The XBR series represents what Sony considers to be their highest quality LCD televisions, and this year's XBR9 series introduces several interesting new features that are sure to keep these models at the top of the heap.
These XBR models are marginally more expensive than the allegedly affordable LCDs Sony W5100-series, which we evaluated in a DigitalAdvisor preview last month. In that piece, it's mentioned that the manufacturer's suggested retail prices on the XBR9 models were intended to be between $1,300 and $3,600. As you can see from the prices we have listed on the right-hand sidebar, the actual retail prices have plummeted significantly, making the XBR9 televisions roughly competitive with the W-series, even though the latter were intended to be the entry-level models for price conscious consumers.
With this in mind, if you were interested in picking up a Sony TV, the XBR9 series might be somewhat more attainable than previously expected. It's definitely worth investigating its high-end features.
The XBR9 series consists of four LCD televisions: The 32-inch KDL-32XBR9, the 40-inch KDL-40XBR9, the 46-inch KDL-46XBR9, and the 52-inch KDL-52XBR9. Generally most models within a line have nearly identical specifications apart from screen size and a few other minor adjustments. With the XBR9 series, that's not exactly the case. While the 40, 46, and 52-inch televisions are the same apart from display size, the 32-inch model differs quite a bit from the other three.
The KDL-32XBR9 features a 120Hz refresh rate, while the other three have 240Hz refresh rates. Apparently, the BRAVIA processing chip (BRAVIA Engine 2 vs. BRAVIA Engine 3) within the 32-inch television is different as well, though it's not clear what effect this would have and whether it would be noticeable. Finally, the KDL-32XBR9 lacks the "TV Guide Onscreen" functionality which provides updated TV listings via the Internet.
Perhaps most importantly, the KDL-32XBR9 lacks the Ethernet input which allows the other models to access the Internet. It is, however, compatible with the separate BRAVIA Internet Video Link module, which can provide similar coverage.
All four models have four HDMI inputs, and a PC input for hooking up to a computer.
"Widget" Internet Applications
The XBR9 models with Ethernet ports are able to access Internet-powered widgets that provide real-time updated information to viewers. At present, the widgets are rather limited. They provide information on the weather and stock market, and let viewers see content from Yahoo! Video and Flickr. Not nearly as robust as the streaming video options seen on competing "connected" TVs from LG and Vizio. The widgets don't really set apart the XBR9 line. They can also be found on the Z and W-series LCDs from Sony.
Also like the Z and W-series LCDs, the XBR9 televisions have DNLA capabilities, which means they can recognize media servers located on your home computer and access photos, videos, and other media from your hard drive over your home internet connection. It's a nice feature that really helps complete the home entertainment experience.
It's not clear what makes the XBR9 series TVs any better than the W or Z-series models. Their specifications are very similar, and any differences (such as image processing, etc) seem to be very technical and not immediately appreciated by the average TV viewer. That said, these supposedly top-of-the-line LCD televisions are being sold for bargain prices, and aren't that much more expensive than their supposedly lower-quality peers. It might be worth taking a closer look at the XBR9 series when it comes time to buy.