Sony’s 46” KDL-46XBR4 LCDTV, one of 2007’s most eagerly awaited HDTVs, has finally arrived. It is Sony’s first 120Hz LCDTV, with “Full HD” 1920 x 1080 resolution. Sony used to make early review samples available to the press, but lately the company has been slow to release hot products to reviewers. The HD Guru™ obtained his test sample thanks to a local retailer’s generosity. The KDL-46XBR4 retails for $3599.99.

The 1080p XBR4 series (40”, 46” and 52”) represents the top-of the line in Sony’s vast array of LCD flat panel high definition televisions. The KDL-46XBR4 employs the “SPVA” (super patterned vertical alignment) LCD panel sourced through its partnership with Samsung. This technology claims both higher contrast and better viewing angles than delivered by any competing LCD panels.

Other features of the KDL-46XBR4 include a “floating” glass design (clear glass extending past the bezel), 10-bit LCD panel (to reduce dithering artifacts by creating more gradations between black and white), Motionflow™ 120Hz “full HD frame rate capability,” which creates interpolated intermediate frames between real frames of image information to reduce LCD “motion blur” (most LCDTVs are 60Hz, more on this later). Its WCG (Wide Color Gamut) CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamps) produces more color space than normal fluorescent (backlight) lamps used in many other LCDs, but less than the standard definition NTSC parameters.

While Sony does not provide numbers, Samsung does (remember: they co-own the LCD panel factory), indicating color space at 92% of the NTSC standard as opposed to the 72% reported by most other manufacturers using “regular” CCFLs. The KDL-46XBR4 also has x.v. Color™ technology for reproducing more color with future Playstation 3 games and possibly future HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs, but ultimately its ability to reproduce a fuller spectrum of color is restricted to the WCG CCFL’s limited capabilities.

In order to evaluate the Sony’s performance the HD Guru™ utilized a number of signals, including a new test for motion resolution. Let’s begin with deinterlacing performance.

All 1080i HD broadcasts (CBS, NBC, CW, HBO, Showtime, Discovery HD, HD Net and most of the other HD Networks) must be properly “deinterlaced” (with motion compensation) to 1080p on a frame-by-frame basis in order to properly retain all 1080 lines of resolution on a display. Some 1080p HDTVs “deinterlace” by discarding every other frame, meaning you will see just 50% of the resolution.

I quickly discovered that this Sony does not properly deinterlace 1080i in the factory default “Vivid” picture setting. In fact, it also drops 50% resolution in the “Standard” picture mode as well. However, the set does properly deinterlace the 1080i signal and does deliver all frames, and thus does display the full vertical resolution, in either “Custom” or “Cinema” picture mode!

Why did Sony choose to make the default mode one that fails to properly deinterlace incoming 1080i signals? I haven’t the faintest idea, especially since, according to a number of set makers, the majority of HDTV buyers leave the user settings in the factory default!

If you pick up just one tip from this website, it should be to change your HDTV out of its “showroom default” setting (which may be called “Dynamic” or some other variation) as soon as it is unpacked and connected. The preferred picture setting on most brands will be called “Cinema,” or “Custom,” or “Pro,” or some variation of those. Check your owner’s manual for the choices.

When you select whatever the “advanced” setting is called, it will always deliver a better image under home lighting conditions than the factory default setting, which is intended only for brightly (over)lit dealer showrooms.

The 3:2 cadence test determines if the set’s video processor properly identifies film-based 24fps content and converts it to 60fps (in this and in most 120Hz sets the processor then interpolates and creates an intermediary frame to produce double the frame rate).

This Sony, like most of the 75 2007 models the HD Guru™ tested this year, failed the 3:2 cadence test. Failure results in degraded resolution and/or visible artifacts. Unlike the de-interlace test, where switching picture modes affected the result, the KDL-46XBR4 failed to identify and convert 24fps film-based signal in all picture modes. Silicon Optix’s HQV HD test disc (Blu-ray edition) provided both 3:2 cadence and 1080i de-interlace tests).

Measuring a set’s bandwidth determines its ability to pass the HDTV video signal’s full frequency range. If it is attenuated (reduced), you will not see the finest horizontal resolution detail, or the full 1920 pixels, despite the display’s claimed full resolution. The KDL-46XBR4 passed the entire one pixel on/off signal using a Sencore 403 signal generator. To view every pixel as it is generated, requires changing the user menu “Screen” setting to “Full Pixel” from the “Normal” factory default that produces “overscan” and cuts off around 5% of the total image.

