Even as analog TV eases its way into the sunset, manufacturers are still offering high-end TVs that look great but can't display the latest high-definition and progressive-scan sources. Sony's best analog direct-view television, the 36-inch flat-screen Trinitron WEGA KV-36FV300, is a perfect example. It provides an excellent picture on a flat screen and can even take advantage of anamorphic DVDs with its 16:9 Enhanced mode. This set's biggest downside is a list price ($1,499) that puts you in the entry market for digital and HDTV products. If you want a nice, 36-inch picture but don't want to spring a few hundred dollars extra for an HDTV-ready digital set, the KV-36FV300 is as good as it gets. The 36FV300 is a handsome silver unit in the new Arc design that features the speakers built into the left and right side panels and curved in toward the sitting position. The perfectly flat picture tube helps reduce glare from room lighting and looks good even when turned off.
With an easy-to-navigate menu system, tweaking this set to our liking was a breeze. The silver remote has a joystick to work the menus, relatively few buttons, and no backlighting, though the principal keys do glow in the dark. A flip-up door hides the remainder of the buttons, which can be used to control other A/V gear. This top-of-the-line model is packed with features, but the killer app has to be the 16:9 Enhanced feature. It enables the set to display the full vertical resolution of anamorphic (enhanced for wide screen) DVD movie material, which is a net gain of 25 percent more picture information (scan lines) on your screen.
For video performance, this set has a full suite of enhancements. Three key settings are selectable: color temperature (neutral, cool, warm), ClearEdge VM (velocity modulation; low, high, off), and DynaBlack (low, high, off). It's great to have these aspects under your control. The warm color temperature delivered the truest color settings, ClearEdge we set to Off to retain full resolution, and DynaBlack we also left off--booster circuits always have drawbacks. You can ignore these or tweak this set to your heart's content; that's the way it should be.
The picture modes (Vivid, Sports, Movie, Standard) each provide different levels for contrast, brightness, and other settings. But each mode can be tweaked and will remain in memory--that's nice if you want different settings to accommodate different lighting conditions or input sources. Additionally, a 3D Comb Filter is on hand for cleaning up composite video sources, and a two-tuner PIP lets you be a voyeur for other programs in an inset window.
The audio package includes TruSurround with SRS 3D effect and WOW listening settings, 7.5 watts x 2 for the side speakers, and a separate 15-watt subwoofer, making the 36KV300 an excellent choice if you don't plan to connect an external sound system. Two additions help you enjoy the full experience without annoyances: the Steady Sound circuit that tones down loud commercials and an included pair of wireless headphones that enable unencumbered viewing during quiet times.
There's also a nice offering of inputs here, including three composite, two S-Video (one front), one component video, and two RF. For testing, we set the Sony in warm color temperature, used the Video Essentials disc to adjust the color, contrast, and brightness, and then took a look. While our color analyzer showed the warm setting to be somewhat higher (bluer) than the ideal, it was definitely better than the majority of TVs and remained consistent across the range of light output in both the Standard and Movie modes. Measurements also showed that the KV-36FV300 was not pushing contrast beyond proper performance levels, which is good news for the life of your picture tube. The color decoder also didn't push red too significantly, but the reds in general did look the tiniest bit too orange.
We watched the DVD of Monsters, Inc. in the 16:9 Enhanced mode, with black bars above and below the picture, and it looked impressively sharp and three-dimensional. The anamorphic image provided excellent detail, very good color reproduction, and deep blacks, for a natural-looking overall effect that really popped. On the downside, we did notice scan lines when sitting close to the screen, which is a problem with any analog, nonprogressive-scan set.