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Excellet TV overall, Oustanding when viewed from front and center
on September 25, 2011
As of this writing (Sept. 25, 2011), I've had the Sony XBR-55HX929 for just over two months, so I thought it was about time I shared my impressions of it. Nothing I have to say differs significantly from what other (positive) reviews have said, but I thought I'd contribute to the collective wisdom.
Let me start off with a bit of context: I have had, at least briefly, five HDTVs since March 2011: a 62" Mitsubishi WD-62525 (a rear projection TV with 720p native resolution), a Panasonic TC-P55ST30 (plasma), a Samsung PN59D6500 (also a plasma), a Samsung UN55D6900 (an LED edge-lit LCD), and the Sony XBR-55HX929 (LED backlit LCD with local dimming). The Mitsubishi died in late March and I have been searching for a replacement. As you can see, I've tried out just about the full array of TV technologies. My search has ended with the Sony XBR-55HX929, and I am very happy with it. I will compare the Sony with some of the other sets I've had below.
There are a number of concerns that owners or prospective owners of the Sony have had, so let me address those. First, the build date. I ordered my set from Amazon.com on July 9, it shipped on the 13th and was delivered the 20th. It was assembled in Mexico in March 2011.
The dreaded "crease": Yes, mine has the crease (a slightly darker "line" that appears along the sides of the image on many of these Sonys, usually on the left and right, but sometimes along the top and bottom edges, about an inch in from the bezel). I have fairly faint creasing on both the left and right sides. It seems a bit darker towards the bottom of the screen.
However: I agree with many owners and contributors to discussion forums that under normal viewing circumstances--when you are watching "real content" rather putting up a uniform (or nearly uniform) field of color for inspection purposes--I never notice it. My wife has never noticed it, nor has anyone who has come over to see the set. I can see it on the PS3's home screen, but that hardly bothers me. It surprises me a bit that I say this, since I am quite picky and minor imperfections often irritate me to no end (this is one reason I've gone through all the sets mentioned above!). If I could see it when I viewed typical content, I'd return the set. But I don't. As it is now, I wouldn't dream of returning the set.
So, my view is that the "crease" issue should not deter you from getting the Sony XBR-HX929. If you don't need a new set right away, by all means wait a couple of months and perhaps there will be a reliable stream of crease-free sets (though a recent comment from Sony UK has me somewhat doubtful). If you must buy now, I don't think the crease should scare you away from this set. (Well... I'm a bit torn about this actually: Despite what Sony UK has recently said, the crease is probably a manufacturing defect, and a top-of-the-line item shouldn't have manufacturing defects. So, I can sympathize with those who do not want to give Sony money for releasing a very expensive product with such a defect.)
Like some others, I am planning to put a call it to Sony to report the crease. The more they hear about it, the more likely they are to do something. Also, if there is a recall, or an offer to replace sets with the crease, etc., I would certainly be interested in taking Sony up on that.
Picture quality: I'm using David Katzmaier's (from CNET) recommended settings. Viewed from straight on, front and center, at eye level, the picture is outstanding (4.5 or 5 out of 5 stars). The blacks are truly black--deep, inky, and virtually indistinguishable from the bezel, especially when you view from a high-quality source like a Blu-ray. It is the only TV of those I've owned with blacks as deep as the Panasonic plasma's. These deep blacks make for excellent contrast, which (along with strong shadow detail and good gamma) gives the image natural depth and that "pop" that impresses viewers so much.
Colors are both rich and realistic. Shadow detail is excellent. Blu-ray movies I've watched on this set so far include Toy Story 3, Baraka, Master and Commander, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Rango. All looked absolutely fantastic (though I give the overall nod to Toy Story 3). Best in-home theater experiences I've ever had. I am consistently "wow-ed" by the picture on this set.
