Price Paid: $1799
Purchase at: CNET
Excellent overall color fidelity with superb color decoding and grayscale linearity, as well as best-in-class primary color accuracy; deep black levels with solid shadow detail; de-judder processing smooths out pans and camera movement; numerous picture controls; ample connectivity.
De-judder processing can seem unnatural; improper de-interlacing of 1080i film-based material; labyrinthine menu design.
The SXRD-based Sony KDS-55A3000 exhibited excellent color accuracy and stellar performance in general, making it the year’s best performer in the rear-projection HDTV category.
Reviewed by: Kevin Miller
Edited by: David Katzmaier
Reviewed on 11/28/07
Sony has a real winner with the new KDS-A3000 series, represented here by the 55-inch KDS-55A3000, the middle of three sizes. We liked Sony’s LCoS-based SXRD technology when it was first introduced a couple of years ago, and the company has followed up by significantly improving performance. While not perfect, the KDS-55A3000 is the most color-accurate RPTV money can buy today. Its weakest point is in its video processing, which has been the case with Sony for years, but in this TV’s instance, that’s hardly a deal breaker. As far as overall picture quality is concerned, the 1080p resolution A3000 series tops our list among rear-projection HDTVs, and its excellent value proposition seals the deal.
The external appearance of the KDS-A3000 series is rather basic, and not nearly as striking as the company’s flat-panel LCD models, such as the KDL-XBR4 series. This big rear-projector is finished in silver, with black speaker grilles below the screen where the stereo speakers are housed and a strip of see-through paneling below that. It boasts a table-top design with commendably narrow side and top bezels for a look that’s mostly screen; its cabinet is relatively narrow in depth. Overall, the 55-inch model measures 49.6 inches wide by 36.3 inches tall by 15.6 inches deep and weighs 81 pounds.
A clear panel runs along the bottom of the Sony KDS-55A3000 under the speaker.
A redesign of Sony’s remote control from a few years ago, although not terrible by any means, is sort of a step backward from the company’s excellent earlier remotes. For example, now a Home button is called the Menu button, which is less than intuitive. The internal menu system, or GUI (graphical user interface), is a love-hate affair: you either love it or hate it. We take the negative opinion, because we found it labyrinthine and difficult to navigate compared with the previous design.
Sony’s main settings menu can be a pain to navigate.
Features abound on the KD-S55A3000, starting with a massive selection of picture settings. Of course, there are the usual selectable picture modes (Vivid, Standard, Custom, and Cinema), and color-temperature presets (Cool, Neutral, Warm 1, and Warm 2). We found the best combination of these to be Standard mode and Warm 2, which produced the best picture at factory presets. The Noise Reduction feature in the Advanced menu cleans up video noise extremely well without significant side effects. However, the MPEG Noise Reduction feature wipes out about 20 percent of the horizontal resolution; perhaps it should be renamed “Resolution Reduction.”
The picture menu includes quite a few settings.
Under the advanced settings menu are Black Corrector, Gamma, Clear White, and Live Color, which should all be set to Off as they only impair picture performance rather than enhancing it. For that superb color fidelity we mentioned, choose the Standard setting for the Color space. We measured the primary colors of red, green, and blue for both Standard and Wide, and found Standard to be very close to–you guessed it–the ATSC standard.
Like Sony’s high-end LCD TVs, the A3000 features an anti-judder mode with two settings.
The Motion Enhancer feature is Sony’s version of the new craze in TV, 120Hz de-judder processing. One goal of 120Hz processing is to eliminate an artifact that is created in the film-to-video transfer process with the use of 2:3 pull-down, called judder, that is most visible as subtle stuttering on pans and other camera movement. Depending on the implementation, it may or may not work well. In the case of the KDS-55A3000, it definitely smooths out these types of scenes, but it also makes the picture look decidedly more like video and less like film.
The main input bay, located on the left-rear side, offers the usual array of inputs.
