Sony's tube-based HDTV-compatible TVs have been favorites here at CNET for a while, and we gave this television's predecessor, the KV-32HS510, an Editors' Choice award last year. The 2004 KV-32HS420 does away with the 510's black-on-silver cabinet and settles for a pure silver look, but in most other ways, the sets are mirror images of one another. As the company's entry-level, 32-inch, high-def-compatible TV, it competes with televisions such as the Toshiba 32HF73, the Samsung TX-P3264, and the Panasonic CT-32HL44.
Among high-def compatible TVs, the standard 4:3 aspect ratio screen is a disappearing breed. The fact remains, however, that most TV shows still appear in 4:3, non-wide-screen format, and sets like the KV-32HS420 are ideally suited to display them without those pesky letterbox bars. For that reason and others, standard-screen sets still appeal to a lot of folks. If you decide you want a wide-screen set in this price range, however, look for something like the Sony or the Samsung .
This set suffers from the same malady that affects all of its direct-view CRT brethren: bulk. It measures 35 by 28 by 24 (WHD) inches and weighs a cool 168 pounds. Naturally, Sony offers a matching stand (model SU-32HX1, $249 list). The TV's design is attractive enough, as long as you like silver, with the flat glass of the tube surrounded by a good two inches of cabinet on all sides.
The 32HS420 lacks some of the features found on step-up wide-screen HDTVs in Sony's lineup, such as PIP (picture-in-picture) and built-in HDTV tuners, but it does include some of the most important picture quality features. First on the list is vertical compression, which enables the set to display the full detail of anamorphic DVDs. Naturally they, and all wide-screen material, appear letterboxed on the 4:3 screen and measure at most 29 inches diagonal. Although it lacks independent input memories, the set does include four adjustable picture presets, three color temperature presets, and, of course, 2:3 pull-down detection in its video processing when CineMotion is selected.
Around back, the connection bay has everything you need for external HDTV or DVD sources, including an HDMI input. Also on the list is a pair of broadband component-video inputs, three other A/V inputs (two with S-Video), an RF input for antenna/cable, an A/V monitor output, and another A/V input with S-Video behind a flip-down front-panel door.
As with its predecessor, the 32HS420 delivered an outstanding overall picture in our tests. Sure, its relatively small screen couldn't deliver all of the detail of HDTV. In fact, HDTV didn't look discernibly more detailed than DVD. But we expected as much from a 4:3 tube at this size. Being a tube, it also suffered from less-than-perfect geometry (the edges appeared a bit bowed), and the entire screen was rotated a degree or so clockwise, but the latter problem was easily rectified using the menu's tilt correction setting.
During dark scenes, the 32HS420 produced deep blacks and plenty of shadow detail. We watched the Pirates of the Caribbean DVD and saw numerous examples: as Keira Knightley lies in bed, we could see even the dimmest parts of her hair, and the black of the headboard behind her looked suitably inky. Her face also had a natural, healthy glow in the candlelight--a result of the color decoder fix we applied during calibration. Without the fix, the 32HS420's subpar color decoding, its main weakness, tinged everything red.