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Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review



sony_kdl-55xbr8
Introduction

Sony has been one of the top LCD brands for a few years now, and it’s come time to reveal the next big step in LCD technology: LED backlighting with local dimming. These features make their debut in the new Sony XBR8 series, and offer the potential to match the picture quality on the best high-end plasma displays. The XBR series represents the top tier of TVs from Sony, and this year, there are many new XBRs, but the Sony KDL-55XBR8 is the only one with the fancy LED backlighting.

Design

Meant to sit atop Sony’s wide array of TVs, the XBR8 has many design features in common with the other XBR models. Sony continues the floating-glass look that’s been around for a few generations, and it does indeed do justice to the XBR series. Very cool are the lights embedded in the glass that have no visible wires leading to them! The speakers are on the sides, rather than below, and since I think wider is better than taller, I like this layout. Unfortunately, the speakers are not removable, which I think should be a standard feature on high-end TVs. I don’t foresee many people buying a TV of this price and using the built-in speakers, but at least the speaker grills are available in different (and expensive) colors. There’s a backlit Sony logo as well, and while it can be turned off, it seemed a little chintzy on a TV of this price and class.

The stand does not swivel, which is a bit of a letdown, as this is an LCD, one that is especially prone to contrast and color shifts with viewing angle changes.

The remote Sony includes is the same that is included with the lesser XBR6 and XBR7. It’s large and easy to grasp with attractive blue backlighting, but it’s a little busy looking and Sony should have included a superior remote with their top-of-the-line XBR. With today’s HDMI-switching A/V receivers and Harmony remotes, the importance of the TV remote has declined, so the drawbacks of the included remote are not a big deal.

The GUI on the XBR8 is just like other recent Sony TVs, and stems from the PS3’s interface, dubbed XMB (cross media bar). It’s probably the most attractive GUI, and works reasonably well for beginners, and pretty well for those familiar with the PS3 interface. The main difference from a standard GUI is that the categories are laid out horizontally, and once you get used to that, it’s not too hard to find your way around. Complicated, it can be, but it has enough options and controls to please any fiddlephile.

Features

Like other high-end TVs, the XBR8 has a native resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. It has 120 Hz processing like other high-end TVs for dejudder, along with MotionFlow, Sony’s name for the interpolated smoothing effect found on 120 Hz TVs. It has the excellent connectivity that’s a part of most new Sony TVs, including an Ethernet port that can stream media from DLNA servers. I always think that modern TVs should have built-in WiFi, as it’s not expensive to integrate such a chip anymore, but also because I can’t picture a scenario where anyone would want to snake Ethernet cables to their TV. Plus, this TV costs both arms and both legs!

The biggest features this TV has are the LED backlighting and local dimming. Similar in concept and execution to the Samsung A950 series, the Sony goes a different way by using red, green and blue LEDs, instead of white LEDs like the Samsung does. There are also more LEDs, which make for more dimmable zones, according to the experts at the AVS forum. The LED backlighting makes for a more uniform image than typical LCDs, which usually have an uneven spread of backlight – something that is easily noticeable and distracting during dark scenes. In addition to that, LED backlighting can allow for superior color accuracy and saturation. Local dimming allows the TV to actually turn the LEDs off in areas that are absolutely black, like the black bars above and below the image in a 2.35:1 movie. There are 128 zones, so this feature really helps the pop and black level, but there’s a bit of a gap between the absolute black of the LEDs being off, and them being on at their lowest level. We’ll discuss this more in the performance category.

Performance

The black levels on this set, thanks to the locally-dimmable LEDs is superb. By turning off, an absolute black level can be reached, which is great but comes with some caveats. There is a bit of a gap between the black of the LEDs being off, and the darkest shade with the LEDs being on, which means that the grayscale is not as smooth as it should be. The Pioneer plasmas may not be able to go absolute black like this set can, but not only do they come extremely close, they can display those deep blacks in any scene. This point is brought up because in a scene that has both bright and dark areas, the LEDs will not turn off (because if they did, no image would be seen), and the darkest shade of black with the LEDs on is still quite a ways off from the black of the Pioneer plasmas. However, the concept is still great, and as the number of dimmable LED zones increases, the blacks will get better as well. The XBR8 makes for a great dark room display, just like the A950 series Samsung, and between the two, the XBR8 just slightly edges past the A950.

Contrast levels are great on this Sony XBR8, and are basically immeasurable given the local dimming. If we were to take the best black level with the LEDs on, we’d find a real contrast ratio around 3500:1, which is among the best for LCD HDTVs, but is edged out slightly by the Samsung A950 thanks to its deep-tinted glossy screen.

Out of the box, colors are reasonably accurate, but after calibration, they are nearly perfect. This set tracks within 50k of the 6500k standard!

The XBR8 includes Sony’s best video processing engine, and it does a very good job of displaying lower resolution material. Standard definition looks slightly better on the competing Samsung A950, but the XBR8 does a better job with its smoothing feature, CineMotion, as it introduces less artifacts than the A950 at its highest setting. Deinterlacing was done properly, and 24p content displayed very well thanks to the native 120 Hz refresh rate.

The LED backlighting takes out a few birds with a single stone, lending a hand towards better uniformity too. Compared to a normally-backlit TV like the XBR6, the XBR8 is significantly more uniform, with no evidence of mura or clouding that we could notice. This aspect alone helps this TV compete a lot better with high-end plasmas.

Like most LCDs, the XBR8 works very well in a bright environment. Its matte screen, too, helps minimize reflections, making this TV probably the least sensitive to room conditions that we’ve seen (as it works great in dark and bright rooms).

The XBR8 suffers from a problem that also affects the Samsung A950 – limited viewing angles. Now, all LCDs suffer from this problem to some extent, but this pair of LED-backlit LCDs is even more susceptible to contrast and color shift with different viewing angles. You have to sit front and center to enjoy that great picture, because moving even one seat over changes everything (at least in a dark room, it’s less noticeable in a bright environment).

Conclusion


The Good:
Exceptionally accurate colors, superb black levels, good contrast, attractive styling, LED backlighting takes care of most LCD issues.

The Bad: Viewing angles limited, local dimming would be better with more zones, still not as good as Pioneer’s plasmas, ridiculously expensive.

Overall: If you want to have the best LCD, want great night and day performance and have a seriously beefy supply of cash, this is your TV.

Buy the Sony Bravia XBR KDL-55XBR8 From Amazon

3 Responses to “Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review”
Dodgeblogium » Lurgy CoTV - March 5th, 2009 at 9:19 am

[…] Fleming presents Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review posted at Satellite TV […]

Best High-End LCD TVs 2009 - Satellite TV Guru - March 11th, 2009 at 11:07 am

[…] Read Review | Buy from Amazon 2. Samsung A950 […]

[…] TVs. If you have a bigger budget, there are also LED-backlit LCD TVs such as the Samsung A950 or Sony XBR8 series. If you’re looking at an LCD, you should look for one that has 120 Hz processing, as it […]

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