Sony BRAVIA KDL-46XBR4 46" LCD HDTV
Dick De Jong
December 7, 2007
Over the years, Sony has established a well earned reputation not only for top notch performance but also cutting edge innovation. The BRAVIA KDL-46XBR4 upholds that heritage.
With all of its 21st Century technology, this 46" LCD HDTV is undoubtedly a videophile's dream. But after living with this Sony for a couple of weeks, I can definitely discern the lineage of an old fashioned TV. And that's not a bad thing.
I'm thinking of those warhorses of yesteryear that you could pull out of the box, plop on a stand, plug in and expect years of solid performance. It's that strength of character that I see at the heart of this TV.
Of course, one look at this stylish four foot wide and five inch deep HDTV happily erases any memories of those chunky CRTs. And the gorgeous 1080p image it produces from high definition content dispels any nostalgia for the standard definition era.
[Editor's note: Sony also makes a 40" model, the KDL-40XBR4, and a 52" KDL-52XBR4. Since they have the same specifications as this 46", the review can be applied to all three.]
Out of the Box
When I pulled this handsome 84 pound (with non-swivel pedestal) BRAVIA out of its box, I was struck by how the TV's glass projects out an inch from the bezel. Wrapped in a silver frame, the protruding glass provides a distinctive profile.
Speaking of bezels, Sony offers a selection of eight different colors ranging from Arctic White to Velvet Black, Titanium Silver to Rose Metallic. If the mood strikes, you can alter your motif with a few twists of a screwdriver. (Individual bezels sell for $300 at the Sony Style store.)
To complete the effect, the kit comes with a matching color stand. Considering the blandness of most other cookie cutter LCDs, I like the prominent statement made by the wide (almost four inches on the sides) textured bezel.
With a little visual sleight of hand, the Sony logo lights up in the middle of the glass frame at the bottom. Also suspended in mid-glass are three indicator lights and a light sensor/infrared receiver. The two integrated 11W speakers are hidden behind the bezel.
The connection panel on the back provides two HDMI 1.3 compatible inputs, (one has matching stereo Audio Ins), two Component (YPbPr) with matching stereo Audio Ins, two Composite (with Audio), one VGA (15 pin D-Sub) with a stereo Audio In mini-plug, and an S-Video. In addition, an SPDIF (optical) digital Audio Out is provided next to L/R Stereo Outs.
The one RF connector can take either an antenna or a cable signal and links to the internal NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners. Since the tuner system is Clear QAM compatible, you can attach your cable TV signal directly into the RF connector and tune in unscrambled cable stations. There is no CableCARD slot.
I was surprised that a high caliber HDTV like this one did not offer a USB port for inputting a USB flash drive full of JPEG images and MP3 files. Also, I am starting to expect to see an Ethernet cable port for directly accessing the Internet.
|Internet Video Link attached to the back of the BRAVIA|
Instead of integrating that hardware into the KDL-46XBR4, Sony has opted for an add-on module called their BRAVIA Internet Video Link ($300), which attaches on the back and connects to the DMeX/Service USB port.
I wasn't sent one of these units. But I am told that it lets you stream Internet video from Sony's content partner channels (e.g. Yahoo!, AOL, Crackle, Sports Illustrated, CondeNet, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Blip.tv and more to come) to your BRAVIA over your broadband connection without the need for a computer.
Considering that you will probably own this TV for at least five years, I like this add-on approach to future proofing your investment. Who knows what technology or new distribution method will be available in the next few years. I'm also a proponent of the modular concept of purchasing electronics. If all you want is a TV to watch prime time programs, then why pay extra for Internet streaming capabilities built into the unit?
Easily accessible on the back left edge of the TV is a smaller connection panel containing another HDMI Input, a set of Composite Inputs, and a headphone mini-jack.
The P&P feature, (this is Sony's label for their side by side picture function), is limited in the combinations available. For example, you cannot put two over the air (OTA) channels next to each other. Though you can match one OTA and one HDMI. But you cannot pair one HDMI source with another HDMI. If you have a PC input, you can create a PIP coupling with the PC input being the main window and a TV channel as the insert.
I like the remote control. The buttons are large, the labels are easy to read, and I always appreciate when some of the more arcane controls are hidden away. In this case, they are secreted behind a sliding door at the bottom.
Although I do prefer the convenience of dedicated buttons for Input sources. This remote only has a generic Input button. Push it and the screen displays a list of Inputs to select.
I will give the designers credit for their inspired placement of the Mute control right next to the Volume rocker button. In that spirit, they could have located the Jump key next to the Channel rocker.
The remote lights up blue when you punch the Light button. I've never quite understood the logic. If it's dark enough to need to illuminate the keys, then how can you find the Light button. Luckily it's placed on the top row.
But the orientation that kept bugging me was where the Home button was. Press Home and the Main Menu is displayed. Hit it when the Menu is open and the Menu closes. The problem – at least for my clumsy digits – is that the Down menu navigation button is situated right above it. I constantly found myself punching the Home key by accident and then it took me two or three keystrokes to return to where I was. Whew, I'm glad I got that off my chest.
The more TVs that I setup, the more I realize how subjective the final adjustments are. Though to begin, we still follow a basic objective procedure.
Since we have a Pioneer BDP-94HD Blu-ray player in our facility, we used it to playback the Digital Video Essentials DVD, (the SD version), to calibrate the monitor. We attached the Pioneer HDMI out to one of the HDMI inputs on the Sony and used test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias. We set the BDP-94HD to upconvert the standard definition DVD to 1080p, which is the KDL-46XBR4's native resolution.
|Champagne Gold Bezel|
The Picture Menu provides five Picture Mode options: Vivid, Standard, Cinema, Photo, and Custom. I chose Custom and only made minor tweaks to attain a highly satisfactory image. The biggest adjustment was a matter of personal taste. The Color Temperature was preset at Warm 2, which is too warm for me. I cooled it off by picking Neutral. Other than that, Hue was notched a couple of pegs to Red. And I added a bit more Brightness.
