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Sony KV-34XBR910 Wega XBR 34-inch HDTV Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 February 2004
Article Index
Sony KV-34XBR910 Wega XBR 34-inch HDTV
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ImageSony 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.

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