It's a tumultuous time to be buying a television, and while indications are that people are more likely to buy up big on TVs during tough economic times, there's always room for value for money. But Sony is hoping that people will pay a little extra to invest in a flagship BRAVIA with the release of their 46XBR45. At AU$7000 is it worth the money?
For a flagship model we have to say we're a little disappointed by the design of the 46XBR45. Sony is still crazy about its floating glass concept, which can be seen on the previous XBR, but here it just looks a bit silly. Not only that, but the speakers hanging off the sides are flimsy and the clear plastic holding them on physically bends when prodded. You'll want to be careful moving this one around as there are no grab handles and the "floating" speakers won't take the weight of the TV if you're lifting it.
Apart from this point, however, the TV is relatively similar to last year's model, with a brushed aluminium bezel surrounding the screen and a handy swivelling base.
Interestingly, the remote control is both an infrared and RF emitter, but sadly you can't use it to control the PlayStation 3. Combined with the swivelling stand you could potentially use and watch the TV from another room — handy for open-plan living areas.
The Sony KDL-46XBR45 is a 46-inch LCD, and despite some fancy features we'll get to in a moment, probably its biggest claim to fame is its LED backlighting system.
Networking is one of the newest features to come bundled on televisions, and while they add quite a bit to the learning curve (and potential for hair loss) they can also be quite useful if media streaming is important to you. While the Samsung Series 9 featured an almost over-the-top shopping list of networking features, the Sony is more modest with photos and music playback only. In combination with Sony's own XMB menu system, music servers are easy to navigate and play media from. Yet while Sony's system is easier to use, we quite liked Samsung's system whereby servers appear as inputs when you press the A/V button.
It's not only networking that makes this television more complex, but there are a panoply of options available for image tweaking purposes. For example, the Sharpness control doesn't seem to cut it anymore, and the XBR adds two more controls in Detail Enhancement and Edge Enhancement. Naturally, the picture looked better with them off, but most of the TVs preset modes activated them by default. We're not too fond of this current trend for over-sharp televisions, as they only accentuate the noise in the picture — especially when it comes to free-to-air and DVD
We're a little torn when it comes to evaluating the performance of this television, because while colour and blacks are exceptional, there were some other issues which prevented us from loving this unit wholeheartedly. But let's start with some of the TV's strengths.
By far the best performance the television put in was in its reproduction of dialogue and music. Those speakers may be flimsy, but in concert with a 12W on-board subwoofer they sound great! Bass frequencies are as fuller than could be expected from a small, thin speaker, and speech was natural and intelligible. While most TVs that can play MP3s are a bit naff, we think the Sony is probably the first one you could seriously use as a sound system.
With the XBR's LED backlight there's none of the backlight clouding issues we've seen with CCFL lighting. While it's still not perfect, and off-axis does lose some colour and contrast, it's even better than our award-winning favourite the Samsung LA46A950. Polarising rainbow effects on certain angles — such as when viewed from above — were also much reduced on the Sony, and turning down the backlight helped even further.
High-definition content was well served, and Mission Impossible III looked dynamic and gritty. Well, maybe a little too much grit, but that was fixed when the sharpness was turned down a little. Even the MotionFlow 100Hz looked good on this movie's rooftop scene with no judder and natural movement.
However, after playing with the XBR for a while we came to think that perhaps all the sharpening gizmos were needed after all — especially on free-to-air. While capable, the on-board tuner was a little soft.
The set's performance with DVD was a little bit of a mixed blessing. Firstly, the black levels meant that the images had real vibrancy and solidity, but secondly the blacks were also a little "green", even after calibration. We experimented with different settings and found tweaking the auto-iris-like LED Dynamic Control and Black Corrector settings helped bring out true blacks.
But this aside, the infamous Brontosaurus Stampede from King Kong was delivered neutrally and faithfully, with none of the day-glo afflictions that affect other TVs during this scene.
At AU$6,999 this may not be an expensive TV by last year's standards, but as its Samsung rival is appearing for under $4k after discounts, the Sony looks comparatively dear.