Sony XEL-1 Washington DC
May 28, 2008 By Geoffrey Morrison
This is, without a doubt, the most important 11-inch TV you’ll ever see reviewed. At a cost of $227 per diagonal inch, it is also one of the most expensive TVs you’ve probably read about in a while. You see, this is the first production OLED display, and that makes it huge.
Organic Light-Emitting Diode technology has been around for a while, but only in the past few years has it become cheap enough, been available in the right colors, and lasted long enough to function as a television. Before now, the only place you’d find OLEDs was in cell phones and car-stereo displays.
OLED is an emissive technology, like CRT or plasma, meaning that the same technology creates the image and the light. (LCD, on the other hand, is transmissive: A backlight creates the light, while the LCD creates the image.) Because of its emissive nature, an OLED TV can be extremely thin and, potentially, extremely efficient. In the case of the XEL-1, the screen portion is only 3 millimeters thick. The organic material itself lights up a certain color (red, green, or blue) when a current is supplied. The beauty of this is that its brightness is directly related to the amount of current supplied. If you supply no current, you get no light. No light means a perfect black level, the likes of which you can’t get with regular LCDs or modern plasmas.
Sony describes the XEL-1 as a display made for executive desktops. Given that it has the footprint of a hardcover book and a screen smaller than a laptop’s, that sounds about right. It’s too small to work as a bedroom TV or even in most kitchens. Even so, Sony hasn’t skimped on features for the littlest big TV. The XrossMediaBar, first found on the PSP and now featured in most Sony products, allows easy navigation between features, inputs, and channels. The TV has two HDMI inputs and an antenna input, with a decent HDTV tuner—and that’s it. Resolution is “only” 960 by 540; but, at the distance you’re going to need to sit from this display, that’s more than enough. Even when sitting just a few inches away, you can’t see pixels. With most displays, I recommend sitting at a distance of around three to four times the picture height; in the case of the XEL-1, that means an amusing 18 inches.
But the Picture…
Quite simply, the image is stunning. Send the XEL-1 an HD source (up to 1080p), and it will put nearly every other display on the market to shame. The reason is simple: When you’re able to create a true black, your contrast ratio legitimately goes through the roof. Sony claims 1,000,000:1, which probably isn’t overly optimistic. The only products that can compete in terms of visible contrast ratio and picture quality are Pioneer’s KURO plasmas and Samsung’s 81 Series local-dimming LED-backlight LCD. When you turn out the lights and the screen goes black, the XEL-1 goes black. This black level and contrast ratio conspire to create an image with depth that is uno...