Winter is a wonderful time of the year—especially for those who want to sled downhill. If you can’t find hills or snow nearby, just look at a diagram showing prices of LCD HDTVs—it’s a sweet downward angle that’ll make any prospective buyer a happy camper. Sony’s new 52-inch XBR6 model is a great example. It launched last fall at $3,499, dropped quickly to $2,999 and, as we speak, sells on Amazon for less than $2,400. That’s 1,000 clams in anyone’s language. And since it’s part of Sony’s higher-end XBR series, it’s loaded with many performance boosters including a 120Hz refresh rate and advanced video processing; 1080p quality is given. Now is this tier-one LCD HDTV a winner? In a few clicks of the supplied remote, we’ll find out.
Features and Design
The is an attractive flat panel HDTV—if looking at a black piano-finished rectangular frame can be in any way exciting. We think it’s what you see onscreen that really matters, but the television has a sophisticated floating glass design that sets it apart from the myriad of other flat panels out there. Below the strip of glass that separates the main screen from the speakers is a long silver grille you can change to match your room’s décor—red, brown or gold—take your pick for $99 each. Other than a small XBR logo and a lighted Sony nameplate, there’s not much else to see. Unfortunately, there are no memory card slots or front A/V inputs, and you’ll barely notice several tiny status lights.
This 52-incher is a very heavy panel, weighing 79 pounds without the stand, and 94 with the pedestal. The 50-inch Pioneer Kuro we recently reviewed tipped the scales at 88 including the stand, and 74 for the panel. Supposedly, plasmas are heavier than LCDs, but it appears to be another plasma myth, like shorter lifespan and image burn-in. The Sony is also thicker—4.87 inches deep versus 3.65 for the Kuro. This really doesn’t mean much once you get the set into position, though, since most people will never go near it again other than to occasionally dust it off.
On the left side, you’ll find a nice set of inputs to handle game consoles, camcorders and cameras (USB, HDMI and A/V). On the right are basic TV controls you won’t use unless you can’t find the remote—power, channel/volume up/down, input and home.
The rear jack pack has a good selection including three HDMI (four total), two component, PC-in, digital audio out, and so on. You should be good to go with this selection. Separating the XBR6 from run-of-the-mill displays is the LAN jack, Digital Media Port for portable players and DMex port for the optional Bravia Internet Link.
What’s in the Box
The Sony Bravia KDL-52XBR6 comes in the typical upright carton. Since the set is heavy and has no handles on the back panel, you’ll definitely need a friend help move it into position. The box also contains a quick setup guide, a well-written and designed 60-page owner’s manual, an AC cord, remote and two AA batteries. Make sure you have your HDMI cables at the ready.
We got the set in place, connected two HD sources, loaded the batteries in the remote, then settled in to see how it performed.
Performance and Use
We love HDMI connections. One plug handling the chores of five makes for easy living. We connected a Verizon FiOS high-def HD cable box, and a Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray Disc player then walked through the set-up before watching some programming.
As with any major electronic device, the remote is your key interface. The supplied backlit control is decent, but just as we complained about the Pioneer’s Kuro, you really should get a better one with a $2,000-plus television. After all, this is Sony. Not Vizio, Westinghouse Digital or—Heaven forefend—a Polaroid. We at least expect a nice LCD readout, but that’s not the case here. It’s an elongated black candy bar shape with a fairly intuitive button layout, and access to up three additional devices (DVD, amp, set-top box). There’s also instant access to some key functions such as theater, sound, wide and picture (we’ll get into these shortly).
The KDL-52XBR6 has TV Guide On Screen, a free programming guide, but this has little use for most viewers since you’ll use the programming guide that comes with your cable or satellite box. You just skip it during the initial set-up and before you know it, you’re ready to watch television.
