Sony Qualia 006 SXRD RPTV Page 2
Also included is a panoply of so-called Advanced Video adjustments. Most of these options are picture-impairing functions similar to a tone control in audio—they turn the black, or the white, or the colors up too high. Best to leave them alone. One control lets you reset the scaler, which Sony calls Digital Reality Creation (DRC). But it's best to leave it alone, unless you are using the television to view still pictures. Another option, called Cinema Black Pro, sacrifices a bit of brightness in order to enhance the black level by closing an iris of sorts. It helped a bit (more on that later). A third option called Color Space is said to deepen colors when set to Wide. I leave it to you to decide if you like it; I found the enhancement unnatural.
How Did it Look?
One fact you need to know: This set takes a long time to come on. For the first 45 seconds or so, the only way you know the set is on is that a fan begins humming softly, the bright front-panel logo comes on, and the power button changes color, from red to green. After that, the picture slowly comes up but does not reach full brightness for about two minutes. If someone calls and tells you to rush to the TV to see something, I suggest you go to another set.
Other facts: This technology does not suffer from screen burn-in, and it also offers good off-axis viewing. There is little reduction in brightness when watched from a side angle, unlike many LCD sets.
Normally, when reviewing a set, I first put in Video Essentials and see how the TV handles certain critical test patterns. But with this set, I couldn't help myself. First thing, I searched for all the digital TV stations in my area using the built-in ATSC tuner. It was able to find and display 11 stations, but not WETA-DT, the one I most wanted to see. That is the local PBS digital channel, which, through most of the day, has been running high-quality high-definition documentaries and related material since 1999. Using one of the three HDMI connections, I hooked up a Humax HTA 100 digital tuner, and it was able to receive every station, including WETA.
At that moment, the station was showing a high-definition documentary about model trains. It offered close-up shots of the intricate workmanship of a complex, room-sized model-train table covered with bridges, towns, foliage, etc. A perfect demonstration video. And it looked—positively terrible.
Before I switched to the outboard receiver, I had adjusted the picture mode, color temperature, contrast, brightness, etc., to an acceptable level. The picture adjustments are input-specific, which is laudable. You can tailor each input to the source—DVD, DVR, videotape or whatever. As a result, when I switched to a different input for the Humax receiver, the TV reverted to factory settings—including the Vivid picture mode that cranks contrast all the way up and adjusts brightness to flame-thrower levels. What you may not realize is that an over-bright picture is actually incapable of full resolution because light-colored images bleed together. That's what I saw—a low-resolution, high-definition image. In that setting, which is active when the set arrives from the store—the picture is so bad it is scary.
Quickly, I changed the picture mode to Standard and then adjusted brightness, contrast, and the other controls by eye. As I did, the detail began to pop out, until finally I saw a beautiful picture—as detailed as any high-definition image I have ever seen. Tiny details—toy tree limbs, wheel spokes, flaws in the paint—that 99.9 percent of the TVs in the world would be unable to resolve were drawn precisely. It was thrilling.
Since 1998, when I reviewed the very first HDTV, after having looked at demos for many years before that, I have judged them by one standard. Watching full-resolution HDTV is not like looking at a picture; it's like looking out a window. It looks real. A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a framed copy of a cartoon that had appeared in The New Yorker magazine. Two men are standing in a room looking at cityscape. One says to the other: "It's not high-definition anything. It's a window!"
With the exception of my G90 projector and a precious few others like it I have reviewed over the years, no consumer set has measured up to that standard—until this one.
That is the most important finding in the review of this set. But my other findings are not all so complimentary. First of all, I observed a general background video noise prevalent across the entire screen. This was not bothersome unless I was sitting very close. At a normal viewing distance, this noise was not easily visible.
Another issue, also common to LCoS' sister-technology, LCD, is the ability to respond rapidly to fast motion. On the Sony, a camera pan across a complex scene—the most difficult high-definition image to reproduce—grew blurry and jerky. The image did recover the instant the pan ended.
I watched some DVD movies, including The Aviator, an excellent transfer, and Hero, a movie with unrivaled cinematography. The set handled both like a champ, except for occasionally interlace errors (more on this below). The one thing that stood out for me was the resolution. I saw detail I had not seen on other sets. That is this TV's hallmark. It is sharp as a tack; nothing escapes its gaze.
Jamie Wilson, the technician from Overture Audio in Delaware who calibrates sets for me, pointed out a scene in the "Montage of Images" from Video Essentials. A couple glides down a river in a boat, and the man turns his face to the camera, just a dot in the distance. But you could make out his face.
"Detail is overwhelming," Wilson said. At the same time, though, the set had trouble with occasional interlace errors—jagged lines and broken edges when fed an interlaced signal. Frankly, with HD, I had to look for it to see it. But with a 480i signal from DVD, the errors were more prominent and bothersome. Wilson noted, however, that if you sat back far enough—in the second row of my little theater—they disappeared. Sony's DRC scaler was superb on the small, direct-view sets I've seen it on previously, but it does not seem fully up to the task on a screen as big as this one. Don't get me wrong; I have seen scalers that are far, far worse. But this TV is so wonderful in so many other ways that the failings of the scaler seem to stand out more.
On the same note, watching conventional cable TV on this set was disappointing. The scaler was clearly out of its league on such material. The images were so soft as to be fuzzy—hard to watch. I would not watch conventional television on this set. If I could afford this TV, I would consider buying an outboard scaler to go with it.
Plasmas, DLPs, LCDs and LCoS sets all have trouble rendering true black. After it was properly set, the Qualia 006 was unable to distinguish between any of the three black, blacker, blackest boxes on the PLUGE pattern from Video Essentials. The best plasmas I have seen can resolve two but not the third. Switching to the Cinema Black Pro (closed-iris) setting improved the black level a bit. Looking close up, I could detect a difference between the first and second black boxes. But even that was so subtle as to be invisible at a normal seating distance. The inability to produce true black is not just a theoretical issue. Without deep black, pictures can look washed out. But only occasionally did I see scenes that seemed to suffer from that.
I would like to have compared this set to my G90 projector, but it is impossible in my system to have both on at the same time. But having watched that projector for many years, I think I know its picture by heart. My impression is that the Qualia 006 offers a sharper image when properly adjusted. It is certainly brighter. But it is also noisier. Of course, when comparing this TV to my projector, I am to some degree really comparing Sony's scaler to my superb, outboard Faroudja VPH-5000 scaler, which cost considerably more than $13,000 when it came out in 2000. So the comparison is not fair. Still, the combination of the G90 and Faroudja produces a warmer picture, while the Qualia seems more precise. And the G90/Faroudja setup can portray conventional cable TV in an acceptable manner, and on a larger screen—something that, for me, the Qualia could not do.
This television offers high-definition images as precise and pleasing as I have ever seen. That is the crowning achievement of the Qualia 006. Its portrayal of DVDs was not perfect but generally superb. It could not portray conventional NTSC TV in a manner I found pleasing to watch. But all in all, this may be the best rear-projection television out there. It has its limitations. But this is the first iteration. I can't wait to see the second generation—or the third.
Highs and Lows
I've never seen better-looking HDTV broadcasts
Excellent rendition of DVDs
Scaler inadequate for NTSC cable and over-the-air broadcasts
Black level could be improved
Some video noise and interlace artifacts