I've never been really satisfied with the picture contrast of LCD TVs: Blacks often look more like dark gray, and whites tend to lack detail in bright scenes. But the Sony's overall contrast was a definite step up from that of most other LCDs I've tested. When I watched the sunlit game scenes in the early part of Friday Night Lights, highlights in the MOJO team's white uniforms showed a range of subtle shades, while the opposing team's black helmets and jerseys looked solid and deep. And during a high-def episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the Sony's surprisingly good shadow detail clearly showed the folds and creases in Ice-T's coat as he sifted through a kidnapper's apartment for evidence.
Standard-def channels like CNN also looked good on the Sony, with the set's noise reduction and Digital Reality Creation features pitching in to clean up the lower-rez images and make them presentable. And I saw no unusual picture softness when watching either regular TV programs or standard DVDs. The set's picture contrast dropped when I moved my head outside of a 30° arc from the screen's center, but that limitation is typical of flat-panel LCD TVs.
BOTTOM LINE With the Bravia KDL-40XBR2, Sony has succeeded in raising the bar for flat-panel LCD performance. Its black depth and shadow detail fall short of what I've seen from the best plasma sets, but its overall picture quality exceeds that of many other bigscreen LCDs on the market. If you're a casual viewer who mostly plans to watch TV during daylight hours (an application in which LCD TVs typically excel), you'll find better deals. But if you're intent on buying an LCD TV with the best picture quality the technology currently delivers, this swanky Sony comes highly recommended.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.