Note: Sony Electronics has received reports of intermittent lapses in or no lamp operation for some Grand WEGA LCD rear-projection TV models built before January 1, 2004; the set appears to be powered on but does not produce a picture. Sony has authorized its service centers to replace the lamp and/or lamp block in affected units at no cost to the consumer. Though we didn't experience this problem with our test unit, consumers who encounter this symptom should contact Sony at 800/222-7669.
Sony's new line of LCD-based rear-projection HDTVs, dubbed Grand WEGA, represents a distinct improvement in picture performance over previous models. The line includes both XBR and standard models between 42 and 70 inches in size. The model reviewed here is the 50-inch KF-50WE610, a non-XBR set that doesn't offer certain (and arguably minor) picture-enhancement features. XBR or not, its black-level performance--namely, its ability to accurately render black and very dark areas of the picture--is a huge step up from that of previous models. In fact, the output of Sony's WE610-series LCD sets is now on a par with that of competing DLP RPTVs from Samsung and others. Listed at $3,299 but available for less online, this 50-incher costs more than its CRT-based cousins, but its slimmer, sexier design and its brighter picture make for a good alternative to much pricier plasma sets of equivalent size.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
As far as rear-projection TVs go, the KF-50WE610 is one of the most attractive industrial designs we've seen from any manufacturer. It is a truly impressive-looking TV, and the matching optional SU-GW1 stand ($599) is also quite elegant. The set's silver finish is offset by black borders around the edges of the screen, which may also aid in increasing perceived contrast for a higher-impact picture.
At 17 inches deep, the 50WE610 is slimmer than CRT-based rear-projection sets and weighs much less: only 82.2 pounds. The aforementioned stand or a similar item will be required to raise the set to eye level; on its own, it stands only three feet tall.
We found Sony's new, slimmer remote design attractive and finger-friendly. The internal menu is the same easy-to-navigate, intuitive system we have come to like in the WEGA line.
The KF-50WE610 uses new higher-resolution LCD panels that have a native resolution of 1,386x768. That's more than enough to display every pixel of a 720p HDTV source. As with other fixed-pixel displays, all sources are scaled to fit the panel's pixels. You'll need an external HDTV tuner to watch high-def on this monitor.
This set's convenience features are simply too numerous to list. Multiple aspect ratios assure that you will be able to watch all video sources in their correct proportions. For sports fans, a dual-tuner PIP feature is onboard. Audio features include TruSurround SRS for a simulated surround-sound experience from the set's two speakers, 3D Audio system, and Steady Sound automatic volume control.
Of course, the 50WE610 boasts a number of picture-enhancing features as well. The Cinemotion setting in the user menu engages 2:3 pull-down for film-based material. The screen is superior to most of the competition's and reduces the screen door effect, where individual pixels become visible (we didn't see pixels unless we sat extremely close to the screen). There are three preset picture modes: Vivid, Standard, and Pro, all of which have different preset picture levels but can be adjusted. Three selectable color temperatures include Warm, Neutral, and Cool, with Warm usually the closest to the NTSC standard of 6,500 Kelvins.
Our biggest complaint here is with the set's lack of independent memory per input. If you want to set up parameters such as contrast and brightness on different inputs for different sources, you'll have to manually select from the picture modes each time you switch inputs. Sony remains the only manufacturer not to integrate this important feature in its consumer HDTVs.
Connection options on this set are quite generous. There is one DVI input with HDCP copy protection; two broadband component-video inputs that accept 480i/p, 720p, and 1080i; two S-Video inputs and two composite-video inputs on the rear panel; a subwoofer output; a Control S output that works with other Sony equipment; and a set of front-panel A/V inputs with S-Video, composite video, and stereo audio. Unlike Samsung and Gateway DLP TVs, this Sony lacks a VGA input for a computer display.
The KF-50WE610 is a definite step up in picture quality over last year's Grand WEGAs. This less expensive, non-XBR model outperforms last year's top-of-the-line KF-60XBR800, particularly in the important areas of black level and color saturation. Unlike a traditional CRT-based projection TV such as the Hitachi 57S500, the 50WE610 is still not capable of true black, but it comes close.
Out of the box, the color decoder exhibits significant red push, but thankfully that can be corrected with calibration by a qualified technician. If you don't opt for professional calibration, you should reduce the color control to get rid of any reddish cast in skin tones. Prior to calibration, the bottom end of the grayscale measured a blue 9,600K (6,500 is ideal), and the top end of the scale came in at 8,600K. After calibration, the grayscale was extremely accurate, measuring 6,475K at both ends.
After calibration, we watched the shuttle-launch sequence from Digital Video Essentials on DVD. This mostly bright scene looked crisp and full of detail. The restaurant scene near the end of the disc revealed rich, deeply saturated colors, another result of the improved black-level performance and the calibrated color decoder. Dark scenes in DVDs looked surprisingly good for an LCD TV, with minimal artifacts and improved shadow detail over earlier models.
HDTV from our DirecTV high-def satellite feed also looked quite good. As always, HDNET and Discovery HD Theater looked distinctly better than the HBO and Showtime HD channels. Colors popped, and again, darker scenes didn't seem to suffer nearly as much as with last year's Grand WEGA LCD sets. The bottom line is the KF-50WE610 is a credible performer in the fixed-pixel category.