All of the inputs on the KDS-55A3000 are conveniently located on the left side of the set, out of sight yet within easy reach when adding or removing a component from the system. Connectivity is standard for a set in this price range. Three HDMI inputs head up the video connection list, and of course they are all 1.3 compatible. There are also two component video, one S-Video, and three composite video inputs. A single RF input and a 15-pin RGB input for computer hookup round out the video connections. On the audio side are an optical digital audio output and one set of variable/fixed stereo audio outputs.
Overall performance on the Sony KD-S55A3000 was excellent, and its standout characteristic compared with other HDTVs is color accuracy. When the Sony is set to Standard color space, the primary colors of red, green, and blue are nearly dead-on accurate to the ATSC specifications. The color decoding is accurate for both SD and HD sources, and the grayscale from the Warm 2 factory preset came mighty close to the broadcast standard. A quick tweak in the advanced menu under white balance made the grayscale nearly perfect. For our full user-menu settings, click here or scroll down to the Tips section below.
Based on previous models, we expected the black-level performance to be very good on this SXRD set, and we weren’t disappointed. Images are also quite smooth and noise-free, particularly if you utilize the Noise Reduction feature. At first, we noticed a lot of background noise in Chapter 14 of Seabiscuit on HD DVD, for example when Jeff Bridges’ character is talking to his wife in the locker room of the race track, but engaging the Noise Reduction feature cleaned it right up without any adverse effects (although in some test patterns there was some softening in High mode). The opposite is true of the MPEG Noise Reduction feature, which you definitely want to turn off, since it robs a good deal of horizontal resolution when engaged.
There is also loss of resolution in the Custom and Cinema picture modes; in neither mode could the HDTV resolve the full 1080i signal from our generator, although it did so in Standard. To address the issue, Sony confirmed that it will make a firmware upgrade available in the next few weeks to A3000 owners through its Web site. According to the company, the upgrade will be sent out on USB keys free of charge upon request, and so will not require a service visit. We received the upgrade, and it worked well on our review sample, restoring Custom and Cinema to the same resolution as Standard.
As has been the case with Sony for many years, the video processing on the KDS-A3000 leaves something to be desired. On the plus side, the CineMotion feature does provide 2:3 pull-down, and the Motion Enhancer 120Hz feature also smooths out the picture with film-based content. However, the processing does not de-interlace film-based 1080i HD material properly, which reduces some vertical resolution from 1080i material from off-air HD broadcasts, and cable and Satellite TV HD sources. Of course, those sources still appeared quite sharp, and the lack of proper 1080i de-interlacing is not a problem with Blu-ray and HD DVD as long as you set your player to output 1080p.
We watched quite a few scenes from the excellent HD DVD transfer of The Departed for two reasons. One, it is a reference-quality transfer and ably showed the Sony’s many picture quality attributes, such as exceptional color saturation and razor sharp imagery. The other reason is that the early luncheonette scene in Chapter 1, specifically the long pan as the waitress moves from the right side of the counter all the way to the left to meet Jack Nicholson at the register, is a great test of de-judder processing. Sony’s Motion Enhancer seemed to smooth out that pan quite nicely with no artifacts in Standard mode, although High mode made it look entirely too videolike. (Update 11-30-2007) For most of The Departed and for film-based material in general, however, we preferred to leave this setting Off completely to preserve the filmlike look. Your personal preference may vary with this setting in particular; some viewers like the extra smoothness, while some do not.
Chapter 4 of the Blu-ray version of The Italian Job looked awesome. The contrast between the scene below the surface of the water and in the dark area of the building where they blew the safe, and the boat chase above water makes for a great test. We looked at black level and shadow detail performance, along with bright and colorful scenery during the boat chase through Venice. The very next scene, comprising snow-capped mountains in the Alps, is always a good place to look for white field uniformity problems, and they were not overly noticeable on the 55A3000.
A direct comparison with Mitsubishi’s top-of-the-line Diamond series WD-65833 65-inch DLP RPTV proved no contest for this Sony. The Sony was clearly cleaner, sharper, and far more color accurate than the Mitsubishi.