HDTV on the Cheap Page 4

Sony KV-30HS420 The 30-inch KV-30HS420 is Sony's smallest widescreen tube TV, but at 150 pounds and nearly 2 feet deep, it's still massive by today's shrinking-set standards. Plenty of silver plastic surrounds the flat tube, and the fuselage curves gently along the top edge, contrasting with the sharp angles at the bottom. Unlike the Toshiba and Samsung sets, the Sony doesn't display an HDTV logo. Sony KV-30HS420

Sony KV-30HS420 remoteA slightly redesigned remote preserves Sony's characteristically thoughtful ergonomic design, although the only illumination consists of glow-in-the-dark number and channel keys. Secondary keys are rightly relegated to the top of the wand, and the numeric keypad gets prominence. Repeatedly pressing the TV/Video button is the only way to switch between sources, but I did appreciate the option to skip unused inputs. The remote can command two other devices, namely a cable/satellite receiver and a VCR or DVD player.

The well-designed menus include some nice touches, such as text explanations of individual items and a separate screen section that lets you set a default display mode for sources with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The four display modes include one to stretch the sides more than the middle and a Zoom mode that lets you adjust the stretching and cropping. It was frustrating, though, that I couldn't change modes at all with high-def sources.

Sony KV-30HS420

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 35 3/8 x 23 3/4 x 22 1/4 inches WEIGHT 150 pounds PRICE $999 MANUFACTURER Sony Electronics, www.sonystyle.com, 877-865-7669

PLUS • Sharp DVD and HDTV picture • HDMI input

MINUS • Lacks input-specific picture memories • Can't change HDTV display mode

The other picture-customization options are extensive. I had three choices for Sony's Digital Reality Creation mode, but only CineMotion offers "2:3 pulldown" processing - a necessity if you're watching DVDs on a player that doesn't have a progressive-scan output or a TV show that was originally shot on film. You can choose from three levels of "VSM" edge enhancement, which exaggerates the edges of lines to increase perceived sharpness, or turn it off altogether - something I recommend doing for DVD and high-definition TV.

You can adjust the four picture presets to suit your tastes, but they aren't associated with individual inputs. For example, if you optimize one preset for your DVD player, you'll have to remember to call it up manually when you switch to the player's input.

Unlike more-expensive HDTVs, the KV-30HS420 can't display two pictures side by side, and it doesn't have a digital tuner built in, so you can't get high-def channels simply by connecting it to an external antenna. But Sony's bean counters couldn't have picked a better pair of features to eliminate - picture in picture (PIP) and picture out of picture (POP) are hardly necessities, and most people get high-def from cable or satellite anyway.

Sony did add a healthy back panel, however, including a pair of component-video inputs and an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) port. The latter, which will replace DVI as the Hollywood-approved high-def input, accepts a digital signal from similarly equipped DVD players and HDTV tuners. It can also work with DVI-equipped gear if you use an adapter. Sony KV-30HS420 back

PICTURE QUALITY I tested the Sony's prowess with Kill Bill, Vol. 1 using the component-video inputs, and things looked good indeed. As with the Toshiba and Samsung sets, it accentuated reds, so I reduced the color control to compensate. Even so, the delicate tones on Uma Thurman's face came through as she struggled to restore life to her toe. And most other colors - like the pickup truck's stark crimson seats, the yellow door frame, and even the pale blue of Thurman's hospital clothes - remained rich.

The Sony delivered every dot of detail in this scene as well as in every other DVD I tried. I could make out tiny textures and faint stitching on the white kimono worn by Oh-Ren Ishii (Lucy Lui) and later the powdery flakes of fake-looking snow. Shadow detail was also excellent. As Oh-Ren muses over the make of Thurman's sword, the side of her face disappeared gradually into her hair, and her pupils were easily distinguishable from her dark irises. Because the Sony did a better job of maintaining a consistent black than the other two TVs, I could set brightness lower for deeper blacks and not worry about losing detail in dark areas.

When I repeated my test of high-def resolution using the shuttle launch on Digital Video Essentials , the Sony delivered more detail than the other two sets - as I expected given its larger widescreen image size. Watching the 1080i D-VHS tape, I noticed extra detail in the vertical lines on the shuttle's nosecone. The sharpness also made a big difference during a high-def basketball game on TNT, letting me see the intense expressions of the assistant coaches.

With its razor-sharp detail, the Sony was definitely the picture-quality champ among these three sets. Add the first-rate remote, flexible setup options, and stylish design, and you have an excellent low-cost way to experience HDTV.

PDF: Features Checklist PDF: In the Lab