Sony's high-end Bravia XBR LCD sets have usually done very well in our Ratings of LCD TVs (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers only), but several XBR2 and XBR3 models we tested last year displayed cloudy blotches (called "mura") that marred the picture. This seemed to be caused by backlight leakage that resulted in uneven uniformity.
Sony fans will be happy to know that the problem apparently doesn't affect newer XBR models, judging by our initial tests of the 46-inch KDL-46XBR5 (Seen at right. Click on image on right for larger view.) and 52-inch KDL-52XBR4. These TVs, which have a different panel design than the previous models, displayed no visible clouding or backlight leakage. In fact, we were impressed to see that both sets were virtually free of the uneven brightness that's common on LCD screens 46 inches and larger. The 52-inch XBR4 had no such inconsistency, and there was only very slight streaking on the 46-inch XBR5.
Based on our initial tests, we feel confident that these two big-screen LCD TVs will be among the top-scoring models when we publish our next LCD HDTV Ratings (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers only). They are pricier than other fine performers of this size, though, which isn't unusual for XBR sets. The KDL-46XBR5 costs $3,900. The KDL-52XBR4 costs $4,500.
Both TVs are full high-definition 1080p sets with 1920x1080 resolution, and they reproduced the finest details without making them overly sharp. Picture quality was top-notch for signals of all types--HD, 480p (as from a standard-def DVD player), and 480i (as from standard-def TV broadcasts). Along with fine picture quality, they offer better-than-average sound and backlit remotes that are easy to use in dim lighting. And like the previous generations of XBRs, these have a stylish floating glass frame around a piano black bezel.
As good as they are, these TVs haven't completely overcome the shortcomings that still affect most LCD displays to varying degrees. In order to see all the detail in the darkest scenes, we had to raise the brightness to a point where images became slightly hazy, and there was a slight blue tone in the darkest blacks on the KDL-46XBR5. Blacks looked a bit washed out when the screen was viewed from an angle.
Both sets utilize Sony's new Xross Media Bar (XMB) graphical user interface as the menu system, which was originally developed for the Playstation and PSP gaming systems. Despite its cool modern look, it may not be as easy to navigate as the older Sony menu. Both sets have the DMex (Digital Media Extender) connection, which makes them compatible with Sony's Internet Video Link ($300). This allows you to stream Internet video, including HD content, from sites like AOL, Yahoo!, and Grouper over a broadband connection.