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Monitoring The New Monster Tubes

July 18, 1986|TERRY ATKINSON

Just as we were getting used to calling the new breed of televisions monitors , we may have to start calling them monsters . There's a new TV set whose screen measures 35 inches across, enough to make a spectacle of everything from movies to baseball games to, gulp, Pat Sajak.

In itself, a 35-inch screen may not be so startling in this age of projection TVs. But the Mitsubishi CK-3501R monitor/receiver, which also comes in three console versions, isn't a projection model. It's a direct-view, all-one-unit monitor/receiver--tipping the scales at 275 pounds--without any projection drawbacks. And a 35-inch TV screen provides an image 86% larger than a 26-inch screen.

Until the CK-3501R, electronics engineers were unable to develop a tube of that size that wouldn't implode. While imploding isn't as dangerous as it sounds, it still isn't something you want happening while watching "Dynasty."

So what solved the problem? Modern computers, of course. Their simulations calculated possible stress points in this Moby Dick of picture tubes.

"Actually, there was another aspect to perfecting the tube after the stress problem was overcome," said Marc Auerbach, assistant product manager at Mitsubishi Electric's Cypress, headquarters. "The glass was thicker all the way around the tube, including the front portion that you view--it was so thick there that you couldn't see through it properly. So another piece of glass was laminated on top of that part, and the two layers together corrected the optical clarity."

How does the set shape up? According to the only objective test so far, a CBS Labs report in the July Video Review, the set passes with "flying colors"--accurate ones too. Plus "outstanding" video frequency response, picture resolution and other specifications that add up to a great picture.

Now the biggest question for interested consumers is whether they'll be able to examine and purchase the monster monitor as soon as they'd like. Auerbach says that even though Mitsubishi has begun manufacturing the sets in quantity and started a nationwide advertising campaign, "the supply is still going to be somewhat limited. A lot of excitement has been created ever since a prototype was shown at the (January) 1985 Winter CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. So there's going to be a backup of orders at some dealers."

This Mitsubishi CK-3501R may indeed be a big hit, considering that many rear-projection sets are only slightly larger, in the 36-to-40-inch range. Besides its 35-inch screen, the CK-3501R comes with all the other things expected from a sophisticated monitor, including a stereo decoder (MTS) with secondary audio (SAP) capability, a built-in pair of speakers with a separate woofer and tweeter in each (the receiver packs only 10 watts per channel, however), line and speaker outputs, 139-channel cable capability, frequency-synthesizer tuning, wireless remote control, a simulated stereo effect for monophonic sound . . .

. . . And, before anyone gets too excited, a suggested retail price of $3200.

So will Mitsubishi stop at 35 inches? Of course not. The company may introduce a 40-inch direct-view set in Japan as early as this fall.

MONITOR-ING THE NEW SETS: A lot of people have trouble figuring out the difference between regular TV sets and monitors.

The distinctions are blurry, because no real standards exist regarding what makes a TV a monitor, or a monitor/receiver, or a "monitor-style" set. So it's important for a shopper to see if a specific set has desired features no matter what it's called.

The term monitor was initially used for televisions without tuners, used in situations where they would receive a signal from a nearby source like a computer, or in closed-circuit use. Today the term is becoming more commonly (and indiscriminately ) used in reference to modern TV sets with tuners and much else. They offer some or all of the following features:

--Improved resolution. Older sets usually offer 250 or fewer "scan lines" of picture detail, about half the amount being broadcast on American systems. Thanks to special circuitry, and especially comb filters, monitors generally offer between 350-400 lines and a sharper picture as a result.

--Square screens. The new squarer, flatter picture tubes have a less distorted picture than the old-fashioned kind, and add a little area to the screen--which is why some modern sets are designated as, for example, 20-inch instead of 19-inch.

--Inputs and outputs. Most monitors come with jacks allowing direct audio and video connection to VCRS, amplifiers and receivers, as well as to speakers and computers.

--Cable-ready capability. Monitors can tune to as many as 150 different cable channels, if a cable hookup is made. This does not mean that monitors can receive cable without the owner paying for the service or that they can de-scramble pay channels without a rented converter box.

--Most sets referred to as monitor/receivers have built-in MTS/SAP decoders to receive stereo broadcasts and second-language signals, an expense-adding but desirable feature because before long most television will be broadcast this way.

The important thing to remember: Find out what features are available, then determine which ones you want and which sets have them--no matter what an ad or a salesman calls any specific model.

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