Sony KDS-R70XBR2 1920x1080 SXRD RPTV Page 2

Setup and Adjustment
Though they could be easier to access, the R70 does offer a wide range of useful picture controls. They're the same controls found on the KDS-R60XBR2 reviewed recently by Randy Tomlinson, but I'll summarize them briefly again here.

There are three Picture Modes: Vivid, Standard, and Custom. Although each can be adjusted individually by the user, I recommend sticking with Custom, after adjusting it to the optimum settings. The user accessible controls can be set up separately for each input, so you can tweak them for every source. Not all video displays offer this much flexibility.

There are seven different settings for Sony's Advanced Iris control, but as mentioned earlier only two of them, named Auto 1 and Auto 2, operate dynamically. The others are fixed positions, including Min and Max. I did all of my viewing, and most of my testing, in Auto 2.

There are four Color Temperature settings: Cool, Neutral, Warm 1 and Warm 2. Warm 2 was the closest to the D6500 standard, and could be brought even closer by calibration with the White Balance controls and the right test gear. The White Balance adjustments are openly accessible in the Advanced Settings Menu. Not only does White Balance allow adjustment of red, green, and blue at the top and bottom of the brightness range, it can, like the other video controls, be separately adjusted for each input.

DRC is essentially a sophisticated video enhancement control. In the On position, it offers up to two modes of operation—Mode 1 and Mode 2. Each of these can be adjusted in the DRC Palette menu in two dimensions, Reality for "detail" and Clarity for "smoothness." (The Palette Increasing the Reality setting added white edge enhancement lines to both horizontal and vertical details. Increasing the Clarity had no visible effect on test patterns. While I occasionally dialed in Mode 1 on the DRC (Reality set to its minimum value of 1, Clarity set to 41 out of 100), most often I preferred to leave DRC Off entirely. (Mode 2 is only available in 1080i, and the DRC Palette is not selectable in 720p.)

There are, of course, the usual Brightness, Picture (A.K.A. white level or Contrast to most of the video world), Color, Hue (Tint), Sharpness, and multi-level Noise Reduction controls. The latter is subtle but effective when needed, with a minimal sacrifice in resolution.

There are seven additional controls in the Advanced Settings menu. Black Corrector makes the bottom of the image darker by clipping the blacks at the bottom of the brightness range. Leave it Off. The Gamma control offers five different settings. I preferred the Low setting most of the time. Off produces a darker picture, and Medium, High, and Max are lighter.

Clear White brightens the brighter portions of the image still further. You don't need it, so leave it Off. Live Color simply makes the image more vivid, with its most pronounced effect on reds. I left it Off. White Balance, also in the Advanced Settings menu, was discussed earlier.

Detail Enhancer and Edge Enhancer sound like two controls that would be best left off. But I found their effects very subtle—and useful. Most of the time I ended up with Detail Enhancer in the Medium setting and Edge Enhancer on Low.

There are a number of interesting adjustments in other menus as well. Offered are such features as (limited) control over the size and centering of the image, Timers, Power Saving (adjusts the lamp brightness—I left it On for all of my viewing and most of the tests), CineMotion (detects the presence of a film-based source using 3/2 pulldown; functional only on 480i sources), and Display Area (increases overscan beyond the Normal setting—rarely useful and not recommended). There's also a separate Picture menu for a PC input.

There is also a Color Matrix control that allows you to select a different color system than standard. Normally, HD sources use REC709 (also known as ITU709), and standard definition uses REC601 (ITU601). But errors in video transfers, or in other equipment such as disc players, can throw this out of whack. The visible differences are usually subtle, but the adjustment is there for those that need it. I didn't feel the need and did all of my viewing in the Standard setting.

I won't spend time here on the Sound menu, since I did not review the set's onboard sound system. But it offers the usual variety of adjustments, plus a relatively new one: A/V Sync. This offers a limited, four-step adjustment for synchronizing the audio and video on digital channels coming through Sony's on-board DTV/HDTV tuner.

One nice design feature deserves special mention. On most sets the on-screen menus remain searing bright, even if the user has managed to tame the light output of the picture itself with the video controls. But on the Sony, when you reduce the Picture (Contrast) control, the menus dim also. So when you call up a menu to make an adjustment during a movie, you don't wince. Much appreciated.

Thanks to Randy Tomlinson's review of the smaller KDS-R60XBR2, mentioned earlier, I had a good idea where to set the controls for the best results. My settings, discussed in the section above, differed little from his. I did find that no setting of the Picture control clipped the peak whites. So if I wanted enough peak white output to zap moths—over 90 foot-Lamberts at the Max setting—I could get it. But I also found that by backing off to 50 on the Picture control, using the Auto 2 iris mode (which I used almost exclusively), the peak output dropped to around 30fL. This was tolerable even in a completely darkened room, and still provided impressive image contrast.

And poor contrast and black levels are not on the Sony's menu. In fact, even with its fixed iris set to Max the R70 will produce very good blacks. With the iris set on Auto 2, its black level is comparable to a good (though not the very best) single chip DLP front projector. For the numbers, see "Tests and Calibration," but if you just want the bottom line, it's this: This Sony offers richer blacks than any other current one-piece digital television I know of.

