Sony's 34-inch wide-screen tube-based direct-view HDTV, the KD-34XBR960, is simply the best-performing television of its kind on the market. Its screen boasts an incredible 1,400 lines of horizontal resolution, which allows it to resolve more detail with high-def sources than any other direct-view tube. It can deliver deeper blacks than any non-tube TV, and it offers two key improvements over last year's excellent : accurate color decoding and independent picture memory per input. In the smaller-than-40-inch category, the KD-34XBR960 earns its place as CNET's reference HDTV. Add to all that a list price of $2,200--another improvement compared to last year--and you also have a compelling value.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The design of the 960 series is quite attractive. The perfectly flat screen is surrounded by a dark gray, almost black border, which is in turn trimmed with a thin vertical line of silver on the sides of the set. A Memory Stick slot and a full set of A/V inputs are housed beneath the flip-down door on the front.
This TV's one Achilles' heel is size. Compared to flat-panel plasmas and LCDs of similar screen size, the KV-34XBR960 is both deep (24 inches) and heavy (196 pounds). The optional matching stand or some other sturdy riser will be necessary to get the TV to eye level, and lifting it there will require at least two strong people.
The remote uses the same design as Sony's previous XBR direct-views from the past several years and remains among our favorites. It is a universal model with some of the key buttons illuminated for use in the dark and secondary controls stashed behind a flip-up lid.
On the other hand, the internal menu system has been completely redesigned. We found it cleaner and more intuitive than previous iterations, with all the functions highlighted in orange. The menu bar is now vertically oriented, which makes navigation even easier.Aside from the standard features such as three selectable color temperatures, four preset picture modes, and two-tuner PIP (picture-in-picture), the XBR960 adds two key performance features. Finally, Sony has seen fit to implement true independent memory per input, which allows you to optimize all inputs separately without having to change modes for each input. Secondly, the user menu contains a setting for accurate color decoding (see for more).
The KD-34XBR960's aspect-ratio control also deserves kudos. The set offers four choices for both standard- and high-definition sources; many wide-screen HDTVs can't control high-def aspect ratios at all.
Like most 2004 HDTVs above a certain screen size, the KD-34XBR960 comes equipped with both a built-in HDTV tuner and a CableCard slot, which allows for digital and HDTV cable reception without a cable TV set-top box. (As with other so-equipped TVS, this digital-cable-ready feature isn't as valuable as it should be, since the card does not allow essential conveniences such as an EPG or video-on-demand.) On the audio side, there are True Surround and Simulated Surround modes to enhance the stereo audio, as well as a built-in subwoofer.