Sony KDS-R60XBR1 SXRD 1080p RPTV Page 2
Thinking Outside the Box
Sony's industrial design for these two new sets, dramatic yet understated, exposes as little chassis as possible in an effort to give them a clean, slim look. The screen, surrounded by a thin black bezel, appears to float within an aluminum frame, the outer sides of which are perforated top to bottom as if they held a line-source type speaker array, though in the right light you can see the two centrally located tiny speakers mounted within.
The entire screen/frame assembly itself sits gracefully atop a short and inconspicuous grey pedestal, which adds to the floating sensation and creates the illusion of there not being a chassis at all. The only downside of this approach is instability: if you don't use Sony's stand, you must strap the set to the back wall or it could potentially tip over.
Overall, it's a masterful piece of design work. Only from the sides can you see the actual chassis, including the 21" deep protrusion for the mirror. The top shelf of the stand Sony supplies, designed specifically for the set, envelopes and secures the pedestal base both for aesthetic and safety reasons: the set, even when locked into the stand, can tip over, so Sony strongly recommends using the supplied strap that connects from the back of the set to the stand.
The back of the cabinet slopes steeply down from the screen, leaving no platform for a center channel speaker. And while the stand is elegant looking, the single glass shelf running its length means there's no room for a serious center channel there either. In other words, there is no place for a center channel speaker, other than in front of the set on a floor-mounted stand or on a shelf located above the screen. As with most current RPTVs, the set designer's semi-panic to make the chassis disappear has led to a design decision that's ludicrous given the demographics of potential set buyers.
Set Up and Use
I begin evaluating the set by attempting to connect and configure it without using the instructions. If and when I run into problems, I consult the manual. I connected my outdoor antenna to the antenna input for the built-in ATSC tuner, the video plugs from my receiver to a component input, and my HD PVR-equipped cable box to one of the two HDMI inputs.
Unfortunately this set does not offer direct input access so you have to scroll through the inputs to get to the desired one. The built-in tuner appeared, as did the component input, but the HDMI input didn't. I went into the setup menu looking for a "select input" menu item, but other than "Label Video Inputs," I found nothing.
When in doubt, read the instructions. In the index under "Inputs," all I found was "Inputs, labeling." Not what I wanted, but maybe I'd find something near there. So I turned to page 96, where I found a section headed "Accessing Setup Settings." Now first of all, when the setup instructions are buried on page 96 that alone tells you something's very wrong with the instruction manual. In my world instructions on how to use the setup menu belongs near the beginning of the instruction manual, not near the end!
Unfortunately all I found there was the "Label Video inputs" section. When I opened that menu in desperation, however, I found the word "skip" as the "label" for many of the inputs, including the HDMI input I was trying to use. Only by labeling it something, did it become active. Had this set been beta tested with real live consumers before shipping, the "Label Video Inputs" menu item would have been changed to "Select and Label Video Inputs" (or perhaps even better, "Activate and Label Video Inputs"—Ed), as would the index listing. I found on page 97, in boldfaced type, "If you select Skip, your TV skips the selected connection when you press TV/VIDEO." Too little, too late.
In any case, let's not further belabor the point that the manual is poorly organized and gives every feature equal weight instead of prioritizing to give consumers a focused roadmap. I have to give Sony's instructions an "F" here. I have always maintained that an instruction manual should lead the buyer by the hand and tell a story, not be a catalog of features.
And let's add that even though the input access isn't direct, the skip feature means you will not be endlessly scrolling through dead inputs to get to the live ones.
The learning remote, finished in a satiny aluminum, feels luxurious in the hand compared to the usual plastic, and is well laid out, but suffers from not being backlit. The set offers a wide range of operating options, such as "twin view" (PIP), favorite channels, etc.—too many possibilities to cover in a review.
Use the Facilities
In addition to including two HDMI and two component inputs, Sony throws in a CableCARD input, and three i.LINK (IEEE 1394) connectors. According to Sony the i.LINK connectors currently allow playback only, so they don't provide the ability to record out from its integrated HD tuners. Overall, Sony provides sufficient ins and outs, with one exception: if you're not going to offer space for a center channel speaker, at least allow access to the built-in ones so they can be used as a center channel, either powered by an A/V receiver or by the internal amplifier.
Once you get the set connected and powered, setting up and optimizing the video (as well as the audio and the customized operating modes) can be a daunting task because of the dazzling variety of picture options Sony offers.
I viewed the set using both a 30-foot run of component video cable and a 30-foot BetterCables.com Display Magic HDMI cable. Despite concerns about long lengths of HDMI cable, it worked fine on HD signals from my PVR equipped cable box. Not surprisingly, the HDMI signal looked better than the component video, but mostly in terms of color saturation. The differences weren't as striking as I was expecting.
There are three independently adjustable picture modes: Vivid, Standard and Pro, which once set can be accessed via the "Picture" button on the remote. So even if you prefer the Pro mode for serious viewing in a darkened room (which you will), you can push the "picture" button and instantly switch to Vivid for daytime viewing in a brightly lit room.
Along with the standard issue picture controls, (picture, brightness, color, hue and sharpness), there are three color temperature options (the ISF's Kevin Miller calibrated the set for review, and as set at the factory the "Warm" setting averaged around 8500K), three noise reduction settings (to reduce noise from connected sources), a Direct mode to create a "natural, soft picture," and a game mode for adjusting lip synch with games.
An "Advanced Video" section with more options features three DRC modes, one for stills and text, one for "moving pictures" and CineMotion, which is the 3/2 pulldown option. The DRC Palette setting lets you customize the detail ("Reality") versus smoothness ("Clarity") for up to three sources using an X-Y axis graphic, but not with HD and some other sources. Same with BN Smoother, which can reduce digital encoding noise on DVDs, but is not available on 480p and HD material.
The Advanced Iris control offers three options as well as Off, for enhancing black levels and contrast in dark scenes. There's a Color Corrector option, a DTE option with three settings to enhance picture "texture," a Clear White setting to emphasize white, a Detail Enhancer to sharpen definition, a "Black Corrector" to add another level of contrast enhancement, a Gamma Corrector to adjust bright/dark area picture balance, and finally and most dangerously, a "White Balance" menu, which gives consumers direct control over RGB gain, and RGB screen bias. What was Sony thinking? True, there's a factory-reset option, but this is way too much control for all but the tweakiest, most knowledgeable consumer. That's you, but this is best left to an ISF calibrator with proper instrumentation, don't you think? (This open-architecture for the calibration controls is starting to show up on displays from other manufacturers as well, though more in front projectors than one-piece displays—Ed)
Minor Operational Issues
While the CableCARD worked glitch-free, the optical digital audio output only worked on the digital channels. You'll need to use the set's analog outs for the others. Not a major issue. Also, there is no program guide for CableCARD so you're on your own. Frankly, at this point, an addressable, PVR-equipped cable box makes CableCARD a useless entity by comparison. Also, when I connected my computer to the RGB input, all I got was the background screen image of my doggie. None of the graphics showing on the computer screen translated to the big screen. I'm not sure why.