Sony KV-34XBR910 Wega XBR 34-inch HDTV 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs CRT TVs
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Sunday, 01 February 2004

Sony XBR tube televisions have long been the reference standard for the highest-performance sets widely available to consumers. Today, as HDTV sales boom and digital television sets have gotten thinner than Paris Hilton turned sideways, the Sony line of WEGA XBR tube HDTV sets still sets an impressive standard for NTSC and HDTV performance at a very fair price.

I recently designed a theater for my bedroom, which is centered in a built-in cabinet much like home theater systems installed in living rooms through the country. I had the width for a 42-inch plasma and I shopped for such a set voraciously. However, I found that I wasn’t impressed with the contrast and black levels of those sets, especially in imperfect environments where ambient light could seep in to the room. The plasmas looked washed out and dull. At the time (just a few months ago), LCD sets showed incredible promise and, at this winter's CES show, LCD sets were impressively on display at many booths. However, the cost for a 40-inch LCD HDTV set was many thousands of dollars more than a 34-inch XBR. When it came down to it, I sought the advice of Tan Dwong at AV City in West Los Angeles as to what to buy. He is a partner in the retail store and has a working knowledge of the best TVs on the market like few other people I have met. I was looking for the best possible picture I could get for the money and I needed the inside scoop. Dwong informed me of a new tube set from Sony in the XBR line that had a number of new performance tweaks but was similar to the 34-inch HDTV tube set for $7,000 that had reviewed a few years back. The trick was now it cost $2,300 and was even better than the earlier version.

A few days later the brand new set arrived in the showroom and was calibrated. There was no competition for the KV34XBR910 in the entire showroom at any price. The KV34XBR910 was able to reproduce colors from DVDs and movies in ways that no other set could, especially the plasmas and LCDs. Having become used to my large-scale D-ILA projector and its ultra-bright projector, I could appreciate the deep blacks on the XBR. They make for the basis of a great picture and, when correctly calibrated, this set could really make a sweet image. I bought it on the spot.

Set-up and Installation
While the picture of the KV34XBR910 is better than any plasma I have ever seen, it certainly takes more effort and thought to get installed in your house. Currently, Sony is running a promotion where they are giving away a matching stand for the set for free. While this promo is unlikely to last forever, the idea of plunking this gigantic television on a stand is a very appealing one. The set weights over 200 pounds and needs two very strong people to lift it. I might even recommend a third person to help guide the set to its final location.

I have a very deep opening in the center of my cabinet, which allowed me the luxury of affording such a large set. Being concerned about the weight of the television, I called my cabinet maker back out to my house, where he told me that his woodworking would easily support such a portly TV. The set arrived the next day and the very strong installation team from AV City (I am not crazy enough to try to lift the TV myself) gently slid the set into an opening that was perfectly sized for the unit.

By turning the set sideways, I was able to drop cables from my DSS receiver with TiVo, HDTV receiver and AV receiver (located on a shelf directly above) right into the set. I was most impressed to see a DVI input on the side of the set, but the sources I had with DVI outputs are already installed in the big rack of my main home theater. I could see an upgrade in the works already. It couldn’t have taken me 10 minutes to get the set plugged in, connected and working for satellite TV, DVDs and HDTV and even with the window shades open a mere 10 feet away, I was impressed with the brightness and contrast of the set.

In the next week or two, I worked with Joe Kane’s new Digital Video Essentials DVD to find a little more performance and longevity from my set. The KV34XBR910 has a vast array of menu options that a professional video guru can use to truly fine-tune your set. The DVE disc allowed me some insights into how to make my colors truer and my blacks blacker. At $25, this disc is an absolute must-have for home theater enthusiasts. The difference I was able to get from the set from my playing with the new DVE DVD was notable and worth many times more than the price I paid for it. Ultimately, I will likely have a professional video guru who uses sophisticated light measurement tools and other set-up software to tweak my XBR further, but even now, jaded video expert friends of mine rave at the picture of this set in its current state.

Some of the more interesting technologies found on the set includes super-fine-pitch CRT technology, which was explained to me by Tan as a way to get the picture elements of the CRT technology as much as 10 percent closer than past XBR sets, resulting in an even smoother picture. There is a new anti-reflective coating on the WEGA flat screen that helps to cut down on the effects of ambient light with the set. There are seven main inputs into the television, not that you will need that many but they are there. If you are feeling a little like Rob Lowe with your digital camera, there is a slot where you can input a memory card with pictures or video and easily play them back on your big bright screen.

This set has a DVI input, which you can connect a modern HDTV receiver like the Sony HD300 or a DVI DVD player like the one sold directly from V Inc. for $199. This is a very powerful feature, which allows you to get some of the best video possible directly into your set with the least analog molestation. For a number of reasons, including a better picture and less fan noise, I will be upgrading my Sony HD100 HDTV receiver to a more modern unit in the coming months, which will be used in conjunction with the DVI input. With CRT tube sets making their last run in a digital world, the fact this set has a DVI input is a very big plus.

The Picture
Most of what I watch is prerecorded on TiVo, which is something of a shame, because the compression of TiVo negatively affects the picture of such a gorgeous set. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow me to really get home in time to watch the best in primetime and HDTV programming. Even when fed with the compressed TiVo signal, the KV34XBR910 looks great. The colors of animated shows like “South Park” and “Family Guy” are vivid and the blacks look better than on most plasmas.

