Component Reviews

Sony 64.5 inch XBR HX929 LCD TV

The Cadillac of TVs today is worth its over $5000 cost.

Published on March 18, 2012

Sony 64.5 inch XBR HX929 LCD TV  

Specs:

Screen: 16:9  1080P  1920/1080  240Hz
Size: 64.5 inches
Screen Type: LCD, 3D ready
Backlighting: local-dimming LED
Smart TV with Ethernet connection
Inputs: 5-HDMI, 2 component, Ethernet, 2 analog audio, IR, AC power, PC HDMI, 1 component, 2 USB,
RF, RS232C and 2 composite.
Outputs: Digital and analog audio and headphones.
Size: 59.25 X 36.8 x2.6 inches
Price: SRP: $6000 ($4300 to 5400 street)
For complete specs


Intro

This is not a TV I was sent by the manufacture and put in my system, that I bought because I got an accommodation price on it. I am less than a year from retirement and I knew I was going to buy a new TV before I retired. I am a very careful buyer, and I have researched TVs for a couple of years in anticipation. First there was the decision between LCD and plasma. I chose LCD because it is usually brighter than plasmas.  One reviewer said that he had to turn down the brightness on the Sony well below its optimum level to compare it with a top of the line plasma.  My previous TV was a Sony XBR2. It still had a very good picture, but lacked the black levels and color intensity of the new sets. The contenders were Samsung, LG, Sony, Sharp Elite and Vizio.
LCDs and Backlighting

The most notable aspect is black level. LCDs aren’t bright enough on their own. They use backlighting to give a brighter picture.  There are two light sources for back lighting, incandescent and LED. There is edge-lit for both types. Incandescent is generally constant level edge lighting. LEDs can be either edge or full panel. Edge-lit LED can either be constant or dynamic backlighting. The constant backlighting is always on the same level, so during dark scenes the backlighting reduces the black level that can be produced. Dynamic edge or full panel helps this by lowering or raising the backlighting as the picture requires. But it does the whole screen at the same level. During scenes with both light and dark areas the whole screen is averaged. This makes for less bright bright areas and less dark dark areas. With edge backlighting the extra lighting comes from the edges and the whole picture gets all of the brightening. The center of the picture—many times is the brightest part of the picture—is farthest from the backlighting. The whole screen is brightened, which kills the black level of the rest of the screen. The full panel backlighting gives more even lighting, but still suffers from having the full screen brightened. In local backlighting the screen is divided into local areas which can be dynamically controlled. That way only the needed area receives the extra light. Darker areas of the screen remain dark. But there can be light bleeding around the brightened areas (flash lighting).

All present backlighting is white. The best of all worlds would be colored pixel-for-pixel backlighting. Nobody has tried this because it would be extremely expensive. Only the XBR-8 has had colored local backlighting, which was very expensive. Even the local backlighting adds considerable cost to a TV. Not only do you have to have a second screen, but you also need the circuitry to sense and dynamically control the level of lighting for each section. The Sony and the Elite are the only current displays with local backlighting. Samsung used to have it, but stopped when they were sued. LG and Vizio seem to have dropped local backlighting. The manufacturers seem to try to obscure what their backlighting is by giving it various names that are not informational.

Thus it came down to the Elite and Sony. I saw the Elite at six different places and it looked between mediocre and good. One of these places was a high end store that had worked with it for a couple of months in order to get the best picture. At one store I directly viewed the Elite and Sony with the same Blu-ray disc directly fed to the TVs. The Sony had a much better background detail and more realistic picture. Another aspect of a good picture is video processing. I have felt that Sony has the best video processing in consumer TVs. The Elite has much more in picture controls. With the cost of the 70-inch Elite being $2700 more than the Sony and the 60-inch being the same as the 65- inch Sony, with Sony’s better picture, my choice was easy. The Sony is also often discounted were the Elite is not generally discounted. There are many problems with viewing TVs at stores; most are not well set up and often use divided signals, some at 720p or 1080i, not 1080p. Another push for me on the Sony was that for the first time in years Sony has made a bigger than 52-inch model as their top-of-the-line TV.

 

Appearance

It looks like a black monolith. With the TV off all you see is a small red off LED light, a small Energy Star label on one corner, and a small almost unnoticeable Bravia and XBR symbol at the top corners of the bevel. The screen is so black and non- reflective that it blends into the bevel, creating a monolith effect. When the TV is on, the LED becomes green and the lit Sony emblem comes on at the bottom center of the bevel. I cover the Sony emblem with my sound bar. It is about 2.5 inches deep because of the LED backlighting screen and some of the connections. I find the Sony to be very pleasant looking.

