The XEL-1 has a rather unusual design; instead of the more usual approach of putting the circuitry behind the screen, all of the control circuits are in the pedestal, with an armature connecting the two. The reason for this is to keep the panel as thin as possible; after all, the entire point of this screen is to show how cool OLEDs are.
The XEL-1 has a rather unusual design
There is nothing interesting on the back of the panel itself, but the ports for the XEL-1 are located on the back of the pedestal.
The ports are on the back of the pedestal
There are no significant features on the side of the XEL-1, but you can see how the armature holds the panel in place, and how it allows the screen to tilt. the panel itself is just 3mm thick.
The panel itself is very thin: just 3mm
The stand of the XEL-1 is the pedestal itself, which sits flat on the surface. There is no way to wall mount this display, as the screen can only tilt back to a 55 degree angle.
The XEL-1 is certainly an interesting looking display, and it would definitely be a conversation piece. But the design does limit how it can be used, and the shiny black plastic of the case does pick up fingerprints rather easily (as you can see from our photos of the model on display at the CES show).
Display Size & Technology
The XEL-1 is the first commercially available TV to use an Organic LED display. This new technology is very different from the LCD and plasma displays that conventional HDTVs use; it uses an organic compound that emits light when a current passes through it. This means that there is no backlight; the panel itself creates the light that forms the image. The problem with OLEDs is that they are difficult and expensive to manufacture, which is why Sony is the only company to make a TV that uses one so far. But the price is falling, and they won't be the last. We have already seen OLEDs being used in some media players and one small laptop, and the manufacturing processes are improving.
Format & Resolution
The XEL-1 can work with a video signal at up to 1080p resolutions, but there is a big caveat; the screen itself is only 960 by 540 pixels, for a total of about 518,000 pixels. Contrast this with the 2 million or so that a typical HDTV has, and you'll see one big problem: the image has to be significantly scaled down to fit onto the screen. So, even if you are watching a Blu-ray disc, the image looks much blockier than on a standard HDTV.
Brightness, Blacks & Contrast Ratio
The advantage of the OLED screen comes when you look at contrast; because the screen can turn off the elements when it is showing black, it can produce very deep blacks and bright colors side by side. Sony claims a contrast ratio of over 1,000,000:1, and our experience with this display at the CES show would seem to back that up; blacks on screen very deep, while whites were bright. The screen lacks the eye-watering brightness that we've seen on some other HDTVs, but these usually come at the price of the blacks getting brighter. We didn't see that on the XEL-1.
Refresh Rate & Motion
The other advantage of OLED displays is that they can change the amount of light they emit very quickly, which means that you should see less motion blur and ghosting than you see on normal HDTVs. Motion was extremely smooth on the XEL-1, but, in our limited examination of the screen, it didn't seem to be significantly better than many of the newer HDTVs we've seen.
OLEDs are also supposed to have good viewing angles, and the XEL-1 seems to bear that one out as well. Because the panel is so thin, the light can pass out of it in all directions, so it doesn't have the weak contrast that we see on LCD screens at an angle.
Audio & Video Ports
The XEL-1 has a very limited number of ports: 2 HDMI, one proprietary DMex port, a memory stick socket and an antenna port. There are no inputs for analog video or audio; it's digital or bust with this bad boy.
The back panel of the XEL-1 is the home to the limited number of ports
Media & Other Connectivity
The XEL-1 can display photos or play music stored on a Memory Stick, but it cannot play back videos. There is no support for streaming media.
Because the ports are located on the back of the pedestal, they are a little awkward to reach. Fortunately, the pedestal is not overly large and the entire screen can be rotated easily, as it only weighs just over 4 ounces.
two small speakers are located on the back of the pedestal, each of which can produce a rather paltry 1 watt of power. Room filling it ain't, but you aren't going to use a screen this size to watch a movie with family, unless your family is you and your cat. And even he will think this is a quiet TV.
We were not able to test the remote that comes with the XEL-1, but it looks to be a pretty generic Sony remote with just a limited number of buttons on it.
The controls are located on the front edge of the pedestal. From the left, we have buttons for Home (which opens the menu). Input, Vol up and down, channel up and down and power. The buttons themselves are rather small and not easy to find by touch.
The buttons on the XEL-1 are small and awkward
We were not able to access the on-screen menu of the XEL-1.
Should you buy the XEL-1? In a word, no.
Unless you have more disposable income than a duck has feathers, the XEL-1 is a bad purchase. OLED has huge promise as a display technology, but it's just not ready for the mainstream yet. It's too expensive. Unless you're the sort of rare gadget freak with cash to burn, you'd be better off spending your money on an LCD or plasma HDTV, or saving them until OLED displays come out that are as big as a conventional HDTV, with the same resolution.
Meet the tester
Richard Baguley is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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