Sony Bravia XBR-55HX929 3D LED LCD HDTV Page 2

One downer is that the Sony’s 3D glasses (rechargeable via a USB connection to the set) are an extra-cost option for the HX929 series. They will set you back $70 a pop. But the transmitter to energize the glasses is built in.

The XBR-55HX929’s onscreen menus are a modification of Sony’s well-established XMB (Xross Media Bar) layout. But as in all past Sony menus, you can’t jump directly from the top of a given menu to the bottom by going around the horn. It’s tedious to access menu items that are located well down in the hierarchy.

The backlit remote doesn’t offer direct access to specific inputs. Apart from a bit too much crowding around the navigation controls, it’s reasonably intuitive. There’s also a downloadable Media Remote app (not tested) that lets you use your iPhone or Android phone as a remote.

1111sonybra.rem.jpgThe XBR-55HX929 has a ton of Internet features, accessible via a wired or wireless broadband connection. The set’s wireless LAN receiver is built in. Track ID and music/video search features can identify the music you hear in a program or provide additional information on the music or video using an Internet database run by Gracenote. The set also includes Skype, which can make video and voice calls to another Skype-enabled user via your broadband Web service and Sony’s optional CMU-BR100 camera and microphone unit ($150).

You can also play back videos, photos, or music either directly from a USB storage device or from your home network, or search for music using Sony’s Qriocity subscription music service.

2D Star Power
It should be clear that like most modern HDTVs, this Sony is rife with technological goodies, most of them named to generate the maximum PR buzz. In addition to those we’ve already mentioned, there are also the OptiContrast front panel, the Intelligent Presence Sensor (we know you’re out there!), and the distance alert (how near!). But none of these would be more than names on a page if, at this price, the XBR-55HX929 weren’t a performance standout.

Fortunately, it is. The Sony’s video processing was impeccable, easily navigating all of our standard HD tests (see the Video Test Bench chart). It also cleanly handled standard-definition upconversion (from 480i to 1080p in 3:2, 2:2, and MA—motion adaptive), which isn’t shown in the chart.

The set’s color, even out of the box, will likely satisfy most buyers, although only the warm 2 color temperature setting is close to accurate. After a good calibration, the color was impossible to fault. Fleshtones were as natural as the source would permit. Greens looked right. Spilling more ink to describe the Sony’s calibrated color performance would be as productive as looking out the window and commenting on the colors in a backyard pool party.

The same goes for clarity and detail. Some day, we may see another leap similar to the jump from DVD to Blu-ray (4K, anyone?), but until that day comes, the Sony is anything but a stopgap. The XBR-55HX929’s resoution is simply superb.

Off-axis performance and motion blur have been enduring issues with LCD sets. These are two areas in which plasmas have had it all over LCDs. That’s still true, but the Sony was very watchable at reasonable off-axis angles. Only the fussiest videophile will object to viewing angles beyond 20 degrees, and the average viewer won’t be put off at even 45 degrees, or perhaps even more. The image lightens noticeably as you move off center, but the colors remain relatively stable, if a bit less saturated. Nor did motion blur bother me with most program sources, even without Motionflow.

There are three settings in Sony’s Intelligent Peak LED backlight feature (oddly called LED dynamic control in the onscreen menu): standard, low, and off. Forget about anything but standard, unless you pine for the black levels in your 2006 LCD set. If so, the off position can return you to those thrilling days of yesteryear. With the other controls set up properly and standard engaged, the screen fades to total black (or at worst nearly so) when the source calls for it. Unlike some earlier local-dimming sets we’ve tested, the XBR55HX929 drops to black immediately, without pausing (annoyingly) at intermediate levels.

There’s more to contrast than absolute blacks, of course. The Sony also has exceptional shadow detail. In fact, I found only two shortcomings to the set’s local dimming. The first was an occasional tendency for very dark scenes to look a little crushed as the set pulled some of the very darkest grays into black. The second was a visible halo around bright spots of light against an otherwise black background. This haloing effect was relatively rare, and for me, at least, it subtracted little from the Sony’s otherwise outstanding performance on dark scenes.

3D: Into the Deep
The XBR-55HX929 is astonishingly bright as 3D sets go—in fact, I actually had to turn down the 3D picture (contrast) setting (the default is maximum, or 100). Even at a picture setting of 70, I measured a peak white level of 14 foot-lamberts. That may not sound like much, but it brings out a level of 3D detail that’s lost in most (dimmer) 3D sets, and in most theatrical 3D presentations as well. It also transforms 3D from simply a fun novelty into a compelling, immersive experience.

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