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Sony's midsized, 51-inch, $2,199 (list) KP-51WS500 can handle HDTV and comes with a boatload of new features. For its size and price, this set offers entr&3233;e into the wide-screen world of 16:9 television--the ideal screen shape for watching high-definition programming and DVDs. While this Sony doesn't quite measure up to sets such as Hitachi's 51SWX20B in terms of performance, the KP-51WS500 will put you into the wide-screen HDTV world for a reasonable price. How do you deliver the big, rear-projection picture but hide all the bulk that it requires? Sony has done a nice job with the KP-51WS500. The screen fills out the upper portion of the chassis nearly to the edges, and the sleek, silver frame creates an illusion of thinness. The speakers are built into the base under a gray, cloth cover. Front controls run down the center of the area beneath the screen, and the front inputs are stashed to the lower-left side under a flip-open door--an arrangement that seems unobtrusive and sensible for temporary hookups.
The menu system is very intuitive and direct; it doesn't block the image during setup, and it doesn't disappear too soon. This makes quick work of accessing the many options. Since universal remotes can become intimidating with all those keys for operating various components, the one included with the 51WS500 has a panel that conceals all but the most important buttons. The remote is not backlit, but the principal keys glow in the dark.
As this set is one of Sony's Hi-Scan TVs, it can display 1080i--the most common HDTV format--and convert 720p HDTV into 1080i, although you'll need a separate tuner to receive high-definition programs. The 51SW500's performance features include three color-temperature settings and DRC (Digital Reality Creation) MultiFunction, which allows unprecedented adjustment of how you view your standard-definition source material.
According to Sony, DRC converts the incoming signal to a higher scan rate via digital mapping, which creates up to four times the data available for display. You can choose among Interlaced, Progressive, and CineMotion options. Interlaced mode will convert standard-definition 480i sources up to 960i, while Progressive converts them to 480p. CineMotion converts sources to 480p and adds reverse 3:2 pull-down, which helps to eliminate artifacts created in the transfer of film to video.
In a new twist for 2002 models, you can optimize the DRC processing, depending on the quality of the input source--and your penchant for fine-tuning--and save the adjustments in one of three memory slots. Basically, you move a cursor around a little graph with axes marked reality and clarity. Although the effects are subtle, they can be useful for cleaning up a noisy cable signal or softening an overly sharp DVD. The 51WS500 also offers four memory slots that save the changes you make to brightness, contrast, and other picture parameters.
Since this is a 16:9 set, there are four options for filling the screen when the source material isn't wide-screen: Normal, for watching 4:3 material with gray bars on the left and right; Wide Zoom, which fills the screen by expanding the sides of the image more than the middle; Full, which stretches the image horizontally; and Zoom, for enlarging the picture both horizontally and vertically to fill the screen. Sony has included clear explanations onscreen when you highlight these options--a nice touch.
As noted, the speaker system is built into the pedestal and features two 20-watt speakers with TruSurround and SRS 3D Surround Sound effects. A dual-view, two-tuner, picture-in-picture feature is also on hand and offers two side-by-side windows or the standard smaller inset window. There are three composite-video jacks, two S-Video inputs (one front), two component-video inputs, and two RF inputs. Sony also includes a DVI-HDTV input, a multipin jack that delivers encrypted, high-definition video to the set. You'll need an HDTV tuner with a DVI output to take advantage of this digital connection.
We took a reading of the color temperatures in the Pro and Warm modes and found the factory settings to be fairly close to the standard. However, they were a bit uneven, with a decided push toward blue at higher light-output levels. A look at the color bars through a filter showed inconsistent saturation (for example, intensity) levels in the red and green channels. However, this set has an adjustable color decoder that can deliver much more consistent reds and greens when it's calibrated by a qualified technician.
Since convergence adjustments are automatic, this Sony has no user controls for tweaking the alignment of the tubes. Viewing a convergence pattern showed errors--namely blue and red shadows around the white lines. Still, the KP-51WS500 looked good out of the box after minor tweaks, and the set got appropriate light output.
With rear-projection sets, it is best to sit with your eye level to the center of the screen. That seating position proved very true with this 51-inch model--off-axis angles caused color shifts and loss of brightness. This set's thick, nonremovable, protective screen also reflects a lot of ambient light. Under optimal viewing conditions, however, the image remains strong from narrow angles.
The KP-51WS500 performed admirably on movie material. In The Scorpion King, scenes in the desert were very three-dimensional and displayed good color gradation between the backdrop and the skin tones. There was a visible softness to edges--perhaps due to the convergence problems--but images were mostly solid with better than average detail, particularly in dark scenes and black areas.