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Sony KDS-RXBR2 review: Sony KDS-RXBR2

Sony KDS-RXBR2

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David_Katzmaier.jpg
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
17 min read
The pricy but feature-packed KDS-R60XBR2, Sony's step-up to the KDS-60A2000, has some big shoes to fill as the company's flagship rear-projection HDTV for 2006. This 60-inch big screen costs substantially more than its non-XBR brother, yet a thorough read of the spec sheet reveals very few differences. The televisions share the same SXRD light engine, which provides full 1,920x1,080 (aka 1080p) native resolution, and offer the same sets of picture controls, among the most extensive we've ever seen. This combination adds up to picture quality that's almost identical. The only differences that affect the sets' respective images are a brighter bulb and supposedly improved standard-def video processing in the XBR model.

Well, we can tell you right now that the picture on the XBR is brighter, but the A2000 was bright enough for anyone, and the differences in standard-def processing are negligible. In other words, unless you truly crave the XBR's extra features--including CableCard with TV Guide on-screen; an additional HDMI input on the front panel; picture-in-picture; an extra bulb and side-mounted speakers--you'll be perfectly happy with the A2000 model. That said, the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 still scored higher on account of its extra features, and if you want to splurge, it's still one of the best-performing HDTVs available today.

8.3

Sony KDS-RXBR2

The Good

Produces deep blacks with excellent shadow detail; resolves every line of 1080-resolution sources; incredible amounts of picture control; excellent connectivity with three 1080p-compatible HDMI inputs, dedicated PC input; includes spare lamp.

The Bad

Expensive; inaccurate primary colors; disappointing VGA connection.

The Bottom Line

While the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 has a picture that's essentially identical to its less-expensive SXRD stablemate, the prodigious feature set on this 60-inch HDTV will attract buyers who must have it all.

Known to some by the pejorative "Dumbo ears," the speakers on the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 are its defining design characteristic. They extend beyond the already massive television's frame by a good 5 inches each, bringing its total dimensions to 66x40x20.3 inches WHD--roughly 10 inches wider than the KDS-60A2000 and, at 121 pounds, about 27 pounds heavier. You'll need something to get the television up to eye level; Sony sells a special stand for the XBR2 series, model SU-RS51U.

The speakers and the outside of the KDS-R60XBR2 are silver, while the screen itself is framed by a glossy black border. A gray pedestal base supports the silver cabinet, and a small panel opens up to reveal an A/V input with composite video as well as an HDMI input. Overall, we found the set uncommonly attractive for a big-screen HDTV, and the three-tone exterior helps it appear slightly smaller than if it was all one color. Speaking of big, there's also a 70-inch version, the KDS-R70XBR2, which features removable speakers.

Sony steered away from the all-metal remote included with last-year's XBRs, and we like the new one much better. Dominated by a big, thumb-friendly directional keypad that's surrounded by buttons correctly sized and shaped, the remote has plenty of differentiation between button groups and a perfectly manageable overall size. Our only complaint with the clicker, aside from the all-too-common observation that it lacks any sort of illumination, is that the channel and volume rockers are placed way down at the bottom, too far away for easy access. We liked the shortcut keys that let us quickly cycle through picture, sound, and wide (aka aspect ratio) settings. A convenient tools key calls up a couple often-used submenus, including picture and sound modes, wide-screen controls, picture-in-picture and closed-captions.

The tools menu is even more welcome, because the main menu key summons an unnecessary interstitial screen that seems too focused on tuner controls: four of its six 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, with text explanations of various functions and a 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.

The KDS-R60XBR2 incorporates the TV Guide EPG, which allows you to browse a grid of upcoming programs when you use the CableCard and/or an over-the-air antenna. Sony has nothing to do with the design of TV Guide, which might explain why we found its interface clunkier than most cable and satellite box EPGs.

