Sony BRAVIA XBR-52HX909 Review
52" 1080p Direct-lit LED LCD HDTV, $3999
If you look at the current models listed on the SonyStyle website, the BRAVIA HX909 sits on top of the line of 52" Sony TVs along with the LX900.
Both are 3D capable. The LX900 has the 3D transmitter built in, the HX909 requires a separate 3D sync transmitter that you plug into the back of the TV.
At the time of this writing, when you purchase the HX909, Sony is including a 3D starter kit (two pairs of 3D active glasses, the 3D sync transmitter, a 3D-ready HDMI cable, and the delightful Alice In Wonderland on Blu-ray 3D).
More importantly for me, the HX909 employs a full array of LEDs as a backlight for the TV's LCD screen. (I often use the term direct-lit for this backlighting technique.) The LX900 is an LED edge-lit LCD TV. I'll explain these technologies later.
For now, let me say that it has been my experience that direct-lit LED TVs produce deeper blacks than edge-lits, which translates into better picture quality.
I don't want to cast aspersions on the LX900. I'm confident that it is a perfectly fine upstanding TV. But I would have a tendency to lean toward the direct-lit HX909.
Of course, both models possess all the must-have features that you would expect from a high-end TV, including a 240Hz frame rate and numerous Internet content providers.
Of note, the HX909 does not have Wi-Fi connectivity built in. You need to buy a separate Wi-Fi adapter to plug into the back of the TV. (The LX900 does provide integrated Wi-Fi.)
With all that said, the BRAVIA XBR-52HX909 produces a great looking 2D picture and performs quite well with 3D content.
(Editor's Note: Sony only makes two sizes of the BRAVIA HX909 series, 46" and 52". [If you want a larger screen, the edge-lit LX900 comes in 60".] Both HX909 TVs have similar specifications and this review of the XBR-52HX909 can apply to its smaller brother.)
Our Star Ratings
With its dynamic full array LED backlighting, the 52HX909 can generate consistently deep blacks, which are the foundation for rich colors and excellent picture quality. The display of 3D content is very good, though the simulated 3D process on 2D material is marginal. Audio performance from the integrated speakers is quite respectable.
The HX909 offers almost every feature that you could desire in a 2010 model, including 3D capability and a bevy of Internet content providers. It does not include built-in Wi-Fi, but you can buy a wireless adapter.
Ease of Use: 4.5
Setting up the HX909 for basic broadcast TV and Blu-ray viewing requires a simple five minute procedure. Even connecting it to your home network can be fairly easy. Plan to take an evening to familiarize yourself with all the features and to register with some of the streaming video providers.
I just went to the SonyStyle site and the XBR-52HX909 is on sale for $3600, which includes the 3D starter kit and free installation. Even considering all the features that Sony has wrapped up in this 3D full array LED LCD TV, I still find it a bit precious at that price. Of course, with the holiday shopping season upon us, we may see a little wiggle as the competition for your HDTV dollars heats up.
Star Ratings Description
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. We have given only a precious few 5 Star ratings, which we reserve for truly outstanding accomplishment.
Out of the Box
The glass on the front of the HX909 stretches from edge to edge and is surrounded by a thin dark gray brushed metal frame. The two inch black bezel is subtly secluded under the glass.
The substantial 13 pound pedestal serves two purposes. First, the TV can swivel on it 20 degrees left or right, which gives more flexibility in placing the TV.
Also, you can attach the TV on the stand leaning slightly backwards, (six degrees) which gives you a better viewing angle when the TV is placed below where you are sitting.
The front of the TV only has a few operational lights on the bottom left edge. The control buttons are inset behind the screen along the right edge of the TV.
On the left side, Sony furnishes two HDMI connections. Below them is a Composite video In (with a matching stereo Audio In).
At the top of this side panel is a USB port for accessing photo, music, video files stored on a USB device.
On the back, a second panel includes two Component video Ins (YpbPr), (with a matching stereo Audio Ins), and two more HDMI inputs. HDMI 4 shares an Audio In (stereo minijack) with a VGA PC input.
