Sony BRAVIA XBR-52HX909 LCD 3D HDTV Page 3

Nearly invisible black bars weren’t the only benefit from the Sony’s local dimming. As long as LED Dynamic Control was set to Standard mode, both black level and shadow detail were consistently outstanding on virtually everything I watched. The image drops immediately to very near total black in fadeouts between scenes (assuming the source does) and instantly returns to the full brightness that the following scene requires.

Local dimming has one obvious weakness, and not just in Sony sets: soft halos surrounding bright objects against very dark backgrounds. Since local dimming operates in zones of finite size, light spill from light areas to darker ones is sometimes unavoidable. My favorite test for this artifact is the star field that opens Stargate: Continuum. On this scene, the Sony produced a subtle, foggy glow around some of the stars and the white titles. But the effect was minor, and I thought it was a reasonable tradeoff for the set’s strikingly good black level. In fact, this film has several scenes that often trip up displays with black level issues: the dark shipboard action in chapters 3 and 6, a split-screen montage in chapter 10 with blacked-out areas displayed simultaneously with brighter images, and the Russian installation in chapter 21. They were child’s play for the Sony. It sailed through all of them with deep, rich blacks and excellent shadow detail.

How does the Sony handle standard-definition DVDs? Reasonably well, although this depended as much on the transfer itself as on the Sony. For example, Jurassic Park was slightly uneven; some shots looked soft, and others looked outstanding. Charlotte Gray, one of the most film-like transfers ever released on DVD, was more uniform throughout and an excellent example of how well the Sony can handle good SD material. Like most good computer animation, The Incredibles holds up exceptionally well on DVD—that is, until you pop on a computer-animated highdefinition Blu-ray like Up. Apart from a direct comparison with HD, few viewers will be disappointed with the Sony’s performance on well-produced, standard-definition sources.

The Sony’s main 2D weakness is one that’s generic to many LCD sets. Move off axis, and the picture starts to degrade. It progresses rapidly beyond roughly 20 degrees to the side, with washed-out color, degraded blacks, and a loss of contrast.

Into the Deep
Sony provided us with its BDPS570 Blu-ray 3D player to use with this review. Various glitches (mainly freeze-ups and pixelization) have been occasional annoyances in the 3D testing we’ve done so far, but most of them appear to be either player or disc issues. I experienced a few freeze-ups with the Sony combo as well. The player appeared to be more resistant to obstacles such as fingerprints than, for example, the first Panasonic 3D players we’ve used.

One display issue that I noticed on the Sony is sensitivity to head movement. Even a small head tilt in either direction produced crosstalk between the left and right 3D images, which resulted in a defocused picture. There was also an obvious color shift, which varied with a left or right tilt. I’ve noticed this phenomenon with other LCD 3D sets as well (a Samsung UN46C8000 I reviewed in the July 2010 Home Theater and the LG 47LX9500 in this issue). However, in those cases, the symptom was simply a loss of brightness, with no crosstalk or color shift.

What causes the head-tilt phenomenon? Even though the active (shutter) glasses used with consumer sets don’t make specific use of polarization to keep the left and right images separate, the eyepiece elements are LCDs, and LCDs are inherently polarized. An LCD screen also has polarization. These polarizations can interact in odd ways as you change their relative orientation.

Apart from those concerns, the Sony’s 3D performance was outstanding. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which I found to be fun but not particularly memorable in 2D, was transformed by 3D. Making Whoppers out of water may be a bizarre story line, but when those Whoppers start raining down in 3D, they get your attention. All-you-can-eat buffets and lemon-orange Jell-O will never taste quite the same.

My favorite 3D discs so far have been Monsters vs Aliens and Coraline. And they still are, all things considered. Not only did Meatballs on the Sony come very close, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs moved up a notch or two as well. It’s the best of the Ice Age films, but then who doesn’t love dinosaurs (as long as you don’t become part of an all-you-can-eat dino buffet)? As the ice age critters incongruously mix it up with giants from another epoch, the action provides plenty of opportunities for 3D spectacle. The Sony didn’t disappoint on any of it.

Interestingly, the Sony’s off-axis performance was a bit better with 3D material than it was with 2D. That may be because the brighter setup needed in 3D (with the Backlight and Picture controls maxed out) powers through at least some LCD off-axis issues. I’ve noticed the same thing in 2D store demos, where the searingly bright store modes make off-axis issues less visible than they are with an accurate home setup.

Some minor issues on this Sony—primarily that off-axis thing and the head-tilt phenomenon—might justifiably concern some viewers. There’s no denying that being at the cutting edge of 3D playback still costs more than an excellent 2D set. But the BRAVIA XBR-52HX909 is so superb in so many respects—color, resolution, and in particular, those gorgeous blacks—that it’s hard to resist.

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