The Sony KDS-R60XBR2 is one of the most loaded HDTVs we've ever reviewed. It uses the same LCoS-derived, SXRD-branded chips as both the older KDS-R60XBR1 and the step-down 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 according to our tests, they delivered every detail (see Performance for more). Other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, and standard-def television, are scaled to fit the pixels.

XBR2 vs. A2000 features: As we've mentioned, the main differences between Sony's two SXRD lines can be found in the features section. The KDS-60XBR2 includes Twin View, which is Sony's brand of picture-in-picture that lets you watch two inputs or channels simultaneously. Although you can change the relative sizes of the windows, you can't have a smaller one inset inside a larger one, and you can't display images from any of the component video or HDMI inputs in the secondary window.

The KDS-R60XBR2 also adds a CableCard slot to the back panel, which allows you to watch digital and high-def cable channels without the box. It incorporates the TV Guide on-screen EPG, which replaces the EPG you lose when you ditch the cable box. We tested neither CableCard nor TV Guide during this review, but in past TV Guide-equipped products we have occasionally experienced issues loading program information. Since the Guide depends on your local cable and antenna broadcasters for data, your mileage may vary by location; and to its favor, TV Guide has improved over the last couple of years. As do almost all other HDTVs, the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 includes an over-the-air ATSC tuner.

The A2000 and XBR2 have different DRC processing (see Performance for more details). Other differences include an extra HDMI input and a more powerful bulb--180 watts vs. 120 watts. The picture on the XBR2 is brighter, but we found the A2000 bright enough--so we don't really view this as a major bonus. We did like the fact that Sony throws in an extra bulb with the XBR2 models, a $299 value. (Update 12/6/06) When we asked Sony for the rated bulb life the company's rep could only say that "bulb lifespan will differ according to the conditions used," although the XBR2 manual recommends that the bulb should be replaced after 4,000 hours of use. Sony rates the bulb on the A2000 models as 8,000 hours for the "recommended bulb exchange period."

Picture controls: The KDS-R60XBR2 offers more ways to adjust the picture than just about any TV we've tested, but no more or less than the A2000. Settings for 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. 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. We'll cover the effects of DRC in the section on Performance.

There's also an additional menu section labeled Advanced Settings that appears only when you're in the custom-picture preset. The options include: a four-step Black Corrector, which is best left to Off to preserve shadow detail; a five-step gamma control, which we set to Low to boost 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 Off with already sharp sources such as HDTV and even DVD, since it introduces unnatural edge enhancement; there's another four-step control called Edge Enhancer that should also be left off. Finally, the Advanced Settings menu has 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 zoom modes allow you to adjust the horizontal and vertical position--as well as the vertical size--of the on-screen image, but won't work with all sources. 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 that exposes the most picture area to your eyes.

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 on-screen. We did not test this mode on the XBR2, but we assume it performs the same as the Game Mode on the A2000; please see that review for details. The setup menu is also where you'll find CineMotion, Sony's name for 2:3 pulldown detection. A power-saver mode is available to limit light output. We left it turned to Low and, unlike with the A2000, this setting did improve black levels slightly. You can also 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.

Connectivity: The Sony KDS-R60XBR2's jack pack leaves little to be desired. As we mentioned, it includes an HDMI input on its front panel, in addition to a composite A/V input--you lose the A2000's front component-video input, however. Around back you'll find two more HDMI inputs, and all three have the ability to accept 1080p sources (they'll accept the more common 1080p/60fps sources, but not 1080p/24fps). Other inputs include: two A/V inputs with component video; one A/V input with composite video and S-video; one A/V input with composite video only; one VGA-style PC input; 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, along with the aforementioned CableCard slot.

One thing keeping the XBR2 from a perfect 10 in this category is its anemic PC input. We do appreciate the presence of a dedicated VGA input, but on this set it really doesn't work that well--specifically, PC sources fail to fill the screen. The VGA inputs on Samsung's 1080p rear-projection sets, for example, are much more functional. For a full breakdown, check out the Performance section.

