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Sony Bravia KDL - XBR6 review: Sony Bravia KDL - XBR6

Sony Bravia KDL - XBR6

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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14 min read

Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.

7.3

Sony Bravia KDL - XBR6

The Good

Produces the deepest black levels of any non-LED LCD TV we've tested; accurate color temperature and color decoding; solid dejudder video processing; numerous picture controls; comprehensive complement of inputs including four HDMI and one PC; optional different-colored speaker grilles; smart styling; energy efficient.

The Bad

Expensive; some color accuracy issues; black levels fluctuate somewhat in dark scenes; below-average screen uniformity; dejudder modes produce artifacts.

The Bottom Line

The 52-inch Sony KDL-52XBR6 LCD is a bit too expensive for the level of picture quality it delivers, but its styling and best-in-class black levels help its case.

Sony has always reserved its best features and highest performance for its "XBR"-branded HDTVs, and this year there's an unprecedented three series of Sony sets bearing the moniker. The most-expensive is the XBR8 series, with LED backlighting, followed by the XBR7 series, with different styling and supposedly improved video processing. The least expensive series, dubbed XBR6, is represented here by the 52-inch Sony KDL-52XBR6. Its three largest models feature hot-swappable speaker grilles--perfect if you want your TV to match your Stephen Hawking clock--as well as the somewhat more-important capability to produce the deepest shade of black we've ever tested on a non-LED LCD TV. That's great, but the XBR6 didn't quite live up to the competition in other areas, including color accuracy and the capability to maintain that black level regardless of program content. Don't get us wrong; the Sony KDL-52XBR6 is still a very capable performer. However, to most buyers, it's not quite worth the stiff price over other high-quality 52-inch LCDs.

Design
Bulkier than models in the compact Z-series, the 52-inch XBR6 is still relatively sleek for such a large HDTV. The glossy black frame is the same thickness on all four sides of the screen, and below the frame hangs a thin sheet of transparent plastic that holds up a silver, horizontal speaker bar stretching the width of the television. You can peer through the plastic to check out the silver pedestal of Sony's stand, along with whatever else you've stashed behind the TV.

Sony KDL-52XBR6
You can swap out the silver speaker grille and purchase another color to match your decor.

One difference between the larger models in the XBR6 series and the Z series is the capability to customize that silver speaker bar with a different-colored grille. Optional grilles, priced at $99, come in black, brown, red, or gold.

All told, the Sony KDL-52XBR6 measures 49.5 inches wide by 34.5 inches tall by 13.6 inches deep and weighs 94 pounds including the nonswiveling stand. Without the stand, the panel measures 49.5 inches wide by 32.8 inches tall by 4.9 inches deep and weighs 79 pounds.

The remote control included with the XBR was less impressive than we expected. On the plus side, it's backlit with blue lighting, but most of the controls are for other gear and the extra controls that pertain to the TV are crowded into the top and difficult to tell apart. Too many buttons ring the main cursor control, and the remote's larger size requires a stretch to reach the volume and channel controls. It's still not a bad remote; it's just not up to Sony's usual standards.

Sony KDL-52XBR6
Although still tedious to navigate, at least the PS3-esque XMB menu system finally groups all of the picture controls under the appropriate heading.

Here's how we mention that we find the PS3-like "Cross Media Bar" (XMB) arrangement a bit cumbersome to use on a TV. Unlike less-expensive 2008 Sony TVs, which only have three horizontal selections among myriad vertical ones, the XBR6's menu adds two more selections, "photo" and "music," for use with the USB port, an optional Bravia Internet Video Link (which adds a "videos" choice) or a networked media server for photos. Of course, the majority of users probably won't access those functions, so we question the value of giving them so prominent a location in the menu.

One improvement is that all of the picture-affecting items are now grouped under the picture menu, and another is that the secondary "options" menu calls up a few more selections, reducing the need to visit the main menu much. Sony has also added a third way to access different inputs (in addition to the rightmost horizontal XMB item and a dedicated "input" menu). The new way consists of a new "favorites" screen that includes last-used inputs, favorite channels you manually add, as well as a weird screen saver that can be programmed with images grabbed from a composite or TV input only. All told this is one of the most varied and option-riddled menu systems we've seen, although despite the Sony's sophistication we prefer a more straightforward arrangement like that found on the Samsung LN52A650.

