Sony KDS-R60XBR2 60" SXRD RPTV Page 2

Noise Reduction attempts to reduce video noise without softening the picture. Low and Medium make this compromise very well. High is more effective but softens the picture quite a bit. At least some noise reduction helps add a welcome smoothness to the picture.

DRC Mode enables Sony's video processing. Mode 1 (default) is very sharp with few artifacts. Mode 2 is only for standard definition sources and really screwed up reproduction of the focus test pattern. Off gives a smoother picture, more like the JVC sets. You'll have to decide between smooth and sharp; I preferred the sharpness of Mode 1.

DRC Palette allows you to increase edge enhancement (Reality, in Sony's terminology) and noise reduction (Clarity). Sony's default position was as high in either direction as you'll want to go. Excessive Reality can really make a mess in its efforts to sharpen the picture. Clarity, which softens the picture, attempts to clean it up. I always thought Sony got these names backwards.

Advanced Settings are available only in Custom Mode. Many secrets for getting an excellent picture live in here:

Black Corrector crushes the darker parts of the picture to give the illusion of more contrast. That might work fine with an LCD set with lousy blacks but it's the last thing this set needs. Sony enables it by default. Turn it off.

Gamma allows you to make the picture appear brighter without changing black level or maximum light output. I did find that setting Gamma to Low often improved darker movies. It also made The Tonight Show look brighter, somewhat like the best plasmas, but it also raised the black level, which had to be lowered three clicks to compensate.

Clear White adds blue to brightest whites. There's already too much blue, so leave this useless feature off.

Live Color is the color decoder control. While you might like what it does (boost certain colors) when using the cooler color temperatures, you must turn it off for best color when Warm 2 is used (and particularly on an ISF calibrated set) or reds (and flesh tones) will be overemphasized.

White Balance allows you to tweak the grayscale (color temperature) of the set without running amuck in the service menu where there are 500 mysterious items to play Russian roulette with. You can adjust each source separately. An ISF calibration with instruments is required to achieve perfection but you should have no problem bettering what the factory did, even without a color analyzer.

Detail Enhancer is one of Sony's sharpness enhancement tricks that, if used in moderation, can really make a picture "pop" with few unwanted artifacts. Low is a safe starting point. Sometimes a bit of this and a bit less sharpness is a good combination.

Edge Enhancer is another enhancement trick. Although this sounds like sharpness, its effects cannot be seen on the usual sharpness test patterns though they're clearly visible on video material. Once again, Low is a safe setting if you like the illusion of a sharp picture.

You can understand the effects of these two by thinking of a finger being shown on the screen. Detail Enhancer would sharpen the lines inside the finger (finger print) while Edge Enhancer would sharpen the finger's outside edge.

When Looking Its Best
Once ideally tweaked in Custom mode, the XBR2 produces a picture that's hard (but not quite impossible) to fault. Only a really good front projector can do a better job of squeezing detail from HD images, and that's almost entirely due to the superiority of front projection screens. Front projection screens are used primarily for dark room viewing. They don't need the high screen "gain" rear projection sets require for use in brightly lit rooms.

(Despite the use of new screen materials and/or bright projectors to make front projection viable with room lighting, a front projector will always look best in the darkest room you can manage—Ed.)

The resolution and subjective detail of the Sony are remarkable. While other products might match Sony's video bandwidth and tight focus, none have Sony's unique video enhancement circuits which (when used properly) make most any picture look cleaner, sharper, and more stunning, yet with very little penalty in the way of visible edge enhancement or other ugly artifacts. DRC (Digital Reality Creation), Sony's name for its video processing, can be switched off, but I found that most pictures look better (certainly sharper) with it on, yet without the artifacts caused by such circuits in competing sets.

The XBR2 once again sets industry standards in dark scenes for low noise, lack of posterization, and absolute black level. Some have criticized Sony's dynamic iris once they figured out how to spot its operation, but the iris is a big part of the spectacular subjective contrast this set has. Without it, the XBR2 would be down in the league with several excellent competitors. I'll take the iris. I can ignore its subtle operation. I want those blacks! And besides, you can regulate it or even turn its dynamic operation off if you like. The latest competitors from JVC and Samsung (though not the new Samsung HL-S5679W [LINK], which uses LEDs as a light source) also have dynamic irises. But they either don't work as well or can't be controlled as well by the viewer.

The XBR2's colors aren't accurate to industry standards (neither are its competitors, though the Samsungs can be calibrated color-accurate with special equipment). The errors, however, are less annoying than some. Water, for instance, doesn't look unnaturally bluish, fire engines are an almost-believable color of red, and athletic fields don't scream lime green like cheaper RPTVs and most flat panels. Sometimes, the color of wooden furniture can look slightly "off." Still, if you'd never seen accurate colors on a HDTV (and few people have), you probably wouldn't complain about Sony's slightly hyped up color.

