Sony KDS-55A3000 55-inch Bravia SXRD HDTV 
Home Theater Rear-Projection HDTVs SXRD Rear-Projection HDTVs
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Friday, 01 February 2008

With HDTV’s flying off the shelves nationwide with and prices dropping like clothes off a stripper in a Champagne room, there’s no need to beat around the bush when it comes to Sony’s latest rear pro TV, the 55-inch Bravia KDS-55A3000. It’s going to sell. The question is, do you want one?

Sony’s new Bravia TV arrived at my office shortly after the mighty Vizio 60-inch plasma left my humble abode, and within days of my purchase of the latest Samsung 1080p 120Hz LCD HDTV (review pending). I had enjoyed the Vizio immensely and felt that it was a solid value for the money. However, when I heard that the new Sony Bravia retailed for $1,999 (a full $500 less than the Vizio), I was at a loss for words. When was the last time you heard of any state of the art Sony product costing less than the budget brands? Never, that’s when. If there is one thing Sony has never been shy about, it’s costing more than the competition; at least, the old Sony wasn’t. Oh how times are a-changing. A quick jump onto Sony’s website reveals that all of their HDTVs, be they plasma, LCD or rear projection, are aggressively priced, some undercutting the competition by hundreds of dollars. Clearly, this is something new.

The KDS-55A3000 is somewhat standard-looking for a large rear-projection TV. However, Sony has decided to spice things up a bit by adding a removable speaker grille that allows the user to customize the TV’s look by adding different colored grille covers (sold separately). I’ve seen other Bravia TVs clad in almost every color from standard gray to Ferrari red, which is always a nice touch. The KDS-55A3000 boasts a 55-inch diagonal screen, which is more than enough real estate for most medium to large living rooms. It’s a bit slimmer than most other rear-projection TVs on the market measuring 15 inches deep by 36-and-a-quarter inches tall and almost 50 inches wide. Unlike the Vizio 60-inch plasma, which was a beast in terms of weight, the KDS-55A3000 is rather manageable at 81 pounds.

Turning my attention to the back of the KDS-55A3000, all I found were a few cooling vents for the TV’s lamp enclosure and a power cable. Where were all the input/outputs? The KDS-55A3000’s input/outputs are located on the left side of the TV (looking at the screen) just behind the screen’s edge. While I truly did appreciate the KDS-55A3000’s side-mounted inputs, I began to think stealthy cable management might become an issue, but more on that later. As for inputs, the KDS-55A3000 has three HDMI inputs (HDMI 1.3 spec), two component video inputs, a PC input and three composite video, as well as a single S-video input. All of the analog video inputs are mated to standard RCA-style audio inputs, including one of the HDMI inputs, and all of the HDMI inputs are capable of carrying an audio signal from your player to the TV itself. The KDS-55A3000 has an optical audio output, as well as a pair of RCA-style audio outs. There is also a VHF/UHF/Cable antenna input.

Behind the scenes, the KDS-55A3000 boasts some pretty impressive specs, especially for a sub-$2,000 HDTV. For starters, the KDS-55A3000 is a native 1080p display, with a full 1920 x 1080 display resolution via Sony’s latest Bravia EX video processing engine. Where the KDS-55A3000’s Bravia engine differs from previous versions is its ability to upconvert 480i content to full 1080p for greater picture detail and definition. The KDS-55A3000 also features Sony’s latest batch of SXRD chips, which have always been a personal favorite of mine and can be found in my reference Sony Pearl projector.

The KDS-55A3000 also features 120Hz Frame Rate Technology and Sony’s own Motionflow processing. Motionflow reportedly eliminates the need for 3:2 pull-down by doubling the amount of frames, using real-time calculations to create “unique” or new frames between the 60fps signal, effectively giving the viewer a 120fps image for smooth, lifelike motion. The same holds true for 24p content found on most DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. The KDS-55A3000’s Motionflow option has three settings, high, standard, and off, with the high and standard settings impacting the smoothness of the image and subsequent motion in varying degrees.

The KDS-55A3000 also features Sony’s Advanced Iris Function, which is designed to improve contrast by automatically adjusting the picture for the deepest blacks, improved brightness and overall contrast. The Advanced Iris has multiple settings: Auto 1 for material with varying brightness from scene to scene, Auto 2 for material with less variation in brightness between scenes, Manual for use in different lighting conditions that vary from room to room, and High, Medium and Low to give the viewer the maximum amount of contrast and brightness based on levels of room light. Lastly, the KDS-55A3000 uses x.v.Color Technology, which uses the full HDMI v 1.3, as well as the newly approved color standard xvYCC (which Sony co-created) specs to faithfully reproduce the total amount of natural colors in the video source, as opposed to the TV itself limiting the number, as in previous HD displays. The above represents the bulk of the KDS-55A3000’s more unique features. It still has an internal ATSC/NTSC tuner and digital noise reduction Gamma Compensation, as well as a variety of picture and sound modes and presets.

