As if the confusion over new HDTV technology isn't enough, a new term or technology is unleashed on the unsuspecting TV shopper seemingly every other week. This week's flavor is 3LCD, and it's available in Sony's entry-level 50-inch 2005 Grand WEGA, the KDF-E50A10 ($2,499 list). Grand WEGA is Sony's name for its LCD-based rear-projection HDTVs, and 3LCD is likewise nothing new. It just means that the television's picture originates from a set of three LCD chips as opposed to the single-chip design used in competing DLP (digital light processing) HDTVs. LCD and DLP both have their pros and cons, and while we generally prefer DLP, LCD has made some strides over the last couple years. The Sony KDF-E50A10 exhibits a few of these improvements as well as a solid feature set, a reasonable price tag, a refreshingly compact frame, and the company nameplate--a combination sure to place it high on the big-screen popularity list.
The design of the Sony KDF-E50A10 is compact and basic, although it has a little more pizzazz than last year's entry-level 50-incher, the KDF-WE655. The screen is surrounded by a black bezel with a thin silver-gray border on the top, left, and right sides and a larger silver border on the bottom. An opening that runs the width of the television along the bottom (we were reminded of a jet fighter's air intake) conceals a pair of speakers.
Moving the speakers down to the bottom allows the company to shave off a lot of width and owners to shoehorn this big screen into smaller spaces. With measurements of approximately 47 by 33 by 16 inches, the Sony KDF-E50A10's cabinet is smaller than that of just about any 50-inch rear-projector we've seen, and it tips the scales at a featherweight 73 pounds. Sony also offers a matching stand, model SU-RG11M, for $299.
The remote control has undergone a redesign--for the worse. This is the first time we've ever had to consult a manual to locate the TV's Settings menu button. Some genius decided to replace it with a WEGA Gate button that brings up a variety of choices, of which Settings gets you into the A/V menu system. While the idea of a central home page for major controls may be good in some ways, naming it WEGA Gate is not. The Gate also offers access to cable, antenna, and external inputs, and the menu system itself is clearly designed and easy to navigate.
The three LCD panels used in the Sony KDF-E50A10 each have a native resolution of 1,280x720 pixels--down from last year's models, which had a native res of 1,366x768. This change should be of no concern since the set will do a good job displaying 720p HD signals, as our tests verified. All other input sources, including 1080i HDTV, DVD, and standard-definition television, are scaled to fit the native pixels.
Sony included a few conveniences but left a couple notables off the list. Of course, the KDF-E50A10 includes the federally mandated ASTC tuner, and like most HDTVs this year, it's also Digital Cable Ready. However, it lacks the TV Guide onscreen EPG included on a lot of competing sets, which isn't a huge loss in our book since TV Guide hasn't exactly performed as promised in our tests. We also noticed that Sony left out picture-in-picture in this model. The aspect-ratio control offers three choices with high-def and four with standard-def sources.
The KDF-E50A10 does include three picture presets (Sony dropped the Pro mode available on last year's model) that can each be modified for contrast, brightness, and so on. Since the KDF-E50A10 remembers which preset you last used with each input, this basically means you get three independent input memory slots for each input, so you can adjust each input for different lighting environments, for example. We also found more than a few picture-affecting tweaks that are not just questionable--they can really wreak havoc on picture quality (more in Performance).
As an entry-level HDTV, the KDF-E50A10 receives only one HDMI input, but the remainder of its connectivity suite is perfectly adequate. On the lower-left side sits a set of A/V inputs with composite and--surprise--wideband component video instead of S-Video, perhaps as a nod to the HD-capable Sony PlayStation 3. On the rear, we discovered two more component-video inputs, one S-Video input, and two composite-video inputs, each with their own stereo audio jacks. New for this year, Sony finally included an analog 15-pin VGA style RGB input for computer hookups. Rounding out the jack pack is one cable and one antenna RF input as well as a set of variable audio outputs.