Price: $3,400 At A Glance: Great detail and color • Lower black level than most conventional LCDs • Integrated Internet TV • Menu system not my fave • Some off-axis discoloration

The Right Stuff

I’m old enough to remember when Sony introduced its first XBR models, which were top-of-the-line CRT TVs. Since then, the company has continued to use XBR in the model designation of its flagship flat panels, adding a number to indicate each new generation.

This brings us to XBR9, a line with four screen sizes, including the 52-inch KDL-52XBR9—the largest of the bunch—reviewed here. Interestingly, the XBR8 line uses LED backlighting, whereas the XBR9 uses conventional CCFL, which makes the XBR8 the true flagship in Sony’s fleet, at least in terms of contrast and black level. On the other hand, the XBR9 is newer and offers several other advantages over the XBR8.

At the top of the feature list is a 240-hertz refresh rate, which is twice the rate of the XBR8 and many other interpolating LCDs. (The smallest XBR9, a 32-incher, is 120 Hz.) And this is true 240 Hz. It interpolates three frames between each frame of a 60-Hz signal and nine frames between each frame in a 24-Hz signal. (Some LCD TVs that claim 240 Hz actually refresh the screen at 120 Hz and turn the backlight on and off in a particular pattern during each frame, so they’re a pseudo 240 Hz.)

Frame interpolation, which Sony calls Motionflow, is designed to combat the motion blur that’s endemic to LCDs—and it’s generally very successful at this task. However, it can also introduce artifacts of its own, particularly smudging in moving areas of fine detail. It also imparts what many reviewers describe as a video-like look, which some viewers object to. However, I’m not one of them—I much prefer to see sharper moving images.

Another advancement in the XBR9 is the integration of BRAVIA Internet Video (BIV) within the TV’s cabinet. To connect the previous generation of TVs to the Internet, you had to buy a separate BIV module and attach it to the back of the TV. In addition to online content from a wide range of providers, the XBR9 also provides various widgets that offer access to online news, weather, sports, and other info.

Digital media accessibility is becoming ever more important, so the XBR9 lets you retrieve music, photo, and video files from a USB storage device—the set provides both USB 1.1 and 2.0 ports—or a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) server on the same network as the TV. I love the ability to share photos on a big-screen TV rather than having to crowd around a computer screen, and this feature makes it super easy.

The video processor has been upgraded from BRAVIA Engine 2 Pro in the XBR8 to BRAVIA Engine 3. Like any good flagship TV, this one has a screen resolution of 1920 by 1080, so the processor’s primary duty is to deinterlace 1080i and convert lower resolutions. It also offers several enhancements, such as Black Corrector, Clear White, and Advanced Contrast Enhancer. However, I normally find that these degrade the picture rather than improve it, so I left them turned off.

Another processing function is called Live Color Creation. In conjunction with the WCG (wide color gamut) backlight, this lets the TV reproduce a wider-than-normal range of colors. This is fine for footage shot on a camcorder that captures a wider gamut, but no commercial content has such a gamut, so I left this function disabled for normal viewing.

User Interface
The remote is a universal model that can control up to four devices including the TV. It’s fully illuminated, although some of the labels are on the remote body instead of the buttons themselves, so you can’t see them in the dark even with the backlight on.

The layout is reasonably good, with well-separated buttons. The number, volume up/down, and channel buttons are large, but the transport and some of the function buttons are pretty small. Dedicated buttons let you directly access Internet video and the widgets, which is nice.

The menu system is based on Sony’s Xross Media Bar (XMB) design, which arranges the main menu items horizontally, while submenus branch off vertically from each one. I’ve never liked the XMB, but I have to admit that Sony has made a few improvements in this implementation.

In this set, there are seven main menu items—Settings, Photos, Music, Video, TV Channels, External Inputs, and Network (widgets). I see absolutely no reason to have channels, inputs, and widgets in the menu at all, since you can call up a list of the inputs and widgets with dedicated buttons on the remote, and you can enter channels from the numeric keypad.

One piece of good news is that many of the picture-related menus under Settings have been consolidated in the Picture Adjust menu, which makes it much easier to tweak the picture controls for each input. The aspect ratio and related settings are in a separate menu.

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