In the setup menu there's a room lighting sensor that changes the picture's brightness according to how much ambient light it detects. For this reason, we left it off for critical viewing. The setup section of the menu also houses a "game mode." Unlike Samsung's similarly named mode, the Sony's does not wreak havoc on picture settings; Sony's engineers claim that it skips most of the set's video processing to eliminate the possibility of delay between the controller and what happens on-screen (we didn't test this mode). You can also choose between standard-def (ITU601) and high-def (ITU709) colorspace for each resolution--a nice option, but usually you'll want to leave these at default settings.
Finally, a power saver mode is available to limit light output. We set it in the Low position because while High did deliver better black levels than Low, it was simply too dim. If you really want to save power, you can turn off the picture while leaving sound on, perfect for listening from another room. We liked this feature so much we found ourselves wishing for a dedicated Picture Off button on the remote.
The KDL-40XBR2 has more connections than most other 2006 HDTVs, starting with three HDMI inputs: two around back and one on the side. There's also a pair of component-video inputs; one A/V input with composite- and S-video; another with only composite; and a VGA-style PC input that can handle resolutions up to 1920-by-1080 pixels at 60Hz (a big improvement on the VGA input of Sony's KDS-60A2000 rear-projection set). The side panel also includes another A/V input with composite, along with a headphone output. Other audio outputs include one stereo analog and one optical digital audio, the latter for passing surround soundtracks from the over-the-air digital/HD tuner to an audio system.
We expected very good things from the Sony KDL-40XBR2's picture quality at this price point, and for the most part we were satisfied. It delivered some of the deepest black levels we've seen yet in an LCD, fine color performance and yes, all of the detail that 1080p promises, albeit on a screen a bit too small to really do 1080p justice. Low points included its ability to handle standard-def and a bit of elusive false contouring, but overall the KDL-40XBR2 is one of the best-performing flat-panel LCDs we've seen yet.
Before we put the KDL-40XBR2 through its paces, we set it up for optimal picture quality in our completely dark room--check out the Tips & Help tab above for our full settings. While the Warm2 color temperature preset came relatively close to the standard, we tweaked it to get a bit closer using the White Balance controls in the advanced menu. After the tweak, the Sony still exhibited somewhat worse grayscale tracking than we expected by tending toward blue in mid-bright areas, which contributed to its average score the grayscale variation category (see the Geek Box).
Our HD-DVD film of choice for formal testing was Swordfish, which takes full advantage of the format's resolution. As usual, we noted black levels first and the Sony's were top-notch, with deep black letterbox bars and dark areas like Gabriel's (John Travolta) helicopter and all-black suit, and Ginger's (Halle Berry) black leather pants. Against those of the three less-expensive LCDs we had available for direct comparison--the Vizio L42 HDTV and GV42L HDTV along with the Philips PF429831D--the Sony's blacks were slightly deeper than either Vizio and significantly deeper than the Philips. And, according to our measurements, they were about the same as the Sharp LC-37D90U and the Samsung LN-S4051D. In other words, the Sony produces as deep of a color of black as any flat-panel LCD we've tested, and a black that's just slightly lighter than the best plasmas, such as .
It was also capable of resolving plenty of details in shadows. In one example, where Ginger confronts Stanley (Hugh Jackman) in the club bathroom, we could see the fold along her Adam's apple in the dark space under her neck, as well as more detail in her hair and in Stanley's leather jacket, better than with the other three sets. This is a result of the Sony's superior gamma, which we set in the Low position for the best compromise between shadow detail and black level.
The bathroom scene is also lit by red light, which showed us a couple of minor weaknesses in the Sony's picture. We thought the red looked a bit too deep compared to the other displays, although it wasn't exactly garish and skin tones still looked realistic, with no signs of red push. The red light also exhibited a bit more false contouring than we saw on the other displays; the edge of the shadow ended somewhat abruptly instead of fading into the bright area. This effect was not visible in other red areas, such as Ginger's suit at the beginning of the film or her red Jaguar, although we did see its effects again in a shot of sunset from our standard-def HQV test. We also saw it in the banding check test pattern from Avia pro, which was smoother in red on the other LCDs than on the Sony--although white, green and blue were fine (whereas white on the Vizios, as noted in those reviews, showed more banding than on the Sony). Overall this contouring should be subtle if it's visible at all.
