Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70-inch SXRD HDTV 
Home Theater Rear-Projection HDTVs SXRD Rear-Projection HDTVs
Written by Mike Levy   
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

I have always thought of a “home theater” as stereotypically consisting of a front projector like Sony’s Qualia 004 or even their new and affordable “pearl” projector and a large filmscreen. How else would you get an image big enough for a real theater experience? Sony’s new KDS-R70XBR2 with its 70-inch screen is a set that has changed the way I feel about the impact you can get from a relatively affordable rear projection HDTV. The ease of installation starts the romance. Being able to watch a big, bright HDTV with daylight peeking into the room only adds to the love affair. Then there is the price difference, which almost makes you want to get down on one knee and propose.

It took two people and some care to place this monster HDTV, weighing in at 161 pounds and sized at 74.25 inches wide by 45.5 inches high and 24 inches deep, on its stand and position it at the end of my 25 foot by 15 foot living room, where it fit very comfortably. The brushed silver finish glowed elegantly, awaiting a high-definition source. I left the speakers attached to the sides, although they are detachable, if you need to move or wish to remove them for something a little more beefy.

This is Sony’s top of the line XBR rear-projection TV and it has the guts to live up to the mighty hype. The set features the WEGA engine, which sports three full high-definition SXRD imaging chips, one for each color. SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) is the proprietary name for Sony’s reflective LCD technology. It has improved color accuracy and contrast ratio as compared to regular LCD. The SXRD panels on this unit have the native resolution to fully display the highest level of HD, 1920 by 1080 pixels. The Sony KDS-R70XBR2 has a three-chip design, so it does not have a color wheel, nor does it have the accompanying rainbow artifacts. The three-chip design also assures that the detail level and the gray scale delineation are state of the art.

This HDTV set comes with a technology known as an advanced dynamic iris. This is a very important feature, which greatly improves the image in dimly lit scenes. Let me explain what the iris does. Any projector that has a light source such as a bulb and then uses an imaging chip to filter the light and create an image is limited in its ability to produce black; no matter how good the design, some small percentage of light leaks through to degrade the blacks. For bright scenes, this is not a problem, since that percentage is low enough to still give an excellent contrast ratio. The problem is with dimly lit scenes (think the Bada Bing scenes in The Sopranos in HD). When the imaging chip is used to cut down the light to the level needed by a dim scene, the light that leaks though corrupts the blacks, giving the image a washed-out look. Also, since the dynamics of the brightness of the image are small, the number of bits used to delineate gray scale is also small, creating digital artifacts such a halos and stair steps. The dynamic iris solves this problem by cutting down the light from the bulb to what is needed by the scene, while the electronics in the set expand the dynamics of the brightness to match. The expanded dynamics use many more bits to define the image, cleaning up the digital artifacts. With the iris cutting down the brightness instead of the panels, the full contrast ratio is available, making the blacks much deeper and preventing the aforementioned washed-out look.

Having no shortage of inputs or outputs, the Sony KDS-R70XBR2 sports two HDMI inputs, which accept and display the full gamut of digital sources, including true 1080p, which is the state of the art in high-definition sources, such as HD DVD or Sony’s preferred Blu-ray formats. There are two component video inputs, an antenna input, a cable input (both of which accept digital and HD), a cable card input, a PC input (RGB), an S-Video input and two composite video inputs. There is even an optical digital output for audio, in addition to a set of analog audio outputs. The inputs can be accessed directly, named and numbered using the onscreen menu.

The set is chock-full of useful features, including parental controls, a full complement of inputs, the programmable remote control and a host of video and audio adjustments, which stay with the input they are set on. My favorite was the free, fully functional onscreen TV guide. The service is provided by Gemstar and has many of the search features you would expect from a DVR like TiVo. My favorite audio adjustment, if you are sick and tired of those loud commercials that scream in between the softer programming, is called Steady Sound. There is even an audio adjustment to sync the video from digital sources with the sound called A/V Sync.

As a rear-projection system, the Sony KDS-R70XBR2 has advantages over a two-piece front projector. The first and most important upside is that you can turn lights on without making the image bleach out. The picture is quite viewable, even in a moderately lit room. Also, there is no need for set-up or installation. However, the most important advantage is this all comes in at a cost well below what it would take to achieve the same level of performance in a front-projection system.

Movies And Television
First things first. I got a set of component cables and an HDMI cable and hooked the set up to an HD cable box. The component input looked great with only a few digital artifacts, yet the HDMI cable was even better. It looked much smoother and more detailed, specifically with sports feeds like NBA basketball. “Incredible” fails to describe how smooth and detailed the picture looked. The contrast and brightness were lively and the image was saturated with color, giving images a more three-dimensional effect than those of lesser HDTVs. The image was so good it made me think of what Paul Simon was describing in his song, “Kodachrome”: “It makes all the world a sunny day.”

A look into the menu found the video set at “Vivid,” which it was. The image was very different after I put it in the custom mode with the color temperature at warm2. It became very filmlike on HD movie transfers and had that open window look on live feeds in HD. I could see where someone might prefer the Vivid setting for a well-lit room or just to create an impressive image, but the custom setting in warm2 is far more accurate and realistic. Since all the inputs come set at Vivid from the factory, I would suggest changing the video setting when setting up each of your sources.

My first viewings using standard DVDs were on the component input. The internal scaling chips did a reasonably good job with few artifacts and a slight knurled glass look that could only be seen when standing very close to the set. At viewing distance, these artifacts disappeared and the look was quite close to film on the better transfers. One note on viewing DVDs: be sure to turn the sharpness setting to zero, as the edge enhancement it employs may make the image seem too harsh. There is no loss of detail when the sharpness is set to zero.

