Sony Bravia XBR-46HX909: A Powerful, Expensive HDTV
At a Glance
The 46-inch Sony Bravia XBR-46HX909 gives you a lot of features for the painfully list purchase price ($3000 as of September 20, 2010), including a very good picture and a fine selection of Internet services. It has a few quirks and problems, of course, but the real issue is the high price: The picture quality isn't that good.
A panel of five judges convened at the PC World Labs gave the Bravia XBR-46HX909 a slightly higher average score than they awarded the other three 46-inch HDTVs we tested with it. Among the faults detected were too much contrast in a couple of scenes, and yellowish skin tones in our football clip. When the set was called upon to upconvert a DVD to 1080p, faces had a slightly artificial, oil-painting look to them.
But the XBR-46HX909 handled motion well. I noted a slight vibration in a brick wall that the camera panned across in Mission: Impossible III, but I thought its handling of our diagonal panning test was almost perfect.
Sound quality was on a par with the image quality--good but not outstanding. I heard very slight distortion on loud, high notes with the volume turned all the way up, but none at a reasonable volume level. The front sound stage was wide but not too wide, and every sound seemed well-placed. On the other hand, there was no sense of surround at all--even when I turned Sony's imitation surround feature on.
The set is physically well designed. It swivels on its stand, and the inputs are easy to reach. As with most other current HDTVs, when you turn it on for the first time, a wizard walks you through initial setup.
If you have used any Sony HDTV, Blu-ray player, or Playstation in recent years, you'll be familiar with the XBR-46HX909's full-screen "crossbar" menu. The menus can be slightly intimidating the first time you confront one, but after a few minutes they make perfect sense. This one has a transparent background, so you can see the programming behind it.
I found the XBR-46HX909's onscreen explanations quite useful: I never had to check the manual to see what the Adv. Contrast Enhancer did (for example). And that's a good thing, because the XBR-46HX909's thin 21-page manual is little more than a glorified quick setup guide. An electronic, hypertext "i-Manual" is available on the TV's screen and also on the Internet, but it too leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, unlike a real electronic manual in PDF format, it isn't searchable.
The well-designed remote control has a strange, concave curve that helps you identify it by touch when you reach into your pile of remotes in the dark. It has large, well-placed number, menu, and arrow buttons; and it's programmable. But it doesn't glow, and it's not backlit.
If you plug an ethernet cable into the XBR-46HX909 (Wi-Fi requires a separately sold adapter), you gain access to a wide range of Internet entertainment, including Sony's own pay-per-view service, Qriocity. That service charges $6 for a 24-hour HD rental, but it doesn't charge you until it has tested your connection to make sure it can handle the stream. The library is geared toward recent films; when I examined it, the Classics category consisted of three movies.
Alternatively you can obtain content from Amazon, Blop.TV, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, Picasa, YouTube, and many other sources. Annoyingly, though, in order to use Netflix, you must sign up for a Sony Style account as well as a Netflix one.
The XBR-46HX909 supports DLNA, so you can use the same ethernet connection to enjoy photos, music, and videos off of any computer on your home network that has DLNA server software installed and enabled. Windows Media Player can serve DLNA, so you probably have one or more such computers already. With DLNA, you can search for media files by folder, genre, keyword, playlist, or other criterion, and you can play any file that your server can handle. You can display photos in a slideshow with effect transitions and your choice of musical accompaniment.
If you don't network your television, you can still enjoy photos, music, and home videos by plugging a flash drive into the XBR-46HX909. Without a server, however, your choices are limited. There's no search, for instance, and you can play only files that the HDTV supports. For instance, via DLNA, I could listen to MP3 and WMA music files; but via USB, to MP3s only.
The Energy Star-certified XBR-46HX909 uses an average of about 102 watts of electricity when it's on. It continues to suck about 10 watts for the first 5 minutes after you turn it off (or put into standby mode). After that, it uses so little power that our meter didn't register it.Energy-saving features include an ambient light sensor that lowers the television's brightness when the room darkens, and a setting that turns the set off after a predetermined period of inactivity.
Overall the XBR-46HX909 is a good television, and in many ways it's an excellent one. But for many consumers, its strong points won't justify its high price when they examine the other offerings at this screen size.