Razor-sharp pictures and a revamped Smart system ensure this mid-range 50-incher is ready to thrill
The temptation is to call 'time' already. If you want a superb 1080p LED connected TV, look no further. Buying conundrum solved – this Sony is all you need. Let’s hit the izakaya. Of course, to be that presumptuous would be madness. This new W8 doesn’t even lead Sony’s own 2014 TV fleet, for crying out loud...
In terms of design, the W8 is a paragon of economy. The bezel is wistfully slight, barely big enough for Sony’s BRAVIA branding and belying the actual screen dimensions. The black metallic trim is just enough to frame the image, but the look is premium and provides better contrast than silver or grey alternatives.
Connectivity on this £900 TV isn’t skimped on either. You get four HDMIs and two USBs – one intended for recording programmes from the Freeview HD (or DVB-S satellite) tuner to an external drive – plus component and phono AV inputs. And, as this is aimed at Mr and Mrs average, there’s also a Scart. Wi-Fi is integrated, although an Ethernet port is provided for wiser owls with a hardwired network connection to their viewing room.
Sony has made some changes to its Smart usability this year, and appears to be taking a lead from its market-leading rival Samsung. The understated menu integration for connected content that I liked a lot last season has been benched, replaced with a full screen of streaming apps from the Sony Entertainment Network (aka SEN). It’s hugely unsubtle, lacking the elegance of what went before. It’ll carry more impact in store, though, which is probably the thinking behind the twist. This interface is also a little sluggish, reflecting a lack of processing grunt for the task.
Sony has similarly taken a lead from Samsung’s S-Recommendation engine, with its new One Flick Discovery/recommendation system, but this is an altogether more successful swipe.
A number of Discovery bars revolve at the bottom of the screen. In addition to offering content suggestions for upcoming linear TV and radio shows, YouTube and Sony’s own Video Unlimited movie streaming offerings, you can create your own bars with keywords. Another newcomer is Social View, a Twitter implementation that disgorges a stream of Tweets across the bottom of the screen.
While Sony can’t yet offer a full house of mainstream catch-up (just BBC iPlayer and Demand 5), there’s no real shortage of 'net TV services to peruse. Netflix leads the pack (and indeed warrants its own button on the cheapo remote), followed by YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Mubi, BBC News and a bunch of loopy left-field offerings.
The TV is also a DLNA-certified media player, although my early sample wasn’t quite on form. Fed a USB stick, the set did a good job with most popular codecs and containers, including MKV, WMV and AVIs. However, while it could see my DLNA servers across a network, it crashed moments after securing a connection. Hopefully this file flibble is nothing a simple firmware update won’t fix.
Ultimately, what makes the W8 such good value is its image quality. This TV clearly has no sense of its relatively affordable stature; it’s positively delusional when it comes to matters of class.
Sony has swapped its W8 panel supplier from last year, and this has yielded slightly better blacks. Combined with lush colour reproduction and the ability of Sony’s proprietary X-Reality Pro picture algorithm to deliver lemon-like image sharpness, it delivers a picture fit enough to mingle undetected amongst the flatpanel elite.
Band of Brothers (Blu-ray) stylistically uses film grain to great effect, and this is exasperated by scenes of white, winter warfare. A lesser processor would struggle to separate true detail from such gritty noise, yet the W8 is able to distinguish between the two and there’s very little onscreen collateral damage. Threadbare uniforms are given tangible texture. The TV also does a remarkable job balancing the high contrast, retaining shadow detail in bombed-out French farmhouses and German tanks yet not bleaching the snowy battlefields.
Adaptive X-Reality PRO processing is applied to all sources, from broadcast TV to streaming internet services. On/Off comparisons reveal significantly more image delineation when engaged, yet there’s no additional processing artefacts. While the W8 offers a reasonable amount of fine tuning, you need only dial down the sharpness dial (to no more than 25 on the scale) to get a premium performance.
The KDL-50W829 also proves remarkably good off axis. There’s very little contrast or vibrancy sacrificed if you get lumbered with the cheap seats.
Perhaps, though, Sony’s greatest engineering coup is its motion handling. Here the W8 strides ahead of rivals. It’s not just image smoothness that’s so impressive; the set excels when it comes to motion picture detail resolution. There’s a host of Motionflow XR800 modes on offer, most of which are able to magically maintain Full HD resolution.
I measured the modes and discovered definition at 6.5ppf (pixels per frame) maxed out at 1080 lines in Clear, Clear Plus and Impulse modes. Even the Standard setting delivers around 950 lines. This TV will keep images crisp yet doesn’t lumber the picture with ugly processing artefacts. This makes the W8 absolutely ideal for sports coverage.
Recognising that frame interpolation isn’t always desired, because it’s not inherently cinematic, Sony also provides a film-friendly mode. True Cinema doesn’t retain motion resolution above around 600 lines but traditionalists will probably prefer the viewing experience because there’s no soap opera effect. For gamers there’s also a low-lag games mode, which again proves highly effective. This TV can cater for all sources.
Surprisingly, Sony’s LED thinscreen also sounds rather better than physics might indicate. Downward-firing bass reflex speakers, housed in a slightly expanded lower-section of the bezel, manage to deliver a modicum of channel separation. If you hanker after proper extended bass then Sony offers a wireless subwoofer for £250, but your money would probably be better spent on a dedicated sound system or higher-spec soundbar.
The aforementioned change of LCD panel supplier has also led to a return of Active Shutter 3D. Two pairs of glasses are included in the box. While less comfortable to wear than passive specs, the stereography is undeniably effective, with no enormous penalty paid in overall brightness. There’s some inescapable crosstalk double imaging, clearly evidenced by the menu screen for perennial 3D favourite Tangled, but for the odd special event viewing and kids' content it’s enjoyably immersive.
The KDL-50W829 is astonishingly good value. As a connected Smart TV it’s bolstered by the new content discovery engine, and usability is high. Yet what makes this such a killer proposition is its 1080p image performance. In terms of detail and motion picture handling, it’s fabulous. Perhaps you won’t need that 4K upgrade just yet...
Price: £900 Approx
Highs: Excellent image quality; superb motion handling; One-Flick Discovery recommendation engine; slim bezel design
Lows: Social View feature intrusive; flaky media server performance; sluggish SEN Smart screen; Active Shutter 3D crosstalk
3D: Yes. Active Shutter
4K: No. 1,920 x 1,080
Tuner: Yes. 1 x Freeview HD; 1 x DVB-S satellite
Connections: 4 x HDMI; component; phono AV; Scart; Ethernet; 2 x USB; digital optical audio output; CI slot
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (claimed): 1 million:1 'plus'
Dimensions (off stand): 1116(w) x 656(h) x 162(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 13.6kg
Features: Motionflow XR800; media file playback from USB and network; integrated Wi-Fi, X-Reality PRO processing engine; Clearaudio +; One-Flick Discovery UI and Sony Entertainment network
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