The delivery guy just picked up the XBR8—Sony's tri-color LED Backlit HDTV. I'm a bit sad because I'd never seen an LCD shine like that before.
I only had it set up in my living room for a short while. A little HBO, some movies, not much gaming at all. But it would have been long enough to pick apart a TV by just watching it. And during that time Sony's picture defied any major complaints. Standard definition TV looked colorful, clear and without too many artifacts, reminiscent of how good it did on ye old standard def CRTs, before flat panels started hamfisting the upscaling. On the high end, High definition content from a Blu-ray disc felt like pricks from hypodermic needles, 1920 x 1080 of them, filled with a solution of video joy suspended in photons, as well as some unknown meds that made my chest tighten and my eyes unable to blink. It was by far the best LCD I'd ever seen, and as David Katzmeier from CNet said when he reviewed it, one of the best sets ever, although not as fine of a picture as the now extinct Pioneer Kuro plasma sets.
Sony's engineers went to remarkable lengths to create it, almost as if the ghost of Sony's founding fathers came down and rekindled the engineering pride of the company, telling them to spare no measure to create the TV. "Use LEDs! Use three or four of them for every one those bastards in Korea do!" What resulted was a unique set of discrete red, green and blue LEDs—two of the dimmer greens in every triad— repeating the set up into a backlighting array. Each of the different color LEDs would be calibrated in real time, adjusting for color and brightness output. And that's after they were matched for similar qualities. Apply localized dimming, for a set only an LED fanatic could dream of. And the result was fantastic but without implying anything about its reliability, it is curiously prototype-like in many ways.
The set's large number of discreet color LEDs makes it heavier, more power hungry and thicker than most LED LCD sets, fitting somewhere in physical profile between other LED LCD sets and plasmas. A year and change after its revolutionary release, the set finds itself in murkier waters that make it impossible to justify its extravagance—another hallmark of cutting edge prototype-like technology. And there's competition. Kind of!
Having said how wonderful it looks, this set is a strange creature, born right before the economic crash wiped out the chance that high end sets, like Mitsu's laser TV or Pioneer's Kuros, would sell well. Yet it exists at the same time as its cheaper and poorer performing successors like the Non-LED XBR9.
Markets equalize all. Right now, the XBR8 still has a wildly expensive, with an MSRP of almost $4000 for a 46-incher. Thankfully, because of the set's age, they're going for $2600 on Amazon, which is better, but still over the MSRP of some competing sets that look almost—almost—as good. The XBR9 is $2600 MSRP and can be had for under 2 grand. For about the same price as the XBR9, you can get the LG LH90 in a 47 inch size, backlit by white LEDs with localized dimming. David K. over at CNet says its almost as good, visually.
Somehow, I'm still drawn to the only shipping LCD that uses separate red, green, and blue LEDs. Maybe once the retailers forget how special it is, and the final units are put on clearance as last year's model, I'll pick one up at a steal. More than likely, that sub $2k price point will fill up with better and better sets using simpler and more production friendly technology that'll make me wonder what I was lusting about in the first place. Until then, I still love the XBR8. And without any benchmarks, you'll just have to take my word for it that this set is something special, if not also an unrealistic set to own.