 

Hookup and Setup

Hookup is very easy with HDMI cables. I hooked up my Direct TV, Oppo player and computer via HDMI. I plugged in a line to my Ethernet and an optical digital out to my sound bar. HDMI makes hookup easy but has communication problems between various devices and HDMI standards are always changing. The Sony gave me no problems with HDMI hookups. The Sony looked good out of the box. To get the best picture you need to set up the TV manually. Most people can’t properly set up a TV on their own. The best is to have a professional come in and calibrate the TV. However this is somewhat expensive. The next best thing is to use a calibration disc. I have the Avia, Spears & Munsil and Monster Cable setup Blu-rays. I usually use the Monster Cable because of its user-friendly interface. I found the following settings best:

Color:   47
Hue:     R1
Sharpness:         53
Picture mode:   Custom
Backlight:     3
Color Temp:       Warm 2
Gamma:        +2
LED Dynamic Control:    Standard
Motion flow:  Standard
Color Temp:    Warm 2
All other processing:   Off

Hooking up to the Internet was easy, but setting it up was hard and frustrating. The menus are not easy to work with and navigation is poor. I feel that the Internet connection is only good for streaming audio and video to your TV. Anyone that has a computer with Ethernet connection is better of using their computer to get around the Internet, even if the TV remote has a tiny keyboard attached.
3D Capability 

The Sony has full 3D capability using its powered shutter glasses. Unfortunately they must be bought separately for $70 a crack; the display comes with none. This seems very counterproductive to me. Many 3D sources on disc are either animated or heavy CGI movies, and over the air or cable material is not nearly as high quality. When they have 3D where you can look side to side and up and down and see solid images, then you have useful 3D in my opinion. Some people also have visual problems with 3D. I am more interested in a high quality 2D picture that gives a good sense of a 3D image. I did not fork out the extra money for 3D glasses. The Sony can also simulate a 3D picture from 2D sources. The reviews that I have read, both professional and consumer, have said that the 3D effect on the Sony is pretty good but none can equal actual 3D material.  You need to have flow motion on to avoid flickering. The more straight on your viewing is, with either shutter or passive glasses, the better is the 3D effect.

 

Internet Capabilities

  • BRAVIA® Internet Video : Yes
  • BRAVIA® Internet Widgets : Yes
  • DLNA : Yes
  • DLNA Content : Yes
  • Internet Browser : Yes
  • Media Remote : Yes (Firmware Update Required)
  • Photo MAP : Yes
  • Track ID : Yes
  • Video Search : Yes
  • What’s New : Yes (Firmware Update Required)
  • Wi-Fi Certified : Yes
  • Wi-Fi Direct : Yes (Firmware Update Required)
  • Wireless LAN : Integrated

Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Skype and social media apps come implemented in the form of Yahoo widgets, including Facebook and Twitter. Sony has applied its own ‘standard’ interface for Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu rather than using each of their individual interfaces. There are also many other apps and widgets for a wide range of music, video and photo services. For Skype video an optional camera is of course needed. The few free videos seem not to be very high quality. There are a couple of free music-streaming services available. I am highly surprised by the sound quality of the Pandora steaming sound on the free service. The built-in Internet browser is not very fast or useful.

 

Sound Quality

The sound of the speakers on the Sony, like all new very thin TVs, is very poor. They are small and rear firing; only acceptable for late night quiet listening. If you do not want to turn your big surround system on every time you watch TV, a sound bar is very useful. I listened to about 12 sound bars for a year period. They included sound bars from LG, Zvox, Energy, Sharp, Boston Acoustics, Visio, Panasonic, Yamaha, Samsung, Polk, Sony, JVC and Bose – ranging in price from $200 to $1500. Most sounded dull and bloated. The one I liked best was the cheapest one. It was the Panasonic SC-HTB10. It doesn’t have an external subwoofer like most of the sound bars, but it had a better sense of life and dynamics than all the others. I am really surprised by how good it sounds. Pandora sounds very listenable though it. [Of course for any video music material or recent feature films at least a separate 5.1-channel surround speaker system is almost a necessity...Ed.]

 

Sony Advantages

Black levels are the biggest advantage. Three things make this happen: First is the previously-discussed local backlighting. The second is the OptiContrast panel. The third is the Gorilla Glass. The last two combine to give the Sony a relatively non-reflective screen. Even with the TV off and full room lighting on, almost no reflections can be seen on the screen. Black letterboxing disappears and you only sense the picture that is shown. On most TVs you notice the letterbox and it is somewhat distracting.

