At long last, prices are starting to drop on wide-screen, direct-view HDTVs, and Sony is thankfully following suit. The 34-inch, HDTV-ready KV-34XBR800 is priced in the same ballpark as competing sets, such as the Toshiba 34HDX82 and the Panasonic CT-34WX52. Its solid feature package and impressive performance make this wide-screen beauty an exceptional overall value, which is something that we're not used to saying about Sony TVs. The sleek, attractive 34XBR800 has a perfectly flat screen surrounded by a high-tech, silver finish. Ultrafine, perforated grilles camouflage the speakers to the left and right sides of the display. For the ultimate in TV chic, you can buy a matching silver stand for $399.
Sony's ergonomically friendly remote is one of the best that we've used. It's not backlit, although some of the most commonly used buttons--such as Volume and Channel--glow in the dark. A hinged panel hides the majority of buttons and leaves only the important ones exposed, which can make operation less intimidating for tech-impaired members of the family. The hidden buttons are used to control other brands of VCRs, DVD players, and satellite receivers. The 34XBR800's generous jack pack consists of two sets of broadband component-video inputs with stereo audio; three A/V inputs with stereo audio, two of which support S-Video; one DVI input; one set of monitor outputs (composite video only); one set of variable-audio outputs; two RF inputs; and one RF loop out. The DVI input is intended for next-generation HDTV tuners that employ the Hollywood-sanctioned High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection copy-protection scheme. The front-panel A/V input has both composite and S-Video connections.
Sony's DRC video processing includes the important 3:2 pull-down feature, which reduces artifacts in film-based material such as DVDs. Thankfully, scan-velocity modulation, a nasty edge-enhancement circuit, is completely defeatable in the user menu. The 34XBR800 sports three selectable color-temperature settings and four picture presets, each of which can store your adjustments to contrast, brightness, and so on. The set's four aspect ratios include a pair of zoom modes for blowing up standard 4:3 material to fill the wide screen.
In case you have a Sony Memory Stick filled with digital pictures, the 34XRR800 has a front-panel slot that lets you view your photos on the big screen. Twin-view, two-tuner picture-in-picture can place two identically sized 4:3 images side by side. A simulated surround mode--called TruSurround--and a 15-watt-per-channel internal amplifier give the set some audio muscle. Out of the box, the color temperature was mediocre as expected, and even the warm setting was extremely blue. We performed a full ISF-style calibration and were pleased to find new color-decoder tweaks in the service menu that allowed us to fix the red push, which greatly improved color accuracy.
Geometry and convergence were both unusually good for a tube this size. Although some reports complain of softening toward the sides of the screen, the image on our review sample remained sharp across its entire width.
We did have a couple of complaints. While each of the picture presets did save custom adjustments, we would have preferred those custom modes to be automatically associated with the inputs. The way it stands, you have to change modes when you switch inputs if you want them to match up. Although the 3:2 pull-down worked well to eliminate artifacts, we discovered that it's not active by default; you must go into the menu and select CineMotion to engage this feature.
We sat back and enjoyed some scenes from Lord of the Rings using a Denon DVD-1600 player. The scene in chapter 2 when Frodo meets Gandalf in the meadow was particularly impressive. The greens in the grass and trees and the blue sky were incredibly rich and saturated, thanks to the color-decoder fix, and the detail was also quite good.