Sony KDS-60A2000 60-inch SXRD HDTV Page 2

As for what's new, most obvious is a more Spartan industrial design that features bottom-mount speakers, a departure from last year's "winged" design with side-mounted speakers suspended several inches off the outer edges. These were gorgeous, stylish TVs but were too wide to fit many existing cabinets and wall units, so it's bye-bye to all that flash.

Also new are two 1080p-capable HDMI digital inputs alongside the usual bevy of component- and S-/composite-video connections. Unlike on earlier SXRDs, these HDMI inputs will accept the native 1080p signal coming from a high-definition disc player and put that up on the TV's 1080p screen without requiring a signal conversion. But the ultimate value of this remains a question. Since movie content on both the Blu-ray and HD DVD disc formats are carried as 1080p HDTV, the thinking is that it's best to keep the signal in that format rather than making the player convert the content to a 1080i HDTV signal only to have the TV convert it back to 1080p for display.

Still, experts I've consulted recently suggest such 1080p-to-1080i-to-1080p conversions like this, at least from 24-fps film-originated video, usually do no harm to the signal and that feeding the TV straight 1080p from the player is not likely to produce any noticeable improvement in picture quality over 1080i as long as the TV has a good deinterlacer. At this writing, only one high-def disc player - Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray player - can provide a 1080p output signal to allow us to test this theory. But Samsung has confirmed that the BD-P1000 first converts the 1080p signal on the disc to 1080i before converting it back again to 1080p for output from the player, so it's not much of a test. We'll see how other Blu-ray and HD DVD players handle this before making a final judgment, but either way, it's looking like the benefit of a 1080p-capable input on a 1080p TV may turn out to be more hype than reality.

Other features of the Sony KDS-60A2000 will be far more valuable to users. Though the redesigned remote control lacks backlighting, this tall, lean wand fits nicely in the hand and boasts a clean, well-conceived layout that puts all the important buttons in easy reach of your thumb. A Wide button just above the navigation rocker allows you to cycle through four screen modes available with either standard-def or high-def sources to watch shows in their native 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio or to stretch or zoom them to fill the screen. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't provide direct access keys to select the different source inputs; as before, you have to step through the inputs with the TV/Video key or scroll through an onscreen menu to select the one you want (though you can set the TV to skip unused inputs). But a new Tools key right off the nav rocker provides easy access to the video and audio set-up menus - a welcome addition for inveterate picture tweakers.

SETUP And tweak they will, thanks to Sony's inclusion of an impressive raft of picture controls. There are three picture presets, Standard, Vivid, and Custom, all of which can be customized to your liking, with the TV remembering all of your adjustments for individual source inputs within each preset. Enthusiasts will gravitate to the Custom setting, which offers the widest range of additional controls beyond the usual Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Color, and Tint. Critically, the set offers a full set of six White Balance adjustments (separate Bias and Gain controls for Red, Green, and Blue). After selecting the Custom preset's Warm2 color temperature mode, these allowed me (with the assistance of test instruments) to get near-perfect alignment of color temperature to the industry-standard gray without having to enter service menus (see Test Bench). Still, when I began looking at program material I noticed that reds looked a little hot and that bright scenes had a slightly rosy appearance - something we've seen on earlier SXRD models as well. I brought the picture into better balance by taking the Color (saturation) and Red Gain controls down a notch.