Features
Few items are missing from the Sony KDL-52XBR6's list of options, although the list is nearly identical to that of the less expensive Z-series. One such item is very basic networking functionality. The Ethernet port on the rear of the set lets it work with DLNA-compatible media server software, such as Windows Media Player 11, to grab photos from a networked PC to display on the TV's screen. Similar functionality is available on numerous devices, including the company's own PlayStation3, and from certain TVs, including Samsung's LN46A750 and Pioneer's PDP-5020FD. Unlike those products, however, the XBR6 can't stream music or video via the network, just photos, so it's much less useful. To stream video you'll need to purchase a Bravia Internet Video Link instead. Check out this blog post for hands-on testing of Sony's photo streaming, which we performed on a Z-series model.

The KDL-52XBR6 has a 120Hz refresh rate, which helps clean up blurring in motion and works hand-in-hand with the company's dejudder video processing, dubbed "Motion Enhancer" in the menu and MotionFlow in Sony's literature (more in Performance on its effects). Naturally, there's also a native resolution of 1080p, the highest available today, and just as naturally it doesn't make much of a difference at this screen size.

Sony KDL-52XBR6
Sony's Motion Enhancer dejudder video processing is available in two strengths.

Sony offers four picture presets, each of which can be adjusted independently per input, in addition to a Theater preset that can't be adjusted at all. Among the basic settings, available on all presets, is a pair of noise reduction settings and three color temperature presets. More-advanced settings, which can't be adjusted while in the Vivid preset but can on the other three, 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-52XBR6
Like this guy, we always appreciate having a full set of detailed color temperature controls.

Video processing options aside from MotionFlow include CineMotion (notice the theme?) which, among other things, affects the TV's 2:3 pull-down performance; a Game Mode that removes video processing to eliminate any delay between a game controller and the onscreen action; and a photo/video optimizer designed to do exactly that.

Sony includes four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, and a "Full Pixel" setting Display Area section of the Wide menu lets you make one of those modes display 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 menu has a cool graphical display that illustrates the differences between the various aspect ratio settings.

Conveniences start with an option we haven't seen on many HDTVs recently: the TV Guide on-screen electronic programming guide). TVG 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 KDL-52XBR6 owners, and we didn't test it for this review. The TV's picture-in-picture mode unfortunately restricts content in the secondary window to only the TV/antenna input.

We were pleased to see a two-step power-saving option that limited peak brightness and really cut down on energy consumption (see the Juice Box). In fact, this is one of the most energy-efficient HDTVs we've tested overall, especially on a watts-per-square-inch basis.

Sony KDL-52XBR6
The back panel's numerous inputs include the standard HDMI and PC ports, plus a LAN port for networking and two Sony proprietary connections labeled DMex and DMPort.

Connectivity on the KDL-52XBR6 matches that of most higher-end HDTVs available today. Around back, we counted three HDMI inputs and on the side the company stashed number four. Two component-video jacks, a VGA-style PC input (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution), an AV input with S-Video and composite video, another with only composite video, an RF-style antenna/cable input, an analog audio output and an optical digital audio output complete the back panel jack pack, while another AV input with composite video joins the HDMI port on the side panel. There's also a USB port that slows the TV to handle photos and music stored on USB thumbdrives.

Sony KDL-52XBR6
Right-side inputs include one AV with composite video, a fourth HDMI and a USB port for photos and music.

A pair of proprietary ports is also available around back. Sony includes a port labeled DMex for BIVL and a few other proprietary accessories including a DVD player, a module with four extra HDMI inputs and a wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver. If one proprietary jack isn't enough for you, the DMPort allows connection to even more add-ons, including a Bluetooth wireless audio adapter or an iPod dock.

Performance
We were quite impressed by the depth of black produced by the KDL-52XBR6, but its color had us scratching our heads. Despite delivering nearly perfect primary color accuracy in test patterns, in real life the display let us down. Most other aspects of its picture were solid, including that 120Hz video processing, but in the end, we didn't think it significantly outclassed our current 52-inch LCD favorite, the Samsung LN52A650, especially for the price.

The standard calibration of the Sony definitely improved its picture, removing the slightly greenish/reddish tinge from its grayscale in the best-quality Warm 2 mode and bumping up light output somewhat. We didn't miss having a color management system since, according to our measurements at least, the Sony came extremely close to the HD standard color points. Check out the Geek Box for details, and see the bottom of this blog post our complete picture settings.

