Sony Grand Wega KF-60DX100 rear projection TV

The cathode-ray tube, or CRT, has been the mainstay of direct-view sets since Philo Farnsworth exclaimed, "Uncle Milty, come here, I need you!" And when projection television entered the scene, the trusty CRT stayed the course. While new technologies are beginning to make inroads on the market, virtually all of today's rear-projection sets still use three separate CRTs to produce an image. Despite its challengers, the CRT still provides the best combination of quality and affordability a consumer can get in a one-piece set. But CRT sets are complex, fussy, and, when used in the large screen sizes consumers now demand, massive. A typical 60-inch-diagonal RPTV can weigh 250 lbs and take up more space than a large refrigerator.

In an attempt to do something about this situation and generate some excitement in showrooms, manufacturers have been looking for alternatives. While the plasma and Digital Light Processing (DLP) technologies have been generating much of the latest buzz, the less glamorous LCD remains a serious contender. And a recent spurt (thanks to lower prices) in the popularity of LCD displays for desktop computers has landed the LCD firmly on the public's radar.

In most LCD designs, a light source is positioned behind a panel made up of thousands or millions of tiny pixels. In an LCD projector, front or rear, the light source is a projection bulb, and the LCD panel is actually three precisely aligned panels, one for each primary color. The amount and color of light that passes through this tri-panel is controlled by circuitry that turns each pixel on or off in response to the demands of the source. To be precise, we should refer to this type of LCD design as transmissive, because the light passes through it on its way to the projection lens. There are also reflective LCD devices, but when a display is referred to as an LCD without further clarification, you can safely assume that it is a transmissive design.

Sony is well positioned to take advantage of advances in LCD technology: For several years, they have marketed compact LCD projectors designed specifically for home theater. These projectors used 16:9 panels, permitting full aspect-ratio control on a 16:9 screen while using the panel's full resolution for widescreen material. The widescreen panels also eliminated light spill around the screen. It was inevitable that such panels would find their way into a rear-projection LCD design. In fact, Sony has already marketed such designs to the pro market and to other countries. But the new KF-60DX100, aka the Grand Wega, is the first LCD rear-projection TV that, to our knowledge, Sony has formally marketed to US consumers.

Longer, Lower, Wider
The stereo speakers of the Grand Wega's built-in sound system flank its 60-inch-diagonal screen on both sides. While a quick glance at the set might suggest that it's a plasma-like, hang-on-the-wall design, it isn't. It's too deep for that, and is designed for "tabletop" use. Sony offers an optional stand, but if you opt for a stand of your own choosing, make certain it can support the GW's weight. The set is considerably lighter than any CRT with a comparably sized screen, but its 146 lbs are still hefty. I used a support that raised the GW 12 inches off the floor and positioned the center of the screen at about eye height. I don't recommend anything significantly taller unless you like to look up at the screen.

The Grand Wega has most of the bells and whistles you're likely to want, but omits others that those in the know wouldn't use anyway, including such things as Auto Tint and Dynamic Picture. Nor is there any scan-velocity modulation; unlike a CRT, a fixed-pixel display doesn't scan the image.

Among the Grand Wega's more consumer-oriented features are Twin View and scrolling Channel Index. Twin View puts images from two sources side by side. You can zoom the images in and out, and give prominence to the one you choose. Channel Index displays the current channel at the left side of the screen while images from the other channels scroll up on the right. If you find something you'd like to see, you can switch to that channel immediately.

The Grand Wega also includes the latest version of Sony's Digital Reality Creation (DRC), which re-scales standard-definition (480i) sources to the LCD panel's 1366x768 native resolution. There is also a selectable mode, CineMotion, designed for use with film-based 480i material. Like most hi-def-ready sets, the GW requires an optional outboard high-definition tuner with component-video outputs to receive HD programming. There are no digital inputs, either DVI or IEEE 1394 (FireWire)—a curious omission, considering that these inputs are starting to show up on Sony's latest CRT rear projectors. Standard-definition 480i and 480p sources, and the 1080i high-definition inputs, are scaled to the set's native resolution. But while the GW, unlike some, will accept and display 720p, it's first converted to 480p, then scaled back up to the panel's native resolution—a process that effectively discards 240 lines of real information. The workaround to this limitation is to use your set-top HD tuner to convert 720p signals to 1080i. Most such tuners, including Sony's, do this as a matter of course and don't even provide a 720p option. If you use a box that can provide a native 720p output, make sure you set it for 1080i unless you actually want the set to downconvert 720p to standard-definition 480p.

The Grand Wega has ample inputs, including two sets of component connections. Oddly, there are no RGB inputs; if you want to use the Sony with a computer, you'll need an RGB-to-component trans-

coder. The multiple aspect-ratio settings round up all the usual suspects: Normal (4:3), Zoom (for standard letterbox material), and Full (for anamorphic, enhanced-for-widescreen DVDs). Wide Zoom is one of those ubiquitous variable stretch modes that fill a wide screen with a 4:3 image by using a small but visible amount of lateral stretching combined with a little at the top and bottom. With 480i sources, the GW can be configured to default either to Wide Zoom or 4:3 when you change channels or inputs, or to hold the current setting. There's also a Vertical Center control, which moves the image up or down in the Wide Zoom and Zoom modes.

Neither the input nor the aspect-ratio controls offer direct selection—to reach the setting you want, you must go 'round the horn. There are also three color-temperature settings, but you'll want to get a full calibration on a set this sophisticated and then leave it in the calibrated position.

In Sony's usual fashion, there are four preset video setup modes: Vivid, Standard, Movie, and Mild. While you can't set the video controls separately for each input (the ideal arrangement), you can adjust these four modes differently from the factory settings and then manually select them, as needed, for different sources. And you'll want to adjust them, as none of the factory settings are ideal (Vivid, the showroom torch mode, is particularly gnarly out of the box). Unfortunately, all of the video adjustments are of the ubiquitous bar-graph type, with no numerical designations.

The Grand Wega can be operated from the controls located on the front of the set, but most of the time you'll use the remote. The latter's well-spaced buttons and uncrowded layout made it easy, after a little practice, to access the important controls. I had no major complaints about the remote apart from the usual lack of illumination.

Audio features include Virtual and Simulated surround, designed to add surround-like effects to stereo and mono program material, respectively, by using only the stereo speakers in the television. They're fun to play with, but in the end I usually left these special effects off on those occasions when I chose to not fire up the outboard system. The built-in speakers were no replacement for a good surround system, but—apart from a slight boominess on male voices that could be tamed with the Bass control—provided clean, relatively uncolored sound that was more than adequate for most routine television watching.

Whoever designed the GW's cabinet did a great job with the esthetics, but made the top so narrow that it will not support anything but the tiniest center-channel speakers. The only solutions are to place the speaker on a wall- or cabinet-mounted shelf above the screen or a stand below it (where it will block the remote sensor). On the plus side, an unshielded speaker can be safely positioned anywhere near the set; like all non-CRT designs, the Grand Wega is not sensitive to magnetic fields.

Like most devices that use a projection bulb, the Grand Wega has a cooling fan to disperse hot air. I could hear it if I stood near the set, turned the sound off, and listened carefully, but I never found it to be a distraction in normal operation.