"Great, but still not perfect..."4.0 starson by bmacpiper
Pros: Resolution, refresh speed, backlit remote, tons of inputs
Cons: Dimly lit scenes are yellow/green, some blockiness at fast speeds
Summary: I have spent months trying to find a great set, and purchased this one about a week ago. I had first gone in to Circuit City for one of the top models from Consumer Reports (Sharp or Sony), but saw a 46" Samsung right next to them that clearly had better contrast, detail, speed, etc. I took that one home, and returned it the next day. It couldn't handle blacks, shadows, speed, and was too big for the room, so in standard def, every pixel seemed to be visible.
I then spent four hours at Circuit City--I am not a professional user, so all I can rely on is my eyes. I looked at the Sony 3000 line, and was impressed. The sales guy also had an XBR4 about to be unpacked, and offered to set it up next to the Sharp, Sony XBR2 and Samsung, among others. We also tested a normal HDMI Panasonic DVD player, the Panasonic Blu-Ray player, and the Sony Blu-Ray player. The test disc was disc one of the Planet Earth series, using the "Pole to Pole" episode. Notably, we used the "bird scene" where there are thousands of birds flying on the screen at once to test speed/refresh; and the scene where the earth is viewed from space, with the lower left portion in darkness, the upper right portion in daylight, and as the earth revolves, the blackness in the lower left fades away to daylight.
On all previous models, the bird scene was too much. The sets quickly lost track of the birds and became a mass of black and white blocks. The XBR did a much better job, but still lost track a bit in the middle of the scene--by the end, though, you could once again make out individual birds.
On the black-fading-to-daylight scene, the Samsung in particular had so much problem that you couldn't even tell what was going on in the scene (not sure what the right word is to describe this, but instead of a gradual gradient from black to grey, there are big bands or puddles of one color, followed by another, and still another--almost like the set only has a few shades of grey, and can only assign portions of the screen one color at a time). Here again, the XBR4 did a much better job, but I could still see bands of greys as the black got lighter and lighter--they were, however, much smaller and less noticeable than on all the other sets.
Regarding the different players, this was a real eye-opener. We tested all of them on the XBR4. On the Sony BR, anytime a scene had fast vertical action, there were VERY noticeable horizontal lines across small parts of the scene (hands, feet, etc.) At first, I thought this was from the set, but we tried the Panasonic BR next, and the picture was perfect on that one, so it was clearly the Sony player that was at fault. Since the format of the Planet Earth disc is 480p, I expected that the normal Panasonic DVD player via HDMI would produce an identical picture as the BR players. Boy was I wrong. All I can say is that switching from the BR to the standard player was like switching from high-def to low-def TV. I'm not sure what the BR players do to a normal DVD, but the difference was remarkable, and I spent the extra $$ on the BR player. BR movies obviously look amazing, though even they are not without problems.
Since I got the XBR4 home, I have intentionally watched a variety of sources, with comments following.
Standard def: This is decent overall, but pixels/blocks are noticeable in most programs. Low light scenes (X-files, for example) tend to have a green halo around everything white, and adjusting color can't work this out.
High def TV: Incredible for the most part. Very fast motion (a scene of ripples on a river, a panning satellite view of a city, etc.) turns to a bunch of black and white blocks/squares, but it has to be pretty fast before this happens. I've seen this about three times in a week now.
DVDs: Very nice, and better than in a standard DVD player if played on a Blu-Ray player.
BR discs: Stunning at their best, great in most scenes. Dimly lit scenes (inside the Black Pearl, etc.) tend to be yellowish.
For me, the lack of HD content on DirecTV and Comcast is a bit of a problem--I want lots of HD to justify the price of this set. DirecTV still promises 150+ HD channels by the end of the year...
The bottom line on this set is that it is amazing for HD content, and DVDs/BR discs. For standard definition, I'd still prefer an old tube TV or tube HDTV. So if the flood of HD content comes soon, I'll be a happy camper. If you mainly watch standard def or don't have access to a bunch of HD sources, this set is a decent option if you don't sit too close, so the pixels can blend a bit.
