Sony's rear-projection 1080p SXRD sets really lit a fire under the HDTV market last year. Using Sony's dynamic iris system, these RPTVs produced deep blacks and stunning contrast like never before for a non-CRT "microdisplay". No other RPTV could match it, and of course, no flat panel plasma or LCD set could even approach it when it came to dark scene beauty and detail. These XBR1 series three-chip SXRD sets had nearly everything going for them and seemed to fly out of showrooms and into the homes of discerning videophiles. These sets truly put the last nail in the coffin of CRT-based RPTVs.

Now, here we are a model year later, and the XBR2 series is starting to hit the showrooms. One expected change was its ability not only to display 1080p, but also to accept 1080p from new Blu-ray Disc players. The styling didn't change (unless you opt for the new 70" version) so I was wondering if the 60" KDS-R60XBR2 ($3,799) reviewed here was just a repackaged XBR1.

But reading over the Sony product description of the XBR2, several points caught my eye. First, it's claimed to be brighter (it uses a new, less expensive bulb) and second, that it "captures movement with unprecedented accuracy." Now isn't that interesting? The one annoying artifact I've noticed constantly with current HD displays is a severe blurring of detail during pans. You'll clearly see this with pans across the grass of athletic playing fields. It's not subtle. Has Sony solved this industry-wide problem? Is the XBR2 really better than the SXRD sets that came before? But most important, is the XBR2 the best self-contained HDTV you can buy this year, regardless of technology and price. Don't just jump to the end of the review hoping to find out. There's lots of good information about to come your way, and also guidance if you can't decide between the XBR2 series and Sony's less expensive SXRDs.

Interesting Features
It's worth mentioning that unlike competing DLP sets, Sony's SXRDs are three-chip rear projectors with no color wheel. And SXRD uses a native 1920x1080p imaging chip, while DLP RPTVs use the 960x1080 "Smooth Picture" chips that rapidly pixel-shift horizontally to display 1920x1080 on the screen.

The XBR2 has three HDMI inputs. That's unusual and could be very useful for future connectivity. CableCARD capability isn't unusual, but TV Guide on Screen, needed for getting the program guide that the cable company can't transmit via CableCARD, is. TV Guide on Screen also provides program listings for regular cable TV and over-the-air broadcasts.

You can assign up to 16 favorite channels. You can hide channels you don't watch which eliminates scrolling through them. Scrolling through digital channels in the Sony isn't fast. Mitsubishi's recent sets take the prize there.

You can't access inputs directly but at least you can disable the ones you aren't using so you don't have to scroll through them. Inputs can be labeled.

The audio system is pretty good considering the small speakers, though it doesn't have the range of the one JVC offers. One neat new feature is an A/V Sync control that allows you to synchronize the timing of the picture and sound when you connect to the digital audio output (the only way to pass Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound from the set's built-in tuner to your AV receiver or pre-pro).

A PC input isn't unusual these days, but often the resolution through that input is limited. The XBR2's PC input supports up to 1920 x 1080p at 60hz.

The remote is one of the most user-friendly I've tested. It can control other components, but doesn't have true "learning" capability. It's not backlit, but the most used buttons are easy to find in the dark. It's not overly complex and it's intuitive, for the most part.

The owner's manual is well written, informative, and easy to comprehend. Other manufacturers should take note. The troubleshooting guide at the end was well thought out and would actually be useful. Lamp replacement procedures are included.

Initial Viewing Impressions Out Of The Box Right out of the box, the XBR2 looks impressive, if not really accurate! Even though it comes pre-set to its less-than-ideal Vivid mode, Sony has done a great job of making the factory default settings of the video controls, within the limits of this mode, near optimum. Many will watch it like this forever, never realizing that the set is capable of much better performance.

For home viewing, Standard mode is better than Vivid, but even Standard doesn't show this set near its best since you're always stuck with a way-too-bluish color temperature. It's Custom mode that allows this set to reach its potential, first by allowing the selection of warmer color temperatures and second by allowing control over various image enhancement circuits (to defeat some and to enable and tweak others). As the set comes, even in Custom mode, you'll find that primarily Color is up too high and blacks are over-emphasized and crushed because the Black Corrector control is on default. But there's more. Rest assured, it can get better than factory default. Much better.

Tweaking The Video Controls
Editor's Note: The dedicated tweaker will find an expanded version of this section, with extensive settings, in "Addendum 2: In Depth: Tweaking The Video Controls" near the end of this report..

Custom mode can be separately adjusted for each input so you can have different settings for your set-top box and a next-gen HD disc player or two. The set will remember how you set things when you switch sources. Give Sony a gold star for that. Once you're in Custom, many new video adjustments are available to you.

The Advanced Iris section provides several options. There are two dynamic iris settings. A dynamic iris is one that opens and closes depending on the brightness of the image, a feature Sony has pioneered in recent years to get (much) better blacks out of its LCD and SXRD displays. Auto 2 enables dynamic operation with a relatively subtle range. Auto 1 increases range, not by lowering blacks (they actually go up a tad), but by allowing the set to go brighter as the scene demands.

You can also set the iris to a fixed position. A lower setting passes less light, giving a less bright image but better blacks. I always preferred one of the Auto settings, with Auto 1 being best for brightly lit rooms.

Color Temp was useful only in Warm 2, which still wasn't warm enough for truly accurate color rendition. You'll find a place to fix that in the Advanced Settings, which I'll get to in a bit.

Sharpness adds edge enhancement to give the illusion of a sharper picture. Sony's default setting (50) wasn't usually excessive. Often standard DVDs look better with less sharpness (30). HD was fine at 50.

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