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Sony KDS-A2020 review: Sony KDS-A2020

Sony KDS-A2020

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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:: According to Sony, the 2007 KDS-60A2020 is exactly the same as the 2006 KDS-60A2000 except for color; the new model's cabinet is black instead of silver. For that reason, we will not review the KDS-60A2020 or any of Sony's other A2020 series SXRD HDTVs. Below we present a modified version of our original review of the KDS-60A2000. The ratings and our overall conclusions remain the same, but we updated a few areas where appropriate and changed the model numbers throughout. Keep in mind that all of the first-hand performance observations were made on our original sample of the Sony KDS-60A2000.

Last year, Sony sold the KDS-60A2000 for $3,699. This year, the exact same television, the KDS-60A2020, will sell for $800 less. The only difference between the two is color--and yes, we do prefer the new black exterior to last year's silver. Perhaps Sony was motivated to cut the price to compete with large-screen plasmas, such as Vizio's VM60PHDTV or even Panasonic's TH-58PX600U, or perhaps it's just a case of simple price erosion. Either way, the Sony KDS-60A2020 is poised to compete against the 2007 versions of other big-screen HDTVs, and while its technology is a year old, it's still perfectly viable. However, the most-demanding buyers will probably want to wait for the latest-and-greatest features to be found on newer models (see the Features section for more). The feature set of the KDS-A2020 is still nothing to sneeze at, and includes an SXRD light engine, full 1,920x1,080 (aka 1080p) native resolution, and scads of inputs and picture controls. Judging from last year's model, its image quality is impressive, delivering all the sharpness of the highest-resolution HDTV formats, excellent black level performance, and decent color. Of course, it still faces stiff competition from like-size plasmas and rear-projection sets, and for videophiles looking for the latest advances, last year's technology might not completely satisfy. For viewers looking for solid big-screen HDTV, however, the KDS-60A2020 remains a fine choice.

8.0

Sony KDS-A2020

The Good

Produces deep blacks with excellent shadow detail; can resolve every line of 1080 resolution sources; compact design with bottom-mounted speakers; incredible amounts of picture control; ample connectivity with dual 1080p-compatible HDMI inputs, three component-video inputs and a PC input.

The Bad

Inaccurate primary colors; no picture-in-picture; disappointing VGA connection.

The Bottom Line

The Sony KDS-60A2020 is a holdover from last year, but it's still one of the better performing, more fully featured HDTVs available.

Series info: This review is of the 60-inch version, but our comments apply to every screen size in the series, namely, the 55-inch KDS-55A2020 and the 50-inch KDS-50A2020. Sony has not yet announced details on the 2007 successor to 2006's step-up XBR2 series.

Design

The Sony KDS-60A2020 has tighter dimensions than earlier Sony SXRD rear-projection televisions, thanks to Sony's wise decision to move the speakers from the sides to the bottom. Its big 60-inch screen is surrounded by a thin, black frame that's set forward from the black cabinet. A silver strip runs the width of the cabinet's front, sitting above the perforated silver speaker panels and a flip-down door that hides a few principal controls as well as a set of inputs. Overall, we found the look attractive enough, striking a nice middle ground between the understated Panasonic PT-61DLX and the ultraslick Samsung HLS-6187W.

Measuring 55.75 by 39 by 20 inches (WHD) and weighing in at 94 pounds, the Sony KDS-60A2020 is right around the same size as the 61-inch Samsung, although about 3 inches deeper. To get this "tabletop" 60-inch HDTV up to eye level, you'll have to put it on a stand such as Sony's matching SU-RS11X.

While we would have appreciated glow-in-the-dark keys or other illumination, the longish remote generally stands out as a model of ergonomics. It can operate three other devices, and naturally, the company behind Blu-ray took care to equip its clicker with device controls for BD/DVD gear. The big central cursor control falls naturally under the thumb, and just enough shortcut keys are available to quickly cycle through picture, sound, and wide (aka aspect ratio) settings. A convenient tools key calls up a couple oft-used submenus, including picture and sound modes, wide-screen controls, and closed-captions.

The tools menu is even more welcome, because the main menu key summons a seemingly unnecessary interstitial screen that seems too focused on tuner controls: three of its five options pertain to cable and antenna channels, which cable and satellite box owners will rarely, if ever, utilize. Otherwise, Sony's menu design is characteristically clean and thoughtful throughout, offering text explanations of various functions and generally logical progression from basic to advanced functions. We also like the input menu, complete with options to label (with custom names as long as 10 characters) used connections and skip unused ones.