For sending audio to external speakers or a receiver, an SPDIF (optical) digital Audio Out is provided next to analog L/R Stereo Outs.
The manual states, "If connecting a digital audio system that is compatible with Audio Return Channel (ARC) technology, use the HDMI IN 1 on the rear of the TV. If not, an additional connection with DIGITAL AUDIO OUT (OPTICAL) is necessary."
To attach this TV to your home network with a Ethernet cable, Sony furnishes a LAN connection. If you want to fly without wires, you can acquire Sony's USB Wireless LAN Adapter (UWA-BR100) and plug it into the USB port on the side.
Near the back panel is the connector where you plug in the 3D Sync Transmitter. Also my review unit came with an RS232 port attached, which is useful for integrating control of the TV into a home theater setup.
The one RF antenna connector links to integrated 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.
With the ATSC tuner and the proper antenna, you also will be able to tune in digital signals broadcast over-the-air.
If you desire to tap into the wealth of video and audio content available on the Internet, Sony has supplied a beefy line-up of providers to pipeline that programming directly to your HDTV.
On the HX909, Sony has thankfully banished the widgets that pop up over the screen. Instead, all of the providers are organized by category, (Photo, Music and Video), lined up in the the XMB (XrossMediaBar) menu.
Sony has partnered with an array of Internet video providers, 33 of them at last count. The list changes from time to time. For example, Sports Illustrated (and the swimsuit videos) is no longer available, though Hulu Plus has just been activated.
Along with the usual suspects like Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand and YouTube, you can stream video from sites like Crackle, Dr. Oz and Tara Stiles.
Sony has even packaged their own channels like Michael Jackson, Inside Sony Pictures, and the Digital Cinema Concert Series.
Sony has also implemented its own video on demand service titled Qriocity, which is a rental model similar to Amazon's. For the 3D enthusiasts waiting for more content, Qriocity offers a 3D genre, which currently contains three programs including the Bon Jovi "What Do You Got" music video.
To expand the reach of this TV even further, Sony has made it DLNA Certified. When attached to your home network, the HX909 can access videos, photos and music stored on your DLNA Certified computer or other compliant devices and play the content directly on to your HDTV.
The ability also allows the TV to see any media servers that you have on the network.
Every time I write about streaming video from the Internet, I feel that I need to repeat this caveat, if you are serious about obtaining good picture quality, you will need fairly fast and robust bandwidth from your Internet provider, ideally around 10Mbps.
I know some sites suggest as low as 2.5Mbps, but if anyone else in your house is accessing the network, the video playback will deteriorate. At least try to have around 5Mbps.
For streaming music, Slacker Personal Radio provides songs from a wide variety of musical genres. Also Sony furnishes a link to NPR (National Public Radio), Pandora, Lollapalooza Radio, and Berliner Philharmoniker.
Of course, you can stream music files that reside on your computer or you can shuttle files from your computer to your TV with USB flash drives. Either way, you can add music to slideshows that you can play on the HX909.
On the photo front, the TV has links to Picasa, Photobucket, and Shutterfly.
The slideshow interface is very good, though it only offers three speed choices (Fast, Medium and Slow) and three Slideshow Effects, but it includes the requisite Crossfade.
The four Photo picture modes, (Standard, Vivid, Custom and Original), are critical to photographers who want to present their images in the best possible light.
The slideshow menu also contains a list of features that allow you to customize your presentation. For example, if you connect a digital still camera with a GPS function, you can display both the photo and, overlaid in a corner, a map of the location where the photo was taken. To enable the GPS map, the TV has to be connected to the Internet to download the map information.
If you look at the long multi-function remote control from the end, you'll see that the front of the remote dips slightly in the middle. The designers also added another uncommon twist. They put a second On/Off button on the back of the remote - there's still the traditional one on the front.
Also, if you punch the Light button on the remote, a blue backlight glows around all the buttons.
