Viewing When you first turn the 960 on, you'll see a bright, vivid color picture that's meant to impress you. It will (in a way), but it's also far from either accurate or ideal. Such is the nature of the VIVID factory preset. But while VIVID was too vivid and caused significant video overload, other presets were useful (though BRIGHTNESS needed increasing, at least on my sample). For instance, I changed over to STANDARD and adjusted BRIGHTNESS (higher, to 42) to get a good picture in a lighted room. STANDARD automatically selected NATURAL color temperature, which definitely had a bluish bias but didn't look too bad, but I changed that to WARM, which gave more accurate color. If you're using the WARM color temperature, you'll need to set COLOR AXIS to MONITOR to get rid of excess red. COLOR sometimes had to be reduced to 25. SHARPNESS is fine for HD at the mid setting (31), but most DVDs will look better with less edge
enhancement (20). DRC adjustment seems just about ideal at the default settings of MEMORY 1. Scan Velocity Modulation (SVM) is subtle on this set and useful for increasing the apparent sharpness of lower quality sources. Leave it off for high-resolution program material. Now that we're all adjusted, it's time to do some critical viewing.
My HD viewing was done with over-the-air broadcasts via the Sony's internal tuner with a separate set-top box (HDMI and component connections) used for comparison. The internal tuner in the 34XBR960 is great— easily a match for my STB. As for the overall picture, here's the bottom line: This set excels at subtlety. Its screen isn't big enough or quite bright enough to give that "looking at reality through a glass window" effect that HD can occasionally provide. Yet its picture has punch, not because it can go so bright, but because it can go so dark yet fully retain detail and texture down there in the dark grays. Its picture has beauty not because the colors are overly striking and vivid, but because they're beautifully saturated and incredibly natural. While detail is abundant, it never slaps you in the face. Like the best tube audio gear, it takes a while to really appreciate just how good the 960 really is, but make no mistake, the 960 really is quite incredible.
My local PBS station showed an HD broadcast of ancient burial tombs in Jerusalem with many of the beautiful scenes lit by candles alone. Plasma sets in my room that had seemed more dazzling with sporting events looked just plain ugly by comparison. A Tonight Show comparison with my reference 42” plasma scored a clear win for the CRT set with a smoother, more film-like presentation, fewer artifacts, less edge enhancement, far better blacks, and better color, yet with comparable definition and a picture that looked only slightly less vivid. Many SD programs looked impressive, too, and at a viewing distance of 8-10’ could look very much like HD, even through a sharp pair of eyes. Lower quality cable channels also showed remarkably well, partially due to Sony's scaler and partially due to the smallish 34” screen. While light output isn't blinding, it's more than enough for watching in a lighted room. For DVDs, I used the progressive (480p) output of the excellent Pioneer DV-59AVi DVD player ($1500) as a reference and found that 480i into the Sony was difficult to fault, actually bettering the Pioneer's 480p output in one or two difficult tests and nearly always looking just as good on movies. Lesser DVD players might well look better if run at 480i.
Two DVDs that I knew would be interesting viewing on this set were Pirates of the Caribbean and Master and Commander. Because both films contain quite a bit of dark material, even the best plasmas I've watched them on have looked mediocre. The 960 looked truly gorgeous, with natural flesh tones and saturated colors in the darker scenes that set it far ahead of any other display I've yet seen. Too bad they can't make this thing in a 50” size!
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Never underestimate the best CRTbased televisions for overall picture quality. When properly set up and calibrated, they (and particularly this set) can still show a picture filled with beauty and subtlety that will blow the doors off newfangled designs of similar screen sizes when all kinds of program material are considered. Yet, in spite of