One of the improvements I found on this set vs. the generation-one Sony Plasma my father bought for his house in Arizona was the zoom feature. Even if you are an HDTV junkie, it is likely that more than half of the TV that you watch is broadcast in 4:3 aspect ratio. In the old days, as with my Dad’s plasma, the zoom feature that allowed you to stretch a 4:3 picture into a 16:9 screen made the picture look unwatchable. This is not the case with this Sony set. With one hit of a very well-designed remote control, I can zoom in on a 4:3 picture and make it fill a 16:9 screen in a number of effective ways. The version I use most is “zoom,” which cuts off a little of the perimeter of the screen but doesn’t seem to distort or stretch the picture in any noticeable way. There is a problem with this feature for some content, however. If you are watching Headline News or a sporting event with a ticket at the bottom or scores at the top of the screen, you might cut them off by zooming in on your screen. Movie buffs might also want to avoid zooming in on a 4:3 movie, as it might cut off even more of the original content. For me, when watching my favorite shows like “Crank Yankers” on Comedy Central or “Molto Mario” on the Food Network, the zoom feature is very useful.

Movies look awesome on the Sony KV34XBR910. My video reference standard has become my Madrigal Imaging D-ILA projector with a Faroudja NRS native rate video processor, all set up by video guru William Phelps. The system is very bright and very resolute but it simply cannot keep up with this Sony set in terms of blacks and contrast. On the 1977 hockey spoof “Slap Shot” (Universal) on DVD, you can clearly see the subtle differences between the vivid blue of the jerseys on the Hanson brothers against the bright white of the ice. You can see the slight skate marks on the ice, as well as the tiny marks on the boards of the rink. On a digital set, these kinds of subtleties tend to look more blurred. On the KV34XBR910, the images are bright, resolute and impressive. What was even more impressive was how smooth “Slap Shot” looked. If you really nerded out up close to the screen, you could see what looks to be the grain of the actual film. However, if you sit back, the CRT system has the ability to make a very smooth, very cinema-like picture.

Color accuracy is another area in which the Sony KV34XBR910 excels. On “Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me” (New Line), before the predictably bombastic intro dance sequence, Dr. Evil’s gigantic Bob’s Big Boy spaceship contrasts fantastically with the beaming blue Earth in the background. Right after Austin figures out that Vanessa (Liz Hurley) is in fact a fembot, the DVD puts the Sony KV34XBR910 to the test as Austin struts (naked, unfortunately) through the lobby of what looks to be a casino hotel in Monaco. At one point, he jumps into a pool to meet up with synchronized swimmers. Even under water, the colors are bright and believable on the set.

On HDTV, sources on nearly every set – LCD, Plasma and CRT – look great. What I noticed most about HDTV on the Sony KV34XBR910 is how well it can keep up with the movements of fast-paced sporting events. During the recent NCAA college football National Championship game – I mean, the Rose Bowl – one could clearly see the makeup on the USC Song Girls as the ABC camera crew tracked in on them. Unlike my D-ILA projector, which struggles a bit with 720p vs. 1080i because of its internal video scaler, the only picture problems during the Rose Bowl were the fault of the local ABC broadcast. I had the game on in the big theater and in the bedroom and there was no question the picture was more alive and vivid on the XBR. I have had the chance to see some hockey games on HDNet this year and the fast paced action has been truly impressive. The Sony KV34XBR910 is able to keep up with the frenetic pace of play without glitching out or leaving any noticeable artifacts. When the cameras pan through the audience, as often as I have seen it, I still couldn’t believe how realistic the people looked.

The Downside
The TV is really heavy and you need to make provisions for that or you could have catastrophic problems. A friend of mine had an older non-HD version of a Sony 36-inch XBR literally bend his cabinet. Ultimately, he needed to rebuild the entire unit, which included uninstalling his entire home theater for two weeks. You just need to enter into a purchase of such a set knowing you will not be hanging a 200-pound TV on the wall. You know what set to buy if you only have four inches of depth for your TV.

A 34-inch television is not the biggest picture on the market by any stretch. You should carefully consider how far you are going to sit from the set before making your decision. If it is going to be more than 12 or 15 feet, you might want to consider going with a different set, because 34 inches gets a little small at a certain distance. If you are going to sit closer, consider the quality that you are getting for the price you pay. It is easy to trade off a little screen size for a fantastic picture.

The value of this set is stellar. At about $2,300, the Sony KV34XBR910 is a runaway winner. When properly set up, you might not be able to find a better picture anywhere at nearly any price. It is bright and able to reproduce color better than any plasma or LCD I have seen to date. It has a number of forward-thinking properties, like DVI inputs and fine-pitch CRT technology, which make this set a worthy investment for years to come. If you love movies, HDTV and broadcast TV and want the kind of picture you would expect in a multi-millionaire’s home theater, consider the Sony KV34XBR910 with the highest priority when investing in an HDTV.
Manufacturer Sony
Model KV-34XBR910 Wega XBR 34-inch HDTV
Diagonal Screen Size 28 to 36-inches

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