Just like the Kuro, this Bravia has video adjustments galore, although not high-end Imaging Science Foundation options. Sure, you can have an outside expert come in and calibrate your display, but you’re much better off financially using a do-it-yourself disk, and/or your eyes to make the changes. Like many HDTVs, the Sony comes set in the vivid mode as a default. This is a real no-no for movies, but you can use it for plain old TV shows—don’t worry we won’t tell. Actually, it was enjoyable watching Jimmy Kimmel’s face beaming from the screen in vivid, as it was for college hoops, or women’s volleyball on ESPN HD. But back to the tweaking…
The KDL-53XBR6 uses the XrossMediaBar (XMB) menu system that made its bones on the PS3, and is now found on most Sony video gear. It’s very easy to use, and gives access to five main menus: settings, viewing photos, listening to music, watching TV and accessing external inputs. Under settings is picture, where you choose the color palette of your choice. Under custom you can really go to town by adjusting backlight, contrast, color, hue, color temperature, sharpness noise reduction, MPEG NR, gamma, advanced color enhancer, and so on. If you find this too daunting, just choose between vivid, standard and cinema. There’s even a game mode.
There’s a similar litany of sound options, including S-Force Front Surround, for a so-so surround experience. Nothing beats a true 5.1-speaker system, but it’ll do until you hook yours up.
Using the Monster DIY disk, we made some adjustments from the Standard setting and—to our eyes—there was very little difference between the two, which is a good thing. We found this option to be quite good for HDTV and Blu-ray discs in a room with a lot of ambient light. Cinema was fine for BD movies in a dark room, and we switched between it and a Custom setting that tweaked every option available. If you’re here and making these adjustments, there’s really not much you’ll miss by having a pro calibration—sorry ISF diehards.
As noted, we watched some high-def TV using vivid for chuckles, then toned it down in other options as well as using cinema and custom for Blu-ray Discs.
The buzz regarding 120Hz refresh rates for LCD displays is valid. Smearing and comet tails are noticeable on older LCD HDTVs, but by boosting the frame rate on newer sets, this is virtually eliminated. During a replay of the Steelers-Titans game, the ball was a darting spiral—the way it should be. Uniform colors in the standard mode were right on the money. Watching the Dave Matthews Band on Palladia was another good experience. Close-ups of guitar strings were clear and distinct. And black levels, one of the most critical features of any HDTV, were very, very good, among the best we’ve seen for a tradition CCFL backlit LCD display. Plasma is still king here, but newer (albeit expensive) LED backlit LCD HDTVs are getting very close.
While watching TV, we also quickly moved through some handy keys on the remote. Hit picture and you get the main options (vivid, standard and so on) rather than going through the XMB. You can also adjust the amount of zoom (ours was kept at full). Theater will turn on a HDMI-equipped Sony A/V system and kick the picture into cinema mode. These were nice additions to an otherwise plain vanilla remote.
Watching Blu-ray Discs
Just like you did, we bought BD copies of Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark Knight as soon as they hit the shelves. During a battle scene in Narnia, as arrows flew and bizarre creatures leapt through the air, there was very little streaking, thanks to the 120Hz circuitry. Colors were great, with loads of detail, even in scenes like “The Queen’s Lair.” When the cheetahs raced toward us in a battle scene, they looked as accurate as CGI can be. In fact, overall the image looked almost as good as plasma, which is high praise indeed from DigitalTrends.com. Heath Ledger as the Joker also looked terrific, with his red lips menacing and creepily funny at the same time. Batman movies are always a great ride, and the combo of BD and this HDTV was quite impressive.
All is not wonderful with the KDL-52XBR6. While it worked fine with movies, when watching some live TV shows there’s a bit of screen door effect that was quite noticeable from four feet away. Most viewers will be farther back, but it’s still there, and it’s something you won’t see on a plasma display. To the plus side, there was hardly any reflection, even with bright fluorescents turned on; you can only say that with the best Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas.
The Sony KDL-52XBR6 is a very good 52-inch HDTV, and you’ll be happy once you make the investment. The black levels and overall color accuracy were excellent. Since this is a Sony, you do pay a premium for the name—it’s been that way since the ancient Trinitron days. Comparable 52-inchers with 120Hz refresh rate like the Sharp LC52SE94U and Samsung LN52A650 run around $2,200 and $2,000 respectively. Still, it’s hard not to recommend this XBR. Check out the black levels as you scan the walls at your local retailer and you’ll see it definitely stands out. Again, it’s not plasma, but it’s definitely a top tier-one television.
- Deep black levels
- Good color out of the box
- Plenty of tweaks for picture quality
- Surprisingly decent sound system
- Some noticeable screen door effect
- Remote should be better
- No memory card slots