A tour de force in high-tech industrial design, this big TV should nonetheless blend into modern decors with ease. The massive screen's outer edge is surrounded by a high-gloss black finish, and the rest of the chassis is entirely silver. And we do mean massive: The 40XBR800 weighs in at 304 pounds, which disqualifies it from most entertainment centers and calls for a few burly schleppers on move-in day. Luckily, Sony is currently giving away the custom stand--a $499 value--for free on its Web site when you purchase this set.
The included remote control has been slightly redesigned from earlier versions. It's a model of ergonomic ease of use, and, as such, remains one of our favorites. This remote can operate other brands of A/V equipment, and many of the principal keys glow in the dark.
Able to display 1080i-format HDTV when connected to an external set-top box, the KV-40XBR800, like most HDTVs, converts incoming 720p signals to 1080i. It also has several performance features that work with standard-definition video. The digital-reality-creation (DRC) processor has three settings, the most effective of which, CineMotion, must be chosen in the menu since it's not the default. CineMotion is essential to prevent motion artifacts from marring picture quality when viewing film-based material such as DVD movies. DRC can also be adjusted for reality and clarity to better match the processing to different sources, such as low-quality cable or satellite pictures.
The set's built-in anamorphic aspect ratio automatically engages when fed an anamorphic DVD; we consider this feature a must for any 4:3 digital TV as anamorphic DVDs deliver 33 percent more vertical resolution. We applaud Sony for making scan-velocity modulation, a nasty edge-enhancement circuit that obscures fine detail, removable in the user menu. Also available are three color-temperature presets (neutral, cool, and warm). All video adjustments can be stored in one of four custom memory slots, although those slots are unfortunately not associated directly with the TV's inputs.
Convenience features abound on this top-of-the-line Sony. The principal ones include dual-tuner picture-in-picture for keeping tabs on two programs at once, and TruSurround SRS simulated surround sound, which utilizes only the set's left and right stereo speakers. The 40XBR800 also has a Memory Stick slot for viewing JPEGs from a digital camera.
Two broadband component-video inputs that will accommodate 480p and 1080i, as well as a DVI input that's compatible with Hollywood-sanctioned HDCP copy protection, comprise the set's most important video inputs. There are also three sets of A/V inputs, two of which have S-Video jacks; a set of monitor outputs for composite video only; and two RF inputs for cable TV and antenna hookups. Front-panel A/V inputs with S-Video are located behind a flip-down door that sits beneath the center of the screen.
In short, the KV-40XBR800 is an excellent performer. As part of our routine professional calibration, we discovered that this set allows for new adjustments that greatly improve the color decoder's performance and eliminate red push. This means that you can get accurate, well-saturated colors, particularly from component-video sources such as DVD and HDTV. Our review sample's warm color-temperature setting was at least in the ballpark of 6,500K, and after calibration, it resulted in a nearly perfect color temperature. Geometry and convergence were both very good, which is somewhat unusual for tubes this large.
After calibration, color fidelity and depth were both astounding. Watching chapter 4 of Monsters, Inc., the monsters seemed to pop off the screen with incredibly saturated color and ample detail. HDTV sources also looked quite good on the KV-40XBR800, although the impact suffered from the presence of black bars. Of all 4:3, direct-view HDTVs, this Sony provides the best wide-screen, 16:9 image since the tube is so large; its letterboxed picture is still the equivalent of a 37-inch, diagonal, wide-screen TV.
Our biggest complaint against the 40XBR800--and all Sony TVs--is that it lacks true independent memory for each input. The only way that you can store separate picture settings for different sources at each input is to switch modes each time, which is a major hassle.
The bottom line is that Sony's KV-40XBR800 performs even better than last year's 40XBR700. This set has also dropped in price considerably, although it remains expensive when you consider that a good 50-inch, rear-projection HDTV costs about the same. But if your heart is set on a direct-view model and you want the biggest and the baddest around, this TV is undoubtedly the one.