As if the confusion over new HDTV technology isn't enough, a new term or technology is unleashed on the unsuspecting TV shopper seemingly every other week. This week's flavor is 3LCD, and it's available in Sony's entry-level 50-inch 2005 Grand WEGA, the KDF-E50A10 ($2,499 list). Grand WEGA is Sony's name for its LCD-based rear-projection HDTVs, and 3LCD is likewise nothing new. It just means that the television's picture originates from a set of three LCD chips as opposed to the single-chip design used in competing DLP (digital light processing) HDTVs. LCD and DLP both have their pros and cons, and while we generally prefer DLP, LCD has made some strides over the last couple years. The Sony KDF-E50A10 exhibits a few of these improvements as well as a solid feature set, a reasonable price tag, a refreshingly compact frame, and the company nameplate--a combination sure to place it high on the big-screen popularity list.
The design of the Sony KDF-E50A10 is compact and basic, although it has a little more pizzazz than last year's entry-level 50-incher, the KDF-WE655. The screen is surrounded by a black bezel with a thin silver-gray border on the top, left, and right sides and a larger silver border on the bottom. An opening that runs the width of the television along the bottom (we were reminded of a jet fighter's air intake) conceals a pair of speakers.
Moving the speakers down to the bottom allows the company to shave off a lot of width and owners to shoehorn this big screen into smaller spaces. With measurements of approximately 47 by 33 by 16 inches, the Sony KDF-E50A10's cabinet is smaller than that of just about any 50-inch rear-projector we've seen, and it tips the scales at a featherweight 73 pounds. Sony also offers a matching stand, model SU-RG11M, for $299.
The remote control has undergone a redesign--for the worse. This is the first time we've ever had to consult a manual to locate the TV's Settings menu button. Some genius decided to replace it with a WEGA Gate button that brings up a variety of choices, of which Settings gets you into the A/V menu system. While the idea of a central home page for major controls may be good in some ways, naming it WEGA Gate is not. The Gate also offers access to cable, antenna, and external inputs, and the menu system itself is clearly designed and easy to navigate.
The three LCD panels used in the Sony KDF-E50A10 each have a native resolution of 1,280x720 pixels--down from last year's models, which had a native res of 1,366x768. This change should be of no concern since the set will do a good job displaying 720p HD signals, as our tests verified. All other input sources, including 1080i HDTV, DVD, and standard-definition television, are scaled to fit the native pixels.
Sony included a few conveniences but left a couple notables off the list. Of course, the KDF-E50A10 includes the federally mandated ASTC tuner, and like most HDTVs this year, it's also Digital Cable Ready. However, it lacks the TV Guide onscreen EPG included on a lot of competing sets, which isn't a huge loss in our book since TV Guide hasn't exactly performed as promised in our tests. We also noticed that Sony left out picture-in-picture in this model. The aspect-ratio control offers three choices with high-def and four with standard-def sources.
The KDF-E50A10 does include three picture presets (Sony dropped the Pro mode available on last year's model) that can each be modified for contrast, brightness, and so on. Since the KDF-E50A10 remembers which preset you last used with each input, this basically means you get three independent input memory slots for each input, so you can adjust each input for different lighting environments, for example. We also found more than a few picture-affecting tweaks that are not just questionable--they can really wreak havoc on picture quality (more in Performance).
As an entry-level HDTV, the KDF-E50A10 receives only one HDMI input, but the remainder of its connectivity suite is perfectly adequate. On the lower-left side sits a set of A/V inputs with composite and--surprise--wideband component video instead of S-Video, perhaps as a nod to the HD-capable Sony PlayStation 3. On the rear, we discovered two more component-video inputs, one S-Video input, and two composite-video inputs, each with their own stereo audio jacks. New for this year, Sony finally included an analog 15-pin VGA style RGB input for computer hookups. Rounding out the jack pack is one cable and one antenna RF input as well as a set of variable audio outputs.
Sony offers this television in one other screen size: the 42-inch KDF-E42A10. The company's step-up KDF-EA20 lineup includes two larger sets: the 55-inch KDF-E55A20 and the 60-inch KDF-E60A20. While they include a few features these models lack, such as picture-in-picture and 1,366x768 LCD panels, they also drop a few features, such as the side component-video input and the PC input.
Overall, the Sony KDF-E50A10 offers very good picture quality for the money. Its strengths include a sharp 720p image and deep black levels for an LCD, but inaccurate color decoding and other minor gripes keep it from earning a higher rating.
Out of the box, the set exhibited some of the worst color decoding, namely red push, we've seen in a while. Fortunately, this can be fixed in the service menu, but with a TV in this price range, we doubt that many buyers will pay the $400 or so it costs for professional calibration. As with all LCD-based RPTVs, white-field uniformity across the screen was relatively poor compared to that of DLP; we saw faint blue and red blotches appearing in bright white material in some sections of the screen. We also noticed the tell-tale screen-door effect of visible pixels when we sat closer than about eight feet.
DVDs looked better after our somewhat unsuccessful ISF-style calibration. Fortunately, the preset color temperature of Warm II is reasonably accurate, tracking at about 7,500 Kelvin across the grayscale. We were able to improve that dramatically from the middle to the top of the scale, but the bottom end was distinctly minus blue (see the Geek box for more).
As we mentioned in Features, there are a couple of picture-affecting tweaks that can really harm image quality, but happily, you can turn them off. Let's start with Live Color, which makes the already atrocious color decoding even worse. The Clear White feature looked as though it simply made the grayscale bluer as you went up the scale from off to high; we recommend you set both of these features to off. We noted that among the four available choices for Gamma, the Low setting produced the most accurate gamma curve. The Black Corrector feature also affects gamma, and the Low setting again seemed to yield the best results.
After setup, we were left with an impressive picture. The Sony KDF-E50A10's black-level performance is its strongest suit, although it's still not as good as that of last year's 720p DLP RPTVs, such as Samsung's HLP-5085W and Mitsubishi's WD-52525. The opening scenes of the Alien DVD revealed clean blacks with very little low-level noise, which not long ago was a major issue with LCD-based displays. The Superbit version of the Vertical Limit DVD looked good, with strong color saturation and plenty of detail. With the CineMotion setting engaged, the television did a good job of eliminating artifacts in film-based material.
The Sony KDF-E50A10 did a solid job of displaying most of the resolution of a 720p resolution test pattern from our Sencore VP403 signal generator into the HDMI input, which is something many RPTVs have had trouble with. HD material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked good. Colors were deeply saturated, skin tones were rendered naturally, and detail was also commendable.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,600/7,300K||*Average*|
|After color temp (20/80)||5,125/6,425K||*Poor*|
|Before grayscale variation||± 786K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||± 608K||*Poor*|
|Color decoder error: red||+15% (0%)||Poor|
|Color decoder error: green||-5% (-5%)||Good|
|DC restoration||No patterns stable||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|