Which brings me to the remote. Sorry, Sony, but for all your greatness and forward thinking, you just can’t make a remote that I want to use. The KDS-55A3000’s remote is no exception, for it is illogically laid out, features no backlighting of any kind and is so ungainly and long you can’t possibly operate all the necessary controls, like selecting DVD or Blu-ray power, then pressing play without having to adjust your hand position or, worse, use your other hand. Worse still, especially with Blu-ray discs and players, necessary button commands are located under a trap door on the lower end of the remote. While I appreciated the out of the box compatibility with my other Sony products, mainly my Blu-ray player, I loathe this remote.

I placed the KDS-55A3000 in my bedroom system, where the Vizio 60-inch plasma display once sat. Two able-bodied people are needed to move the KDS-55A3000, but unlike large plasmas or LCD displays, the KDS-55A3000’s weight is very manageable. My girlfriend and I had no problems carrying it up a flight of stairs and maneuvering it down a narrow hallway. Making the requisite connections between my Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player, Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player (review pending) and modified Apple TV was a snap, thanks to the KDS-55A3000’s side-mounted inputs. Cable management was also a non-issue, as the KDS-55A3000’s screen extends beyond its input panel far enough that even the bulkiest Ultralink HDMI cables were hidden from view.

Once everything was connected, I began calibrating the set, using my Digital Video Essentials disc on HD DVD. The KDS-55A3000 was set up in the Vivid setting straight out of the box, which was overkill for my tastes. I found the Standard and Cinema settings to be better fits, but both equally altered. The Standard setting was still a bit bright, while the Cinema setting was a bit muted and dark. In a pure black room, the Cinema setting seemed closest to ideal, but that’s what calibration is for. I therefore began navigating my way through the Digital Video Essentials disc and the KDS-55A3000’s own picture controls, using the Standard setting on the TV as my jumping-off point. It didn’t take long for me to achieve a suitable picture, due to the KDS-55A3000’s wonderful menu layout and host of picture control options. While I always endorse professional video calibration, the KDS-55A3000’s picture controls are such that, with the right disc, even a DIY job can have spectacular results.

All in all, including un-boxing and moving the KDS-55A3000, I was up and running, ready to enjoy the latest HD formats in under one hour.

Television And Movies
I began my evaluation of the KDS-55A3000 at the bottom of the resolution scale and worked my way up, starting with an episode of Penn and Teller’s BS on Showtime (Showtime Entertainment). I turned all internal upsampling on the Toshiba HD-A35 off to see how the KDS-55A3000 handled standard-definition material and turned the Motionflow setting to off. Right off the bat, the image was vibrant and punchy, albeit a touch soft, with solid white and black levels. Skin tones were smooth and lifelike, which for standard-definition video, was quite an achievement.

Every episode of BS opens with Penn and Teller standing or sitting on a seamless bright white backdrop. Through lesser TVs, this level of white often bleeds over into other aspects of the image, degrading the picture’s edge fidelity. Through the KDS-55A3000, the whites remained relatively in check and didn’t bloom or bleed the way other displays do. I did notice that when there were multiple items on the backdrop at one time – for example, a host of live chickens and various diner props – the whites did bleed slightly into the lighter elements of the surrounding “cast,” but remained very sharp against Penn and Teller’s nearly all-black attire. Speaking of blacks, the KDS-55A3000’s black levels were superb. Motion, be it camera or character, was what you would expect from a 480i signal, as it exhibited a bit of stair-stepping, especially against the stark black and white contrasts found in the opening scenes, and lacked the smoothness I’ve come to expect from HD material. Engaging the KDS-55A3000’s Motionflow settings corrected a lot of these anomalies, but when set on High, the motion didn’t seem as well composed as it did with the setting on Standard. The High setting produced an unnaturally smooth, almost green screen-like image that seemed to somehow get ahead of itself, resulting in a different kind of jerkiness. However, for standard-definition content on an HD display, such as the KDS-55A3000, the image wasn’t vomit-inducing; in fact, it was rather viewable.

Switching gears, I cued up The Day After Tomorrow (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) on DVD, with the Toshiba HD-A35’s internal scaling set at up to 1080p. The image was decidedly sharper. Across the board, the naturalness of the colors improved, as did the white and black levels. More detail could be seen throughout the image, especially in the darkest regions of the backgrounds. Edge fidelity improved tenfold and the blooming issues I ran across with P&T’s BS completely disappeared. I left the Motionflow setting on Standard, which seemed to be perfect for this particular DVD. The fast-moving action of the storms and floods that consumed most of the nation was superb and unlike anything I had ever experienced with a traditional DVD. The sudden tidal wave that washes over New York City bordered on feeling like the real thing. The absence of any sort of motion blur to the raging waters gave them eye-catching clarity and a level of realism that I just wasn’t prepared for. The frothy mist that preceded the large waves was so finely rendered that, for the first time, droplets of water appeared as droplets of water, as opposed to video noise. Also gone was the appearance of “jaggies” in the stark vertical lines of the city’s numerous buildings and streets. When changing the Motionflow setting to High, the motion, be it camera or on screen action, smoothed out even more, resulting in an almost unnatural viewing experience. With an effects-driven film such as this, the compositing and CG elements just don’t fare well with a TV as resolute as the KDS-55A3000, at least when the Motionflow settings are set to High. It seems that you can get too much of a good thing.

