Sony’s Bravia HX Series of HDTVs is a good example of how the HDTV market has evolved in the past couple of years. Complete with 3D capability and Internet connectivity, the Sony XBR-55HX929 had me captivated from the very start.
The first surprise came when I saw the box containing this 55-inch HDTV. Even though the screen’s diagonal measurement is about 3 inches larger than my current 52-inch HDTV, the old 52-inch TV’s screen is 4.5 inches wider than this 55-inch screen. How does that work? This TV’s bezel, or the frame around the actual screen, is much thinner — just over 1 inch wide on this TV vs. at least 3 inches wide on the older model.
The overall effect is that of a deep black slab — you can’t even see where the screen ends and the bezel begins. Sitting in my test theater, it looked like a minimalist sculpture, reminding me of that monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
What kind of video quality do you get when you spend upward of $3,000 on a Sony XBR-55HX929 HDTV? Firing it up for the first time, I was impressed. It displayed the finest, sharpest and most contrasty HDTV picture I’ve ever seen. The 1080p picture quality when playing Blu-ray discs was second to none, and the black levels were so deep and dark when a scene would fade to black, it was still impossible to tell where the screen ended and the bezel began.
I was astonished by the quality of the video on this highly evolved model, using all of Sony’s latest creatively named enhancements such as the X-Reality Pro engine. That built-in bundle of tech consists of a dual-core digital video processor to analyze each scene, optimizing the backlighting to suit the various brightness levels of different parts of the screen. There are myriad technical enhancements on board, and you can investigate the full specs list here on Retrevo, but suffice to say here that you’d be hard-pressed to find better video quality anywhere outside of a professional broadcast control room.
That dual-core processor comes in handy when you’re using the TV’s Internet video functions, which gives you Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora Radio, Sony’s own video-on-demand service, and many others. You can plug an Ethernet cable into the back of the TV, but that’s often not convenient, so there’s a very good Wi-Fi capability built in. It gave a fast enough connection to play back 1080p video. Using the faster Wireless N standard, in more than a month of testing, it never disappointed.
While it’s great to have access to Internet video on the TV itself, as opposed to a Boxee, Roku or Western Digital set-top box, to me, it’s just too awkward to be worth it. If you’re already spending three grand on a TV, I’d recommend instead getting yourself a cheap computer with an HDMI port (commonplace on many of today’s laptops), plug it into your TV, and use a wireless keyboard and mouse to control it in your home theater.
Why’s an Internet TV so awkward? With the Internet on board, first of all you’ll have lots of tedious clicking around with a remote just to type your name. Second, if you want to use a good quality receiver for Dolby Digital surround sound, you need to feed an optical audio cable back to the receiver from the TV, which adds another complication to your setup, especially if you’re mounting the TV to a wall. Worst of all, if you want to play your own video files, they must be in a format Sony approves. Since Sony also sells movies, it doesn’t bend over backward to let you play open-source file types, such as the favorite of file sharers everywhere, .MKV files. That fact alone will be enough to make many users shun Sony’s Internet TV capability.
To use the TV’s 3D capabilities, you’ll need to don Sony’s 3D glasses, which aren’t included with the TV (they’ll cost you around $140 retail for a two-pack). After watching a 3D Blu-ray disc (of which there are not many available yet), and clips from Sony’s streaming “3D experience” just added to its Bravia lineup, I have to conclude that Sony has made an admirable effort at displaying 3D content.
Without going into a whole diatribe about the virtues and pitfalls of 3D — which is fodder for an entire series of articles — I’ll say that this TV’s 3D picture is bright and super-clear. The downside is that I just don’t like to watch 3D. I think it’s a gimmick. On top of that, the glasses are so uncomfortable, they made my head feel like it had been held in a vise for two hours. Not pleasant. One of my viewing companions got a headache after about 10 minutes of watching 3D on this TV, imploring me to turn the thing off. This is not a good sign.
That said, if you’re one who finds the 3D effect pleasing, this is the TV for you. I was startled at how much better 3D looks at home with this TV than it does in most theaters, which often project a dim 3D image that borders on unwatchable.
The Sony XBR-55HX929 HDTV is magnificent, even though it has some awkward features that the company’s compelled to add to keep up with today’s Internet viewing trends. If you have $3,000 to spend on a TV, go for it — you will be amazed by its picture quality. Consider the Internet features and 3D an extra treat.