My first impressions of the XBR960 are good overall. HD material looks fantastic - even The Tonight Show is jaw dropping. (Note that although I am a massive techno-geek, this is my first HDTV).
I have only basic cable service right now, but I can pick up most local networks in HD. I can also pick up some obviously "Digital Cable" channels - but only the ones that preview pay per view. This at least gives me some feel for how digital cable will look.
There are some stations on digital cable that I've always wanted, but I've basically refused to have a set top box. The way it intereferes with VCR operation, negates many features built into the TV, requiring another non-standard remote, etc., made me refuse to deal with a box. (Not that I'm not capable - just unwilling!) The new CableCard standard for me is a dream come true.
I have ordered a CableCard, as well as additional digital cable and HD content, through Time Warner, but they insist on installing it (like I couldn't find the slot) and they didn't have an opening until a week from now. Oh well... At least I have some local HD stations to test the TV with.
My first impression after turning the TV on wasn't good. The setup menu that appears automatically (apparently the first time you turn it on) was blurry. I mean, it was legible and all, but not impressive at all for a set that is supposed to be able to resolve close to 1400 lines. My impression from this, as well as screen edges when watching 4:3, etc., lead me to believe that the convergence on my set is sigificantly off. I hope someone can recommend to me a way to correct it. (I have to think that HD will look even better after correction.)
The first TV image I actually saw is a digital cable pay-per-view preview, and it looked horrible. Artifacts everywhere. I have to admit that it scared the crap out of me (i.e. based on all the complaints I had read about artifacts, to think it really IS that bad). In any case, it turn out that this particular channel is clearly overcompressed before transmission - i.e. some other digital cable preview stations I've found typically look very, very good.
My analog SD channels all look poor - but I don't think it's the TV's fault. For some reason, my analog cable reception degraded significantly several months ago. I notice this on the other analog sets in my house. Basically, all analog cable stations have significant noise throughout the picture. I had had this problem a couple years ago, and I had Time Warner improve it significantly. But something happened and it's degraded again. (I've checked all the connections in my hub, etc. I have cable modem, so there is a splitter before my USTec hub. I'm suspecting the splitter, becuase that was the culprit before. Does anyone make ultra-high quality splitters that I could buy?)
In any case, the analog channels on my XBR960 show way more static than my 9-year old Sony 32" set, and more than my 14-year old Mitsu 20" set. The noise does look much worse on the XBR960. I really can't tell if this is a fault of the DRC amplifying it, or just that this set can resolve it more due to the higher resolution. I'm assuming the latter. Note that I do NOT see any significant artifacting or degradation of the image due to the DRC, like I used to see on the first generation Wegas with line-doublers. But I probably just am not a good candidate for this test right now due to the high noise level in my signal to start with. [When Time Warner is out to install the CableCard, I'll be sure to have them fix the analog signal, too!]
I have a five year old Sony DVD player (530D). I bought some good component cables today, also. Anyway, I fired up one of my kids cartoon DVDs, and the sharpness and colors were absolutely stunning. Really impressive. After seeing HDTV, I figured there would be no way that 480i DVD could look nearly as good. But the colors in particular were spectacular.
In terms of features, I really like the look of the menus. It's amazing how a higher resolution menu with nicer fonts makes the whole TV seem much higher class. I'm really glad they did this.
Most of my stations do not have information in the guide, but a small number of this do. This would be the fault of my cable company, I assume.
I've found the Guide to be basically useless. Really, it's no different than just surfing the channels yourself. I mean, it only lists info on the current station/program, and simply has a list down the side showing the stations that you'll switch to next if you go down the list. I really don't understand the point. If you simply use the channel up & down buttons it accomplishes the same thing - without the channel list covering the left portion of the screen.
I really like the idea of the favorites list. BUT, it's also useless if you have lots of HD or QAM channels on your favorites. I mean, you can still use it as a hotlist, but it won't show a preview of any digital channels, even if you are currently viewing an analog station. I find that limitation very annoying (90% of the favorites on my list are digital!), and it negates the usefulness of the idea.
TwinView is a great idea, and works really nice. BUT, I don't know how to keep the audio fixed on one side, while you surf on the other side. It wants to fix the audio on whichever View you are currently changing. (My 9-year old 32" Sony has PIP with dual tuners, and you can assign the audio to play from either window at the press of a button on the remote.]
The speaker system seems to be reasonable for a TV, but of course will not take the place of a stereo. But it is clear that there is a "TV grade" subwoofer in there. I've heard some pretty nice sounds come from the TV - some of my impression may be more due to the much higher fidelity sound from HD...
Overall, I'm thrilled to finally own a Sony Wega HDTV. I've wanted this model (i.e. it's earlier equivalents) since I saw the first Sony Wega 34" HDTV back in 1997. I've watched and drooled over the years as it came down from $8000, and as features and picture quality improved. It's amazing what 7 years of development and progress can do!
Aside from getting the CableCard installed, I need to figure out a way to improve the convergence. Aside from that, seems like a great set so far...
[Does anyone know if I'd be able to use the firewire ports on the XBR960 and my laptop to record and playback HDTV???]