The picture quality of the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 is among the best we've seen in a rear-projection HDTV, although we're not scoring it any higher than that of the KDS-60A2000 or last year's KDS-R60XBR1 (which has been re-rated to reflect this review). The XBR2 exhibited excellent black-level performance, superb grayscale and color decoding accuracy, and very good uniformity across the screen. Nothing's perfect however, and the Sony did fall short on primary color accuracy and some video processing issues, namely 2:3 pulldown.

Calibration: To evaluate the KDS-R60XBR2's picture we began, as always, by adjusting the many controls to our liking. We didn't find a service-level calibration necessary since the set tracked grayscale very well both before and after we adjusted the user menu white-balance controls. For our complete settings, check out Tips & Tricks above or click here.

Compared to the A2000, you'll notice a few differences in our settings. We chalk up some of those differences to the higher-power bulb. During setup, we calibrated the KDS-R60XBR2 for a completely darkened room, which necessitated turning its light output down to a comfortable 30 footlamberts (FTL). The set is capable of producing a much brighter picture, however; we measured 145 FTL in Vivid mode, for example, which is blindingly bright by big-screen RPTV standards. The bigger bulb lets it get brighter than the A2000; in Custom mode's default settings, for example, the XBR2 measured 115 FTL compared to about 90 FTL for the A2000.

HD-DVD testing: After setup, we proceeded to watch some of the best program material we had available, which in this case was Batman Begins on HD-DVD played via HDMI at 1080i from our Toshiba HD-A1. On hand for comparison purposes was the competing JVC HD-56FN97, a 56-inch LCoS display, along with a couple of smaller high-def sets, the Sharp LC-46D6U LCD and the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK.

The darkness of Batman served to highlight the Sony KDS-R60XBR2's excellent black-level performance. In the very beginning, when the kid Bruce Wayne stares into the black hole at the bottom of the well, the darkest areas of the image looked inky and deep. Our measurements indicated that the Sony was noticeably darker than the JVC, although not quite as deep as the best flat-panels we've tested--the Panasonic and Sharp included. In general, flat-panels have an advantage over projection sets in maintaining a constant deep black level, because light from one area of a projection screen can affect another. Overall, however, the KDS-60XBR2 delivered as deep a level of black as we've seen from any rear-projection set, including the A2000.

Sony's Auto Iris setting is designed to improve contrast by automatically adjusting the iris depending on program content. We found that the Auto1 setting hampered black level performance too much, but Auto 2 was intriguing, in that it actually increased the contrast ratio in certain scenes, making bright areas brighter while keeping dark areas around the same. When Bruce Wayne enters the ninja temple, for example, the door opens up to reveal white sky that was brighter in Auto2 than it was in our default Min Iris setting. To our eyes the jump in brightness was actually a bit much--we preferred the more constant brightness levels of the fixed Iris controls, namely Min--but some viewers may like the extra punch.

Shadows throughout the film had plenty of detail and very little noise. When the adult Bruce returns to explore the hole and create his Bat cave, for example, we saw all of the shadowy nooks and edges in the rocks, and the spill of light from above as it faded into shadow, as well as the light from Wayne's glowstick looked clean and natural, with no trace of false contouring. We saw a tiny bit of contouring in these areas on the JVC and the Panasonic, but none on the Sharp.

Color accuracy, as you can see from the Geek Box below, is one area where the Sony KDS-R60XBR2 could improve. Its primary colors of both green and red were pretty far outside the HDTV colorspace, but were not overly tinged with yellow or orange, which is common on some other sets. Other aspects of the 60XBR2's color, namely its grayscale accuracy and color decoding, were superb, so overall color still came across as lush and vibrant. When young Bruce runs through the garden, for example, the green of the trees and plants looked rich, if a bit too green, and in tones throughout the film, from the ruddy police chief to the delicate face of Rachel (Katie Holmes), appeared natural. Nonetheless, we wish the Sony had some way to improve the accuracy of its primary colors, which would certainly be worth an extra performance point.