Features

As we mentioned at the top, the KDS-60A2020 lacks some of the most cutting-edge features that likely will be found in upcoming HDTVs, such as the company's own 2007 XBR models, which we expect to be announced in June. We don't have full details on those new HDTV sets yet, but we expect some of their features to include Sony's xvYCC wide-gamut color, a higher refresh rate, more HDMI inputs (probably version 1.3) and a better-performing PC input, possibly DVI. We don't expect any groundbreaking picture quality improvements however.

The Sony KDS-60A2020 uses exactly the same LCoS-derived, SXRD-branded chips as its predecessor, the KDS-60A2000. There are a total of three chips, one each for red, green, and blue, each with 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels. This arrangement differs from that of DLP-based 1080p displays, which generally use a single chip and a color wheel to produce red, green, and blue. The Sony's 1,920x1,080 pixels exactly match the resolution of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources, and should deliver their every detail (see Performance for more). Other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-def television, are scaled to fit the pixels.

Conveniences on the KDS-60A2020 include a freeze option that devotes half of the screen to a still image, but notably missing is picture-in-picture and its variant, side-by-side viewing. If you want to watch two sources simultaneously on this set, you're out of luck. Sony did throw in the requisite ATSC tuner but neglected CableCard on this model.

The KDS-60A2020 offers myriad picture controls. Settings for the standard brightness, contrast, and so forth can be saved individually to each of the three adjustable presets, labeled Standard, Vivid, and Custom. In addition, each of these presets is independent for each input, so your contrast setting in Custom for Input 7, for example, can be different from the contrast level in Custom for Input 6 (Sony likes to call contrast picture, by the way). This provides a huge amount of flexibility in adjusting the picture for different sources, lighting conditions, and user preferences.

We appreciate the four color-temperature presets--the default for Custom, Warm 2, comes closest to the standard--but we're annoyed that only the two least-accurate are available in Vivid and Standard modes. Other picture adjustments include Iris, which affects the light output and contrast, with five fixed modes and two that adjust according to picture content; five noise reduction settings; three DRC settings; and a DRC palette control. The last two control Sony's video processing--which bears the always-rib-tickling name of Digital Reality Creation--and are available only with standard-def, 480i sources. We'll cover the effects of these settings in Performance.

There's also an additional menu section labeled Advanced Settings that appears only when you're in the custom-picture preset. In general, your best bet is to leave all of these set to Off. The options include a four-step Black Corrector, which is best left to Off to preserve shadow detail; a five-step gamma control, which is best turned off for the most linear rise from black to white (although Low is better if you have some ambient light since it brings up shadow detail a bit); a three-step Clear White control that belongs in Off, since the other settings just make whites look bluer; and a four-step Live Color setting that seemed to make reds more intense, although Off provided the best color balance. A four-step Detail Enhancer should be left to Off with already-sharp sources such as HDTV and even DVD, since it introduces unnatural edge enhancement, and there's another four-step control entitled Edge Enhancer that had no effect that we could discern. Finally, the Advanced Settings menu offers a white-balance setup screen that includes 20 steps each for Red, Green, and Blue gain and bias, in case the out-of-the-box color temperature doesn't come close enough for your liking.

We tracked down a few more picture-affecting options in other menus. The Screen menu offers a solid selection of four aspect-ratio controls for both standard-def and high-def sources. The zooms modes allow you to adjust the horizontal and vertical position--as well as the vertical size--of the onscreen image. We appreciated the unique option to specify how the set deals with 4:3 programs, as well as the option to automatically detect wide-screen shows and properly size the picture. A Display Area control adjusts overscan; the default normal setting exposes the most picture area to your eyes.

And yes, there's more. The setup section of the menu seems the fashionable place to stash a Game mode. Sony's engineers claim that it skips most of the set's video processing to eliminate the possibility of delay between the controller and what happens onscreen, but during testing we experienced none, whether the mode was switched on or off. The setup menu is also where you'll find CineMotion, Sony's name for 2:3 pulldown detection, which performed spottily at best in our tests. A power-saver mode is available to limit light output. We left it turned on although it reduced light output by only 25 percent, which is a pretty small reduction compared to such modes on other sets. And while the manual claims that engaging it improves black level as well, we couldn't see any improvement. You also can choose between standard def (ITU601) and high-def (ITU709) colorspace for each resolution--a nice option, but usually you'll want to leave these at default settings.

