While flat-panel plasma and LCD TVs are on everybody's wish lists this year, they still cost a bundle and generally don't deliver the same level of picture quality as tube-based models. Sony's least expensive 2003 HDTV-capable set, the KV-32HS510, demonstrates that plasma and LCD still have some catching up to do. At a little more than $1,000 in stores and online, this excellent performer is in the same price league as the 32-inch non-wide-screen HDTVs from most other manufacturers. It offers a deep feature set, a long list of inputs, and--at least among bulky tubes--an eye-catching design. If you value a sweet picture over the thin-screen aesthetic and you don't want a wide-screen TV, the HS510 is a good choice. Among the legions of me-too direct-view TVs, the HS510 is quite a looker. A charcoal border frames the tube's flat glass. The bulk of the exterior, including two speakers that curve forward toward the viewer, is silver. The $249 matching stand complements the set's striking appearance.
You'll have a hard time wall-mounting this 32-incher. It's 24 inches deep and, thanks to those wide speakers, slightly larger than most tube-based TVs. Weighing 176 pounds, it's also somewhat heavier.
We're big fans of the included remote. Its slick thumb joystick allowed us to navigate the menus and access most of the set's functions by feel. The buttons glow in the dark, and their simple layout should enable the whole family to operate the control. Sony hid the less-used keys--those that command other A/V components--beneath a flip-up panel. Our major complaint has to do with changing inputs: we had to keep pressing TV/Video to cycle through them all. The HS510's daunting feature list should please just about everybody (except, of course, wide-screen buffs). First off, the set can display 1080i resolution when paired with an external high-definition TV source, and 480p or 960i resolution when you're viewing DVDs or standard television signals.
According to our size calculator, the 32-inch 4:3 screen puts up a rather diminutive 29-inch wide-screen picture, so if you watch a lot of DVD movies or HDTV, we recommend getting a wide-screen model instead. Sony tried to bridge the size gap, however, with the Vertical Compression mode, which significantly improves resolution with wide-screen DVDs and HDTV. The mode automatically engages when the set detects wide-screen material.
The menu system is crammed with options. Along with the progressive and interlaced video-processing settings, you get CineMotion with 3:2 pull-down, which eliminates the motion artifacts in film-based content such as most DVD movies. Three color-temperature presets and five adjustable picture modes are available. Pro mode, for example, makes the picture look more accurate. Happily, we were able to completely turn off the scan-velocity modulation, which would have marred the image by introducing excessive outlines.
Unlike most of today's high-end sets, the HS510 doesn't have inputs with individual memory; they can't each have their own contrast, brightness, and other picture settings. While the picture modes are adjustable, you still have to manually select the appropriate mode when you switch inputs.
We like the split-screen picture-in-picture feature. It works with DVD and HDTV sources, too, allowing side-by-side display of any two inputs. We're indifferent to the front-panel slot for Memory Sticks, Sony's digital-camera media. To view photos on the HS510, you pop in the storage card. You can also just plug your camera or camcorder into the A/V input on the front of the unit.
Around back, an HDCP-equipped DVI jack ensures compatibility with next-generation HDTV receivers and DVD players, while a pair of wideband component-video inputs serves today's gear. The HS510 accepts A/V on three standard connections (two with S-Video), which are joined by a monitor A/V output. For RF, you get a pair of ins and one out. The HS510 delivers a great picture. Video processing is top-notch; our test patterns revealed excellent detection of film-based material, and we saw smooth lines in the opening pan of Star Trek: Insurrection. Our major complaint is that the color decoding isn't as good as it should be right out of the box.
Prior to calibrating the HS510, we set it to the warmest color-temperature preset and selected the Pro picture mode. At that point, the grayscale measured 6,406K at the bottom and 6,177K at the top. While those readings are quite close to the NTSC standard of 6,500K, we were able to adjust the color temperature to achieve nearly perfect scores: 6,450K at the bottom and 6,500K at the top.
Unfortunately, the picture still looked too red. When we checked the color-decoder pattern using the Avia test disc, we discovered a significant red push of 15 percent, which made everyone look really sunburned. Using color filters and the set's Service menu, however, we were able to entirely eliminate the "Minnesotan in Florida" effect. The result was rich, well-saturated colors.
The HS510 showed its true colors on the Tears of the Sun DVD. During the helicopter flyover, complex variations of green tinged the jungle canopy. As the chopper sets down, the grass parts, and the blades were sharp and well detailed, with hints of brown beneath. Adjusting the color decoder really paid off in skin-tone accuracy. In one scene, Monica Bellucci blushes, and her cheeks reddened while the rest of her face remained pale.
The set also did an exemplary job with black reproduction. Regardless of the brightness of surrounding images, blacks were consistently inky. We saw a wealth of detail in the dark interior of one of the African huts; we could make out the features of the idol in the shadows.
Watching baseball highlights on ESPN HD, we saw good detail and vibrant colors, but the high-definition image looked only slightly sharper than DVD. The relatively small tube just doesn't have the resolution to convey all the detail of high def.
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