Sony KDS-R60XBR1 SXRD Rear Projection HDTV 
Home Theater Rear-Projection HDTVs SXRD Rear-Projection HDTVs
Written by Jeremy R. Kipnis   
Wednesday, 01 February 2006

It seems like new televisions are coming out all the time now. The most interesting of these are the new 1920 x 1080p sets. Increasing the pixel count by 225 percent versus a 1280 x 720p set improves the portrayal of fine details and textures, creating a spellbinding quality. While these sets can theoretically accept a 1080p source, there are currently very few (if any) to choose from on the market. Generally, the highest resolution any HD format (HD-DVD, HD cable or satellite, D-VHS, Xbox 360 etc.) goes is 1080i, but the extra pixels are far from wasted. The most recent rear-projection offerings have provided outstanding picture quality with extraordinary resolution, high light output, and very accurate yet deeply saturated color fidelity, along with extended black level reproduction at a somewhat pricy point: the Qualia 006 in particular, followed by certain DLP designs.

The sudden proliferation of the 1920 x 1080 native resolution projector in today’s marketplace has, in my mind, quickly pushed out all 1280 x 720 platforms sold for the same price. Most of these rear projectors are based on a single-chip DLP design by Texas Instruments, which uses a color flywheel to divide up the light coming from an ultra-high-pressure Mercury Halide bulb. The bulb is not a white light source but rather has peaks in the blue and green portions of the spectrum. The color wheel creates the color images we see through a process known as persistence of vision. Unfortunately, this color fly wheel also creates a nasty artifact called “rainbow distortion,” which can be seen all too easily. Examine any high-definition football or baseball game with horizontal motion on a single-chip DLP projector (front or rear) and the image becomes a mass of subtle rainbow-colored ghosts, for as long as the fast motion continues. This becomes even more noticeable if the color is turned off to produce an otherwise black and white image, until the fast horizontal motion begins.

The solution is to use a three-chip design, eliminating the need for a color wheel. Traditionally, this has cost three times as much as the single-chip design, leading to the creation and development of such technologies as LCD and D-ILA. The resulting projectors, which are available at a lower price than their DLP counterparts, have not until recently showcased the best color or black level when compared to ever-better DLP engine designs. Indeed, some recent examples from JVC of their D-ILA technology have demonstrated the capability of RPs other than DLP to showcase acceptable black levels and high light output, along with some extraordinary color fidelity.

So now, after over two years of proving in practical applications, Sony has made available an affordable version of its recent LCOS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) variation to JVC’s D-ILA (Digital Image Light Amplifier) technology, and they call it: SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display). Basically, a naturally reflective form of liquid crystal is suspended between several micro-thin pieces of tempered glass substrate, and controlled on the engine side by millions and millions of tiny IC transistors that turn on or off the reflective character of the liquid silicon, pixel for pixel. With a little computer processing and thousands of miles of microscopic circuit board traces, an image is rendered pixel by pixel creating by reflecting (or absorbing) separate red, green and blue light, created by dividing a white light source (usually a UHP Mercury Bulb but in this case a Xenon Arc Bulb) using a prism.

The Qualia 004 front projector began using this technology over two years ago and it is also at the heart of Sony’s new 4k CineAlta line of professional electronic cinema projectors, capable of reproducing greater temporal impact than 70mm film prints (one-third of an IMAX frame ). Not surprisingly, the 70-inch Qualia 006 rear projection set ($12,998 MSRP) has now been joined by the 60-inch KDS-R60XBR1 ($4,999.99 MSRP and the subject of this review) and the companion 50-inch KDS-R50XBR1 ($3,999.99 MSRP), both of which share exactly the same electronics engine. Sony rear projectors featuring this same SXRD technology and 1920 x 1080p resolution are available at the same price point as the 40-inch direct-view CRT Sony 40XBR700 or 800 and any number of standard-definition (720 x 480p) 50-inch rear projectors from all manufacturers just five years ago today. For their size and resolution, the Sony KDS-R50XBR1 and KDS-R60XBR1 are outstanding values, but do they maintain the same lineage as the previous SXRD products?