When adjusted properly, the color decoder gives an excellent balance between colors with no "red push." As delivered, even the warmest color temperature setting is too cool (see "Technical Discussion") so an ISF grayscale calibration (or even the simple user tweak described in the "Tweaking the Video Controls" section above) will improve color rendition by an order of magnitude.

Real World Viewing
The XBR2 doesn't always stand out over its competition. For instance, I was able to match it up against the JVC HD-61FN97 on Session 9, a horror flick on standard DVD—highly rated but I thought it was weak. On this disc, I was able to make the two sets look virtually identical over 90% of the time. I had to reduce the contrast on the (overly bright) Sony to match the lower output of the JVC, but on that DVD, differences were scarce and even the darker scenes looked fairly comparable. As I said in my review of the JVC, that set can look real, real good.

But in more dynamic HD over-the-air broadcasts (like football games), the Sony had more punch, more contrast, and more subjective (though not measurable) resolution, with noise and artifact levels as good as the JVC and far lower than recent Samsung 1080p sets I've seen in the field. So while the JVC again looked really good, and even sometimes more natural, I suspect the Sony would impress most people a bit more.

With HD DVDs, using the Toshiba HD-A1 player at 1080i and the Chronicles of Riddick as a source, the picture was really breathtaking once the set was fully tweaked. Here, Sony's enhancement tricks worked beautifully to make it look razor sharp without noise or artifacts. The other sets looked great too, but always just a notch behind. Turning off Sony's DRC immediately made the picture look softer, much like the competition. TJN, who typically watches movies on the very best front projectors, told me this was an unusually sharp, clean HD DVD. I wouldn't have realized that had I not seen it on the Sony.

1080i broadcasts over-the-air or on satellite or cable have always been plagued by motion and interlacing artifacts. Haven't you noticed the artifact-filled windows in the fake buildings in the skyline behind Jay Leno? Yet 1080p isn't even in the cards for those sources right now. The ability to de-interlace well is critical for minimizing these artifacts and at that the Sony excels. It's likely that 1080p from new Blu-ray and HD DVD players will be less demanding and show fewer motion artifacts, but the need to de-interlace 1080i cleanly will continue for most HD sources in the foreseeable future.

I spent some time watching NFL Football (over-the-air at 1080i) in an effort to evaluate the XBR2's ability keep things in focus when motion is involved. Fast-moving objects just can't be evaluated by the eye, but slow pans across athletic fields are very revealing and seem to be insanely difficult for processors. While these slow pans still suffered from a loss of resolution, it didn't begin as soon, or look as bad, as the competing sets I've seen. Even the Sony exhibited other motion artifacts with football at 1080i, which inherently isn't as good as 720p for fast motion.

Cable and satellite non-HD broadcasts also benefited from Sony's processing, which rendered a subjectively sharper picture without the expected artifacts from typical image sharpening. Substandard broadcasts will never look good when blown up to 60" as they will on a small screen, but you're unlikely to find any other big-screen set that will make them look better. Digital off the air stations were impressive even when not broadcast in HD.

Is It Really Better Than The Cheaper A2000 Series Sets? In two words: Heck Yes! I have seen and calibrated a number of Sony's less expensive A2000 series SXRD sets. It's my opinion that the A2000 series is great for the money, but it's not an XBR2 on the cheap. In the sets I've seen the blacks aren't as dark, resolution isn't as high, the video processor isn't as good, iris operation is more noticeable, and focus across the entire screen isn't nearly as sharp or as uniform. And, of course, the XBR2 has way more useful features.

The Bottom Line
If you don't mind spending the cash (and this is certainly no bargain basement set), in my opinion money can't buy you a better RPTV than the Sony KDS-R60XBR2. While this review is of the 60" version, my personal experiences with larger 70" model have been at least as positive. Other sets can match it in some aspects of picture quality, and even better it in color accuracy. And most of them are much cheaper. But no other set I've seen this year can match this picture overall, once it's calibrated and adjusted properly.

Much of this has to do with contrast and those stunning blacks, but it also involves unquestionable superiority in noise and artifact elimination and superior focus, especially when showing motion. In features, the XBR2 has all the useful bells and whistles you could ask for, and I found very few design oversights that would either compromise video quality or cause inconvenient operation.

The silver side-speakers that can't be removed (60" version) have kept many potential buyers from fitting this set into their spaces and home décor. But the side speakers, the slightly exaggerated colors, a slight lack of screen uniformity, and maybe a quibble with the screen itself are my only real objections. Usually, I compile a much longer and more serious list of grievances in a TV review.

Except for their ability to hang on the wall, I would probably never pick a plasma or LCD set of this size or less over the XBR2. They just can't match this picture on such a wide variety of programming—they don't have the blacks. So, if you see one of these 60" XBR2s at a dealer's showroom or a friend's house and it doesn't knock your socks off, something is definitely set up wrong, because it sure can!

Randy Tomlinson is an independent ISF-certified calibrator in the Atlanta area and can be contacted via his Web site at