Did you see my pics? I'm concluding this is just how the set looks--not a defect of anyone's particular unit. Just a limitation of current LCD technology, and clearly better than other LCDs from what I've seen.
After I decided I really preferred backlight 2, and started to use auto Energy Saver, with cranked gamma, I've really become quited pleased with how the set looks. When I stepped back from hyper-critical mode, and just started enjoying the overall look of the set, everything's better
A key moment was watching a movie at my parents' on Mother's day--I had influenced them to get a 32" Sony S series because it came in a white bezel which my Mom was insisting on, and it fit their budget well. We watched just after sundown and the background blacks were just awful relative to my new A650. I had never noticed it when I first set it up for them, because my comparison TV at that time was Sharp from 2002. Now that I had the A650, the S series looked awful, and made my background blacks look like Plasma in comparison.