Sony BRAVIA KDS-50A3000 SXRD Rear Projection Television Page 2

Just in case you've been gathering ice core samples at a south pole research station for the past few years, an auto—or dynamic—iris is a technique used to improve the black level and peak contrast ratio in a projection set (front or rear). While this feature has now become relatively widespread, to the best of my knowledge Sony was the first to use it. As the average brightness level of the source decreases, the iris closes down to further darken the picture. As the picture gets brighter, the iris opens up. The trick is designing the auto iris to operate in a way that makes its operation imperceptible to the human eye.

The set's Advanced settings menu includes Black Corrector (I generally left this on either Low or Off), Gamma (I usually preferred Off, but its effect, which progressively lightens the mid-brightness region as the setting increases, was subtle and useful on some darker material), Clear White (leave it Off), Color Space (Standard is very accurate—see "Measurements"), Live Color (don't bother), both Detail and Edge Enhancer controls (for me, these offered no real advantages), and White Balance, which provides red, green, and blue color temperature calibration controls at both the top and bottom of the brightness range.

DRC (Digital Reality Creation) Mode is Sony's proprietary video processing feature. It offers two active options, called High Density and Progressive for no particular reason I could discern, plus Off. The active options provide picture adjustments on a two-axis graph, or Palette. The adjustments are "Clarity" on the x-axis and "Reality" on the y-axis. If these designations sound a bit obscure, Sony's explanation of them in the manual is no better. When you adjust Reality, "the picture becomes more detailed." By using Clarity, "the picture becomes smoother." In "reality," I found no reason to fiddle with this feature at all—it actually degraded some measurable aspects of the set's performance. In any event, DRC only operates on 480i sources. I left it Off.

The Video Options menu includes Motion Enhancer and Motion Naturalizer controls. These are designed to smooth out moving images. I'll have more to say about them a bit further on. Cinemotion offers two Auto settings for recognizing and properly handling film- or video-based sources, plus Off. There is also a Video Color Space adjustment (for x.v.Color—currently the most over-hyped feature in videoland, useful only if you own one of a few high-definition camcorders), a Color Matrix control which allows custom settings for ITU (REC) 709 (for HD programming) or ITU (REC) 601 (for standard definition NTSC) color standards. The Color Matrix control can correct for mismatches in the source material, but is best left in its default (Auto) setting. The same is true of the RGB Dynamic Range control.

Many of these controls, including the most common video adjustments, may be set separately for each input and each Picture Mode. One significant exception: White Balance is global for all Picture Modes and resolutions at a given input, but may be set separately for different inputs and for each color temperature menu option.

Whew! For what is essentially a budget big-screen set in today's market, Sony offers a lot of adjustments here. Many users will either fiddle with them blindly and mess up the picture, or avoid them and simply use the set as it comes out of the box. I recommend neither option. It took me days to settle on what for me were optimum settings. And even at the end of the review period, when I had settled on setups that worked very well, I was still experimenting. But don't be intimidated. If you choose this set, you might start out by starting with the final settings I used and work from there if necessary (see "Adjustments and Settings").

The set's audio is adequate for its purpose. Like most onboard TV audio, it's nothing to e-mail home about. I found it quite listenable at moderate volumes, but turn it up too high and its vibrating plastic panels produce some nasty colorations. But then most of you will likely be using an outboard home theater setup for serious, theater-level listening.

The remote can operate three external devices, once programmed with the appropriate codes. The four function controls that determine the component currently being operated by the remote light up for an instant when you push them, but otherwise there is no backlighting. A slide down panel at the bottom (not visible in the accompanying photo) hides seven additional controls useful with some outboard components, but they are not needed to operate the set itself.

Video Processing
Overall, the Sony's 480i-to-1080p video processing was marginal at best. On the HQV Benchmark standard definition test DVD it turned in a poor performance on the jaggies tests, the waving flag test, and the mixed content video scroll over film test. It did lock on to 3/2 pulldown, but showed noticeable artifacts on both the 2/2 and 3/2 cadence tests. On my standard scaling tests on the Gladiator DVD (particularly the Coliseum flyover in chapter 12) it performed reasonably well, though no better than average. The set's noise reduction features, however performed well, removing moderate noise on standard definition sources at little cost in image resolution.

Real program material upconverted by the set from a 480i input was also noticeably soft looking, with either HDMI or component. If you choose this set, I recommend that you perform the upconversion from 480i-to-1080p (or at least 480i to 1080i) externally, such as in a DVD player or cable/satellite box. The result will, of course, depend on the quality of those outboard devices, but it's definitely worth trying. I obtained a far more detailed image from DVDs by using a good upconverting DVD player (the Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi).

The situation improved significantly with 1080i-to-1080p high-definition deinterlacing. Not the best I've seen, but satisfactory. I still spotted a few very subtle deinterlacing artifacts, but they were never distracting. Video-based 1080i material was correctly deinterlaced, as was film-based material, but the Sony did not recognize 3/2 pulldown on the latter. Nevertheless, the set sailed through the Vatican wall and steps tests in chapters 7 and 8 of Mission Impossible 3 with only a slight bit of sparkly noise on the steps and no moiré or flicker.

Motion Processing
Motion blur is not as significant an issue on an SXRD (or LCoS) display as it is in many flat panel LCDs, but it is more prevalent than on a DLP or plasma set. As one of the new 120Hz displays, the Sony KDS-50A3000 offers two features designed to minimize motion blur: Motion Enhancer and Motion Naturalizer.

Sony's literature and manual are both vague in describing what each of these features does. But I scoped out a bit more detail from Sony HQ. With both of them turned off, the set converts a 60 frames per second (fps) source (a 60Hz refresh rate) to 120fps by simply repeating a each frame a second time. For a 24fps source, the set repeats each frame four times to produce 96fps.

(Incidentally, according to Sony, the SXRD panel itself doubles the frame rate yet again by flashing each frame it receives from the set's video processing circuits—either original or repeated—twice. But that added detail does not invalidate the explanation here.)