Sony KDL-55W900A 3D LCD HDTV Page 2

The set’s resolution is also first rate. It’s still an open question as to whether or not 4K will buy you a significant upgrade in performance in smaller sizes—that is, if 55 and 65 inches can be considered small. We can’t yet answer that question, but certainly the resolutely 2K KDL-55W900A was no disappointment. The most detail-rich sources, from the animation in The Rise of the Guardians to live action in my resolution go-to standards such as Baraka, looked dazzling.

The set’s off-axis performance offered no surprises. It’s typical of most LCD displays in that once you get more than 25 degrees or so off center (even less for a critical viewer), the image shows noticeable fading that gets progressively worse as the angle widens. That’s the nature of most LCDs, apart from those that use so-called IPS panels. (To our knowledge, Sony uses IPS only on its 84-inch XBR-84X900, since the panel for that set comes from LG, which has a heavy investment in IPS. The off-axis performance of that 4K set approaches that of a plasma display.)

613sony900.rem2.jpgWhile the Triluminos color technology used in the KDL-55W900A promises much in the way of enhanced color, that enhancement can be expected mainly with the possible arrival of sources mastered to take advantage of this capability (see the sidebar on Triluminos and its quantum-dot technology for more information on this). With standard sources, and properly calibrated to the Rec. 709 HD color gamut standard, I had no complaints at all about the set’s color. But it was no revelation compared with other top sets, including Sony’s. That’s no knock against it; the color was bright and well saturated but not overdone, vivid when needed, and subdued when not. Given a good source, the Sony’s color, including fleshtones, simply looked right.

Three Dimensions
The set’s 3D is first class. It produces a 3D image bright enough to dispel any complaints about dim 3D—far brighter in fact than you’re likely to see in any commercial movie theater. Post calibration, the colors were also far better than what often passes for color in theatrical 3D. Yes, there was a trace of ghosting here and there on my usual ghosting suspects, including Despicable Me, and sometimes on other titles as well. But it was fleeting and, for me, more than compensated for by the set’s crisply detailed, bright, vivid, and irresistible 3D performance.

The only nuisance was 3D flicker. It was clearly visible on scenes with an expanse of bright white or color and made me question, at least for 3D, the set’s claimed high refresh rate and nonuse of 3:2 pulldown.

The opening scene in Despicable Me, in the Egyptian desert, showed it clearly. But on most material, it was invisible. For those more sensitive to it, the flicker could be eliminated by turning the set’s Motionflow control to Standard, which didn’t do serious damage to a movie’s film look.

Sony’s new active 3D glasses, unlike earlier designs, produce no color shift or image separation on this set when you tilt your head. There’s only a small loss of brightness at an extreme tilt.

Fortunately, we still had Sony’s XBR-55HX950 on hand for a side-by-side comparison. The XBR-55HX950 is the company’s only set that offers full-array LED backlighting with local dimming. It may be in short supply by the time you read this, as it’s a 2012 model and all newer Sony XBRs will be Ultra HD (4K). It’s worth noting that the older set’s scratchy, thin sound can’t equal the KDL’s more uniform balance and dramatically better sonics.

The comparisons here were performed in 2D only. I’ll just note that the XBR measured slightly brighter in 3D, but in practice both sets offer bright, punchy, and compelling 3D images.

With both sets fully calibrated and set to within 1 foot-lambert of the same peak brightness (around 30 ft-L), their pictures were almost indistinguishable on most material. The only difference I could see in their color was slightly warmer fleshtones on the KDL—a difference that could have been due simply to small setup differences. I could punch up the color on either set with Sony’s Live Color control, but that merely gets you redder, less accurate color. There was no color advantage I could spot to the KDL’s new Triluminos technology when both sets were properly calibrated and mastered in the HD standard (Rec. 709) with no provision for an xvYCC extension (as is 99 percent of the commercial material available to consumers; see more on this in the sidebar).


On most sources, the two sets were comparably superb in both black level and shadow detail. But on the most difficult material, the XBR set’s full-array LED local dimming was clearly superior. At the beginning of chapter 10 of Prometheus, in the alien caves, the screen is totally dark. Suddenly there’s a flicker of light top center, which grows increasingly larger as the explorers’ flashlights come into view. Viewed in a darkened room, the rest of the screen remains pitch black on the XBR as the illuminated area grows. On the KDL, shortly after the lights appear, the dark areas of the screen turn gray. It’s a very dark gray to be sure, and not offputting. But it can’t equal the depth of the blacks you’ll see on the XBR.

The only fly in the soup here is the fact that, as I write this, Sony’s XBR-55HX950 may still be available. For almost the same price, the XBR-55HX950 offers comparable performance in most respects, plus superior blacks. To be honest, if I were in the market for a 55-inch Sony at this price and could still find a new XBR-55HX950, I’d grab it. But I’m a black-level freak, as you may have noticed! The KDL-55W900A, as Sony’s new top-of-the-line 1080p-resolution HDTV, is no slouch in any respect and may offer color performance that the older XBR set cannot when coupled with the new xvYCC discs discussed in the Triluminos sidebar. We hope to report on this at some point, but in neither case are you likely to be disappointed.

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