Around back, you'll find a solid complement of inputs, including two HDMI with 1080p input capability (they'll accept more-common 1080p/60fps sources but not 1080p/24); two component-video, one A/V with composite- and S-Video, one A/V with composite-video only; one VGA-style PC input (1,366x768 maximum resolution, a disappointment for a 1080p HDTV); and one each antenna and cable RF inputs. There are also an analog audio output and a digital optical audio output for use with the Sony's ATSC tuner. In an unusual move, the company's designers included a third component-video input on the front panel instead of an S-Video, joining it with standard composite video and analog audio inputs.

Like all microdisplays, the Sony KDS-60A2020 uses a lamp that must be replaced periodically. That lamp, the XL-5200, retails for $250 and has a "recommended bulb exchange period" of 8,000 hours.

Performance

Editors' Note: As we mentioned above, all of the hands-on observations below were made on the original KDS-60A2000 we reviewed, not on the KDS-60A2020. We have also modified the section regarding the set's ability to resolve every detail of 1080i test patterns; see the original KDS-60A2000 review if you're interested. According to Sony, the new models can resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources and do not suffer from the misadjusted filter.

The Sony KDS-60A2020 delivered excellent picture quality, with deep black levels, plenty of detail in shadows, exemplary grayscale tracking, and excellent overall detail. Its color reproduction isn't as accurate as we'd like, and it has some issues with standard-def processing, but overall, it's still one of the best 1080p HDTVs we've tested.

After noting that the Custom picture preset provides the best home-theater image quality, we tweaked some settings to adjust the Sony KDS-60A2020 for critical viewing in our darkened lab. This involved reducing its peak brightness to a suitable level (about 37 footlamberts) and setting the advanced user controls as described in Features. We also set the Iris control to Minimum, electing not to go with either of the Auto settings because their increased light output had a tendency to raise black levels somewhat in scenes with both light and dark content--although some viewers may appreciate the extra punch of Auto. And while the default Warm2 color-temperature preset hewed relatively close to the standard, it still appeared a bit blue, so we used the user menu white-balance settings to achieve a remarkably accurate grayscale. Although professional calibrators may still want to go into the service menu to get the grayscale even closer, we were more than satisfied by the results we achieved with the user menu controls. Visit our page onuser menu settings for complete information.

The disc we chose to use for this evaluation was the dark, stylized, and razor-sharp The Chronicles of Riddick HD-DVD played through the Toshiba HD-A1. The Sony immediately impressed us with its depth of black; as the Necromongers' ships wheel toward the planet, for example, the blackness of space behind the star field matched the black of the letterbox bars, and both appeared positively inky next to that of the Panasonic PT-61DLX76, which we had on hand to compare. We were not able to directly compare the Sony's blacks to those of the Samsung HL-S5687W, but black-level and contrast-ratio measurements confirmed that the two were very similar in this regard. The Sony also did an excellent job of maintaining shadow detail in scenes with lots of bright material as well as mostly dark scenes, and colors remained consistent in shadows and bright light, a testament to the Sony's excellent grayscale tracking.

In terms of detail the KDS-60A2020 resolved every line of a 1080i test pattern; it was as sharp as we expect an HDTV to be. When we compared the Sony directly to the Panasonic, details looked equally sharp and lifelike, from the chainmail links in the neck of the main Necromonger to the cityscape before it blacks out, to the thin strands of curly hair on the edge of Kyra's (Alexa Davalos) profile.

The Sony KDS-60A2020 did a solid job with color, delivering neutral skin tones throughout Riddick as well as in more colorful material we watched. However, primary colors on the SXRD were inaccurate, falling outside the norm for the HD spec (see the Geek box), so they might appear a bit garish to some eyes. We turned down the color control somewhat to help compensate but were still able to maintain good saturation.

The Sony had no problem accepting 1080p/60 sources delivered by the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, although 1080p/24 material from our Sencore VP-403 signal generator was not accepted. We also looked at resolution patterns via component-video; they were solid, although, as with any 1080p HDTV, we recommend setting your sources to 1080 output when possible. The KDS-60A2020 exhibited excellent white- and gray-field uniformity for a three-chip display, varying very little in color across the screen, although its middle was brighter in relation to the corners of the screen when compared to the single-chip Panasonic DLP. Focus was superb, and very little fringing was visible on white lines, pixel structure was invisible from further than arm's length from the screen, and the Sony suffered from less false contouring or banding than any set we've recently reviewed.