Our image quality tests took place in a side-by-side comparison that also included the 46-inch Sony KDL-46Z4100, the Samsung LN52A650 and the Samsung LN46A950--all LCD models--along with our two favorite 50-inch plasmas this year, the Pioneer PRO-111FD and the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U. We checked out The Happening on Blu-ray with the PlayStation 3.

Black level: The Sony XBR6 delivered the deepest black levels of any conventional (non-LED-based) LCD we've tested. In dark scenes such as the shadowy inside of Mrs. Jones' house, as well as the lustrous black hair of Alma Moore in brighter scenes, for example, the XBR6 looked more realistic than the Samsung A650 or the other Sony and even a bit darker than the Panasonic plasma, although it still couldn't match the deep blacks of the Samsung A950 LED-based LCD or the Pioneer plasma. Details in shadows were quite distinct, thanks in part to the fact that gamma in the Low position was very good (2.191 versus an ideal of 2.2).

Unfortunately, like the Z4100 or the KDL-46W4100 we tested earlier, the XBR6 didn't maintain a constant level of black regardless of the brightness of the program material. The fluctuation in backlight intensity wasn't as noticeable as with the W4100--indeed, we didn't notice it at all during The Happening--but in certain scenes in other films we did see the XBR6's backlit dim and then brighten noticeably afterward. Our favorite test for this issue occurs at the 12:34 mark in I Am Legend, where the camera pushes into the dark bathroom. On both of the Sony sets, the entire screen became dimmer and when brighter, whereas the other displays maintained a constant level of black.

Color accuracy: The Sony performed well in this area, but still not as good as the Samsung A650 or the higher-end displays in our comparison. According to our measurements, the Sony XBR6 delivered very accurate color for the most part, coming extremely close to the D65 standard for grayscale, hitting the HD standard primary and secondary color points almost perfectly and exhibiting accurate color decoding. That's great, and in many colorful areas, the XBR6 delivered the goods, including the blues of Jess' jeans and the red blood dripping down Mrs. Jones' nose. The Sony's deep blacks also helped with saturation, making colors look a bit richer and more vibrant than on the displays with lighter black levels. However, all wasn't perfect.

First off, like many LCDs we've tested, the Sony veered into blue in its darkest areas, tingeing them a bluish color that became especially noticeable in shadows. One example came during the exterior of the farmhouse in Chapter 15, which had a bluish-purplish look to the skies and shadows and a similar cast on the near-black rooftop. Compared with the Samsung A650, however, which tinged those areas greenish, we still preferred the look of the Sony, although the Samsung A950 LCD and the plasmas were better than any of the other LCD at color accuracy in black and near-black areas.

Second and more puzzling, despite the accuracy of our measurements, we noticed that in program material skin tones especially, along with browns and other midtone areas, appeared more yellowish on the Sony LCDs--the XBR6 and the Z4100--than on our reference Pioneer or any of the other displays in the room. During the opening scene with the two girls sitting on the bench in Central Park, for example, their pale skin appeared more yellowish and slightly less flush than on the comparison sets. The same effect was visible in skin tones in other areas of the film, as well as in similar colors such as the light brown walls of the Moores' apartment. We also noticed that green, as in the plants and fields at Mrs. Jones' house, for example, looked more yellow than our reference displays.

Video processing: The XBR6 shares the same dejudder video processing as less-expensive Sony models, and in our comparison it performed the same as on the Z4100 we'd placed next to it. In general, engaging either of the two dejudder modes, Standard and High, smoothed out motion in the film and made for, to our eyes, a more videolike look that was less desirable than what we saw when we turned dejudder (aka Motion Enhancer) off. However, since Sony gives you the choice, we naturally went ahead and compared the Sony with the dejudder of the Samsung models, and in most cases we preferred the Sony.

The effect of the smoothing was most visible on all displays during camera movement, such as when the camera following Elliot Moore around his classroom, or the push at the beginning of Chapter 7 that follows the moving train. With dejudder turned on, it looked as if more than the train was on rails--the camera appeared very steady, unnaturally so, especially in High mode. If we had to choose between the two, we'd take Standard.