That may change in the future, as other manufacturers play catch up, but for now the Sony's blacks are the real thing. They're not CRT-level blacks, but only rarely in my viewing time with this set did I experience any gray fog threatening to wash out the image. And even when I did, it was barely a hint. I did occasionally see a little black crush in the most challenging material, such as Dark City on DVD, but it never obscured important image detail.

While the Sony's grayscale could be calibrated nicely and, as indicated earlier, set up separately for each input, its color points weren't particularly accurate. But that's typical of most modern digital displays.

But after calibration and fine-tuning the overall color level, the Sony's color was very pleasing even if it wasn't as precise as the video perfectionist in me would like. I don't think many of you will find it disappointing. While it would be faint praise to point out that the color on animated fare like The Wild on Blu-ray and Happy Feet on HD DVD looked spectacular on the R70, live action didn't trail very far behind. Modest films with no pretensions to eye-popping color looked natural, and when the colors were intended to jump out at the viewer, as in Phantom of the Opera on HD DVD, they definitely did.

I even went back to some of my earliest, at the time reference-quality DVDs to check their color. One of most vivid was Madeline. When I scaled the Color control back to 45 and turned the Gamma to Off, the colors popped beautifully without becoming overdone.

White field uniformity is an issue with many new digital technologies, particularly LCD and LCoS. While a very close look at full white field test patterns of different brightness levels did show hints of green and magenta discoloration on the Sony, it was very subtle. I did not see it on program material. I don't watch a lot of black and white films, which are most likely to show this problem if it exists, but I did check out the superb HD DVD transfer of Casablanca. The Sony did fine by it; the monochromatic tones were well rendered with no visible color tint.

In my experience, LCoS displays, and those using derivative technologies such as SXRD, have been a hair softer in detail than DLP displays. With the best of them, such as the JVC DLA-HD1 front projector the difference is elusive, and sometimes even to the benefit of LCoS. So it is with the Sony R70. Its picture has that combination of compelling detail and a silky, creamy quality that exemplifies the term "film-like." When set up properly it never looks overly sharp or "digital." But on good program material it never looks soft either. I sometimes cheated a bit and raised the Sharpness control from its minimum position, which produces the best results on test patterns, to between 10 and 20 (out of a maximum of 100). The best high-definition looked terrific, and even well produced early DVDs, such as the above mentioned Madeline, looked new again.

The viewing distance with this set was relatively significant. When I moved in to about 9 feet from the screen, in an effort to simulate the same relative angle of view I get from my bigger projection screen, the result was good. But I found a distance of 10-12 feet to be optimal. This will vary somewhat with the individual, but remember that both the picture and the sound must be considered in the total experience. Sit too close, and the drivers in many multi-way speakers won't meld as well as they can when you sit a bit further away. If you want the wide field of view experience, sitting too close to a "smaller" one-piece television is no substitute for a separate projector and screen. But the Sony R70 comes remarkably close, and if most of your viewing is of high quality, high-definition material you can probably sit as close as eight feet or so without a problem.

The Sony's only serious shortcomings were with 480i and 480p sources. This included both resolution and video processing. Its resolution, with an HDMI input, would not reach to 6.75MHz with 480i or 13.5MHz in 480p—the highest frequencies at those resolutions. Oddly, it passed this test with 480i/p using its component inputs.

The R70's scaling and deinterlacing from 480i up to the set's 1080p native resolution failed some of our standard tests, particularly those that are designed to check for jagged edges. But the Sony did recognize 3/2 pulldown on 480i film-based sources—as long as the CineMotion feature was set to Auto.

Though it properly deinterlaced 1080i sources to 1080p, the R70 did not recognize 3/2 pulldown on 1080i sources—a common failing in today's sets.

Nevertheless, these processing issues only rarely produced an obvious artifact on real-world source material. They were consistently visible only on test patterns.

And how does the Sony perform on poor-quality material? To find out, I fed it a 480i composite source recorded at less than the best quality on my old Replay TV digital video recorder. The picture was serviceable, but with its video noise and softness (the Sony's noise reduction helped, but was far too subtle to produce more than a marginal improvement on a very noisy source) no one would suggest it was much more than that. How much the Sony's 480i performance had to do with this is unclear since such sources have tripped up most other displays I have tested. If you watch a lot of technically mediocre material, a display like the Sony won't conceal the problems—which is as it should be. The bigger and more detailed the display, the more obvious the flaws in the source become.

The Sony KDS-R70XBR2 may not be perfect. I'd like to see more technically precise color, and its performance on 480i/p sources could also be improved. But in an overall balance of strengths I can't imagine that you can do much better at the current state of the art.

More than once I found myself pulling out this or that disc to spot check some quality or other in the Sony's image. Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and I found it difficult to move on to the next disc in line. And when I watched movies all the way through, more often than not I'd simply lose myself in them, my critic mode completely disarmed. This Sony is that good.

Superb images from both HD and good quality SD program material
Great blacks and peak contrast, particularly in auto iris modes
Excellent feature set for dialing in the best picture

Pleasing but inaccurate color
Video processing mediocre on 480i/p material
On-screen menus not intuitive