Sony's latest and greatest direct-view HDTV, the KV-34XBR910, is our new favorite direct-view CRT television. The secret to its sharp HDTV pictures is its Super Fine Pitch screen, which gives the 910 better resolution than any other model in its class. The TV's only major downside is its hefty size: this 34-inch wide-screen set weighs nearly 200 pounds. So no, you can't hang it on the wall. But a comparatively low price--less than $2,000 from some online retailers--makes the 910 irresistible to people who value image quality above everything else. Let's get the size issue out of the way: the 910 is the largest 34-inch TV we've ever seen. It weighs 199 pounds and measures 26.1 inches deep, so you'll need lots of help getting it upstairs and onto a table or a stand. Sony offers an optional matching stand for a list price of $349.
While we consider the set's exterior attractive, it's also designed to enhance performance. The black of the screen's frame helps convince the eye that the contrast ratio is higher, so you perceive better image quality. Only the front's edges are finished in silver. Along the bottom of the face, you'll find the power button, a flip-up door hiding A/V inputs and a few controls, and a Memory Stick slot for displaying digital photos from Sony cameras.
We really like the remote control. While only the most commonly used keys glow in the dark, the buttons are logically arranged and finger-friendly. Unfortunately, you can't access inputs directly; you have to cycle through them by pressing TV/Video. But they are renameable and deletable. The remote can command your satellite or cable box, as well as four other A/V components from different manufacturers. The straightforward menu system will appeal to experts and novices alike. Sony packed lots of features into its top-of-the-line tube, but you'll still need an external tuner to watch HDTV. This set can directly accept 1080i and 480p video but converts 720p HDTV to 1080i. Sony's built-in Digital Reality Creation (DRC) processor scales standard television signals from cable, satellite, VHS, and so on to your choice of either 480p or 960i.
The CineMotion DRC setting engages the set's important 2:3 pull-down processing, which cleans up film-based material such as DVD movies. Other performance features include a 3D-YC comb filter for cable, VHS, and other composite-video sources; your choice of the Cool, Neutral, and Warm color temperatures; and four selectable aspect ratios that work with standard and 480p sources. The 910 doesn't allow you to change aspect when you're watching HDTV.
Our biggest complaint here (and with Sony TVs in general) is with the lack of fully independent input memory slots. Yes, the four picture modes are adjustable, so you can store different settings for each source. But switching inputs doesn't automatically change the mode, so matching it to the source or the room's light is pretty inconvenient.
Sony did throw in a host of other conveniences. The dual-tuner picture-in-picture function can place a standard and a high-definition source side by side on the screen but won't work with two HD sources. You also get the usual tuner and sound extras, such as favorite-channel lists and simulated surround.
The 910's jack pack overlooks no inputs. Two sets of wideband component connections and a DVI port with HDCP copy protection take care of HDTV and DVD sources. There are four sets of A/V inputs: one on the front (for video games and camcorders) and two on the back have S-Video; the remaining back-panel hookup has only composite video. You also get two RF ins. Finally, you'll find one set of monitor A/V outputs with composite video, as well as one set of variable-audio outs.
Those looking for a smaller screen can step down to the KV-30XBR910. It offers the same features and similar performance but slightly lower resolution. The 910 sets a new overall performance benchmark for wide-screen direct-view HDTVs. The big news is the resolution of the new Super Fine Pitch screen: 1,401 horizontal lines, according to Sony. The 910 still can't display every pixel of true 1,920x1,080 (1080i) high-definition TV, but it comes far closer than any other direct-view tube we've tested.
Multiburst patterns from the 1080i D-VHS version of Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials, as well as from our Acuppel HDTV signal generator, confirmed the accuracy of Sony's claim. Compared with the , the 910 showed 60 percent more horizontal resolution, and after proper calibration, the difference was easily discernible with HDTV. One caveat: Do not bump the Contrast/Picture parameter too high. If you do, the resolution will not realize its full potential. With HDTV sources, we ended up with a setting of about 30 percent, which produced approximately 18 footlamberts. That brightness is fine for viewing the TV in dim rooms with the lights off. For DVD and other sources, we were able to switch to around 40 percent and get a significantly brighter picture.
At the Warm color-temperature setting, the precalibration grayscale measured 7,650K at the bottom end and a bluer 8,275K near the top. Calibration improved the respective numbers to 6,500K (a perfect score) and 6,550K, and the set was almost flawless up and down the rest of the scale. The color decoder exhibits severe red push out of the box, so skin looks a little too red at first, but a qualified technician can solve the problem in the service menu. That fix will combine with a corrected grayscale to produce awesome color saturation and incredibly natural-looking skin tones.
The video processing is good. Just be careful to engage 2:3 pull-down for film-based material by selecting CineMotion in the user menu. We still recommend a good progressive-scan DVD player; it should outperform DRC. After a full calibration, montages from the Digital Video Essentials DVD looked absolutely spectacular, as did Monsters, Inc., Charlotte Gray, and other DVDs.
We connected our JVC to the set's HDTV component-video input, and the results looked even more jaw-dropping than DVD. On Ice Age, we watched the squirrel move through snow and ice in the opening minutes, and we made out an incredible amount of fine detail. Color saturation was superb, and detail was as good as we've seen from any direct-view HDTV--period.