As usual, High also introduced more artifacts. During the scene in Grand Central where the main characters flee New York, for example, we saw breakup among the press of bodies, where parts of people briefly seemed to detach and reform, especially when the camera swung around at the same time (at the 15:37 mark). The artifacts seemed more prominent compared with what we saw on the Samsung's High mode, although those were also noticeable and objectionable. Sony's Standard and Samsung's Low both let some judder remain in the image, although that meant the TV was seeming to kick in and out of smooth mode, which could be jarring at times--although the kick-in appeared less-jarring on the Sony than the Samsung in Low. We also noticed that the Samsung's suffered from the "triple puck effect" where a fast-moving hockey puck would seemingly break apart then reform, while the Sony displays did not. To be fair, the breakup was quite difficult to spot in the Samsung's Low mode, although its other modes exaggerated he effect more.

As with many other 120Hz displays, the Sony XBR6 is capable of preserving the native 24-frame cadence of 1080p/24 sources, typically available on Blu-ray Discs, and skipping the 2:3 pull-down process. To test this capability, we set our PS3 to 1080p/24 output, tuned off Motion Enhancer, and compared the image with that of the 120Hz Samsung displays (with dejudder turned off), the Pioneer in its 72Hz Advance mode, and the Panasonic set to its standard 60Hz mode as the baseline reference. In short, the XBR6 performed as expected, delivering the smoother (but this time still filmlike) pan over the park in Philadelphia, for example, which we preferred to the slightly chugging, stuttering motion we saw in the Panasonic. It was nearly impossible to distinguish differences in the handling of 1080p/24 between any of the 120Hz LCDs or the Pioneer plasma, however.

During our resolution tests, the XBR6 performed quite well, as we expect from any 1080p HDTV. It displayed very line of 1080i and 1080p sources, correctly deinterlaced both film- and video-based 1080i material, and scored between 300 and 400 lines of motion resolution with dejudder turned off, and between 500 and 600 lines when we engaged either of the two dejudder modes. As usual, it was difficult for us to notice any of these resolution attributes while watching real program material, as opposed to test patterns. It's also worth noting that the XBR6 showed no trace of the red trails we noted in the video processing section of the Z4100 review.

Uniformity: Our review sample was a bit below-average in this category. In very dark or black areas we noticed a brighter patch in the upper-left corner of the XBR6, which also showed up in the letterbox bars of 2.35:1 aspect ratio films such as I Am Legend, and in black screens such as the credits or fields of stars. As usual with LCDs, the edges of the screen also appeared slightly brighter than the middle, although the difference was nearly impossible to detect outside of test patterns. When seen from off-angle, the image on the Sony's screen washed out and discolored at about the same rate as the other LCDs aside from the Samsung A950, which was noticeably worse.

Bright lighting: The XBR6 has the same screen as the Z4100 and W4100 LCDs, and its effective antireflective properties were apparent in our bright room. Compared with the plasmas and the Samsung LCDs, it did a better job of attenuating in-room reflections from the windows and light sources.

Standard-definition: With standard-definition sources, the Sony fell a bit below-average. While it resolved every line of the DVD format, details in the grass and stone bridge appeared softer than we'd like to see. It removed jagged edges from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag somewhat, although there were still more jaggies than on the other sets in our comparison. Sony's noise reduction is still excellent, cleaning up the noisiest areas of low-quality material almost completely in its strongest NR mode, and offering a great selection of NR settings between to deal with higher-quality material. Finally, like the W4100 and the Z4100, the XBR6 did engage film mode to remove the moire from the bleachers behind the speeding car on the HQV test disc, but it fell out and then back into film mode quickly, thus failing our 2:3 pulldown test. The results for this test were the same in both Auto 1 and Auto 2 CineMotion settings.

PC: With analog PC sources connected via the VGA input, the Sony performed very well, resolving every pixel of a 1,920x1,080 signal with no overscan and delivering crisp text, although we did see a bit of edge enhancement, even in the special "Text" TV preset, that we couldn't eliminate. Via a digital HDMI connection PC performance was as perfect as any 1080p TV we've seen, with every detail resolved, no edge enhancement or overscan.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 5923/6268 Good
After color temp 6573/6534 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 338 Average
After grayscale variation +/- 68 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.64/0.333 Good
Color of green 0.293/0.613 Good
Color of blue 0.151/0.056 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Fail Poor
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Sony KDL-52XBR6 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 272.63 134.97 85.67
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.24 0.12 0.07
Standby (watts) 0 0 0
Cost per year $84.38 $41.78 $26.52
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Average
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.
How we test TVs.

7.3

Sony Bravia KDL - XBR6

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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