Off-angle viewing and uniformity are areas where LCDs typically fall short, but the Sony performed well in both cases. Compared to the other LCDs we had on-hand, the KDL-40XBR's image didn't become as washed-out when seen from off-angle, although we still noticed that the corners of the black letterbox bars, for example, became a bit brighter as we shifted from one end of the couch to the other. When the screen went dark between scenes we were pleased to see a uniform stretch of very dark gray on the Sony, whereas each of the other LCDs, and many other flat-panel LCDs we've tested, have brighter spots across the screen.
You might expect the 1920-by-1080-pixel native resolution Sony to thoroughly trounce the other three 1366-by-768-pixel LCDs in the arena of detail, especially with a hypersharp disc like Swordfish, but that wasn't the case. From our seating distance of six feet, we had to really struggle to discern the difference in detail between the four sets. Yes, we saw it after awhile, mainly by staring at hair; when Stanley's ex-wife sleeps through her daughter's phone call, for example, we saw a bit more strands and highlights in her hair on the Sony than the other displays. Of course you'd be able to discern more of a difference on a larger screen; the Sony's 40-inch panel, like that of the 37-inch Sharp mentioned above, is simply too small to really show off the extra detail of 1080p. Speaking of 1080p, we hooked the KDL-40XBR2 up to the Samsung BD-P1000 and it handled that player's 1080p/60 signal fine, although the set could not accept the 1080p/24 output from our HDTV signal generator (we've encountered few TVs that can, and we don't consider this a big deal).
As mentioned, we set the Sony KDL-40XBR2 to its Full Pixel mode, which successfully resolved all 1920 horizontal lines of resolution according to our test patterns. It had the added effect of reducing overscan to zero percent, so we could see a lot more of the picture than with the other LCDs. Along the edge of a wide shot of Gabriel's backyard, for example, we saw an extra lawn light on one side and a lamp on the other, and when he shows Stanley his hacking station there's an extra monitor in one shot that disappeared on the other TVs.
When we moved on to test the Sony's standard-def inputs (480i component-video, S-video and composite video) using the HQV test disc, the results were disappointing. The KDL-40XBR2 uses version 2.5 of Sony's DRC processing, which we'd expect to improve upon the version 1.0 we complained about in the KDS-60A2000 review. Unfortunately that wasn't really the case. DRC caused some instability in the resolution tests, which we were able to reduce somewhat by moving the reality vs. clarity matrix to 1, 1 respectively, but which disappeared after we turned DRC off. The Sony also did a poor job of smoothing out the edges in diagonal lines regardless of DRC setting. Then again, DRC did make some images appear a bit sharper, such as the stones in the bridge from the HQV test disc. Noise reduction was also effective, cleaning up mosquito-type noise relatively well without reducing apparent sharpness.
Where the Sony again fell short was in 2:3 pulldown detection; even with CineMotion engaged it would sporadically drop out of film mode during the HQV test, introducing brief bursts of moirÃ© in the grandstands behind the speeding racecar. And although the upturned boats in Star Trek: Insurrection were relatively smooth, we noticed something unusual during the opening pan from that DVD: a subtle-yet-noticeable strobe or flashing effect, visible especially in the dark areas such as the shadows under the trees. We saw the same issue in other pans, such as the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack (Johnny Depp) passes the rock with the hanging corpses--again the entire image, especially the shadows, subtly flashed as the camera moved. This effect was visible whether DRC or CineMotion were engaged or not. We didn't see it via the Sony's HDMI output, so we have to chalk it up to the set's standard-def processing. Note that these comments are restricted to the standard-def inputs mentioned above; if you watch standard-def via, say, the 1080i or 720p HDMI connection from a cable or satellite box, they won't apply because the box handles the conversion itself.
When we connected the Sony KDL-40XBR2 to a PC via its VGA input, the results were much more impressive than we saw with the KDS-60A2000 SXRD. The LCD handled our 1920-by-1080-pixel source via VGA with no problem, and according to DisplayMate the Sony delivered full vertical and horizontal resolution at that setting. Text did appear somewhat edge-enhanced after we used the set's Auto Adjustment feature, but we cured this issue by tweaking the pitch and phase controls.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,860/6,493K||Good|
|After color temp||6,518/6,479K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 292K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 272K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.651/0.331||Good|
|Color of green||0.281/0.615||Average|
|Color of blue||0.148/0.072||Average|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||No||Poor|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
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