Details were sharp, and according to test patterns, the Sony handled every detail of a 1080i source from our HDTV signal generator (this was an issue on the A2000 we tested, but Sony claims to have addressed it on subsequent A2000 models). We did notice that on some scenes, however, certain areas of the Sony's image appeared a hair softer than on the JVC. Inside Wayne's mansion, for example, some of the bric-a-brac on a table and designs in its leg looked very slightly less defined than with the JVC. We chalk this up to the fact that the focus of the review sample we tested was slightly softer than that of the JVC, an effect that was visible more on the sides than the middle of the picture. As always, focus issues in rear-projection HDTVs can vary from one unit to the next.

The Sony's uniformity across the screen was very good for an LCoS display. As usual with a rear-projection set, the middle of the picture appeared brighter than the outside, but the resulting hot spot was less noticeable than on the JVC, for example. The extreme bottom edge of the KDS-R60XBR2's image appeared slightly brighter than the adjacent area, and in some mid-gray fields we saw that the bottom third appeared very slightly greener than the rest of the image. We didn't notice any of these issues in normal program material though. As we expected, the Sony suffered a bit when seen from off-angle, becoming dimmer and slightly discolored as we moved to the extreme edges; when viewed from above or below, the screen became discolored much more quickly. These effects are typical in rear-projection sets, and the Sony handled off-angle viewing better than many we've seen.

Geometric distortion on our review sample was nearly nonexistent, with straight edges on all sides and almost no trace of bowing. Details in sides and corners appeared slightly softer, namely less focused, than on the JVC. Fringing around white lines was virtually nonexistent, and as we'd expect on any 1080p display, it was impossible to discern individual pixels from further away than a few feet.

One issue we've complained about in the past is stationary screen grain, where subtle, tiny sparkles in the screen become visible, especially during pans or flat fields. The KDS-R60XBR2 showed less of this kind of grain than the JVC, for example, and although spots did crop up occasionally, such as in a green shade as the camera panned across a courtroom, they weren't nearly as prevalent as we've seen on many other rear-projection sets.

1080p vs 1080i: We tested the Sony primarily with a 1080i source, mainly because we trust the Toshiba's image quality more than we do the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, the only relevant source we have capable of outputting a 1080p signal. But we did watch some 1080p material and, surprisingly, found that the Sony did indeed look better with a 1080p source, at least in one instance.

In the beginning of Chapter 8 in the Mission Impossible 3 Blu-ray disc, the camera pans over a set of stairs leading down into a party. When we set the Samsung player to 1080p, the stairs appeared relatively solid, but when we switched to 1080i and watched the Sony, the stairs sort of strobed and flashed as the camera moved, and a couple concentric lines of moiré patterns appeared. The JVC exhibited none of this behavior when played through the scene (although, if we chapter skipped backward to the beginning of the chapter, the JVC would exhibit similar issues for second or two, and then the stairs would appear solid after it locked in). Based on this behavior, we believe the Sony is not properly implementing 2:3 pulldown with 1080i material. We couldn't find any other instances of this happening, however, and we currently don't have another 1080i source to test for 2:3 pulldown. While incidents like the strobing stairs are noticeable, they're rare enough that we don't consider this a major picture quality issue--we didn't notice any similar effects during Batman Begins, for example, even in the shot where the camera moves across the stairs of Wayne's mansion. We didn't notice any other major differences between the Sony's handling of 1080i and 1080p.

Standard-def performance: One of the few differences between the KDS-60A2000 and the KDS-R60XBR2 is the latter's supposedly improved video processing. Sony calls the step-up version "DRC-MFv2.5." In one of our tests it actually improved image quality somewhat (2:3 pulldown during Star Trek: Insurrection; see below), but overall the KDS-R60XBR2's standard-def performance, meaning its picture quality via component video at 480i, as well as S-video and composite video, was still relatively disappointing for such a high-end TV. Of course, if you're watching standard-def from a set-top box that's connected only via HDMI and set to output a resolution other than 480i, then the box does the processing and the comments below don't apply. The same goes for upconverting and progressive-scan DVD players.