Though the “Normal” factory default only outputs around 1830 out of 1920 pixels, it is set that way to mask artifacts present in HDTV broadcast signals that sometimes produces distracting lines and noise that may otherwise appear at the sides, or top of the screen. However, switching to “Full Pixel” mode is necessary to get full pixel resolution from HD DVD and Blu-ray signals. Just remember to switch back when watching broadcast HDTV.

The latest tests in the HDTV Guru’s arsenal, static and motion resolution measurements are derived from a new 1080i Blu-ray test disc called “FPD Benchmark Software for (the) Professional.” A frame called a “Monoscope Test,” consisting of four groupings of four non-parallel black lines arrayed to form a wedge-shaped patterns (see photo below) that appear at the top, sides and bottom of a center square. To test resolution, you look at the bottom wedge. There are both stationary and moving versions of the test.


The stationary test is for “static” resolution, determined by the point where the lines are no longer seen as separate, and begin to blur together. Numbers adjacent to the wedges help make what is a subjective test, somewhat easier to determine and more reliable. The moving “Monoscope Test” pattern provides the means to measure motion resolution.

As with the de-interlacing test, static and moving resolution results were picture mode dependent. “Custom” and “Cinema” modes produced 1080 “lines” of static resolution and 600 lines of motion resolution. “Standard” mode produced1080/580 static/motion and “Vivid,” the factory default produced a disappointing, but not surprising 880/450 static/motion. This is yet another reason to get this set out of the “Vivid” mode.

The KDL-46XBR4’s maximum 600-line motion resolution performance tied that of a recently tested Sharp 120Hz LCD panel, making these two the highest measuring motion resolution LCD panels to date. Yet both fall short when compared to the best-measured plasma performance (880 lines) or LCOS microdisplay (780 lines).

Color bar observations indicated that primary and secondary colors were rendered quite realistically, with the exception of red, which tended toward an orange-red, possibly the result of a WCG-CCFL backlight limitation.

The HD Guru™ believes there are more user accessible picture controls and settings within this TV than in any other HDTV he’s tested. Too much of a good thing results in a ridiculous and confusing situation whereby some controls don’t appear to produce any visible change, and exactly what they are supposed to do is left unclear because the owner’s manual’s documentation of many of these so-called “features” is so vaguely written, they are rendered meaningless. For instance: here’s a short quote regarding the “Motion Enhancer” feature:

“Activates MotionFlow to enhance the smoothness of picture movement and reduce blur.

High Provides smoother picture movement such as for film based content.
Standard Provides smooth picture movement. Use this for standard use
Off Use this setting when High and Standard setting results in noise.

Depending on the video, you may not see the effect visually, even if you changed the setting.”

They got the last part right. I saw no difference visually, mentally, physically or any other way. Ditto for the MPEG noise reduction feature.

After a careful adjustment of the user controls, the HD Guru™ evaluated picture performance using satellite HD and Blu-ray disc content (sorry no SD sources were available, though Sony’s DRC in the past has done a reasonable job of upconverting standard def content and the KDL-46XBR4 uses the latest version).

Bottom line, this Sony, properly adjusted, produced the best LCD flat panel HD image the HD Guru™ has seen to date. A number of factors are responsible. This panel creates some of the deepest blacks and the best contrast ratio seen on an LCD display. The Samsung/Sony SPVA LCD panel it uses, is, in the HD Guru™’s opinion, is the best LCD panel in the industry. Within the LCD category, the HD Guru™ awards the KDL-46XBR4 ♥♥♥♥.

However, compared to other flat panel HDTVs, regardless of technology, the rating drops down to ♥♥♥, simply because the best plasma TVs produce better images, with better reds, wider viewing angles, and significantly better motion detail and usually for less money!

So why are consumers passing on better performing plasma TVs and spending more money (per inch screen size) for poorer performing large screen LCDs? Because they produce brighter pictures and consumers mistakenly believe “brighter is better.” However, unless one lives in a retail showroom or has set up an ultra-bright, high ambient light viewing environment that mimics a showroom, the HD Guru™ cannot understand why anyone would pay more to buy a top-rated LCD set when a less expensive top-rated plasma set will outperform it while still providing up to three times more light output than necessary in any typical home environment.

Copyright ©2007 Gary Merson/HD Guru™. All rights reserved. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.