Sony KDS-60A2000 SXRD HDTV
I've been getting a lot of letters asking when there will be cheaper 1080p displays. Well, this 60-inch model is $300 cheaper than the last 50-inch Sony 1080p RPTV we reviewed. The 50-inch model in the new A2000 line is a full $900 cheaper. This 60-inch is a full 26 percent cheaper than the last 60-inch SXRD we reviewed. Sure, $3,699 is still a chunk of change, but it's a little bit more palatable chunk.
The most notable difference between the new models and the previous generation is the inclusion of a 1080p input, something that has been sorely lacking from just about every 1080p display we've reviewed. That part is easy enough to test. What's really worth testing is to see if Sony changed or eliminated anything to make up for the decrease in price.
Not So Changed
The menu structure is pretty much the same. There is an increase in the number of adjustments you can make, which is always a good thing. One noticeable change is that, instead of a setting for the main iris (total light output) and a separate setting for the auto iris (which tracks the video signal), this set combines both into one setting. This seems like it reduces the options, but the contrast and black level don't seem to be substantially off from those of the previous model (when you take the difference in size into account). You can even manually switch between REC 709 and REC 601 color spaces (labeled more accurately as ITU709 and ITU601). Disappointingly, this doesn't change the color points. Included in this myriad of adjustments is the DRC Palette, which lets you adjust the amount of noise reduction (horizontal axis) and edge enhancement (vertical axis). It's only for 480i sources. In addition, there's a Detail Enhancer and an Edge Enhancer. The former adds edge enhancement, while the latter doesn't seem to add visible artifacts but actually does pretty much as its name suggests. There's still no bulb-life timer, and the PC input accepts a maximum resolution of 1,360 by 768. Interestingly, there is no CableCARD slot.
The remote is bigger than those we have seen from Sony in the past. The volume and channel-change buttons are pretty far from where your hand rests, it's not backlit, and there are no direct input-access buttons. There is, however, a menu that lets you directly select the input you want, requiring only four or five more button pushes to get this input than if there were a dedicated button. It beats cycling through each input, anyway.
Haven't Even Started Yet
Our usual procedure is to use test patterns for a display's initial setup. We get the image looking good with patterns, then move on to actual material and fine-tune if necessary. One of the things that is easier to see with test patterns is edge enhancement. Put up a pattern with solid black lines on a light background, and often you'll see a white outline around it: That's edge enhancement. Edge enhancement accentuates medium detail at the expense of fine detail. So, the image may look sharper at first, but fine details like hair and wrinkles are obscured. Like the Sony KDL-40S2000 LCD in our June 2006 Face Off, there is a lot of edge enhancement. Like that LCD, when you defeat the edge enhancement on this display, the image is very soft, more so than with most displays. It's so soft, that it was hard to tell HD from SD. There are essentially four different ways to add and adjust edge enhancement on this display: sharpness, DRC, and the two aforementioned Enhancers. So you're stuck with a dilemma right off the bat: how much detail you want versus how much edge enhancement you can stand. After some lengthy fiddling with the different settings (202 billion combinations in all), I finally got the picture to a point where there was enough detail to make me happy without so much edge enhancement as to annoy me. Still, the overall level of detail was disappointing. Just as a (admittedly unfair) comparison, it looks less detailed than the 720p Yamaha DPX-1300 projecting on a screen that's 2.75 times the size of the Sony. Sure, these displays exist at widely different price points, but you'd think that the higher-resolution chip on a smaller screen would look more detailed.
Once I had the display dialed in, the difference between SD and HD was quite apparent, although the visual difference between Blu-ray and HD DVD still wasn't. (Is this merely ironic or a grand conspiracy? We'll never know.)
The Nitty. . .
The black level is commendably low. I measured it at 0.008 foot-lamberts, which, as far as RPTVs go, is bested only by the last 60-inch SXRD RPTV we reviewed (which was also our Product of the Year last year). That TV was a little darker (0.007 ft-L at its darkest) and a little brighter (between 93 and 100 ft-L, depending on the mode, versus 63 and 83 ft-L here). Of course, that TV was $1,300 more expensive. Just for comparison, that 0.008 ft-L is better than every LCD, plasma, and many front projectors we've reviewed.
The contrast ratio has improved since the SXRD that won our February 2006 Face Off. At 7,899:1, it is also the third highest we've ever measured from a digital display. Interestingly, the ANSI contrast ratio has dropped slightly from the 294:1 of both the previous SXRD RPTVs to 270:1.
The color points are off, which should surprise no one. There was some hope that the initial SXRD samples we got this past year were somehow tweaked and the production models would have more accurate color points. This is the third SXRD (the fourth, if you count the VPL-VW100 front projector), and they've all had nearly identical, wildly oversaturated color points. That's what I call a design decision. Like the other SXRD models, this equates to colors that are a little too lively. Green becomes really green, and so on. It's not cartoonish, but it's sure not accurate. As I've said before, this is certainly less egregious and less noticeable than color points that are all off in a certain direction (say if green is bluish-green or red is orangish).
. . .And the Gritty
With test patterns, the Sony doesn't lock to the 3:2 sequence. With actual video material, it does. It scales pretty well. On my usual clip from The Fifth Element, the professor's beard and the carvings in the stone wall are reasonably sharp. This display brings a fair amount of detail out of DVD sources, but it brings out some noise, as well. Add in some of the available noise reduction (which has almost as many adjustments as there are for edge enhancement), and the image starts to soften again. Video processing is great, with almost no jagged edges on the waving-flag scene from Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark DVD.
For HD, I checked out the 16 Blocks, Training Day, and (blech) The Phantom of the Opera HD DVDs, which are the best-looking HD choices at the moment. All looked better than DVD but lacked in really fine detail.
All the Test Patterns in the World. . .
If you put aside what the test patterns and the measurements tell us and just look at the TV, there is a different vibe. Once again, Sony has made a TV that, despite its shortcomings, is a very watchable TV. The image really pops on the screen. The black level and contrast ratio are great. The colors aren't accurate, but they're not terribly distracting with actual video material. It takes a while to dial in the numerous settings, but, once you do, the image is pleasing to look at. I just wish there were more detail, detail that I know is there in the source. When you consider how much cheaper this new line is compared with the previous 1080p sets from Sony, the question of value comes up. It may not look quite as good as the previous 60-inch SXRD, but it is also a whole lot less expensive—and you get 1080p inputs. It's not a bad deal, all told.
• 1080p input (finally)
• Excellent black level and contrast ratio