Without any doubt, it has the best overall performance of the LCDs I've looked at so far, hands down.
I paid $2600 for the set at Circuit City, and $499 for the Panasonic BR player. I upgraded my DirecTV receiver to the HD-DVR model, currently $200 on the DirecTV website, for $200 at Circuit City as well.
Hope this helps you out.Updated
Well, I wanted to really get a side-by-side comparison to a tube-based HDTV, and Circuit City had one last Sony KD-34XBR970 on the floor for $529. This is the 34" widescreen (16:9) HDTV from Sony; many have told me it was the best tube TV ever made. It also has HDMI and component inputs, among others. Worth noting is that this set is 720p/1080i, so a notch lower on the resolution scale than the XBR4. Lastly, it's 190 pounds and 24 inches deep, almost enough to eliminate it if it was so darn cheap...
I wanted to convince myself once and for all whether the XBR4 was really worth $2100 more than this old Sony Wega. I connected both to the Panasonic Blu-Ray, the DirecTV (Tivo) DVR, and the DirecTV HD DVR. I was able to view both sets simultaneously, which really helped.
The quick bottom line is that the XBR4 handles even standard def better than I thought it did. When looking at one set with a very critical eye in isolation, it is easy to notice every little flaw. For example, I was watching Blue's Clues with my daughter, which has a lot of blockiness on the XBR4. Well, guess what, the Wega XBR970 showed similar imperfections--the LCD shows it more as pixels/blocks, and the Wega shows it more as fuzziness, but both were flawed (or at least, both showed the limitations of the source). The XBR4 was worlds beyond in terms of brightness/contrast, clarity, etc. The XBR4 was the overall winner here, though not by a mile.
Moving on to a normal DVD, I used the Planet Earth disc again. The bird scene (read my previous review if you haven't already) was handled equally well by both--a little confusion in the middle, but overall very good. The black-to-daylight scene was the biggest surprise, where I witnessed some of the waves of grey, i.e. not a smooth gradient, on the Wega and not this time on the XBR4??? I guess this points to the source of the picture (and not the LCD technology) as being the limitation, since both sets seem to handle it the same. For whatever reason, the XBR4 looked much better this time than in the store, which I can only attribute to the brighter light at home. In any case, the sharpness and brightness/contrast was much better on the XBR4, though the XBR970 presented a very nice picture as well. The winner here was also the XBR4. It was a much crisper picture in most every way.
Lastly I looked at the Pirates of the Caribbean Blu-Ray disc. I mentioned previously that low light scenes (i.e. when Elizabeth is dining with Barbosa) appeared overly yellow. Side-by-side, the colors were nearly identical on both sets, so I have to say that I was wrong in the first review--I think now that the yellow tinge is the way the movie was recorded, and that the XBR4 is reproducing it faithfully. The XBR4 destroyed the XBR970 in this test, mainly for crispness, but also brightness/contrast as before. When Jack is sailing into Port Royal the first time, he sees pirates hanging with a sign that says, "Pirates ye be warned." The movie shows this from a distance, and then zooms in on the sign. I was able to read the sign on the XBR4 from the distance shot, where the XBR970 I could hardly tell there words there. Bottom line, the XBR4 wins this category by a country mile.
Lastly, I looked at some high def sources, and no surprises there--the XBR4 also solidly beat the XBR970 in this category, for the same reasons as the Blu-Ray test.
I guess this isn't a totally fair test, since the XBR4 has better native resolution than the XBR970. But it did provide a side-by-side comparison that was very useful--the XBR970 was the best tube-based HDTV that I could find, and the price was incredible. In the end, however, I feel that the XBR4 is indeed worth the extra $2100--hard as that is for me to believe! Not only did it put my worries about tube-based TVs to rest, but it's also the best LCD I've seen, and I've seen most of them. I'll have Circuit City pick up the old XBR970 (or maybe it will become a game system screen...hmmm...) and will hopefully be done with all this finally. All the best, and enjoy your set!