Like the Qualia 006, the KDS-R60XBR1 (and the KDS-R50XBR, except where noted) comes in a largish rectangular box, where the top portion separates from the base, making it very easy to remove the rear projector from its moorings. Although somewhat heavy (112 lbs. 7 oz or 43 kg), the set is very responsive with three strong individuals. I personally would recommend four strong people, because $5,000 is still a lot of money for anyone, and it is better to be safe than have your new TV crash or get damaged. Be aware, the screen is not covered with peel-off protective film, so you should stay away from it to avoid causing small scratches, scuffs or handprints. All the same, the screen surface is an integral part of the viewing experience, and can be damaged more easily than other rear-projection sets, due to the very high resolution of the picture. This is a small liability once known, and hand and fingerprints are easily removed with a special cleaning cloth and brush that are included to help maintain the screen without scratching.

There is an integral stand (SU-GW12, $499.95 MSRP), which is designed to go with a number of other Sony rear-projection sets, and is quite attractive in the same silver and clear glass/plastic mantra of most recent Sony expositions, including this one. Unlike the 006 stand (SUSX10, $1,998.00 MSRP), which has warped somewhat in the last 10 months due to the 70-inch rear projection’s 273 pounds, the recommended stand for the 50-inch and 60-inch SXRD rear-projection sets seems able to withstand the weight without contusion. But we will see. Sony must pay better attention to materials, especially those used in making an expensive display stand.

Once in place, wiring is very typical of recent HDMI-capable Sony sets with, in reverse order, HDMI (with HDCP) on Input 7 and 6 (which also included separate L/R RCA jacks to accommodate DVI sources with a format changer for DVI to HDMI) – I would have really appreciated a DVI connector as well during this transition era, as I am sure many other customers would – two component video inputs with companion stereo audio inputs (all on RCA jacks) for inputs 5 and 4, while two S-Video with stereo inputs occupy inputs 3 and 1. Cable and an antenna input are also available on F-type connectors, along with a Cable CARD slot. Input 2, on the front bezel, behind a typical flip-down panel, features S-Video with stereo inputs and a Memory Stick reader. There are also three iLink or FireWire 400 on four-pin connectors for SD IEEE 1394 connection of an SD camcorder like the Sony VCX-2100, Canon XL-1S or similar output devices, such as the Sony or Dell VAIO computer system or similarly equipped laptop, featuring an identical 1394 connection and a HDR HD camcorder like the Sony HDR-FX1 or a workstation/laptop. This is a useful input that needs to be made available on the front!

Finally, of great note is the DB-15 analog RGB computer input, available for the first time on an SXRD rear projector. It is unfortunate that this input could not have been mirrored on the front, so that a laptop could easily be connected. I am a big advocator of computers being displayed on large screens with great picture quality. This rear projector offers a computer image of outstanding quality, as you will read, and I feel that this is a major step towards integrating all of the different sources on a single display device. Looking back over the last 10 years has proven how important it is to bring film, video, theater (home and cinema) and computers together on the same screen. In my opinion, when all our viewing is done on large, bright and accurately colorful displays, all sources will take on a much greater viewing experience and meaning.

A new master (2.35:1 HD) of “Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2” on the Starz HD network provided exceptional opportunities to view these outstanding examples of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking on the new Sony KDS-R60XBR1. With its decisive choice of colors, lighting and camera angles, plus the outstanding selection of pristinely remastered music must certainly be on every serious film aficionado’s must play list. As seen on the Sony KDS-R60XBR1, the transparency of this new transfer was jaw-dropping, vastly sharper than the previous version and in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio this time. Of great note were the outstandingly bright whites (92.2 foot lamberts on a calibrated 100 percent white window pattern), stunning blacks (0.004 foot lamberts) and a range of exceptionally accurate colors with slightly exaggerated saturation levels that seemed very lifelike, conveying slightly more than the actual program material has to offer.