Looking at the size and layout of the buttons, I assume that the designers reckoned that most people use the number buttons more than the others. They are bigger than the rest with large easy to read labels.
At the top, the more specialized buttons like CC/Subtitle are squished together with smaller labels. But I do like the dedicated buttons that take you directly to menus like Internet Video and Qriocity. And the multi-purpose Options button provides a quick shortcut to context sensitive menus.
As you can begin to see, the HX909 is a fully featured TV that will take some time to explore. For more information on all of the TV's functions, Sony offers an on-screen i-Manual that you can access by hitting the i-Manual button on the remote.
It's still not highly detailed, but it does a reasonable job of giving most consumers all the knowledge that they need to get up to speed. Sony on their website also posts the i-Manual.
On May 1, 2010, the EPA implemented Version 4.1 of the ENERGY STAR Program Requirements for TVs. They are now publishing a list of TVs that that meet this stricter standard. (You can find it here.) The Sony BRAVIA XBR-52HX909 is on the list, all 1158 square inches of it.
The EPA states that this Sony's On Mode Power is 122W and Standby Power Consumption is .1W. Based on the formula that the TV is on five hours a day and in Standby for the other 19, the Estimated Annual Energy Use is 223.34 kWh/year.
You need to check your electric bill to see how much you are paying for a kWh. The rate that I have been using in previous reviews is 10.4 cents. Doing the multiplication, at that rate, the yearly energy cost is $23.23.
In 2011 we will begin to see manufacturers attaching those yellow ENERGY STAR tags that you find on air conditioners and refrigerators. Until then you will have to study the ENERGY STAR list to see how the 52HX909 compares to other 52" TVs.
A quick overview of other Sonys that size shows that this direct-lit model consumes more energy than its edge-lit kin. But the HX909 is well below 164W, which is the Maximum On Power Mode for ENERGY STAR qualification.
The HX909 comes with a Eco menu full of power saving features, including a Picture Off option. If you are listening to music through the TV, you might as well turn the picture off and save some money.
In addition, on the right side of the TV is an Energy Saving Switch. As you can see in the ratings, even in Standby Mode, the TV is sipping a little bit of energy, which if you multiply by millions of TVs can add up.
If you flip the Energy Saving Switch, the unit totally powers down and draws no electricity. You need to flip it back On before you can power up the TV with the remote control.
When you pull the HX909 out of the box and plug it in for the first time, you will run through the Initial Setup. You will answer basic questions like what is your zip code and then set up your TV channels and your Network connections.
Sony does a good job of making this process automatic and unless you have some unusual network configuration, you should be connected in a matter of minutes.
To take full advantage of all the available Internet content, you should go into the Settings menu and then the Network sub-menu and Refresh the Internet Content.
Not to confuse you, but there is also a Network selection on the XMB horizontal menu. In it, you should click on Activate Enhanced Features and follow those instructions.
And if you wish to tap into Netflix or Amazon Video on Demand or some of the other Internet content partners, you will need to set up an account with them. For example, with Netflix you need to subscribe to their service and register the HX909 at their site.
If you plan on accessing your DNLA computer, you need to set up permissions for your TV in Windows.
And to watch 3D content, you need to plug the 3D sync transmitter into the back of the TV and place it in line of sight to where you will be sitting with your 3D glasses perched on your nose.
I'll talk more about the 3D experience in the Performance section.
For now, let's discuss calibrating the TV. In our setup process, we have added a third disc, WOW (World of Wonder) from Disney, to our usual two, the Blu-ray version of the Digital Video Essentials DVD called HD Basics and the Spears & Munsil High Definition Benchmark Blu-ray DVD.
We play the DVDs on the Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray player connected to the HDTV with an HDMI cable.
We use the test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias. The player is set to output a 1080p signal, which is the native resolution of the XBR-52HX909.
To begin, I followed my usual pre-calibration routine. First, I choose a Picture Mode. On the HX909 Series, Sony provides three main choices: Custom, Vivid, and Standard, which you can find in the Picture Adjustments menu.
