Sony's 2005 XBR line of rear-projection sets illustrates just how fast and far prices can drop in digital HDTV. In February 2005, the company introduced the 70-inch television, the first to use Sony's proprietary LCoS-based SXRD technology, at a whopping $13,000. In September 2005, barely seven months later, came the subject of this review, the 60-inch KDS-R60XBR1, and its smaller sibling, the 50-inch KDS-R50XBR1. Sony dropped the Qualia designation for XBR and dropped the list price to $5,000 ($4,000 for the 50-incher). Here's the clincher: from what we can see, there is little if any difference in picture quality between the Qualia and these two XBRs, despite the huge price differential. That's a good thing, because the KDS-R60XBR1 we reviewed represents the pinnacle of performance in the big-screen fixed-pixel-display category. It does cost more than similarly sized rear-projection 1080p HDTVs, but if you're a stickler for image quality, the difference is well worth it.
Editor's note: Sony has replaced this television. We have published a review of the newer model, the KDS-R60XBR2, and this review has been modified accordingly.
The Sony KDS-R60XBR1 looks similar to its less expensive Grand Wega cousins, although it has a couple of distinct styling cues. The chassis itself is finished in silver, and a glossy black border surrounds the massive screen, lending the TV a distinctly two-tone look and increasing the perceived contrast ratio. The speakers protrude a good distance from the left and right sides of the screen, making this behemoth a full 7 or 8 inches wider than comparably sized sets with speakers located beneath the screen. It measures 66 inches wide, 40 inches tall, and 20 inches deep, and it weighs a comparatively feathery 112 pounds.
This rear-projection set, like almost all its competitors, has a table-top design, so you'll want use some sort of stand to raise it 18 to 26 inches off the ground--the approximate height needed to put the middle of the screen at head level. Sony offers a matching stand (model SU-GW12, $499 list) for this purpose, as well as a complete home-theater system in a stand (model RHT-G2000, $1,500 list).
Sony's remote is the same as the recently redesigned version for the Sony Grand Wega LCD rear-projection sets. It is a slender wand finished in silver, and the metal construction gives it a solid feel. The metal buttons, though on the small side, are clearly labeled in black, and it's easy to control the center rocker and the channel and volume keys with your thumb. Our only real complaint with the remote is its lack of illumination.
The Sony KDS-R60XBR1 has such an extensive feature package that we have to limit our coverage to only the coolest features and those that help or hurt performance. First off, it has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080, thanks to Sony's proprietary SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) light engine, a variety of LCoS technology. That resolution, combined with the inherently progressive nature of the display device, qualifies the KDS-R60XBR1 as a 1080p HDTV, meaning it should be able to display every detail of the highest-resolution HDTV format, 1080i. It scales all other sources, including standard TV, DVD, HDTV, and computers, to fit the pixels.
Like almost all high-end big-screen HDTVs, the Sony KDS-R60XBR1 is Digital Cable Ready and has an onboard ATSC tuner to receive local off-air HDTV stations. Twin-View is Sony's name for two-tuner PIP, which works equally well with standard- and high-def sources. The set offers five aspect-ratio selections for standard-definition sources and four for high-def.
A number of picture-enhancing features are on tap; some are good, and some you should leave off for the best performance. We counted three picture modes (Vivid, Standard, and Pro), all of which can be adjusted independently for each input. There are also three selectable color temperatures: Warm, Neutral, and Cool. We chose the Pro mode and the Warm color temperature for our evaluation.
One unusual adjustment is Advanced Iris, which dynamically controls the TV's light output on the fly when program material changes. Its four settings, Off, Low, Medium, and High, progressively increase brightness and affect overall contrast ratio. We left it in the Off setting, as the set provided ample light output to begin with; however, in brightly lit environments, you may want to engage it.