It is particularly interesting to note how similar the performance is between the Qualia 006 and the two KDS rear projectors. Other than a larger screen size (which can be important) and removable speakers (006 only), almost every other aspect of the two rear projectors’ functions and picture quality were nearly identical. An entire plethora of special image adjusting controls are made available to the end user (along with the usual contrast, brightness, color, tint and sharpness), in addition to user-adjustable color temperature with sufficient range and articulation to create a very accurate gray scale (D6504 Kelvin from 10 to 100 IRE + 98 / – 26). Also included are several noise reduction modes and “Digital Reality Creation” palettes that can help you clean up a mediocre HD or DVD image to look really sweet, noise-free and sharper than the original. This can be easily seen in another great Tarantino film, “Jackie Brown” wherein many complexly orchestrated shots in the mall towards the end of the story can reveal hidden layers of people’s expressions when properly tweaked using these detail enhancements. This allows for an enhanced sense of being in the scene that is otherwise not possible.

A wonderful new feature, which has appeared in other recent Sony projector’s like the VPL-HS51, is the “advanced iris,” which can be set up manually, or to auto, which increases the contrast ratio beyond that of any DLP projector ever made. I measured a contrast ratio (after a full D6504 degree Kelvin color temperature calibration, plus gamma adjustment to 2.24), using a full white window pattern vs. an all-black window pattern (as above) for a total contrast ratio of 23,050 to 1. While this figure seems grossly exaggerated, it is one way of interpreting the data, and one that is comparable against other rear projectors, which have reported numbers as high as 20,000 to 1. Although I still feel that this feature is noticeable while it is working, the iris’s opening and closing is in sync with a scene’s changing from well lit to dimly lit, this is a very improved version of this neat adaptive technology. The results are very bright images that have considerable impact because they are so much brighter than traditional televisions, including recent plasmas. This, along with very dark although sometimes crushed blacks, provides an image which is more than reality or film can provide. “Batman Begins” features so many wonderfully photographed scenes, which include both very light and dark features from shot to shot. While some sense of image processing is evident in the form of small changes in gamma, and the iris itself is not always as fast as the scene demands going from very light to exceedingly dark, it is nevertheless an important addition to Sony’s line up of image enhancements that work most of the time.

The lack of absolute picture accuracy observed is a trait of more recent Sony products including the Qualia 006. Certain compromises, which can be dialed out through a complete calibration, have been made so that the electronic engine interprets the signal rather than simply pass it through. While this is not always desirable, it is easily possible for the owner to adjust the large range of available controls (with a good test disc) in order to achieve a subtle yet seductively transparent quality to almost any image. For example, the “color corrector” selectively enhances the intensity of reds and greens to make them appear more vivid yet properly saturated, as would be seen under the bright lights of a Broadway theatre. The third season of the original “Star Trek” (the blue set) is famous for its rather extreme color palettes, due to a cost-saving measure by the designers of the show; they painted and lit otherwise blank set walls with glorious 1960s psychedelic colors. Scotty always appears in a bright red tunic, which I am lucky enough to have several 35mm original film elements of to make a direct comparison, under matched conditions on the same-sized screen. My impression was that the KDS-R60 engine was able to pull more of the actual event that appeared before the cameras with actor Jimmy Doohan through to the viewer than the original 35mm elements did. This can become very addictive to watch, even though it is not totally faithful to the original source material.

The Downside
While this is unquestionably the best rear projection HDTV available for the money at under $5,000, offering outstanding picture quality and reasonably okay sound quality, it is fair to say it is not perfect. As noted, the sound quality, with its fixed speakers, is not anything to write home about. A Bose Wave Table Radio ($349 MSRP) was easily able to produce vastly more realistic and substantial sound, with clearer midrange and tighter bass, along with delicate highs that created a sense of imaging and depth that shamed the Sony. The built-in speakers simply could not compete, which is sad, considering all the other great parts of this set. The Qualia 006 is similarly crippled. I guess if you are spending this kind of money on an HDTV, you are likely to have a separate sound system. However, there are times when you just want to watch TV without switching the entire system on.