With this TV, Sony also offers an expanded series of picture modes which you access by clicking the Scene button on the remote. The choices are Cinema, Sports, Photo, Music, Games, Graphics, General and Auto.
When you highlight one, a short description appears on-screen. If a particular Scene looks enticing then experiment with it. If you do, you will find that it not only changes the picture settings but also often adjusts the sound controls.
If one Scene strikes your fancy, you can buzz out of this picture setup discussion.
If you want to back out and follow along with my procedure, click on the General scene.
I chose the Custom Mode because I like to keep the settings in the Standard mode unchanged for quick reference.
To begin, I go into the Advanced Settings sub-menu and make sure everything is turned off, like Black Corrector and Live Color. Once you work through the basic picture settings, you can return to this menu and experiment.
I do leave one Advanced Setting on, the LED Dynamic Control, which is the local dimming feature of the direct-lit LED technology. I'll go into a bit more detail later. For now, I turned the LED Dynamic Control to Standard.
Going back to the main Picture Adjustments menu, I set the Color Temperature. On the HX909, Sony offers Warm2, Warm1, Neutral and Cool. I vacillated between Warm1 and Neutral and finally settled on Warm1. Color Temperature is definitely a personal choice.
Now, from the top of the menu, working my way down. I slide Backlight to 4 out of 10. Lowering the Backlight saves electricity. Your number may vary depending on the lighting conditions in your room.
Also, later when you return to the Advanced Settings, you may decide to turn on Auto Light Limiter, which will take control over the Backlight, lowering it during bright scenes. You can see why I like to turn off dynamic controls like this when I am setting up a TV.
I set Brightness at 55. I pumped Color (Saturation) up slightly 52. Hue stayed at 0.
The Sharpness scale runs from 0 (Min) to 100 (Max). When looking at a Safe Zone test pattern, I noticed the beginning of fringing above 20. You can play with Sharpness, though I found this TV to be exceptionally sharp without pumping it artificially. I set it to 20.
Setting Picture (Contrast) ran me in circles. I have been using the "Clipping" and "Dynamic Range High" test patterns on the Spears and Munsil Blu-ray to set Contrast. But the WOW disc offers its own set of Contrast tests.
According to Spears, I was comfortable with a setting of 75 for Picture. With one of the WOW patterns, even pushing Picture to Max (100) wasn't enough. After returning back to the Spears tests, I settled on 75, partially because I'm not a big proponent of pumping any picture adjustment to the maximum level.
Ultimately, the real test comes from viewing everyday content like your favorite Blu-ray movie. I was quite satisfied with the skin tones, contrast and the rest of the picture quality of my favorite reference scenes.
If you feel that you must tweak some more, go back to the Advanced Settings menu and experiment with items like Black Corrector and Advanced Contrast Enhancer.
I find these Advanced controls to be responsive. As always, I suggest that you tune one control at a time. And remember the Reset button provides a quick return to reality if you have fallen too far down the rabbit hole.
This Sony LCD TV has Motionflow PRO 240Hz refresh rate technology, which basically means that it can generate 240 frames a second, rather than the standard 60. You can read more about how it works here.
The theory is that generating 240 frames will smooth out fast action. In practice, personally, the frame rate has a tendency to make the image too sharp. To my eye, I prefer the softer image, especially when watching movies, that the TV produces when Motionflow is turned off.
I suggest that you experiment with different combinations of Motionflow and CineMotion to see which you prefer. I tend to leave Motionflow off and CineMotion at Auto 1.
Now, if this whole process sounds like the nine circles of Hell, then turn the TV on, set the Picture Mode to Standard and forget it. If you want to dip your toes into the River Styx, then go into the Scene menu and try the different options, paying particular attention to Cinema.
The HX909 is a full featured TV that is very good right out of the box. But to get your money's worth, expect to take some time to set up and explore all that this BRAVIA has to offer.
First, let's talk about how the HX909 handles 2D content. And the answer is very well, thank you.
