CRT Upgrade, 3D PJs, Best Connections

Golden Oldie
I have a 34-inch Sony KD-34XBR960 direct-view CRT HDTV, which works fine, but it's a beast. Are the current LCD/LED TVs equal in picture quality to the 960? Other than multiple HDMI inputs, weighing less, and consuming less electricity, are there any visual benefits to replacing the 960?

Dave Butler

One benefit of replacing the 960 that you didn't mention is screen size—you can get a much larger screen, probably for less than you paid for the 960. Also, the 960 can only accept a 1080i signal, so you can't send 1080p/24 from a Blu-ray player, which could compromise the picture quality of Blu-ray movies.

On the other hand, CRT direct-view TVs are hard to beat in terms of black level, even with the most modern LCD TVs. (Pioneer Kuro plasmas can do it, but they are no longer available.) Yes, LED-backlit LCDs can reach similar black levels, but they often produce halos around small, bright objects on a dark background, such as stars in space or white credits rolling on a black background. LED edge-lit LCDs can also reproduce very low blacks, but only when there's absolutely nothing on the screen—if there's anything at all on the screen, the overall black level is usually much higher than your 960 can achieve.

Bottom line: I don't know of any current flat panel that can match the overall picture quality of the 960 (as long as you keep it calibrated). However, it's really too small to be considered a true "home theater" display. It's a coveted model among enthusiasts, so you can probably sell it, but I suspect you wouldn't get more than maybe $1000 for it, which is actually quite good for a CRT TV these days. If it were me, I'd put it in a secondary room—on a very sturdy stand!—and get a larger flat panel for the main viewing room. It might not perform quite as well, but the larger screen would be far more immersive.

The Future is 3D
I am building a budget home theater in my basement, and I want to future-proof it as much as I can. I'll run extra cables and conduit between key locations and potential future speaker locations. (BTW, your podcast with Chris Kyriakakis of Audyssey was a big help with that!)

My other big item is 3D, and I want to be prepared for it. Do I need a special screen material for the kind of 3D that uses shutter glasses? (I don't think I do; that's for some older 3D technologies, right?)

Also, are there any 1080p 3D or 3D-ready front projectors available now or within the next few months that I could consider? I haven't been able to find any so far. I realize that I may just have to wait and possibly upgrade my projector when the technology is more mature, but I just wanted to look into it to be sure.

Love the podcast; I have learned so much from listening!

Brian Skeens

I'm glad you're finding value in the podcast! As for your questions, you probably don't need a special screen material for 3D front projection, because it looks like many projector makers are going to use shutter glasses, not passive-polarized glasses. Systems that use shutter glasses don't require a special screen, but those that use passive-polarized glasses do. Such a screen does not work well with 2D projection, so you'd need two screens—one for 3D and one for 2D—if you were going to use a polarized 3D projector. For shutter-glasses front projection, I recommend a screen wit a bit of gain, such as the Stewart Studiotek 130, because so much light is lost passing through the glasses.

Most of the 3D projectors I know about can hardly be considered "budget"—for example, we're about to get the Digital Projection Titan 3D DLP projector for review, which uses active-shutter glasses, but it lists for $85,000. At CES, LG showed its CF3D SXRD 3D projector, which uses passive-polarized glasses (and thus requires a special screen) and will probably carry a price tag in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.

I saw an Optoma 3D 720p projector at CES, which used active-shutter glasses. The company has not yet announced any 1080p 3D projectors, but when it does, I'm sure they'll be far less expensive than the Digital Projection or LG models. In fact, Optoma has three models of 3D 720p projectors in the $700 to $800 range right now.

Best Connections
Now that my car is paid off, I can finally upgrade my 10-year-old HDTV and 6-year-old A/V receiver to take full advantage of DTS HD. Should I run all my components (Dish Network, Xbox 360, PS3, and HD DVD) straight to the four HDMI inputs on the TV, and then run one cable from the TV's HDMI output to one of AVR's HDMI inputs? Or should I run all my components into the HDMI inputs on the AVR and then connect the AVR's HDMI output to one of TV's HDMI inputs?

Keep in mind that I'm most interested in picture quality. I've always wondered if picture or audio quality degrades when not running a cable directly to the appropriate device. For example, I always run the component-video cables directly to my HDTV and the optical digital cables directly to my receiver. But now that I'll be upgrading, and HDMI carries both audio and video, I just don't know which route I should take.

Mike Boushek

Very few TVs have an HDMI pass-through output, so I'm curious to know which model you're getting that does. In most cases, connecting the source devices to the AVR via HDMI and the AVR's HDMI output to the TV is the best way to go. I can understand the notion that passing a signal through more devices could degrade the audio and/or video quality, but that's not generally true with digital signals like those carried by HDMI.

On the other hand, some AVRs do degrade the video signal by clipping "above white" and "below black," shades of white and black that lie outside the boundaries of white and black defined for video signals. If a receiver does this, you won't see areas of above-white information, which do exist in real content despite the supposed limitation imposed on video signals. Also, if the AVR clips below black, you won't be able to set the TV's brightness control properly. All of Home Theater's recent AVR reviews include a video test-bench section that reveals whether or not an AVR clips above white and below black, so pay close attention to this.