The blacks, while stunning and rich, are highly processed (prior to calibration), which can give dark areas of the picture a mottled appearance. This is correctable by employing several of the user noise reduction and DRC controls, but it is not possible to create a technically correct black that also looks correct with actual program material. “The Fifth Element” and “Starship Troopers” both feature scenes where the blackness of space is supposed to be at 4 to 5 IRE (or percent), but the KDS engine will only look correct if the black is at 0.5 IRE, which makes the lower shadow detail look correctly saturated. Otherwise, with the space black set up to 4 to 5 IRE, the lower shadow detail looks washed out, like the gamma is not tracking linearly.

Clearly, the KDS engine, like the Qualia 006 before it, is tuned to deliver the best possible image for sterling sources viewed in a slightly lit room, that is, with some kind of bias light, preferably behind the set. What this amounts to is a signal that can result in an ultra-vivid, highly articulated landscape, given a very good source. But since sources are usually of variable quality, and most DVI and HDMI sources (including HD and DVD) are heavily compressed, this great picture quality can just as easily reveal or exaggerate digital artifacts, sometimes rendering the image almost unwatchable. Clearly, program providers and broadcasters should be watching their efforts on a set capable of this quality. Otherwise, they simply have no idea of the true quality of their work.

The exception to this image interpretation is the PC input on the DB-15 connector, which shows no sign of adulteration and little if any overscan. The other inputs, even the iLink, seem to add or subtract some portion of the signal, either in the form of lost image from overscan or processed video resulting in block noise. Normally, the Direct Mode being engaged defeats all of these enhancements, but this is apparently no longer the case.

Because of the intrinsic high quality of the picture, most definitely augmented by the three-chip 1920 x 1080p SXRD panels and the Xenon Arc bulb, the quality of the screen becomes an issue, as it has with the Qualia 006. Many rear projectors suffer from a certain screen texture imposing itself on the image; even front projectors can suffer this disability if the screen gain is excessive and the viewing distance quite close. But the KDS rear projectors seem to be using the same screen materials as the 006, but on the smaller screen, this texture becomes even more visible, requiring a minimum of a nine-foot viewing distance before I could reliably ignore its effects. While the screen’s ability to collate light and provide a clear and less hot spot-ridden appearance than most is laudable, it still adds a visible texture in every brightly lit image, particularly in patches of solid color, like the aforementioned red “Star Trek” tunic worn by Engineer Scott, or patches of sky, which take on a grainy look.

The Sony KDS-R60XBR1 now joins the “the best bang for your buck” category. Its stunning 1920 x 1080p image, created by three SXRD chips and a Xenon Arc bulb that produces a very clean and accurate D6504 degree Kelvin gray scale, also possesses colorimetery, which is very accurate with respect to the video color primaries, but is exaggerated with respect to their absolute saturation, giving most images a lushness which can seem over the top occasionally, but most often makes everything look more realistic than the source actually allows for by itself.

The set includes significant image adjustment capability, so that the user can easily create a better-looking image than the source itself can muster, even the best sources. Major improvements in depth of field, grain reduction, and color accuracy can be easily achieved for any input source. The net effect of using these controls is a great and subtle improvement in the rendering of textures and colors. The set is capable of creating a cornucopia of vibrant, lifelike colors reliably and repeatedly.

The choice of input types is fairly generous with regard to the analog inputs, but only features two HDMI connectors, no DVI, and all FireWire/iLink inputs for a camcorder or laptop are only available on the back. What will someone do if the set gets built into a wall? I feel we must have all input types available on the front bezel in at least one place so that newer portable technologies, like HDR camcorders, portable capture devices, and video games/computers can be easily viewed on large sharp displays. Wireless would be even better!

All things considered, it seems impossible to find a better-looking picture at this price point. I do not care for the rainbow artifacts that accompany single-chip DLP projectors, so this three-chip SXRD alternative to JVC’s D-ILA technology seems both expertly engineered, if a bit colored in terms of absolute visual reproduction, and precisely marketed to video and game/computer aficionados. What I can definitely say is that this rear projector looks significantly better and brighter than any other television in this price range. It is a pleasure to watch and it demands to be seen with HD program material immediately and repeatedly.
Manufacturer Sony
Reviewer Jeremy Kipnis
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches

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