On the surface Sony's new CRT television, the 36in KV-36HQ100B, looks like A Very Bad Idea. With practically every big-screen punter these days going nuts for flat-panel TV technologies, and prices of such beauties dropping daily, a truly colossal 36in CRT costing two grand seems to make as much sense as the plot of our test disc, Van Helsing.
Still, if anyone can persuade us that such a TV still has a place on God's earth, we guess it's Sony...The KV-36HQ100B wears its bulk mighty well. Its daring matt-black finish is gorgeous - especially as it's offset by some sexy silver bits included for, seemingly, no other reason than they look nice. Sort of like Van Helsing's three vampiresses.
What's more, Sony hasn't skimped on connections. The highlight in usefulness terms is the provision of four Scarts, while the highlight in gimmickry terms is a MemoryStick slot with which you can play back digital pictures on your TV - or record still frames from the TV. Should you ever feel the urge to do such an odd thing...
As befits a flagship TV (the KV-36HQ100B undoubtedly tops the Sony CRT pile) there's a hugely slick operating system. Revamped on-screen menus look lovely and are effortless to negotiate, while the remote control is pure class.
Equally flagship-worthy is the features list. The leader of the pack is Picture Power. Created exclusively for the KV-36HQ100B, Picture Power actually covers a wide range of different picture processes, including a couple of different 100Hz options and, most intriguingly, a new clever clogs 'filter' for Sony's DRC-MF processing.
For the uninitiated, DRC-MF is essentially a system that adds fine details to the picture. Picture Power refines DRC-MF by studying the picture in minute detail to decide where DRC-MF is actually needed, thereby ensuring that strong picture parts aren't encumbered by unnecessary processing.
Fine and dandy
For instance, one element of the Picture Power filter allows it to distinguish picture noise from 'real' image data, thereby avoiding the situation normally seen with DRC-MF whereby the system can actually enhance picture noise at the same time as it tries to improve the rest of the picture.
The net results of Picture Power processing are reckoned by Sony to include an improved contrast range and greater image stability, plus movement that looks both smoother and sharper. Another nifty thing helping justify the KV-36HQ100B's hefty price tag is its use of a new Sony Super Fine Picture Tube. This, Sony claims, delivers a sharper focus across the entire image than a normal CRT, and around 60 per cent more horizontal picture resolution.
After this, other bits and bobs like twin tuner picture in- picture, noise reduction and Virtual Dolby sonics seem mere trivialities - but we reckon it's only fair to mention them anyway.
It would be tragic if all this front-end loveliness was ruined by a poor performance. But it isn't. Quite the opposite. In fact, we feel confident about declaring the KV-36HQ100B's pictures the absolute best we've ever seen on a 36in TV. And we've got so much evidence to back this claim up that it's difficult to know where to start.
Let's go for... colours. The vibrancy and saturation of the KV-36HQ100B's hues has to be seen to be believed, leaving rare colourful scenes in Van Helsing - such as the masked ball - looking blisteringly radiant. But, predictably given its vampire-heavy content, Van Helsing is dominated by shadows and night-time scenes, so it's just as well that another of the Sony's many talents is a spectacular contrast range. If there's a large-screen TV able to deliver deeper, truer blacks, we haven't seen it.
If anything, the KV-36HQ100B's way with fine details is even more astonishing than its colours and contrast. The quality of the Van Helsing DVD transfer is far better than the actual movie, and delivers bags of fine detail all by itself. But the Sony just uses this as a starting block, with Picture Power adding remarkable amounts of extra texture to detailed shots like the mountains and valleys Van Helsing travels on his way to Transylvania - and all without introducing any nasty side-effects.
The lack of side-effects is also wonderfully apparent when it comes to movement displayed on the Sony. The flying antics of Dracula's three brides during their attack on the village look much smoother and sharper than they do on an 'ordinary' TV thanks to Picture Power, yet there's practically none of the flickering or shimmering that afflicts similar processing from rival manufacturers.
The KV-36HQ100B looks so good with Van Helsing, in fact, that, for possibly the first time ever - or at least for as long as we can remember, we're going to use the P word: perfect. We can't think of any way in which these pictures could be improved.
The only time the Sony is less than perfect is with analogue TV broadcasts. While these still look good, their inherent ropiness can confuse Picture Power into throwing up one or two artefacts - such as smearing and softness. This makes us think it a pity that Sony didn't include a digital tuner in such an otherwise cutting-edge TV - but provided you've got digital terrestrial or Sky digital, you'll be just fine.
Amazingly, the KV-36HQ100B's sonics are as great as its pictures. The extended Van Helsing scene where Dracula tries to transfer the Frankenstein monster's life to his 'children' is packed with bass, spatial effects, bright trebles and the potential for overwhelmed dialogue. But the Sony takes everything in its stride, painting a rich, fully rounded, effortlessly potent soundstage that never once sounds harsh or compressed. We've heard separate home cinema speaker systems that don't sound this good!
In summary, you should forget our opening worries about whether the KV-36HQ100B has a place in today's world - it does, with bells on. Someone at Sony has clearly made this screen a labour of love, with spectacular, world-beating results. This means that, even if this turns out to be large-screen CRT's swan-song, it deserves a big fan base - no matter how much it costs.