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Sony’s flagship XBR series HDTVs have enjoyed a good reputation, and this year, Sony has expanded the lineup drastically. XBR6, 7 and 8 models are available this year, with the XBR8 being LED-backlit and extremely expensive. This particular model is not LED-backlit, but includes the better processing engine associated with the XBR series. See the performance section for more details.
This XBR6 has many of the cues of past XBR models, such as “floating” glass (acrylic, actually) accents and racier styling. In an attempt to differentiate the XBR series, the speakers seem to float below the panel, and the set rests atop a rectangular base. Unfortunately, the stand does not swivel, something I consider important for an LCD HDTV. Curiously, the back half of the stand is silver, while the front half is black. The speaker grills are detachable and replaceable in a few different colors, for those who want everything to go together in a certain way. The bezel is fairly thin and glossy, while the screen itself is matte.
We were a little underwhelmed with the remote included, as we expected that the XBR series would come with a better remote than most Sony HDTVs. The buttons are a little crowded, some of them are irregularly shaped, and the layout in some cases is a bit strange, though it redeems itself with backlit keys and a larger size than usual.
The look of the GUI is an almost carbon copy of the PS3 menu system, dubbed XMB (Cross Media Bar). It’s actually quite nice if you’re used to it, but if you’re not, it might come across as being a little difficult. It’s more attractive than most, and the biggest difference is that most GUIs are laid out vertically, while this is laid out horizontally. I like that Sony is making the GUI more graphically appealing; too many manufacturers still have a basic-looking GUI on modern 1080p HDTVs.
This XBR6, like many of this year’s higher-end TVs, includes networking features. Using DLNA to stream media from a compatible media server such as TVersity, the XBR6 can display pictures you have on your computer. Other TVs with this type of feature can often display videos and play music as well, so this functionality is a little half-baked.
Befitting a TV of this price, the XBR6 includes a 1920×1080 panel, 120 Hz, MotionFlow and Motion Enhancer, which adds a smoothing effect to the video by way of interpolation. Being an XBR set, Sony’s top video processing engine is also included, and we’ll have a look at how well it performs in the performance section.
Like most TVs in this price range, the XBR6 has very good connectivity, with four HDMI inputs and two component video inputs covering HD needs. There’s a USB port and an Ethernet port, which at this point in time should really have been an integrated 802.11g/n connection. Interestingly, though not uncommon for Sony products, proprietary connections exist that can expand the connections at the back panel with modules that have another four HDMI inputs, or Bluetooth audio and iPod adapters. The side panel is located conveniently, and overall, connectivity leaves very little to be desired.
The XBR6 had very decent black levels for a matte-screened LCD HDTV. About on par with the Samsung A650 series LCDs and slightly better than Panasonic’s plasmas, the deeper blacks certainly made for a better movie viewing experience, and made a good case for LCDs overall. The blacks were still far off the Pioneer plasmas, which are reference-quality displays. Even though black levels measured similarly when compared to the A650 series Samsung LCDs, the glossy screen of that TV made blacks seem blacker, whereas on the XBR6 they seemed a little bluish/purplish. This is fairly common on LCDs, but we expect better at this price. Also, like the A650 LCDs, the black levels change very quickly with viewing angle. We measured the black level to be between 0.009 and 0.012 foot-Lamberts on the XBR6. The range exists because the XBR6 didn’t have the same black levels in every scene, because the TV tried to dim the backlight in darker scenes automatically.
Contrast on the XBR6 has been upped significantly compared to previous XBR-class LCDs, thanks in part mostly to better blacks. This is quite a significant step up, and really makes the image appear to have a lot more pop. Watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Blu-Ray, we noticed that the image looked a lot more three-dimensional than last year’s XBR, with Sarah’s dark brown hair having more visible nuances and details.
Color accuracy out of the box is not bad on the XBR6, but not as good as the best LCDs either. We really like the Samsung A650 LCD, and it has color accuracy that is nearly 100% spot on, so we were a little disappointed to see that colors were slightly off on the XBR6. It was noticeably different from the natural image of the Pioneer plasmas as well.
The XBR series is mostly about video processing, and in this department, it does about average for the class it competes in. The dejudder works pretty well, as we noticed no unevenness in panning shots with 24p content. The smoothing works well, a little more so than the A650, introducing less artifacts at its highest setting than the Samsung.
Standard definition upscaling was decent, though not as good as the marketing in the XBR brochure promises. To our eyes, the A650 did a better job, with standard definition DVDs looking smoother and cleaner. The XBR6 still had more of a typical LCD “fuzzy” look with such content. As with most modern displays, the XBR6 deinterlaced well, but motion resolution was fairly low, something common to most LCDs. LED-backlit LCDs and the Samsung A650 series have the best motion resolution in the LCD class, but are outperformed by Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas.
If the panel uniformity was better on the XBR6, it would be one of our most-recommended LCDs. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of backlight bleed along the edges, and as with many LCDs, this unevenness was easily noticeable in dark scenes, such as in Max Payne on Blu-Ray. The black level also fluctuated a lot with viewing angle, making dark movies a less enjoyable experience on this set than the Samsung A650 LCD, the Panasonic plasmas and the Pioneer plasmas.
The XBR6 is ideally suited to a bright room thanks to its highly effective antireflective matte screen. Brightness can be cranked up, and even darker movies can look decent in a bright environment. It easily outperforms the Samsung as well as the Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas in this regard.
Like almost every modern LCD HDTV, the XBR6 works very well as a computer monitor. Naturally, HDMI is the best possible connection, but VGA looks decent as well. Being an LCD, no image retention problems exist, and it is easy to recommend this TV for HTPC use.
The Good: Nice styling, good dejudder mode, deep black levels, good contrast.
The Bad: Backlight not that uniform, colors not as accurate as the best, remote is so-so.
Overall: Depending on the price you can find it at, the Sony KDL-52XBR6 can be a good value, or not. Compares well with many HDTVs, but is outclassed by the price-performance relationship of the Samsung LN52A650.
Buy the Sony XRB6 at Amazon.