Our main method of testing SD performance is to use Silicon Optix's HQV test disc, which includes a variety of patterns and real video to challenge various aspects of a display's processing. On the resolution tests the XBR2 did fine, as long as we turned DRC Off, but when engaged, it introduced varying degrees of flicker, more with composite than with S-video or component video. All of the inputs had a difficult time removing jagged edges from diagonal lines and the waving American flag.

One test of the HQV disc evaluates 2:3 pulldown processing with a pan that follows a race car in front of some bleachers; if the bleachers show a moiré pattern, resembling concentric curved lines, then the test fails. The KDS-R60XBR2 failed this test, but did so differently from its predecessor. In component and composite video, with CineMotion engaged and DRC on, it stayed in film mode most of the time but dropped in and out, causing brief bursts of moiré. It never properly locked into film mode via S-video. We also watched the opening pan of Star Trek: Insurrection, which was an improvement over the A2000; the set successfully eliminated moving lines from the upturned boats and jagged edges from the houses via all inputs. Strangely, the KDS-R60XBR2 also introduced a combing effect in some scrolling text overlays, which disappeared when we turned CineMotion off.

Once again the Sony's detail was quite sharp with standard-def. We found that with composite-video sources especially, engaging DRC Mode 1 did sharpen details in the picture, although it also appeared somewhat crunchier (edges were exaggerated) and noisier. With S-video the difference between DRC Off and on was less noticeable, but still there, whereas the difference in detail between DRC on and Off via component video was almost impossible to discern.

Of the four levels of noise reduction, High was easily the most aggressive. It did an excellent job of squelching snowy motes in the sky scenes, but we did see a loss in detail; edges seemed less sharp. We didn't note the same loss in detail in High mode with the A2000, but since we don't have them side by side, it's difficult to confirm. The other three modes (Low, Medium, and Off) were less effective at reducing noise, but Medium worked relatively well without sacrificing detail.

Xbox 360 testing: We hooked up the Xbox 360 to the Sony via our component-video adapter (we also tried VGA for fun, but issues with the VGA input led us to abandon that) and the results were mostly good. 1080p purists might complain that the set cannot accept 1080p sources via its component-video inputs, but we didn't think that was a huge deal since the games looked great in 1080i--and as we mentioned above, the Sony resolved every detail of 1080i sources via component video.

PC performance: We also tested the Sony's VGA input and the results were disappointing. We set our PC to 1,920x1,080 and unlike the 60A2000 we reviewed, the R60XBR2 did display an image--but it was far from ideal. We could find no way to get the image to fill the screen completely; there was a black border about 8-inches wide on all sides, which is unacceptable. We were able to reduce interference by playing with the pitch and phase controls, but never completely eliminate it.

The Sony fared much better as a PC monitor when connected via HDMI. It filled the screen and resolved every line of a 1,920x1,080 source, according to DisplayMate, and text was relatively crisp. The image was overscanned significantly, however, so the task bar at the bottom of our Windows XP desktop, for example, was completely obscured along with one column of icons on the right side. According to DisplayMate, overscan measured 3 percent on the top and bottom and 2.5 percent on the sides--and we couldn't do anything with the Sony's controls to improve that. Of course, depending on the drivers in your video card, you should be able to correct the overscan at the expense of re-scaling the image.

Test Result Score
Before color temp (20/80) 6,128/6,350K Good
After color temp 6,421/6,462K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 201K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 53K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.674/0.324 Poor
Color of green 0.276/0.703 Poor
Color of blue 0.138/0.057 Average
Overscan 3.5 percent Average
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps No Poor
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good

8.3

Sony KDS-RXBR2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8