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Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review

Description: Sony Bravia 1920 X 1080 (1080p) 55" Diagonal LCD TV with LED Backlight
Resolution: 1980 X 1366
Dimensions with Stand: See Specifications Here
Power Consumption: 480W
Reviewer: Robert Wiley
Date: April 2009

Test and Optimum Viewing Distance: 15

Up conversion from 480i and 480p: 2:35:1 aspect DVDs should be viewed in the Zoom aspect picture mode controlled by the Wide button on the remote control. While this mode properly displays the aspect of the content, it does soften the picture giving a slightly blurred appearance from the enlarged image. This was one of the only drawbacks from the XBR8's picture. Aside from that the Bravia Engine 2 processed signals extremely well.

Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review
A scene from 480i input from Braveheart shows off the contrast of this LED backlit TV as daylight penetrates illuminating the veil of the princess. But notice that the image is overly soft due to using the Zoom aspect ratio to gain the correct sizing alternative.

720p/1080i/1080p Picture Quality: One feature that we found very necessary was the Noise reduction feature. See explanation here.

Once turning on this setting option, the picture was crisp and clear with very little about which to complain. There is bright color, great contrast and black levels and most surprising to us – plasma-like viewing angles. There was some false contouring in dark on bright areas of the picture. This "mapping" of dark matter will not be noticed if one is 15 feet or more from the television. However, it is noticeable from a closer distance. Other than that, another defining plasma-like characteristic is depth perception with HD signals which is excellent.

Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review
In this scene from The Fifth Element notice the false contouring in dark blotchy areas of the tunnel.
Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review
In this scene from The Fifth Element see the beautiful color definition and contrast provided by the XBR8's Triluminous LED Backlight.

Black Level: Our post calibration contrast measurement was a fairly impressive 228 to 1. While this still is well short of many top tier plasma TVs which we've measured at 700 to 1, it is a very good result for an LCD television. See our full calibration report here. I was surprised by how deep and penetrating the blacks were on this LED TV – perhaps the best black levels we've seen on an LCD though a couple of new Samsung LCDs may rival them.

Dark Shadow Detail: No complaints in this department aside from the occasional mapping issue. Dark areas of images were detailed and easily discernible.

Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review
See the excellent dark shadow detail in this HD Dolby Digital test disk image of 9 Inch Nails in concert.

Color Rendition/Color Accuracy: The Sony Bravia XBR8 dialed in nicely to D6500 and color information appeared natural and not over baked like so many expensive LCDs. At times we found ourselves pleasantly glued to a scene just enjoying the realistic, colorful images.

Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review
Notice the variation and realism of the flesh tones in this HD image from our Dolby test disk.

Viewing Angle/Off Axis Viewing: The XBR8 has the best viewing angle capability we've seen on an LCD. We estimated that contrast does not start to degrade until about 75 degrees – a superb plasma-like result – especially for an LCD TV.

Motion Lag: There was some notable jerkiness when the camera panned from side to side. Sony does not give a clear option for accessing the 120Hz processing. Instead, they give a few advanced picture settings such as Motion Enhancer and Game Modes. So, it was impossible to know whether we were viewing images in 60Hz or 120Hz. We thought the XBR8 did a good job with reduction of motion lag during fast moving scenes. It would be nice to clearly be able to turn the 120hz processing off if wanted – to see the difference.

Video Features: We do not normal recommend using many of the "enhancing" features present on todays TVs which typically add video noise. However, the Noise Reduction option on the XBR8 is a favorable feature. We recommend placing it on the medium setting which greatly helps to reduce background motion artifacts without softening the picture too much.

Video Aspect Ratio Sizing: The Wide button on the remote controls aspect ratio options. There are more aspect ratio options for HDMI input content including Wide, Wide Zoom, Normal, Full, H Stretch, Zoom.

Inputs: 4 HDMI inputs round out a complete enough set of input options. Has Firewire and USB port as well as a CAT 5 input jack.

Aesthetic Considerations: While an attractive TV, there are no real design style improvements over past models. One drawback we immediately noticed in the XBR8 is the 6" depth cabinet which is no doubt caused by the new LED lighting system. Still, that is a bulky depth especially if wall mounting. The speakers now are housed on the sides of the "floating" glass. The wide bezel and glass create a little glare from ambient lighting though the screen itself does a good job reducing glare.

Sony KDL-55XBR8 Review

Remote Control/Menu Funtionality: The Xross Media Bar menu system is a cool looking if not a little quirky to use at first. Once accustomed to it, it is a fun little feature scrolling through the numerous advanced settings which for the most part you will want to avoid. One that you do want to turn on is the Noise Reduction function. It's annoying to have to scroll through inputs each time one needs to change input sources (for instance from HDMI to composite). We would like to see discrete input buttons on the remote control.

Audio Output: We felt the sound was flat without enough definition when listening to the Ramsey Lewis Jazz Ensemble in our HD test disc. There was no crispness in the high hat. Sound output was dull and the speakers did not put out sufficient volume for the size.

Features: There is a new Video Game mode as well as Bravia Sync option for communicating with other Sony equipment.

Note: At 480watts the Bravia 55BXR8 uses close to the same power as a plasma TV of the same size. It's an energy guzzler, but it does not get hot to the touch.

Price Considerations: At $5500 this LCD is a pricey option. The Samsung LN55A950 is a similar LED backlit LCD and costs about $1000 less. The Sharp Aquos LC52XS1U-S is a premium priced $10K plus model also with LED backlighting and other premium features. The playing field will narrow somewhat soon with LG entering this size LED backlit LCD market, but for now that's the whole competitive landscape if you take plasma out of the picture.

LCDs which are not LED backlit, may not have the viewing angle or deep blacks that this unit does but will sell for half the price. A 58" top of the line Plasma TVs with similar picture quality will sell for around half the price as well.

The picture is certainly excellent especially the black levels, and viewing angles which are so important to viewing pleasure. Color information while not the best we've seen was also good. Drawbacks include the cabinet depth at 6 inches, the surprising poor audio quality from the built in speakers, and the occasional scaling mistake from lower resolutions.

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Rating scale from 70 (denoting poorest quality) to 100 (signifying the very best quality). A rating in the 60s for any particular category of a product review indicates a serious defect which causes the product not to operate properly. Picture quality is double-weighted in the Overall Rating Score calculation.

Review Equipment Used: Sony Blu Ray BDP-S1 High Definition DVD player, Sony DVP-S50 DVD player, Sencore Color Pro 5000, Sencore Auto Cal Pro, Sencore signal generator.

This review format and all of the headings, sub headings and paragraph titles are part of a copyrighted process. Any unauthorized reproduction or use, either in full or in part, of this product review format is expressly prohibited.

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