Comparison with the Samsung UN55D6900 LCD. The colors on the Samsung were excellent (once I got the user-adjustable settings right--which is relatively easy on the Samsung thanks to its RGB-only mode: one of the things I like better about Samsung than the Sony). Still, the Sony's are at least as good (I didn't do a side-by-side, simultaneous comparison, so it is difficult to say for sure which was better). However, there is one area in which the Sony clearly and, in my view, crucially bests the Samsung. The Samsung is an edge-lit LED-LCD (as are all of the upper end Samsung LCDs), which means that the LEDs that provide the light for the TV's picture shine in from the edges of the set--parallel to the surface of the screen/LCD. Like many owners of Samsung's LCDs (see user forums), I was really bothered by the flashlighting (when light from the LEDs bleeds into a corner of the image), clouding (areas of the screen that appear lighter than they should) and generally uneven dark-scene performance exhibited by this set. The Sony's full-array LED backlighting (in which the light producing LEDs are arranged behind the screen, shining light perpendicular to the surface of, or out through, the LCD screen) with local dimming is superior in this regard, hands down. Even my wife agrees. (Though she didn't think the improvement was worth the heftier price tag. Obviously I disagreed!) Using the PLUGE pattern on the DVE calibration disc, I could never get the 2%-above-black bars on either side of the central gray-scale bar to be equally visible on the Samsung--when the one to the left of the center gray scale was just visible, the one on the right wouldn't be. To improve this, I had to crank up the brightness, which improved shadow detail, but (obviously) hurt black levels. No such problem on the Sony. Both +2% bars are equally visible while the blacks stay black and shadow detail is preserved.
Viewing angles: A weakness, and one of the reasons I don't give the set a 5-star rating. The Sony cannot compete with the Panasonic or Samsung plasmas on this aspect of picture quality. Still, the viewing angles are not as bad as I feared from reading reviews and some other user comments. The picture washes out worst as you move away from front-and-center when the material is dark, but from my usual viewing distance of about 10 feet, I can sit on either side of my couch (a three-cushion, 6.5ft couch) and notice very little change in the picture. I would say that viewing angles are comparable to the Samsung LCD (though I didn't do extensive tests on this--I was primarily concerned with screen uniformity when comparing these). For something like sports on ESPN, and most cable/ local broadcasts, I can walk from one side of the room to the other without any bothersome loss of picture quality.
Blooming (a "halo" of light that shouldn't be there surrounding a bright object on a dark background): It happens, but again, not as bad as I feared. (It is worth noting that some blooming is virtually unavoidable on LED backlit LCD televisions.) With actual viewing material (blu-rays, dvd movies), viewed from front center, I observe infrequent blooming. Blooming is really only apparent on end credits, and images like PS3 pause and quit screens, but that hardly matters to me.
Now, off-angle blooming is a different story. Not only does the screen wash out if you view from too far off-center, blooming becomes significant. Bad enough that it is another reason I don't give the set 5 stars. The moral: watch from front and center when you want that ultimate home theater experience!
The edge-lit Samsung LCD didn't exhibit blooming to the same degree, even off angle--but I'll take the off angle and credit-screen blooming over flashlighting and clouding problems. (They are related problems, actually: all result when light from the LEDs shows up where it shouldn't.)
Plasmas don't (or shouldn't) exhibit blooming, so again, the clear advantage goes to the Samsung and Panasonic plasmas on this aspect of picture quality.
Dirty Screen Effect (uneven picture uniformity during pans that makes it look like there is something on the screen--sort of like a thin film of dirt): Yes, I notice it occasionally, but mainly on standard definition and pseudo-HD sources like Netflix streaming. I didn't notice it on any of the blu-ray movies I watched (see above).
Video games/response time: My test material is Zen Pinball on the PS3. Good response times are important for this game (though not as much as for fighting games), since you want the "paddles" to move the instant you hit the shoulder buttons. Response time is good. Significantly better than on the Samsung LCD. I would say it is comparable or perhaps just slightly worse than the Panasonic plasma, though this is a memory-based judgment of which I am not terribly confident, so take it for what it is worth. Also: none of these sets were on Game Mode. I have local dimming set to Standard on the Sony. Response times are improved with local dimming set to Off and when the set is put in Game Mode. Nevertheless, I'm perfectly happy with the response times, even with local dimming On (the picture is better this way).
Appearance: I think this is an awesome-looking set. The monolithic design, with the single sheet of glass from edge to edge is really cool. It is better looking than either plasma (the Panasonic has the most boring design), no question. It's a tough call between the Sony and the Samsung LCD. I thought the Samsung was also very good looking. It's a toss up, and I could see someone going either way. The Samsung is a bit flashier, a bit sexier, with the super-thin bezel and clear strip of plastic around the edge, but the Sony has a more refined, sophisticated look to it. I do wish you could turn off the green "on" light though... I don't need to be told that the set is on when there is an image on the screen!
