Pros: Excellent picture quality, 16:9 mode, great usability, Sony trusted brand.
Cons: Cheapie plastic housing, no front-panel S-video input, 16:9 mode can be funky.
I am a movie-lover and my DVD collection is growing faster than it should :-) so it was time to get a better television than the old Sony 19" I had. What I wanted was a bigger picture, clarity and sharpness for DVDS, and a good value. The value part is important because I had actually budgeted to spend more than $1,000 on this new TV, and if you've shopped recently for TVs, you know that $1,000-$1,300 can buy you a lot of television. In other words, "value" can take on a different value, so to speak, when you're willing to spend a grand on a TV. The other important consideration in my shopping was screen size. My viewing nook in my living room only allows a distance of 10 feet from the screen, so I ruled out anything larger than 32 inches (the picture would be too overwhelming and would strain our eyes).
NTSC or HDTV?
Anyone buying a new TV today must now ask themselves if they want to take the [early] plunge into high-definition television. I did, and I looked seriously at some lower-end HDTVs. The picture quality on HD sets, even not-well-regarded models by Samsung (I'm sorry all you Samsung fans, but let's be honest: Samsung makes kinda crappy products), was astounding. Watching a DVD played on an HD set is a revelation -- and you *immediately* want to buy high-def. But whoa Nelly, slow down. Online research and magazine reading convinced me to wait -- high-def is still being defined (sorry, another pun) and unless you're willing to replace today's [expensive] HDTV with a new one in just a couple of years, I'd urge you to buy analog today (otherwise known as standard NTSC format) and *then* upgrade to high-def in a couple years. By then, formats, inputs, etc. should be better standardized ... and the prices will have dropped!
The World Is Flat
The ubiquitous TV product trend is the flat screen. Sony's Wega line, Panasonic's Tau series, JVC's l'Art, and Toshiba's PureFlat line all boast totally flat screens. I looked at models by all those makers. These flat-surfaced TVS use normal glass picture tubes -- they're *not* flat-PANEL displays -- but the viewing surface is completely flat. Benefits include less glare, less distortion, and better viewing from angles. All this is true on the Sony Wega I decided to purchase, and I would highly recommend paying the extra dough for flat. True, today's curved tube screens aren't *that* curved, but for just about $125 more on any brand, you get the flat surface. The benefits are worth it plus, okay, it looks totally cool!.
Note that flat-front tube TVs are HEAVY and all the weight is concentrated on the front, so be careful carrying and lifting the TV and be aware of what sort of stand or cabinet you rest the set on. This Sony Wega weighs 100 pounds. It has smartly designed "handle" indentations molded into the front side edges of the housing that allow you to lift it while resting the screen against your belly/chest for support. But still, the mother is heavy! and I nearly dropped it bringing it into my living room from my car. (Another note for those who eschew delivery -- save the money!: If you remove this TV from its cardboard carton, you can fit the set into the back seat of an Acura TL sedan with no trouble. But I'd recommend having a friend waiting at your house to help you bring it inside.)
Sony, No Baloney
Unlike some reviewers throughout Epinions, I have a very high regard for Sony's consumer electronics. I've owned Sony boomboxes, CD players, Discmen, Walkmen, TVs, VCRs, audio receivers, telephones, you name it, and they've all performed as promised. Also, they all lasted as long as I thought they should given what I paid for each of those products. I cannot say the same about the dollar-to-reliability ratio for some other manufacturer's, namely JVC, Toshiba, Samsung, Hitachi and Aiwa. (Yes, I've bought a lot of home electronic equipment in my life!). I *have* had good luck with various Panasonic products, though, and I know the world is full of Panny fans. My DVD player is a second-generation Panasonic model, aging nicely thankyou nevergivesmetrouble.
So I trust Sony, and I trust their Trinitron line. Their new Wega line is only a few years old, but friends and acquaintances alike have had good lasting luck with Wega sets. Also, the company I work for is in the television business in a big way, and all the sets around the offices are Wegas. I doubt corporate purchasing got a good deal on them (Sony doesn't need to cut sweetheart deals for corporate customers; everyone buys Sony products anyway), so I assume we purchased them because we believe in the quality and reliability.
