sunsets with aplomb, although the MPEG noise reduction option didn't seem to do much in those areas. CineMotion set to Auto1 engaged 2:3 pull-down to remove moire from the grandstands.

PC: As we expected from a 1080p LCD displaying computer sources, the XBR9 resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080-pixel input via HDMI and VGA and delivering crisp text with no overscan or edge enhancement.

Before color temp (20/80) 6551/6650 Good
After color temp 6436/6458 Good
Before grayscale variation 159 Good
After grayscale variation 158 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.647/0.324 Good
Color of green 0.295/0.609 Good
Color of blue 0.15/0.055 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y



Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6