In terms of standard-def performance, the Sony KDS-60A2020 offered more than its share of surprises. A lot has been made of the fact that the step-up KDS-XBR2 line includes a different version of the company's DRC processing, and while we can't speak to whether it's better overall than the DRC used by the KDS-60A2020, we can say that the latter could use some improvements. First off, it failed to correctly detect and implement 2:3 pull-down detection according to tests from the HQV disc as well as Star Trek: Insurrection, introducing concentric lines of moiré and unnatural moving lines on the upturned boats, respectively. [08-14-06 Update: After this review posted Sony mentioned that we might experience improved performance by turning off DRC and turning on CineMotion, a setting found in the setup (not the picture) menu. In these settings the Sony still failed to pass the HQV test although moiré was reduced slightly, and on Insurrection it still exhibited sporadic moving lines via composite and S-video, while component-video was fine. Overall A2020 still delivered disappointing 2:3 performance compared to almost all late-model HDTVs.]

Second, it didn't do a very good job of removing jagged edges from moving video, such as the stripes in a waving American flag. The results of these tests were the same, regardless of which DRC preset was used or how we adjusted the custom "reality vs. clarity" DRC matrix--don't ask.

On the other hand, the Sony's detail with standard-def sources was excellent, and its ability to reduce video noise was among the best we've tested. We looked at standard-def resolution patterns, and the Sony aced them in DRC Off mode, while High Density looked a little softer and Progressive (the other two DRC modes) looked unstable. Turning from test patterns to real video, the shot of the bridge from HQV was commendably sharp in all three modes via component-video, although via S-Video it softened up considerably in Off. The shots of noisy sky from HQV, which wreak havoc on many HDTVs, looked much smoother in the KDS-60A2020's highest noise-reduction setting with no apparent loss of detail, and even the Auto mode--available in composite and S-Video only--did a good job of engaging the correct level of noise reduction.

Xbox 360 performance: We also tried playing a couple of video games on the Sony with our Xbox 360--Dead or Alive 4 and Prey--and the picture looked excellent. We didn't notice any delay from controller to screen whether or not the set's Game mode was engaged. With composite-video, turning Game mode on did have the effect of softening the picture considerably, obscuring details in the ridges of one of the guns in Prey, for example, but that's to be expected, since engaging Game Mode skips video processing. With component-video 1080i, we noticed no difference in picture quality regardless of Game mode setting.

We also tried connecting the 360 via the VGA adapter, and the console did not fill the Sony's screen, regardless of which adjustments we made on the console of the TV itself. Component-video looked much sharper and also filled the screen. (Thanks to David Rudden for 360 testing).

PC performance: We hooked the Sony up to a PC via VGA, and as expected, the set maxed out at 1,366x768 resolution. The desktop did not nearly fill the screen, and furthermore, according to DisplayMate, the Sony couldn't resolve every line of resolution; text indeed looked pretty soft, even after we engaged the set's automatic calibration for PC.

When driven by an HDMI input connected to a DVI adapter, however, the Sony's PC picture quality improved significantly. First off, the set had no trouble accepting a full 1080p source, and it did resolve every line, although the image was overscanned significantly; the edges of the screen, including the entire Windows toolbar for example, were invisible. We couldn't adjust it properly in the Sony's menu system, but our GeForce 7900GTX video card's HDTV Overscan Compensation came in really handy. When we selected the Underscan option, it fit the screen perfectly; displaying at 1,824x1,016 pixels. Of course that's not full 1,920x1,080, and we'd prefer not to have to make these kinds of tweaks--a "dot by dot" aspect ratio would be a big help--but it's safe to say that computer display via HDMI really outclassed the Sony's VGA input.

KDS-60A2020 picture-quality comparisons

Vs. existing KDS-R60XBR1: We were not able to test the XBR1 and the A2020 side-by-side, but we really do not expect the latter's ability to accept 1080p signals to provide a major picture quality improvement. Most other aspects of performance will be identical, including black levels and color reproduction, although white- and gray-field uniformity seem to be improved on the A2020. Overall we recommend the XBR1 over the A2020, as long as it's available, because of its better standard-def performance.

Vs. Samsung HL-S5687W: Again, we did not have this Samsung DLP on hand to directly compare, but in previous testing, it delivered similar black levels, better primary color accuracy, and superior standard-def performance. On the other hand, its characteristic DLP rainbows may be visible to some viewers, and its tendency to accentuate reds is something the A2020 doesn't share. The Sony scored higher in performance, but the Samsung's 61-inch equivalent is probably a better value to viewers who aren't bothered by rainbows.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6,821/6,776K Good
After color temp 6,529/6,547K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 303K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 59K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.680/0.320 Poor
Color of green 0.287/0.698 Poor
Color of blue 0.144/0.046 Average
Overscan 2.5 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps No Poor
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good

8.0

Sony KDS-A2020

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8