Sony WEGA KV34XBR910

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Price Paid: $2785

Purchase at: local store

Strengths

incredible picture quality, all-digital DVI input, matching stand , integrates well into an average room

Weakness

heavy, remote not backlit, setup screens somewhat awkward, lacks numeric display for screen parameters (ie: brightness must be measured by number of segments in the bar, instead of a numeric value)

Comments/Review

If “best picture quality” is your criteria, CRT’s still do that best, in my opinion, and this is the best CRT I’ve ever seen. The all-digital DVI input is key.

The Criteria:
I bought this set as a replacement for a Toshiba 55″ rear-projector that was 8 years old. Looked extensively at plasma, LCD and DLP rear-projectors, and of course the old-fashioned CRT. My criteria was simple….the best possible picture quality with HDTV and DVD signal sources.

The Setup:
Teamed with an LG-LST-3510A HDTV off-air receiver/DVD player combo (no cable required….just an antenna) which is attached to the Sony via an all-digital DVI connector, the images are simply stunning. Comparison of the DVI input versus the set’s other inputs proves that – for ultimate picture quality – having a DVI connector as one of your input options is important. Both the Sony and the LG HDTV receiver have DVI connectors. This connection also allows the LG’s built-in DVD player to send its signal directly into the set in pure digital form…..with remarkable results. Although this set has 7 video inputs (which can be “turned off” for scanning purposes) I’m likely never going to use them with this configuration.

Picture Quality:
I’ve already mentioned the remarkable picture quality when the set if fed a pure digital signal. However, images are also remarkable using a progressive-scan DVD player plugged into the standard component video input. (note: make sure you have the progressive scan feature turned ON on your DVD player….my player came shipped with the option turned OFF). Standard TV signals look good too. Likewise a Sony Playstation’s output. I’ve always judged a display’s quality for it’s ability to display true blacks….a test that many projection sets fail. This set has remarkable black level. Blacks are REALLY black. The super-fine-pitch CRT produces a picture that seems to have NO scan lines or visible pixels unless you press your face against the tube. With HD or DVD sources, the image appears photographic in quality. IMHO, the extra $$$ for the super-fine-pitch feature is worth it.
Picture quality stands “heads-above” all other sets I looked at, no matter what the signal source, no matter what the screen size.

The Remote:
Sony has never, in my opinion, been a leader in remote control design. This remote is equally unremarkable. The top of the remote flips up like a Star Trek communicator, revealing the transport controls for DVD, VCR. It is a code-controlled remote, likely able to control a wide variety of gear, but it does not “learn” codes from your other remotes. A major omission is lack of any sort of backlighting. The buttons glow in the dark – sort of. Perhaps Sony just assumes one will dump the remote functions into a more capable third-party remote (I use the Harmony remote which has bright blue backlighting.) On a set of this quality, the remote is a disappointment, albeit a minor one.

Ergonomics & the Sony Stand:
This set is HEAVY…..2 person minimum to install (Sony even suggests AT LEAST 2 people in the manual….the first time I have ever seen a reference in a manual to the number of people required to safely move the equipment around. The “optional” Sony stand (highly recommended) allows one person to shift the set’s location in a room by simply moving one side of the stand, then the other. The equipment shelf included in the stand allows A/V receiver and other gear to be neatly stowed under the set. The stand includes a hollow back panel that allows for cable routing and a subsequent neat-looking cable-free installation plus flow-throw ventilation for keeping things cool. I got the stand bundled into the purchase price and the set and stand are designed to complement each other. Two big reasons to get the Sony stand…..it enhances the visual flow and design of the set, and it is rated to safely hold the set’s bulk and weight. There is even a safety strap at the back to assure the set does not tip forward, although I can’t imagine that happening, such is the stability of the stand. You cannot just place this set on a coffee table or snack table or end table. Leave some room behind the set for the inevitable cable changes as you learn how the set works and adapt your cabling accordingly.

The Sound:
The sound from the built-in speakers is very good….no replacement for a full Dolby Digital or DTS receiver/speakers, but very good for standard broadcast and exceptionally clear when fed an HD signal. Speakers are invisibly integrated into the front of the set, firing from the sides of the screen. Somewhere in the bowels of the chassis is buried a decent-sounding subwoofer. Audio setup options include the usual bass/treble plus several simulated surround modes.

Inputs and Outputs:
A glance at the rear of the set reveals a very flexible arrangement of inputs and outputs, with 6 video in/out (2 of those component-video). The 7th input is the Digital Video Interface (DVI) connector I mentioned earlier, which allows connection of DVI-equipped devices for a pure digital interface. Unlike other sets I’ve seen, the jacks and connectors are neatly laid out and well-spaced to actually allow adult fingers to plug and unplug the connections with relative ease (unlike my Marantz receiver which practically requires surgical skills and tweezers to install or remove plugs on it’s super-congested back panel.)
A complete set of video and audio inputs hides behind a narrow panel on the lower front of the set as well…..handy for quick previewing of video camera or digital camera outputs. A slot for Sony’s Memory Stick storage media allows instant viewing of Memory Stick contents, provided you are one of those using such technology (I am not!)

User Interface:
For such an advanced set, it’s curious that Sony still uses the same “segmented bar” format for indicating levels (brightness, sharpness, etc.) instead of numbers…..you wind up counting hash marks instead of referencing actual numeric values…somewhat of a pain.
There are many user-configurable options available via the setup menus. I strongly suggest a careful reading of the manual for a better understanding of the setup options and how they function. Proper setup will make the display sing…..and improper setup means the full quality of this device will remain untapped. In a few cases, incorrect setup could even degrade the set’s picture, which would be a shame.

The “Wife-Appeal” Factor
Our former Toshiba 55″ rear-projector looked large in the showroom and absolutely monolithic once it landed in our family room. (Think “2001 A Space Odessy”). Although the picture quality was OK for a projector, the wife-appeal factor was terrible and the set took over the room.
The Sony is far less bulky and the 16:9 screen ratio allows for a low-slung look (not high and bulky like the Toshiba). Matched to its stand, the set just plain “looks good” in the room. Wife-Appeal rating – excellent.

Final Comments:
I have read some comments about the importance of calibrating this set. I’ve used the Avia DVD to do basic setup and I’m happy with the results. Any further calibration for the average user (like myself) is likely overkill.

Finally, the bezel surrounding the tube is black (most sets I saw use a silver bezel or frame). The black bezel highlights even more the CRT’s incredible picture.
CRT technology may be on the wane but Sony seems to still see a market and has produced a marvelous machine here. If the very best possible picture is your goal, and a 34″ screen size is adequate, look no further.

Recommended
Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 2785

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