The whole process took less than ten minutes and as I said, the resulting picture quality is great. You really can't ask for much more from modern HDTVs, which can be a little finicky.
Now, if you can't leave well enough alone, Sony offers you almost all of the fine tuning tools that you will ever desire. With Advanced Settings like Black Corrector, Advanced Contrast Enhancer, Gamma, and White Balance, a videophile can spend vertiginous hours enhancing here and balancing there.
But, please, Setup Responsibly. These advanced controls are a gift and a curse. The video engineers at Sony, to their credit, have provided a powerful tool set. You must realize though that if you tweak a knob too far, it may improve one characteristic of the image while introducing an unwanted artifact somewhere else.
I would suggest leaving these controls at their presets, which is often Off, unless you just can't live without correcting your blacks or enhancing your contrast. If you are so inclined then adjust one at a time and see if that is satisfactory before moving on to another. And if you stray too far off the path, you can always hit the Reset button.
| Pacific Blue Bezel|
I was enjoying the high-flying, gravity-defying Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray DVD the other day and marveling at the splendor of high definition content displayed on a top-flight HDTV. As I was commiserating with the hapless Thomas Haden Church, he tumbles into that Particle Physics facility pit and is atomized into a million grains of sand.
As he pulls himself together, I realize that I can clearly see each individual grain – not only its outline, but also its distinctive color gradation. The shiver down my spine confirmed that I just experienced another heavenly high definition affirmation. Hallelujah, BRAVIA!
In the HD World, with a TV like the KDL-46XBR4, the fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high. Beyond the detail, the color on this Sony is rich without being overly saturated. Skin tones are faithfully rendered. The KDL-46XBR4's Dynamic Contrast is rated at 18:000 to 1. But even though the TV's black level is impressive, I still don't feel that it attains that deep black found in higher end plasmas.
In this transition period, we are still too often confronted with standard definition content, especially on broadcast TV. While other HDTVs surrender this low def territory, Sony flexes its video processing muscle. Drawing on a long heritage of SD prowess, this BRAVIA HDTV performs as well as I have seen with SD material. Don't expect miracles, but Sony has definitely made an effort to produce a respectable image from an SD source.
They even provide a proprietary technology called Digital Reality Creation, which minimizes the loss in interlace-to-progressive conversion. As a videophile bonus, you can tweak the effect with the DRC Palette's cool graphical interface in the Picture Settings menu.
Often with HDTVs, I am never quite comfortable with the steadiness of the image, which I can usually attribute to the meanderings of broadcast TV. I found this Sony to be much more solid in handling the video vicissitudes of various channels.
Another plus that perked up my ears was the best sound that I have heard coming out of integrated HDTV speakers. This is the first TV sound system that I would feel comfortable listening to the Blu-ray DVD of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds performing Live at Radio City.
The BRAVIA not only can kick out an eardrum banging volume, its virtual surround sound is fairly convincing. Of course, the TV's audio will not be a match for a dedicated system, but for many people, they won't feel particularly aurally deprived.
|Scarlet Red Bezel|
Before I finish this review, I suppose that I should mention that this BRAVIA does playback at 120Hz, which is twice the normal 60 frames per second rate. Sony labels this feature Motionflow. The concept is that if you increase the frame rate, you will smooth out fast moving scenes, like you encounter in sports programs.
Also, films are shot at 24 frames per second. To display them at 60Hz can cause a stuttering in fast pans or tilts. If the film is converted to 120Hz, with motion interpolation, this judder can be alleviated.
I notice judder, but it doesn't bug me. If it annoys you, then you should look for a TV like this one that plays at 120Hz.
Finally, I missed an episode of House last week, so I decided to hook up my laptop to the Sony with a VGA cable. I was able to set the computer output to 1920 x 1080. When I streamed the show from the Fox website, I was amazed at how well the picture held up even when I expanded the playback display to full screen.
Afterward, I opened Photoshop and loaded up a few photos. The detail and the image quality was indulgent. With this exemplary ability to reproduce still images, I lament the fact that the TV doesn't have a USB feature for uploading photos.
(Editor's Note: We have posted a video review of this Sony BRAVIA. You can see it here.)
When displaying high definition material, the BRAVIA KDL-46XBR4 conspicuously showcases all of Sony's video processing prowess. But what endears this HDTV to me is how well it handles mundane standard def material and backs it up with a rather impressive integrated sound system. This solid all terrain performance makes it stand out in the HDTV crowd.
First, realize, that ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now.
Second, we have given only a precious few 5 Star ratings, which we reserve for truly outstanding accomplishment.
The KDL-46XBR4's reproduction of HD material is stunning. Its solid work with SD content and its surprising audio quality substantiate its 5 rating.
I know that its picture adjustment tool set is considerable, but at this price point, I have come to expect some sort of integrated USB photo gallery feature if not home network connectivity.
Ease of Use: 4.5
Sony engineers have included one essential ease of use feature. The Picture Mode presets produce a great image without major tweaking. So you can be setup and enjoying your favorite program without much muss and fuss.
I would prefer a little more detailed practical documentation on the Picture Setting controls. And I have some niggling issues with the remote.
For this quality, perhaps I'm being unreasonable in hoping for a lower price, but it's a competitive marketplace.