With my trusty meter in hand and the Digital Video Essentials for reference, I calibrated the set to 6,500K. It tracked fairly well, holding to plus or minus 250K through the gray scale. Otherwise, only the picture (contrast) control and brightness control had to be lowered slightly, to 85 for the former and to 40 for the latter. After calibrating the set, I viewed several movies on DVD, including The Departed (Warner Home Video), The Fifth Element (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) and Star Trek: Insurrection (Paramount Home Entertainment). All were impressively presented. The dark scenes in space at the beginning of The Fifth Element and in the caves in Star Trek: Insurrection were the most impressive. The dynamic iris in the Sony KDS-R70XBR2 preserved the contrast ratio in these dim scenes, creating an impressive rendering of the black of space and the dim light of the caves. There are several settings for the dynamic iris. They range from low and min(imum) to high and max(imum) in reference to the brightness of the image. There also are two automatic settings. I found auto2 worked well on most program material.

Testing Blu-ray
Connecting a BDP-S1 Sony Blu-ray player with an HDMI cable provided an impressive upgrade to the image I could produce. Now the source bypasses all scaling and powers the SXRD panels in 1080p 24-frame format directly. I can only say “wow” to the difference this makes. The lack of digital artifacts and the smooth detail is nothing short of jaw-dropping. This HD disc format came so close to film in its visual qualities that what became apparent were the limitations of film rather than any flaws in the HDTV, which is tremendously impressive. The residual chemical noise and losses in transfer became more obvious, but who cares? The overall result was purer and more exciting than anything I have seen on DVD. Hollywood will ultimately have to take note as they look to new ways to make films for an increasingly digital world in both the cinema and home theater environments.

The CGI-oriented film The Fifth Element looked more intimate and smoother in its detail on Blu-ray. Colors seemed better defined and small details were obviously clearer. Hardcore video fans say The Fifth Element isn’t the best example of what can be done on Blu-ray, a point one could argue after this review. The Departed also exhibited similar significant improvement over versions I have seen on DVD. The Adam Sandler film Click is also an impressive demo, considering it was shot on Sony Panavision cameras directly in digital video, as opposed to on film. On Blu-ray disc, you can see more of that live sports HD feel in a movie at home. People who say, “DVD is good enough for me” need to up their standards. Simply put, watching movies in Blu-ray on this 70-inch Sony SXRD rear projection set is better than anything DVD has ever dreamed of offering.

The Downside
The overall quality of the image produced by this set is very impressive. You have to get down to minute measurements in order to pick fault with such an HDTV set. Right out of the box, nearly every consumer can get a bright and beautiful image without much work. A professional calibration and an HD disc player (or two) are highly recommended, as the calibration will get the most from the set in your home and likely help prolong the life of the set. The HD disc player will help you realize the potential of such an HDTV at native 1080p. Scaled video is good, but not the same as native 1080p.

In terms of shortcomings, the linear light output of this set was an impressive 13 foot-lamberts. That would make it quite viewable in a darkened room, but the Sony appears much brighter than this number would indicate, even in a moderately lit room. Images were bright and colorful and almost three-dimensional in their dynamics when seen in hi-def. This is because the set has a Lenticular-Fresnel lens system incorporated in the screen. Lenticular-Freznel lens systems have been used since the days when all projectors were CRT in order to increase the light directed to the viewer. The updated version used in the Sony is of a much finer design in order to match the needs of 1080p HD. So what is the downside? The positioning of the set becomes more critical. There is an area of prime viewing where the image is brightest. In most cases, it poses no problem, but don’t put the set on the long wall of a room if viewers will be sitting at a high angle. Also, don’t put it too high or too low. The height on its stand worked very well for seated viewers, and only dimmed slightly when standing.

While the set has several settings for color temperature that range from cool to warm2, none of them is anywhere near the reference 6,500 Kelvin. At the warm2 setting, the color spectrum was so close to what I expect 6,500K to look like that, without a comparison, I would not have picked it up had I not measured it. The reds were equal to the blues, well defined, bright and clear. yet not oversaturated. The human eye can adjust to the color temperature to an extent. The eye adjusted easily to the color temperature of warm2, but as you shifted up the color temperature scale, the image became more and more blue-hued until you reached cool, which created an icy blue world.
Warm2 averaged at approximately 8,300K and warm1 averaged approximately 11,500K, but after that, it was off the meter. Why would Sony not have at least one setting that was at the reference? There probably are two reasons. One is technical, and the other is marketing. The technical reason is that the light output of the set would be reduced if the spectrum of the bulb used were filtered to create 6,500K.

The marketing reason, one would assume, is that is test after test has shown that consumers prefer sets that are skewed toward the blue side of the spectrum. The set does have a white balance feature, which allows the adjustment of the color temperature on a color by color basis in the custom mode where you can get it to the reference: 6,500K. The user should not attempt this adjustment. I am surprised that it is in a user available menu. Only a trained calibrator with a meter or a comparator can set it correctly.

“State of the art” is a hard term to use, because the standard constantly keeps moving. However ,I am going with it in describing the Sony KDS-R70XBR2. There is no competing unit that I have seen on the market to date that can surpass the performance and image quality of this set anywhere near its price. There are features in this all-in-one unit that are not even available if you were to use separate video projector and video screen set-ups, such as the sync feature and the steady sound feature. For jaded videophiles, rest assured the image quality is as good as I have seen on any rear-projection system to date. Elegant in presentation, fair in price and dynamic in performance, this is a no-lose proposition for anyone in the market for a top-performing rear-projection HDTV.
Manufacturer Sony
Model KDS-R70XBR2 70-inch SXRD HDTV
Reviewer Michael Levy
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches

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