Sony Grand Wega KF-60DX100 rear projection TV Page 2
The Grand Wega warmed up slowly after power-on and took a few seconds to shut down after power-off. Both characteristics are by design and are very likely to save wear and tear on the bulb, which is user-replaceable. While it warmed up, the GW's color had a distinctly sickly appearance, but it always looked right after a minute or so.
As a fixed-pixel device, the Grand Wega does not require convergence, so there are no convergence controls. But such projectors are not entirely free of convergence issues. In an LCD, in particular, the three panels that make up the pixel array must be perfectly aligned physically. Our sample of the GW had a very slight misconvergence of red a few inches in from the edge of the picture, but this was visible only with test patterns viewed close to the screen.
The Grand Wega's performance was superb in a number of critical parameters. Its color was good as delivered, but was significantly improved by calibration (see "Calibration" sidebar). When I compared it directly with a good CRT, I did see a slight shift toward green even after calibration, but this was clearly visible only when the two sets were viewed side-by-side. The only other obvious color aberration was orangey reds, a common failing among televisions.
The image was bright and evenly illuminated. Like all rear-projection sets, the GW appears to use a screen with gain, but the image held its brightness at viewing angles that would be unwatchable with most CRT-based PTVs. There was no sign of hot-spotting with normal program material, and I couldn't see the picture's pixel structure from my normal viewing distance of about 9 feet.
Sony's DRC circuitry is essentially a scaler that processes standard-definition material by breaking the image into pixels, then comparing each pixel to a look-up table for its nearest high-definition equivalent. Sony claims that this produces a line-free, near-HD picture from standard-def program material. That's an overstatement, but DRC does work well. On standard broadcasts from a better-than-average cable provider (that's not saying a lot), I saw occasional combing artifacts on straight lines, particularly diagonals, but rarely enough to be annoying.
But while viewing a continuous luma burst pattern from the Video Essentials test DVD (chapter 17-23), I noticed that the DRC emphasized frequencies above about 4.8MHz, even with all available Sharpness controls (TV and DVD player) turned to their minimum settings. This emphasis disappeared when I let the player, a Pioneer DV-38A, do the deinterlacing by feeding the GW a progressive-scan image.
But whether the source was DVD via the DRC, progressive scan from the DVD player, or high definition, the Grand Wega's image was very sharp, and more subjectively detailed than you're likely to see from even a high-quality CRT rear-projection set of the same size. This wasn't always a blessing—the image could sometimes look over-enhanced without careful adjustment of the set's Sharpness control. With the best program material, the set usually looked best with the Sharpness turned all the way down.
The only fly in the ointment was the old bugaboo of many non-CRT displays: blacks. The blacks produced by the Grand Wega will not satisfy the video perfectionist. A solid black field looked medium-gray, and this raised black level permeated almost everything viewed on the set. It was most often visible as a gray fog overlaying dark scenes, but could also show up on some bright scenes as a subtle washing-out of the picture.
In the reconstitution scene from The Fifth Element (Superbit version), the color balance was first-class, the image essentially free of noise. The Sharpness controls on both player and set had to be reined in to keep the inherent crispness of the transfer from looking a little edgy and artificial; that done, this essentially bright sequence looked terrific. The same held true for the subsequent sequence in which Leeloo jumps from the ledge. The detail and depth of the cityscapes were outstanding. A few shots, however—and not necessarily the darkest—looked just slightly desaturated compared to the rest; this is explainable only by the Grand Wega's raised black level, as those same scenes look fine on a good CRT display.
Heist is a super transfer, and its natural sharpness was clearly visible on the Sony. The image was realistic and filmlike, without edginess. The colors in this film are not vivid but were otherwise well reproduced, and the essentially grainless image was free of noise or other distracting artifacts.
The Moulin Rouge! DVD is, for the most part, a very dark movie in a vividly colorful transfer, though not as sharp as either of the films mentioned above. But many of the dark scenes are counterbalanced by brightly lit details. These types of shots were well reproduced by the Grand Wega as long as I concentrated on the highlights and didn't try to see too deeply into the shadows. I still noticed the lack of truly good contrast in many scenes, but in sequences such as the grand finale of the Spectacular, Spectacular stage show near the end of the film, the Sony did an outstanding job with the vividly colored lighting and costumes of this highly theatrical setting.
I tested two samples of the Grand Wega. The first had a problem reproducing high-definition material: the picture would tear near the top of the screen several times a minute. This did not occur with 480i or 480p sources. Sony representatives determined that hidden shipping damage was the culprit and sent a replacement, which performed flawlessly. The first sample also developed a bad pixel near the left edge of the screen. It was bright red and hard to ignore. Sony publishes a disclaimer in the owner's manuals for both the GW and the VPL-VW11HT projector, saying, in effect, that a few bad pixels are normal. Before writing a check, you might want to clarify the policy on this with your dealer, preferably in writing. That caveat apples to any fixed-pixel (non-CRT) display device. The second sample of the Grand Wega (and the VPL-VW11HT as well) was free of bad pixels, and remained so during the several weeks I used it.
The strengths and weaknesses described above for standard-definition material were also present with hi-def—apart from the inherently better definition of the HD format and its wider color gamut. Reds, for example, were richer on HD material and a little less orange. Overall, the inherently good color, bright, even illumination, and excellent sharpness of the Grand Wega produced superb results on the best well-lit HD material.
As noted above, however, the Grand Wega does not display native 720p. In order to receive this format in hi-def, you must first convert it to 1080i. Most HD tuners will do this, but how well is another matter. I've found that my Panasonic TU-DST51A HD tuner (now discontinued) clearly softens 720p material in converting it to 1080i. With this tuner, 720p material looked best when fed directly to the Grand Wega, even though the set converts it to 480p. But not all tuners allow you to do this. If 720p is important to you (so far, the only significant 720p source is ABC), you might want to look for a tuner that can convert 720p to 1080i with a minimum of degradation. We plan to look for this in future reviews of HD tuners.
The black-level limitations of the Sony Grand Wega KF-60DX100 might well keep it off the short lists of many serious video enthusiasts, and I wouldn't argue the point. In that respect it can be seriously outperformed, at far lower cost, by CRT designs of a comparable screen size, including a number of excellent models from Sony. And for about the same price you can get a significantly better, larger picture from Sony's VPL-VW11HT video projector (see below). But that's a comparison of apples and oranges; videophiles looking for front projectors often have needs very different from buyers of one-piece rear-projection televisions.
Perhaps all of that misses the point. If you value detail and sharpness over rich, deep blacks, the Grand Wega wins out over most CRT PTVs. If you value lack of video noise, the GW will similarly outperform many CRTs. And if you value ease of setup, lower weight, and, potentially, easier maintenance, the Grand Wega is certainly worth a serious audition. It's one of the first consumer sets to break away from the CRT and employ one of the new, cutting-edge digital display technologies. If manufacturers have their druthers, one or all of these—LCD, LCOS, DLP, plasma, and others still in the laboratory stage—may well replace the venerable CRT in the near future.