Rear projection televisions are generally regarded as the poor cousins to LCD and plasma, and it's often with good reason. In addition to their bulkier dimensions, rear pros sometimes struggle to create decent pictures and frequently suffer from a number of annoying side effects.
Not so with Sony's latest effort, a giant 55-inch screen with full 1080p compatibility and the company's newly developed SXRD technology nestling inside. SXRD is based on LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) technology, which is fairly common.
But Sony's chip promises a faster response time, stronger contrast and minuscule gaps between pixels, not to mention a huge resolution of 1920 x 1080, making it ideal for displaying 1080p full HD material. All this, according to Sony, means that it can be used to create a top class image. It's also cheap to produce in comparison with LCD and plasma technology, hence this TV's tempting price tag.
Switch on the TV and it's quickly apparent that Sony's claims aren't just hot air. The black levels on this screen are far better than anything LCD can offer, and slightly superior to plasma.
Even with the screen running in a dimly lit room, parts of the picture that are supposed to look dark do. It's possible to just make out the illumination behind them, but there isn't the indistinct washed-out grey which LCD produces in the same circumstances.
Add a bit of ambient light to the room and, as far as the eye can tell, these areas will look absolutely black. The image is incredibly bright too, so watching in a sunlit room isn't a problem either.
Well over the rainbow
SXRD doesn't produce the 'rainbow effect' that can appear on DLP rear projection TVs and, because the gaps between pixels are so narrow, the 'screen door' effect that afflicts some LCD and LCoS rear pros is also avoided.
Worth noting, however, is a slight visible graininess, particularly in lighter areas of the picture. This is due to the material that the screen itself is made from, but thankfully it isn't hugely distracting.
Also, the viewing angle of the screen is narrower than most flat panels, especially vertically - if you don't have the screen sat at eye level, brightness and contrast start to suffer.
Colours are bright and vivid, with the coral and fish from Planet Earth's footage of the Great Barrier Reef almost leaping off the screen. Accuracy is slightly out on the factory settings, but a bit of careful tweaking to the colour settings gives you a reasonable palette. There's a good colour range too, so gradual light to dark shifts, such as the sky and sea in Planet Earth, are smoothly realistic rather than visibly separate.
Because of its 1920 x 1080 resolution, this screen is capable of displaying huge amounts of detail, given the right source material. Feed it Kingdom of Heaven in HD and the image is sharp, crisp and free from noise.
Standard definition material doesn't impress to quite the same extent, which isn't surprising given the sheer size of the screen, but DVDs and good quality channels from a Sky box look decent. The TV's Bravia Engine does a fine job of scaling the image up to fit the huge screen and also removes fizzing picture noise. A standard definition TV show like Heroes looks great.
One final advantage of SXRD is its speedy response time, and Sony claims the KDS-55A2000's is a mere 2.5ms. The advantages are clear when you hook up a games console: fast-moving fare like Crackdown or Pro Evolution Soccer 6 on the Xbox 360 runs without a hint of smearing or ghosting. It's one of the smoothest images we've seen.
Sound quality is good. Virtual Dolby Surround proves yet again to be anything but, and largely pointless, but the speakers are powerful and clear enough.
Aside from its great performance, the KDS-55A2000 is also impressively designed. It was never going to be the best-looking TV around (it's huge) but it isn't exactly ugly either, and is surprisingly light for its size.
There's a good selection of connections too, including two HDMIs, two component video inputs (one on the front) and three RGB capable Scarts. The remote control is big with chunky, well laid-out buttons.
The KDS-55A2000 is a very tempting alternative to plasma and LCD, particularly if you have plenty of space and want the biggest screen £1,500 can buy.
Its picture quality is superb, and the 55-inch screen really shows off the advantages of high definition TV, movies and games - the fact that it costs around half what you'd expect to pay for a similar sized flat panel TV is simply the icing on the cake.