If I was willing to spend as much as $1,300 on a new TV, why did I buy a $550 one? Because, in the 27-inch market, non-HD (i.e., NTSC format), this Sony is an outstanding value. And value is important because I believe that I will eventually buy a high-def set, maybe as soon as in 2-3 years, so I didn't want to feel bad about buying an NTSC TV for a grand and then wanting to replace it with high-def in a couple of years. At $550 for this Wega, I will feel fine about replacing it in 2-3 years for high-def. Maybe sell it for fifty bucks at a garage sale, maybe give it to a friend, whatever. But $550 for a flat-surface Sony -- that's *almost* good enough to be called a bargain.
A note on where I bought it: I shop carefully for the best prices when I've decided on a particular model for a new purchase, and I did the same with this Sony TV. Five hundred and fifty seemed to be the going low price at reputable dealers. Only fly-by-night stores and mail-order operations offered it for less (if they had it in stock; lots of places advertised a lower price but when I checked they were out of stock). Surprising to me, the Sears in Burbank, Calif., had the Wega at $549 and in stock, so I bought mine there. I usually avoid Sears but, heck, a TV's a TV no matter where you buy it from and they had this particular model at my determined "right price". I made sure that I could return it for an exchange in case my particular item was a lemon, and Sears has a 30-day no-questions exchange and return policy.
Features? Well, It's the Picture, Stupid.
Don't buy this model if you need or want a gazillion inputs, picture-in-picture (PIP), or other fancy features which I think are of dubious value. What this model offers is the flat screen, a good digital filter and selectable velocity modulation, an excellent and usable on-screen menu display system, a good remote control that doesn't approximate the cockpit of a jumbo jet, and one component input in the back and one standard video/audio set of inputs on the lower front edge. For my world, that's enough. But if you need more, especially PIP or more direct inputs, you'll need to buy a JVC l'Art or buy a more expensive model Wega.
The best "feature" of this Wega, in my opinion, is the picture. The sharpness, color, depth, clarity, and smoothness are superb. I have nothing but admiration for the quality of the picture of my new TV. Other reviewers have noted negatives but I have none. This Sony's picture is just superb, right out of the box. You can fiddle with many facets of the picture -- color, hue, sharpness, velocity modulation, etc. -- but I found that it was essentially perfect with the factory default settings.
Some other features worth noting are the remote, the on-screen menu, and the "16:9 enhancement mode". First the remote -- it's great! Simple and well-laid out and in a pleasing silver plastic. It can be programmed to run other brands' equipment, too, but I haven't tried it yet. The on-screen menu is also excellent! Too many TV's menus are confusing, but the Wega's menu is translucent over the picture, so as you make selections on the menu (e.g., setting picture color to "warm"), you can see the picture change as a result. Plus, the translucent multi-hued appearance of the menu icons and text is very cool-looking. I found toggling among the various settings and making changes almost intuitive using the simply laid-out remote.
Another convenience feature of this Sony: It automatically switches to the appropriate input when you power on the connected device and play a signal through it. In other words, if you've hooked up your VCR to the set's Video 1 inputs, you simply turn on the TV, turn on your VCR and hit "play", and the TV automatically switches to its Video 1 input. You can of course manually toggle among the 4 separate video inputs (3 rear inputs, 1 front panel set of inputs), but I find this auto-input sensing feature a nice convenience.
There is one feature this particular Wega contains that no sets in this price range offer, and it's one of the reasons for buying this model. The "16:9 enhancement mode" feature is very nifty. You switch it on via the on-screen menu and the TV plays DVDs with the picture resolution at nearly twice what it normally would be. (This enhancement mode only operates for DVD viewing.) It does this by not applying any lines of resolution to the horizontal letterboxing, the wide black strips, above and below the picture. So all the horizontal lines of resolution are applied *only* to the actual picture itself. Clever! When you watch a DVD and switch back-and-forth between enhancement mode On and Off, the difference in sharpness and detail is rather shocking. I mostly use my television for watching DVDs (I'm a movie-lover, remember), so this enhancement mode is a genuine plus. I dare say that with the enhancement mode turned on, the image quality of DVDs nearly approaches high-def's picture quality!
However, I've discovered that, depending on the specific disc I'm watching, sometimes the aspect ratio looks screwy in this mode. The picture is super-sharp with the 16:9 enhancement mode switched to On, but the images look stretched wide and everything is sort of squished down flatter. I suspect it depends on the anamorphic signal being sent by my DVD player and that also has to do with the actual disc and how the image was encoded. Too bad, because the enhancement mode's positive effects on the image quality are very good ... but it only works well with some of my DVD titles. I will have to do further research to find out why this behavior is happening. Still, this shouldn't turn you off to this Wega. You can just watch DVDs in regular mode, with the regular letter-boxing going on, and the picture is great.
