Sunday, December 10, 2006

A New Bedroom HDTV for Me, Part I

A new Sony Bravia KDL-40XBR2 now graces my home's master bedroom. This 40" LCD flat panel with 1080p resolution has received glowing coverage in the enthusiast press and is ranked tops in its category by Consumer Reports. I had intended to buy a 1080p Sharp AQUOS LC-37D90U 37" LCD, but was put off when I found Best Buy doesn't carry it. I switched allegiance to the Sony ... then ended up buying it online at Abe's of Maine, rather than Best Buy!

I chose Abe's for its lowball price. You can pay as much as $3,100 for this set. I paid $2,339 for my Sony at Abe's on 11/28/06, with free shipping and zero tax. My set is currently (12/11/06) listed at Abes' at $2,315. You can probably find even lower online prices at

Online prices on this and other HDTVs change seemingly daily. For instance, the day before I placed my order at Abe's I found a price of $2,539.99 at The very next day the price had gone up by some $400, I think. Today, as I write this, it's all the way down to $2,489.99. (To see the sale price, you have to put the TV in your shopping cart. Otherwise, you see the list price of $3,099.99.)

Buying an HDTV online was a bit harrowing. I fretted about getting a maybe illegal "gray market" item, possibly with no U.S. warranty .... about shipping taking forever ... about the difficulty of getting the heavy, bulky item into my house ... etc. etc. etc. Complicating the situation was the fact that I was also ordering, at the same time:

Abe's, in shipping the two items I ordered from them, was not as quick as the other three vendors. It took eight days to receive the final item from Abe's, the TV itself ... which arrived with much external damage to the carton and the styrofoam packaging inside shattered into chunks, as if the box had been dropped at some point. But the TV looks and works fine. Draw your own conclusions.

None of the other items I ordered arrived with apparent damage. All worked fine, and all seemed to be legitimate, non-gray market items with actual manufacturers' U.S. warranties inside the boxes. None were packed in anything other than the usual full-fledged original manufacturers' cartons, with all the usual logos, manuals, etc. Aside from the damage to the TV's packaging and the inexplicable slight delay in getting Abe's to ship the TV and the TiVo, I personally had no bad experiences with buying home entertainment gear online at deep-discount prices.

I did have some problems getting all the stuff installed.

I bought a Tech-Craft TRK50 TV stand from for $415.00. I put it together all by myself without a hitch. It has a rear pillar with mounting hardware for just about any flat panel TV of moderate size. That makes it capable of elevating the panel to a respectable height for bedroom viewing without resorting to a wall mount.

I had to wait two or three weeks for this stand to be "in stock" at the vendor's warehouse. I could find no other vendor that had it ... though many listed it, and for lower prices.

Figuring that I had just about maxed out my own handyman capabilities assembling the stand, when I finally got it, I went to to locate an installer. They referred me to Al, whose last name I'll withhold, a skilled and competent home theater installer in my area. Al was very easy to contact and work with, and he did install all my gear, including wall-mounting the Yamaha sound projector, for $250.

But the YSP-800 wall-mounted digital sound projector brought woe. It's an array of tweeters and woofers that, through the magic of bouncing sound waves off walls and controlling them with digital signal processing, can make audio emanating from the area of the TV sound like it's coming from five speakers positioned around the room. Add a subwoofer and you have a virtual home theater.

Woe came when Al was trying to mount the DSP on the wall above the TV. He shifted it just a tad to one side ... and it fell on his head.

This happened while I was out fetching sandwiches for lunch. When I got back Al told me, "I had a little problem while you were gone ... ." I looked and saw dings in the front grille. (Al said he had a headache.) The next day I noticed dents in the bottom plate of the base.

Al and I are now working together to figure out whether and how the cosmetic damage can be repaired at reasonable cost to Al, who accepts that he is liable for the damage. The grille can be replaced fairly cheaply. It looks like the metal plate with the dents in it will be a bit tougher; it seems to be, as a part of a larger main base assembly, unavailable separately. Replacing the whole main base assembly would possibly cost big bucks and would involve tearing into the unit's innards ... the idea of which doesn't thrill me.

As I say, Al and I are exploring various alternatives. Just as a guess, I imagine I may wind up with a replacement grille, two unrepaired dents in the base, and a refund of the $250 I paid Al for the whole job. Stay tuned.

This is my third HDTV, to go with a 32" Hitachi plasma and a 61" Samsung DLP, both of three-year-old vintage. Neither of the others is 1080p. In my early experience with the Sony, it renders a noticeably better picture.

It's better not just at 1080p resolution, which I've yet to spend much time with. Even when watching DVDs and standard-def cable, there's a big improvement.

The colors, for one thing, seem more accurate. My Hitachi tends to make reds orangish, while the Samsung biases them toward a cherry hue. The Sony's reds are, in my judgment, spot on.

Then there is the better black level. The Sony's blacks, while not coal-black, are closer to it than either the Hitachi's or the Samsung's. Meanwhile, the Sony manages to produce a wealth of shadow detail. The Hitachi "swallows" an abundance of same, rendering it totally invisible, while the Samsung seems to do something odd to it: the color of very dark portions of the image seems to fade unnaturally into bland grayness.

The Sony does better with grays, too, as with a black & white movie. Last night I watched the 1955 film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly on TCM on analog cable. I used the Sony's White Balance adjustments, found under Advanced Picture Settings — but only when using Custom Picture Mode, not Vivid or Normal — to change a greenish image to one that was pretty darn neutral in hue.

The White Balance adjustments modify Bias and Gain for each of the three color primaries, red, green, and blue. Bias is like a Brightness control, but for just one color. Gain is like a Contrast or Picture control, again just for a single color. Tweak the tri-colored Bias settings along with the three Gain settings, and you are in effect doing a grayscale calibration of the TV.

More in A New Bedroom HDTV for Me, Part II!

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