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K. Reid's picture

I also have an XBR960 and I still love it. I could not afford the 50 or 60in Kuro when it was in production and questions about Panasonic's "infinite black" technology still loom. I agree with the evaluation that in terms of overall picture quality the 960 still ranks up there with the best - despite the screen size and inability to display 1080p/24; however, would a viewer really notice the difference between 1080i and 1080p on a 34inch screen? I don't know that answer to that one. I would like to hear TJN or Scott W. opine in this matter. What is a home theater enthusiast on a budget to do when there is no flatscreen in production that gets picture quality as nearest to perfection as possible - like the Kuros. LG Infinia has color accuracy but suffers with halos. Current generation Sony XBRs cannot put all the pieces together. If I recall, TJN indicated that accurate deep black [that does not obscure shadow detail] is the foundation to proper color and gives a sense of depth to image o

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

Dear Scott Wilkinson, Hello Scott I love the home theater geeks podcast on the twit network it's a good show. Scott I am not alone with the hole subject of 3D TV's I don't like 3D TV's 1st off it's cost too much to get one allmost $4,000 for a new 3D HDTV plus to get 3D you need along with the 3D blu-ray player , a pair of 3D glasses and IR itmitter to get the full effect of 3D. I am just not a fan of 3D in general. And with the econmy the way it is now will consumers adopt 3D HDTV fast as normal HDTV's? That's the big question. Thanks Scott and keep up the good work.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Kenny, I'm very glad you enjoy the podcast! You're certainly not alone in your dislike of 3D. As for the cost of 3D TVs, the price isn't necessarily more than premium 2D sets. For example, the Samsung 46C8000 3D TV lists for $2800, while the LG 47LE8500 2D set is $2900. In fact, more and more premium TVs will have 3D capabilities along with many other high-end features, so buyers of those sets will get 3D whether they want it or not. Also, since 3D TVs will be premium sets, they will generally do a great job on 2D content.The biggest problems for 3D adoption in the home are the expensive glasses, the need for a 3D Blu-ray player, and the lack of 3D content. Also, the 3D experience isn't nearly as compelling on a small TV as it is in a commercial cinema. Have you seen much commercial 3D? I find it to be wonderful in many cases, though my most recent experience was not without some problems, as I discuss in my latest blog on UAV.

K.Reid's picture

I went to one of the big box stores last Tues. and received my first demo of the Panasonic 50in 3D set. When I put the active shutter glasses on I noticed that the picture got a litter darker. I asked the salesman and he could not explain it. Also, I wear corrective glasses and fitting the active shutter glasses over my own was a challenge and ended up being very uncomfortable. Any thoughts...I agree that the 3D experience on a 50in screen is not as spectacular as seeing it at a local movie theater. IMO, it is nowhere near the same. Have any premier projector manufacturers such as Runco, Vidikron, Wolf Cinema or JVC made any significant progress in bringing 3D projectors to the consumer market?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

K, 3D glasses reduce the amount of light reaching your eyes by a lot—about 70% for active-shutter glasses, 50% for passive-polarized glasses. The reason is that these glasses, even the active-shutter type, only pass light with a certain polarization; all other light is blocked. Also, the active lenses both close down for part of the cycle, reducing the amount of light reaching your eyes even more. I agree that fitting these glasses over prescription glasses (I wear them too) is a drag; in fact, I find the Panasonic glasses to be the least comfortable of those I've tried.Other than the projectors I mention in the main text above, I've not heard much from other manufacturers about 3D projectors. JVC showed 3D at CES using its 4K projector and passive glasses, but that can hardly be considered a consumer item.

Jerry Gascey's picture

Since we are discussing CRT hdtv's I have a Hitachi 65F59 that I purchased in 2007 when they first came out. Mr Wilkinson what do you think about that television?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jerry, I've never seen that TV, so I can't comment on it specifically. From the model number, I would guess it has a 65-inch screen, which would mean it's a rear-projection TV, not a CRT direct-view such as we've been discussing here. Hitachi RPTVs were very good in general; in fact, Tom Norton bought one way back when.

Anthony Pasquini's picture

Can the 3D glasses that come with a TV from one company be used with a TV that comes from another company? I thought the technology was universal but I saw a blurb on Engadget that said a certain manufacturer could not guarantee use of 3D glasses between companies.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Anthony, in general, glasses from one manufacturer cannot be used with a 3D TV from another manufacturer, because each company uses a different IR code to sync its glasses to the display. In my book, this is inexcusable, especially since the glasses are so expensive. Someone should have standardized the IR sync signal before 3D TVs were introduced for sale. As it is, you can't take your Panasonic glasses to a friend's house to watch their Samsung 3D TV. XpanD makes universal glasses that sync to any IR signal, and Monster has announced universal glasses that sync to an RF signal from a transmitter that converts the IR signal from any 3D TV. But still, the industry should have standardized this function in the first place. It's not like a unique sync signal gives any TV a competitive advantage.

Don Francis's picture

The 960 is a great set. I owned 1 and it was calibrated with geometry work by Chad Bilheimer, who is a master on these CRTs. Even with component input from my PS3, blurays and games looked phenomenal. I removed the anti-glare guard which helped even more(pre-calibration of course). Last fall I bit the bullet on the last(and best) of the Kuros, a KRP-500M with ISF patch. The blacks are as deep as the 960, but overal contrast is much improved. Whites scream out from black backrounds! The extra 16" helps with more detail too. Where I feel the 960 is superior is in it's handling of motion. The Kuro has a slight judder to it. Not to be confused with phosphor trail however. It is next to non-existent on the Kuro, but was very noticeable on the 960. Mine was only a weekend TV, so it couldnt have been from high usage, tho I understand only some people are susceptible to seeing phospor trail. In the end I had no room to keep the 960, otherwise I would have. It would have been great to double as a gaming displ