As I mentioned, this LCD TV is the only current Sony model that employs direct-lit LED backlighting.
One integral element of LCD displays is their backlight. In the past, CCFLs (cold cathode fluorescent lights) were the common backlights. In the last few years, LEDs (light emitting diodes) have gained more prominence.
TV designers are placing the LEDs in two different locations. One method is to position the LEDs around the outer edge of the LCD screen, often called edge-lit. The second method places an array of LEDs behind the LCD panel, often termed direct-lit or full array.
Because of their orientation, edge-lit LEDs allow manufacturers to make thinner TVs, currently as slim as 1". But the problem with edge-lighting a display is achieving an even dispersal of light across the whole screen. One of the advantages of a direct-lit TV, like the 52HX909, is the light can be controlled better. Basically, you see no hot spots.
Placing the tiny LEDs behind the screen is only one part of the formula for great picture quality. The other is local dimming, where the brightness of the LEDs can be adjusted frame by frame according to the image.
If you are watching a movie and part of the scene is in shadows, then the TV lowers the brightness of the backlights in that area accordingly.
If part of the image is in deep shadow or totally black, the dimming will reinforce the darkness. Basically, the TV can produce darker darks, which makes colors seem richer.
That's the theory and in fact, the direct-lit 52HX909 does indeed deliver a vibrant colorful image when displaying 2D content.
Before I start discussing its 3D performance, I must admit that I'm not a huge fan of the 3D experience. A big factor in my appraisal has to do with those active shutter glasses.
And I'm not just talking about their cost, their weight or the life of their batteries. (I'll save that riff for a separate article about the 3D experience.)
Look at them, with their tinted lens, they look like sunglasses. Do you watch TV with sunglasses on? Try it. The picture is darker and the colors have shifted.
This is an inherent problem with all of the 3D glasses that I have tried, not just Sony's.
With that out of my system, I played a number of 3D programs on the 52HX909 and it handled its multi-dimensional chores like a champ.
One of the Blu-rays that Sony sent with this review unit was their 3D World demonstration disc with a number of different samples including soccer, American football, golf, Brazilian Mardi Gras, and a race car game.
What became clear is that not all 3D content is created equal. Actually, the most captivating 3D moment was a polar bear diving into the water. Obviously, the camera person knew how best to capture the action in 3D.
In some of the other clips, the 3D illusion is not as pronounced. For example, I'm not sure that the way that football is traditionally shot works in 3D.
When the camera was in the right hands, the 3D effect was palatable, occasionally for me, disconcertingly so.
With 3D Blu-rays and broadcast content in short supply so far, the HX909 does offer the option of displaying 2D content in 3D. You find the controls in the 3D menu.
Basically, the TV is processing a regular program and creating two offset images that can be viewed with the 3D glasses. You can even adjust the extent of the offset. This occurs internally with the HX909. You don't need a 3D Blu-ray player to create this faux 3D.
With some content like the 2D Avatar Blu-ray, the fake 3D is OK, but it won't be confused with the real thing. With other content, I don't think the result is worth draining the batteries in the glasses.
In fact, I find that if you turn on Motionflow, with its enhanced sharpness, that I looks as 3D as this simulated effect does. Again, neither looks as good as the real 3D process.
The integrated audio systems in Sony TVs have always ranked at or near the top of my list when compared with similar models from other manufacturers. The audio performance of the 52HX909 maintains that standard.
But the built-in pair of 10W speakers, even with features like S-FORCE Front Surround and Sound Enhancer engaged, can only generate limited sonic magic. They work well for regular TV duty.
If you plan on watching music videos or Blu-rays with multiple channel audio output, then buy a separate dedicated audio system or at least a soundbar.
With the BRAVIA XBR-52HX909, Sony has packaged all of the high-end technologies, dynamic full array LED backlighting, a 240Hz frame rate, 3D capability and Internet connectivity, into an LCD TV that produces impressive 2D and 3D picture quality.