The next is their “flow-motion 960” video processing. This processes the panel refresh Hz to give a smoother motion to fast moving items in the picture and is very effective. When you see football players running down the field, most TVs have some fuzziness around the runner. This is particularly noticeable when the video is at a distance and the images are smaller. The Sony does the best job of greatly reducing this effect.

 

Picture 

The picture is simply the best I have seen on any commercial TV. The black levels are inky black, yet still giving very good shadow detail. On the alien contact scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the blacks were black and the facial detail of people hiding in the rocks above was exemplary. I also ran across a movie on HDTV that was shot mostly in firelight and moonlight. I immediately thought that I wouldn’t see this level of detail if I were there myself. The only TV on which I have previously seen this level of black was a Pioneer Kurio plasma set. The next strong point of the Sony is background detail and depth. The background is very stable and detailed. On the Sharp Elite the background has a tendency toward a swimmy effect. Sometimes too much detail can have a negative effect. On the Fifth Element, when the heroine looks down before jumping, there is more depth and detail than I have seen before. This level of detail gives a better sense of space to the image. On closer shots of people, there is a better depth sense with people. They seem more separated from the background and look more real. Their heads have more dimensionality and sense of roundness. There is also a better sense of texture to things, be it faces, water or objects. The display is bright enough that you can watch in a fairly well-lit room. The colors are spot on and very realistic when properly adjusted. Every time I look at the picture, I am amazed by it. The Sony up conversion makes a good DVD look nearly high definition.

 

Comments on Problems

Various reviewers have pointed out four problems with XBR 929. First they say that there is a drop off in picture quality with increased viewing angle. While I can see it, I consider it to be  minimal. At 30 degrees off-angle there is a slight barely noticeable lowering of brightness of the picture. Plasmas are touted with having a wider viewing angle than LCDs. The problem is that they start out much less bright than an LCD with backlighting. At 45 degrees off-angle the picture is somewhat dimmer, but still very watchable. At 70 degrees off-angle you have a slight snowstorm effect to the picture. I can’t see anyone watching video seriously at over a 40 degrees viewing angle. You wouldn’t want to watch a movie in a theatre at that kind of an angle. I find this analogous to stereo: If you are not sitting between and in front of the speakers, you’ll not get the best sound. The same is true of video. The second problem is flash-lighting. This is caused by the white light from the back-lighting going around the LCD pixels into darker areas of the picture. This mostly happens during very bright things with dark surroundings, like end credits and bright lights in the dark. With the back-lighting adjusted to a proper level its effect is not noticeable in most circumstances.

The third problem is price: you get what you pay for. The 929 is a much better value than the 909 was last year. Last year the retail price was $5000 for a 52-inch set. It did not have the Internet capacities of the current set or the Gorilla glass. The top-of-the- line Samsung is $5400 and has no local dimming, Gorilla Glass, OptiContrast screen or Sony processing. It does have “flow motion 960” however.  The top-of-the-line LG is around $4500, has no local dimming, Gorilla Glass, Sony processing, OptiContrast panel and it is only 120 Hz. The Elite for a 70-inch set is $3000 more and for a 60-inch is the same price as the Sony.

The fourth problem is a slight color crease towards the outside of the screen on each side. I have looked for it, but have never seen it.

 

TV in the future

There are several new things coming in television technology. The first is organic LED (OLED). Sony started this technology several years ago, but gave up on it as too pricey.  A couple of brands are supposedly out with 55-inch OLED TVs by the end of this year. They will be the first large TVs with this technology. The second is Sony’s organic crystal TVs. There is no set date for production. The third is 4000 lines of resolution TVs. This would be a technology that would be up-sampling videos to 4000 lines of resolution until a new video source is developed. It will be mainly useful for very large displays. All of these technologies are coming, but will be very pricey for the first couple of generations. The first generations may be several years off. I feel that streaming video will the main source of video in the future. The industry wants to make most video pay-per-view media rather than physical discs. This would maximize their profits. They and the government are trying to kill free over the air (OTA) TV and radio, reselling the spectrum to wireless services.

 

Conclusions

The Sony is not only the TV I would recommend, it is the TV I bought after more than a year of researching. Because of its price, I would not say it was a TV for everyone. The picture quality of the new TVs is very good in general. Most viewers would be happy with the picture of most TVs these days. The 929 is the best consumer TV I have seen. You can get the same picture in a 55-inch Sony version for around $3000.

—Clay Swartz  




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