Not wanting to prolong the inevitable, I went ahead and cued up the Blu-ray disc of Tony Scott’s time traveling thriller Déjà Vu (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), starring Denzel Washington. With my BDP-S1 set for 1080p/24p, I braced myself for the best the KDS-55A3000 had to offer. Oh, my God. Seriously, I actually wrote that down in my viewing notes. Forget everything you think you know about HD-quality video, for nothing can prepare you for HD content viewed on a 120Hz-capable display. It’s hard to describe just how overwhelmingly cool and amazing the video quality is unless you see it for yourself in a proper setting. Beyond the accurate colors, superior resolution and sheer depth an HD signal affords you, when you tack on the KDS-55A3000’s heightened refresh rate and Motionflow technology, the image is otherworldly. Colors were rendered naturally and free from any sort of floating or excess grain that I’ve seen in other rear-projection sets. Edge fidelity was razor-sharp, giving the image some of the best depth of field I’ve ever seen. Black levels were inky, yet transitioned very well into the middle values, completely free of any sort of banding. The KDS-55A3000’s white values were topnotch and free from any perceivable video noise. I could sit within a few feet of the display and still enjoy a seamless, artifact-free image. However, proper viewing distances aided in enjoying the best possible image. With the Motionflow set to Standard, I could detect zero stair-stepping or jaggies, even when presented with insanely quick camera or character action. The motion was silky smooth, but when the Motionflow setting was on High, I felt the image took on a sort of cut-out look, which was a bit distracting. Throughout all my viewing, whether standard definition or HD, the Standard Motionflow setting seemed to work best. While 1080p/24p content is uber-smooth and usually very crisp and pleasing to the eye, disabling the Motionflow settings resulted in an image that can only be described as choppy in comparison. Another caveat that has to be mentioned is Motionflow’s reaction to slow-motion shots. When presented with a slow-motion shot, the KDS-55A3000 image appeared to exhibit a touch of judder, something that was more apparent with the High setting.

I ended my evaluation of the KDS-55A3000 with Pixar’s latest animated hit, Ratatouille, on Blu-ray (Disney Home Entertainment). The entirely CG-animated film benefited immensely from the KDS-55A3000’s superior resolution and refresh rate. Ratatouille looked fantastic. Edge fidelity was so crisp and the colors so faithfully rendered that the entire image had a true three-dimensional feel to it. Primary colors, especially the greens of the country farmhouse in the beginning of the film, were spectacular. Ratatouille was the only film during my evaluation that wasn’t made distracting by the Motionflow’s High setting. I honestly don’t know what else to say, other than the fact that the KDS-55A3000 is one of those rare HDTVs that not only defines what’s possible, but does so at a price point everyone can afford.

The Downside
While I absolutely adore the KDS-55A3000, there were a few things that caught my eye that I have to share with you. First, the KDS-55A3000’s screen is plastic and not entirely smooth. While the image itself was virtually free of video noise, the slightly imperfect texture of the screen itself could sometimes give off the appearance of grain in the lightest regions of the picture. Proper viewing distances helped to combat this issue, but alas, it was still present.

While I am now addicted to the image quality 120Hz and Motionflow provide, it does have its drawbacks. You can turn off the Motionflow completely, but it kind of negates the purpose of buying a TV such as the KDS-55A3000. That said, Motionflow doesn’t always play nice with every type of video. While the Standard setting proved to be the most universal, regardless of video format, it could still produce an overly cut-out-looking image where the actors and foreground elements appeared to be shot on green screen, then composited into the shot. Films like 300 and Sin City looked overly enhanced and a bit too cartoony for my tastes. However, HD transfers of films such as Transformers looked fantastic. The nice thing about Motionflow is that you can turn it off, but once you watch it on material that works, it’s hard to go back.

Lastly, the KDS-55A3000’s internal cooling fan is a bit loud for my tastes and the cooling vents on the back of the set are rather large. Large vents equal louder than average fan noise, as well as light leakage. When I watched in total darkness, it looked like I had plugged in a night light behind the KDS-55A3000. This is common for most rear-projection sets, but the KDS-55A3000 seemed to suffer from it a bit more than most.

With a retail price of $1,999, the Sony KDS-55A3000 is utterly amazing across the board. While not quite as sexy (in terms of industrial design) as a large plasma or LCD, the KDS-55A3000’s performance and price make it the smarter buy. Taking full advantage of the latest HDMI specs, as well as featuring the new 120Hz refresh rate and with Sony’s own Motionflow technology, the KDS-55A3000 is the current image leader among large-format rear-projection TVs on the market today. While Motionflow technology is still in its infancy, the writing is on that wall that it is here to stay, as other manufacturers are quickly adding their own versions of the technology to their sets. I for one love it. If you are contemplating buying a new HDTV soon and have been at odds about whether to go plasma or LCD, may I suggest you buy neither and instead grab yourself a KDS-55A3000. You won’t regret it.
Manufacturer Sony
Model KDS-55A3000 55-inch Bravia SXRD HDTV
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
Diagonal Screen Size 43 to 56-inches

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