The last Sony TV we reviewed with superb picture quality was the ultra-expensive KDL-55XBR8 from 2008, which also and not coincidentally featured the company's last example of a full-array local dimming LED backlight. That TV's spiritual successor, equipped with a similar backlight, is the ultra-expensive XBR-HX909 series, but all told, its picture quality fares less favorably against the competition. It does deliver deliciously deep black levels but they come with too many compromises, including issues with blooming and color accuracy, for a TV at this price level.
If you extend your investment to include a pair or more of 3D glasses, an IR emitter, 3D content, and a device to play it, the Sony XBR-HX909 will deliver that third dimension to your brain. Many other 2010 TVs at this level are also 3D-compatible, and compared to the two we've tested, the HX909's 3D image quality falls squarely in the middle. Its other notable attributes, including best-in-class design and oodles of streaming video, will appeal to many of the buyers able to afford it, but those seeking the best-available home theater picture quality will probably want to look elsewhere.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 52-inch Sony XBR-52HX909, but this review also applies to the 46-inch XBR-46HX909. Both sizes have identical specs and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.
|Panel depth||2.75 inches||Bezel width||2.2 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
|Other: Stand can tilt back 6 degrees|
The XBR-HX909 series looks almost exactly like the company's KDL-NX800 series we reviewed earlier. Both use Sony's "Monolithic" design scheme, and we really like the effect.
The TV is featureless black slab when turned off, dominated by a single pane of glass that extends almost to the edge of the panel on all sides. A sliver of black metal edges the glass and wraps around the edges, so when seen from the side or top it complements the subtle brushed silver of the low-profile stand. The logos and indicators are nearly invisible, at least until the word "Sony" lights up after power-on (the light can be turned off). The stand can both swivel and tilt back slightly--we're not sure why you'd want to tilt it however, since TVs are rarely mounted lower than the seating position.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.8 x 2 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||58||Backlit keys||43|
|Other IR devices controlled||4||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||On-screen explanations||Yes|
Sony includes one of the best remotes we've ever used. The logically sized and placed, flush-yet-still-tactile keys emit a satisfying low-pitched click. The concave shape along the clicker's length seems to send 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 button labels other than "Home."
The game-console-inspired XMB interface arranges the TV's many Internet services, settings, inputs and miscellaneous doodads in an intuitive fashion, and while we'd love to see more customization and less clutter (how about the ability to "hide" unwanted interactive services or even entire verticals, such as the TV channels section, which is useless for cable-box users), the snappy navigation makes up for a lot. Shortcuts include a Favorites section that remembers oft-accessed inputs (you can also manually add items, like Netflix) and a context-sensitive Options section with quick access to scene modes, MotionFlow settings and Netflix options. In all, Sony's interface is the most polished of any TV maker.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D compatible||Yes||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Refresh rate(s)||240Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses (TDG-BR100, $150/pair) and IR synch emitter (TMR-BR100, $50) required for 3D viewing; Optional USB Wi-Fi dongle (UWA-BR100, $80)|
Although certainly well-equipped, the Sony XBR-HX909 lacks 3D glasses and an emitter, as well as built-in Wi-Fi, all of which are standard on the similarly-priced, flagship Sony XBR-LX900 series. On the other hand, the HX909 has our favorite type of LED backlight, known as full-array with local dimming (it uses standard white LEDs, not the Triluminous scheme found on 2008's XBR8 series), while the LX900 is stuck with a traditional edge-lit LED backlight. That's probably why the 52-inchers from each series cost the same--although at the HX909's price, it's still annoying to have to buy a separate IR emitter to sync the TV to the glasses. Every other non-Sony 3D TV we've seen, regardless of price, has the emitter built-in.
Sony offers a 2D-to-3D conversion system that can convert any video to 2D, while Panasonic's 3D plasma does not. And unlike Samsung's system, the one on the XBR-HX909 will also convert streaming 2D video, such as Netflix, YouTube, and yes, "Ford Models" et al, to 3D.
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||No|
|Other: Also includes Sony's Qriocity VOD, niche video services and podcasts with universal search, Slacker radio and NPR audio|
The array of mainstream (pun intended) video-streaming services is more comprehensive than most makers', and while we'd like to see Vudu, with its high-quality streams, added to the list, Sony's Qriocity service and Amazon, which also offers HD streams on demand, help make up for the lack. Sony has also fixed the video quality of Netflix streaming on the XBR-HX909, so now it performs as well as we expect for that service.
If mainstream isn't your bag, Sony's plethora of lesser-known video services, most of which are not found on other Internet-connected TVs, might appeal. The list includes names like the Minisode network, blip.tv, style.com, howcast.com, Dr. Oz, Michael Jackson, Dailymotion, Golflink.com and numerous video podcasts like Attack of the Show, Gadget Pron, CNN Daily and NASACast--and yes, "Ford Models." Most are simply portals to the same videos found on the parent Web sites, and general video quality is poor. Sony offers a keyword search that covers most of the niche services, which reflect a similar zeitgeist to the web at large; there were 142 video results for an "iphone" search, for example. Unfortunately the search doesn't cover YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and other major services.
Audio is extensive as well, aside from the lack of Rhapsody, and NPR fans will appreciate the up-to-date service offering hundreds of audio snippets. There's also a pay-per-listen classical music audio/video service from the Berlin Philharmonic.