I should also note, if you're a movie-lover like me, that the 16:9 mode means that the image shown is truly 16 units wide by 9 units high. That's the proper aspect ratio for watching movies, yes, but on a 27-inch screen, it translates to a very small image. I suggest only utilizing the 16:9 mode if you're sitting close to the set, say, within 6-9 feet. Otherwise, even though the image quality is razor-clear in this mode, because the picture is formatted at 16:9, the size of the picture on your 27-inch screen suddenly feels very tiny. Based on my experience, I would guess that this enhancement mode works wonders on a 36-inch set or larger-sized screen.
Like many movie-lovers, I route the audio for television viewing through my home stereo system, so the audio capabilities of the TV set weren't a concern for me. It wasn't even a factor in my purchasing decision. Of course, many consumer *do* utilize their TV set's audio, so I'll mention my findings briefly.
There are two bottom-mounted front speakers and they produce adequate sound quality. Their position on the cabinet means the entire chassis is smaller (narrower) and I deem this a positive, because it means the set takes up less horizontal space, allowing it to fit inside amoires or on smaller tables and cabinets. If physical space is a consideration for you, this Sony's chassis is good. However, the speakers' proximity to one another with this mounting arrangement means less stereo separation.
Also, the bass is, not surprisingly, very lacking. News programs and sports and such sound fine but if you're watching movies, route the sound through your home stereo system instead.
The set does offer the typical Stereo, SAP (second audio program), and Mono audio settings, and they're conveniently toggled among one another with one button on the remote -- handy. There's also a "Surround" effect mode, which means that a normal two-channel stereo signal is digitally altered by the set to fake a surround effect. Useful for watching movies and sports that are broadcast in surround sound when you don't have an actual surround-sound speaker set up ... switch the Surround effect On and you can simulate the openness and resonance of true surround. It works okay.
There are standard audio in and out jacks on the rear panel, and you also have the option of turning off the built-in speakers entirely. That's for those TV watchers who are absolutists about audio quality -- you are essentially preventing any sound from coming out of the Wega's speakers no matter what. This feature is easily switched On and Off.
The Few Negatives
These are nitpicks and none should discourage you from choosing this TV, but in fairness, they should be mentioned.
The chassis is not bullet-proof plastic or steel; it feels like it would crack and splinter if knocked around too much. Granted, most TVs today are housed in cheapie plastic, but I would've liked better from Sony. Also, I accidentally rubbed one corner of the chassis against my wall while moving the set around and the grey paint came off. That's not much paint on this box and that's too bad.
I have a miniDV camcorder and I like that I can hook it up via the front-panel jacks to watch my tapes. However, my camcorder, and most current good models today, offers an S-video output and this Sony's sole S-video jack is on the rear panel, not on the front set. So when watching camcorder tapes, I either have to route an S-video cable to the rear panel (a pain, and unsightly to boot) or I have to use the low-grade composite video input on the front panel. S-video connections *do* make a difference in picture quality, so it's too bad this model doesn't offer an S-video in on the front.
I always read owner's manuals, and I read this Sony's too. You're not going to believe this, but I think the manual was too simplistic and not detailed enough! It was written and formatted so that an idiot could set up, hook up, and operate the unit quickly out of the box. That's great, I suppose, but it's a sophisticated piece of consumer electronics packed with design and features, and I would've prefered a manual that detailed everything in granularity.
As I've written, if you don't need a gazillion inputs and don't need PIP and you're seeking a 27-inch screen, I would highly recommend this set. And, if you're like me and will use the TV heavily for DVD viewing, then this is probably *the* 27-inch set to buy. You could spend more, say, $650-$800, but it wouldn't buy you much else that you really needed (again, in the 27-inch market). If you need a new 27-inch TV, get this Wega and in a couple of years, you and I will go HDTV shopping together and we'll be happy that we only spent $550 for our last analog television set. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying a superb picture, a simple remote, and all the features we really need.
Sony Trinitrons have earned accolades from consumers and experts alike for years, and their new Wega line has earned them even more. I now join those ranks of applauding consumers. This is a fantastic television.