The first so-called LED TVs were local-dimming models, where the LEDs behind the screen could be dimmed or brightened in different areas to correspond to darker or brighter areas of the picture. The result was excellent contrast, on a level no other LCD-based TV could muster. Since 2007 when these TVs debuted, they've remained uncommon and expensive while so-called edge-lit models have populated store shelves and living rooms with abandon.
The XBR-HX929, Sony's most expensive and, we're willing to guess, best-performing TV of 2011, is also the company's only local dimmer. It boasts that excellent contrast by way of inky black levels not found on any TV aside from the oft-cited Pioneer Kuro plasma, and improves upon the color accuracy of its predecessor XBR. In short, it represents the pinnacle of LCD picture quality, so if you're shopping in the extreme upper end of the TV market and were only going to consider plasma, the XBR-HX929 might change your mind.
Editors' note, June 12, 2012: The rating on this review has been modified from 8.0 to 7.5 to reflect a change in our ratings process to incorporate value. The XBR-HX929 is a current member of Sony's 2012 product line even though it was first sold in 2011. Numerous reviews of high-end TVs have been published since the initial publication of this review that may render obsolete some of the comparative statements herein, but we're not updating this review beyond the ratings. For current comparisons, check out the reviews on our Best TVs lists.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch XBR-55HX929, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Sony XBR-46HX929||46 inches|
|Sony XBR-55HX929 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Sony XBR-65HX929 (Available August 2011)||65 inches|
|Panel depth||1.5 inches||Bezel width||1.75 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
In our view the Sony XBR-HX929 is the best-looking TV this year aside from Samsung's thin-bezel UND6400 and UND8000/7000 models. Seen from the front it earns the company's Monolithic moniker: the panel is a featureless black slab when turned off, thanks to its one-piece face and darkened glass. The extreme edge is metallic-looking and very slightly set back from the main pane, and we love the low-profile swivel stand with its thin metal base.
The HX929 exudes class and high cost everywhere except the back panel, which is cursed by a small protrusion that houses the RS-232 port. Otherwise its profile is significantly thinner than last year's XBR-HX909, rivaling those of edge-lit LEDs.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.8x2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||36||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||Onscreen manual||Yes|
We're big fans of Sony's remote. The logically sized and placed, flush-yet-still-tactile keys emit a satisfying low-pitched click. The concave shape along the clicker's length sends the thumb to the Home key and the middle of the big cursor control. We like the ability to control other devices via infrared or HDMI, but we wish the blue backlight also illuminated more button labels.
Sony revamped its Home menu this year, ditching the PlayStation 3/PSP-style XMB interface for a new scheme that creates a main horizontal bottom row and a right-hand vertical column flanking a smaller, inset TV image (tweakers fret not; the TV image expands back to full size during picture adjustments). The menu shows all of the horizontal options at once, but there are simply too many of them--10 total: Settings, Widgets, Applications, Qriocity, Internet Content, TV, Media, Inputs, Favorites/History, and Recommendations (which is removable...a good thing since it appears to be in-menu advertising). None of the main horizontal choices is labeled until you select it, so you must either remember Sony's quirky iconography or scroll a lot to find the right one. Each option has its own column of suboptions, for a total effect that can easily become overwhelming.
Submenus for Options and Favorites/History, as well as those dedicated buttons, help a little, and we appreciate that the numerous "small fry" niche video services are shunted into a submenu. Overall, however, we feel the company could have done a much better job of organizing the TV's numerous features and options.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses (TDGBR250/B, $70 list); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (CMU-BR100, $150); Position Control, Distance Alert and Presence Sensor; Gorilla Glass face|
The main reason why the XBR-HX929 sits atop Sony's lineup--and the main reason it's so expensive--is full-array local dimming. Unlike on most LED TVs, which mount the little light-emitting diodes around the edge of the LCD panel, the backlight of the 929 consists of an array of LEDs placed directly behind the entire panel. In addition, different zones of the backlight can be brightened or dimmed independently to correspond with bright or dark areas in the picture--although Sony wouldn't tell us how many zones the TV has. This is our favorite kind of LED backlight, and in 2011 only the HX929, a few higher-end Vizios, and LG's upcoming Nano models have it (more info).