Reflectiveness: This was a pleasant surprise. CNET's review had me concerned that it would be very reflective, but it isn't. It is significantly less reflective than the Samsung LCD. It is similar to the Panasonic plasma. Can you see reflections? Yes, absolutely. But they are dull, muted and rather faint, despite the fact that I have two fairly large windows on the south-facing side of my 12'x10' living room (perpendicular to the direction the TV faces).
Table-top stand: Yes, the TV wobbles when it is on the stand and you swivel the TV. I think any "single-stalk" swivel stand, as is also used by Samsung, will allow the TV to wobble. But unlike some others, I have no significant "tilting" or "listing" of the TV on the stand. Use a level when you put the stand together, check it when you put the TV on the stand, and only tighten the screws when you have it level (it can help to have another person hold the TV in the level position. You should be able to get it very level this way. The stand is much better than the Samsung's stand (I did have issues with the Samsungs, both the LCD and the plasma, being level) and it is made of tougher material. The Panasonic plasma was the sturdiest of the bunch, by far (but the Panasonic's stand was not a swivel stand, so...).
Remote: I think the Sony remote is good. A little bulky, but the buttons are nicely arranged and on the whole it is very functional. The concave top really does guide your thumb naturally to the all-important central "enter" button. I like the dedicated Netflix button too--there's no easier way to watch Netflix: just two button pushes ("TV On" then "Netflix")!
3D: I haven't used 3D on this TV yet, so I cannot comment. Reviews such as CNET's suggest that 3D is not this set's strong suit, and user forums don't do much to refute this. I do think it is ridiculous that Sony doesn't include a pair of 3D glasses, especially given the price of this TV. Which brings me to...
Price: Prices have come down lately, and with the LG LW9800 and the Sharp Elite hitting the streets, it is no longer the most expensive consumer television in its category. But none of this changes the fact that this is a really expensive television. It is the most expensive I've had, and I never intended to spend this much. The Panasonic and Samsung plasmas offer much better value, in my opinion, while the uniformity issues with the Samsung LCD keep it from being a good value.
Other: Some folks have complained about the organization/ ease of use of the menu systems, but I actually find the menus pretty sensible (of course, I'm used to the basic set up since I have a PS3, so...). Internet content is solid. Unlike some others, I have been able to use the browser--but it is quite slow and I prefer to do my browsing on a computer or an iPad anyway. It would be nice if Sony added the vTuner internet radio, as Samsung did, but this is a very minor complaint. Samsung offers the best suite of Internet options, in my opinion. But more importantly (for me), the Sony handles streaming video (e.g., Netflix) better than the Samsung LCD did. Streaming video often had significant "stutter" on the Samsung. To get rid of it I had to use motion smoothing, which resulted in the dreaded "soap opera effect", which I hate. True, I was able to tweak the settings to get it to look right, but the constant tweaking I was doing on the Samsung LCD was itself a problem. The Sony handles Internet content well in my preferred settings (and sometimes automatically shifts to a different setting, which also works well, then automatically returns to my custom setting when, for instance, I pop in a blu-ray).
I have been very happy with how well the Sony works with my AV receiver--a Pioneer VSX-1021-K. The HDMI ARC works flawlessly (it was hit-or-miss with the Samsung LCD), and the Sony automatically turns the AVR on when I turn it on (doesn't automatically turn it off though), which is convenient. I never had to do anything to get it to do that (other than connect the two devices via their ARC-capable HDMI ports).
I think that about covers it. Overall, the Sony XBR-55HX929 is an excellent TV. I initially wanted a plasma, but unfortunately I see "phosphor trails" when I watch plasmas (yellow after images/ flashes when I move my eyes or when a light object moves across a dark background) and I'm sensitive to the 60Hz refresh rate that Panasonic plasmas use, so no plasma for me. I'm happy to have found an LCD with a comparable, and in some ways better, picture--as long as you watch from front and center!
Is this TV for you? It depends. First, you need to decide whether you want to get an LCD or a plasma. Many plasmas provide comparable or better overall picture quality for much less money. The Panasonic TC-P55ST30, for instance, is nearly as good as this Sony on black levels and color, while being clearly superior with respect to blooming and viewing angles, yet costs about half the price. But if you have a very bright room, or don't want to take reasonable precautions to avoid plasma burn in, or insist on the most energy efficient devices, then an LCD is probably the way to go. In that case, if you've got the money, insist on top-notch picture quality, and you (and maybe one other person) can typically watch TV from front and center, then you will be very happy with the Sony XBR-55HX929.