Object of Desire
New TV technologies crop up almost as often as new reality-TV shows, but among all the Celebrity Fear Factors, Obnoxious Bosses, and Strange Loves, there's only one American Idol - the kind of show that can save a network and bury the competition. Fox could air it every night and still have a large audience, but that would kill the anticipation and turn the screaming-teen joy into a commodity.
Is SXRD (Silicon Crystal Reflective Display) Sony's American Idol? The Japanese giant is positioning its newest HDTV technology as the best yet. And so far, the SXRD logo appears only on a $30,000 front projector and this $13,000 rear-projection TV (RPTV), the 70-inch Qualia 006.
SXRD is a variant of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology that numerous manufacturers - most recently Intel - have abandoned. The problem has been "poor yield": too many of the chips are flawed. Sony claims not only to have conquered this with SXRD but to have added a number of enhancements as well (for more on the technology, click to see "SXRD: Behind the Screen"). If it has indeed solved the yield problem, Sony should be able to begin producing chips cheaply enough to get the prices of SXRD sets in line with those using DLP (Digital Light Processing) and other technologies.
But until then, SXRD will command a serious premium. To put it in perspective, you can buy Sony's 70-inch KDF-70XBR950, an LCD rear-projection TV, for around $5,000. Whether SXRD is worth the price difference isn't the point. Shoppers in this bracket want something special, and the Qualia 006 definitely qualifies.
This much was obvious from the moment the 006 showed up at S&V 's test studio accompanied by a small entourage of Sony technical experts, who were there to brief us on the technology and bless the picture. Out of the box, the Qualia looked impressive. Every bit of the set's native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels - well above the minimum for high-definition - seemed to be evident in the picture. But lots of displays fall apart when you start running test patterns and spend time looking critically at DVDs and high-def material. Could the Qualia 006 possibly live up to its price tag and the inevitable Sony hype? In short: could this really be the world's best standalone HDTV?