Sony doesn't include 3D glasses with the XBR-HX929, which is surprising considering the TV's high price. Given Samsung's 3D glasses promotion we wouldn't be surprised if Sony offered something similar later in the year. In the meantime we appreciate that Sony doesn't require purchase of a separate emitter this year, although we do wish Sony's newer, lighter 2011 glasses used Bluetooth and not IR transmission technology for synching. They are rechargeable, however, and charge up very quickly.
This model offers built-in Wi-Fi, saving you the cost of a USB dongle or other wireless alternative.
Less important but still mildly noteworthy are a few extras designed around a sensor and low-resolution camera that can respond to viewers in the room. The Presence Sensor automatically turns the TV off if it fails to detect a viewer in the room (see the EX720 review for details); the Position Control is said to automatically optimize picture and sound by detecting viewer position; and the Distance Alert disables the picture and emits a warning sound if a child approaches the screen. Aside from noting that the latter somehow differentiated children from adult viewers, we didn't test any of these features on the HX929.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||Yes||Hulu Plus||Yes|
|Other: Gracenote TrackID; CinemaNow; numerous niche video services; Sony's Qriocity video and music service; 100 total Yahoo Widgets as of press time; Picasa, Photobucket, Shutterfly|
In short, there are plenty of online choices for just about everyone. Unfortunately, as we noted of the company's Blu-ray players, Sony's standardized interface for most of the major video services, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant, is worse in general than those services' default interfaces, in part due to relatively small thumbnail images. On the other hand, having the same basic interface for each makes them relatively easy to learn.
The main missing link is Vudu, and while many other services (namely Amazon VOD and Qriocity) can duplicate Vudu's VOD offerings, none currently offers Vudu's 3D on-demand or the superior image quality of Vudu HDX. We'd also like to see support for a major subscription music service, like Rhapsody or Napster, but doubt it's coming, since Sony is pushing Qriocity. The latter recently expanded from its VOD offerings to include a subscription music service, which is available on this TV.
We did a full writeup of the new Gracenote music identification service already, so we'll just include the conclusion here: "Despite its hiccups and occasional failures, we really liked the ability to identify music quickly and conveniently with the push of a button." There are also separate Video and Music searches powered by Gracenote that allow you to look up information on each, but don't yet lead to additional content.
The appeal of the numerous niche video services (Sports Illustrated, The Minisode Network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, video podcasts, and so on) is heightened somewhat by the ability to search across all of them. Unfortunately, that search doesn't include any of the mainstream services like Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube, and is a pain to use with the TV remote.
Sony's audio, widget, and photo service selection is top-notch--you get Slacker, NPR, and an exclusive classical music/video service (Berlin Philharmoniker); numerous Yahoo and FrameChannel (the second also a Sony exclusive) widgets; and no fewer than four onboard photo-sharing options, if you count the Flickr widget.
Unlike LG, Samsung, and Panasonic, Sony doesn't have an "app store" for its TVs. The Yahoo widget service is where you'll find Twitter and Facebook, along with numerous even less useful things to occupy your TV screen.
And, yes, the HX929 has a Web browser, although it's even slower and more annoying to use than the one on Samsung and LG TVs. After a few minutes of frustrated waiting for it to load the Sony Style home page, we feel comfortable saying that it should be avoided entirely.
|Adjustable picture modes||12||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||4||Fine color temperature control||2 points|
|Gamma presets||7||Color management system||No|
|Other: Two local dimming settings; Smooth Gradation and adjustable Reality Creation video processing.|
Sony divides its picture presets into two groups: General (with three choices) and Scene Select (with eight, including Auto). Two of the Scenes, Cinema and Game, have two separate modes of their own as well. The total number of adjustable modes crests the double digits, which should be enough for just about everybody.
The available adjustments themselves are somewhat sparse by today's standards. The company didn't add the option to adjust dejudder processing beyond the four presets, and unlike some competitors it doesn't offer a 10-point white-balance control or color management system. A pair of wacky processing extras differentiates the XBR-HX929's settings from lower-end Sonys.