Forty thousand dollars for a TV set? Honest. And, no, it's not made of gold and diamonds.
It's the Sony PV-4300, featuring a 43-inch tube-the largest and most expensive direct-view (tube) TV on the market. Before Sony recently made this one available to consumers, the largest picture tube available was 35 inches, selling for at least $2,500 in sets made by companies including Zenith, JVC and Sharp.
The reason the big-screen Sony is so expensive, explained Jim Palumbo, president of Sony's Consumer Display Products Co., is that the few on the market are handmade. He said the company has no immediate plans to put it in mass production, which would significantly lower the price. But that price hasn't been a deterrent to at least three people. Palumbo said Sony has sold three of the PVM-4300s so far.
On the other hand, for a mere $6,000, Mitsubishi offers the largest rear-projection TV on the market, the 70-inch VS-700 2R. Mitsubishi makes rear-projection TVs with 100-inch and 120-inch screens, but they don't have cabinets and require custom installation.
As luck would have it, Sony's PV-4300 and the Mitsubishi VS-700 2R are side by side at Rogersound Labs in Santa Monica. The Sony unit is available in Southern California only at that Rogersound Labs and at Circuit City in West Los Angeles.
This comparison setup was an opportunity to match the biggest direct-view TV versus the largest rear-projection TV. In terms of brightness, clarity and sharpness of color, the Sony, a digitally enhanced set known as improved definition TV (IDTV), is the easy winner.
But this was no surprise, since direct-view sets, with their relatively small screens, always offer a better picture than do sprawling rear-projection sets, which sacrifice clarity for size.
Though it can't quite match the quality of picture on the giant-tube Sony, the rear-projection Mitsubishi does offer a surprisingly good picture. If you sit in the viewing seat set about eight feet directly in front the screen, you can see the optimal picture the set delivers. Up closer or looking at the screen from different angles, though, you see the fuzziness surrounding the images.
But getting close to the Sony didn't make the picture seem any less excellent.
Still, compared to the common rear-projection picture of a year or two ago, the Mitsubishi shows there's been a marked improvement in this kind of TV set.
In terms of sound, both are equipped with Dolby Surround sound. The Sony sound seemed sharper, particularly the highs, but the Mitsubishi's sound was still of high quality.
In screen size, of course, the Mitsubishi was naturally superior. Companies manufacturing big rear-projection sets count on the fact that the upscale customers who can afford them prize size over picture clarity and color sharpness.
Some industry observers have speculated that the marketing of this 43-inch set indicates that in the near future, Sony may introduce a mass-produced line of sets with screen-size somewhere between the big one and the 35-inchers. Palumbo, though, said right now Sony has no such plans.