Trivial Pursuit piece. Cheese. Door stop. Shoe. Rogue Squadron pilot. The humble wedge has many uses. In 2014, we can add TV design to that illustrious list, as Sony introduces a wedge shape to its higher-end TV line-up.
Individualistic it may be, but it transpires that there’s sound sense behind the move. Good design, after all, is a combination of form and function, and here the wider base of the wedge cabinet has been used to house a pair of decent, downward-firing Long Duct speakers. For those frustrated by uninspiring flatscreen audio this can only be good news.
But the KDL-55W955’s design quirks don’t stop here. The set’s boots are similarly noteworthy. These affix at the left and right screen edges, creating a wide-footed stance that will challenge some AV furniture. While there’s a secondary fixing to move the feet more central, this spoils the aesthetics. Meanwhile the top-mounted Full HD Skype camera isn’t integrated into the bezel and instead is lashed up Heath-Robinson USB style.
Connection highlights are four HDMIs, one of which is ARC and MHL compliant, three USB inputs (one assigned for HDD recording duties), Ethernet and optical digital output. Wi-Fi is integrated. There’s also a rear-mounted control-pad, should you lose one of the two remotes supplied. In addition to the IR zapper, which now comes festooned with a variety of shortcuts including Social View, Netflix and Football, there’s a simplified RF touchpad remote designed specifically to work with the new Discovery bar element of the set’s UI.
The aforementioned Football mode automatically engages a sound DSP intended to emulate a Brazilian stadium, as part of Sony's World Cup tie-in. Apparently it’s based on actual measurements, which must mean that visiting said venue is akin to sticking your head inside a plastic bucket whilst dancing the Samba.
Not only has Sony reinvented the telly form factor for this set, the brand’s Smart interface is overhauled compared to 2013 models. Selecting SEN (Sony Entertainment Network), whips you away to a silo’d app window where your most-used services reside. Sony still only offers partial catch-up, in the form of BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, which is a little disappointing. Other streaming attractions include Amazon, Netflix, Mubi, Sony’s own movie streaming service and YouTube. The full unfettered selection consists largely of junk.
Another new feature is the One Flick Discovery bar, which sits at the bottom of the screen and filters/recommends things to watch, from broadcast to online content. You can also keyword search specifics. As a Search tool it’s very powerful.
A less successful introduction is Social View, which issues a stream of tweets across the bottom of the screen which either relate to the TV show being broadcast or specific search terms. The end result is rather distracting, not least for others in the room who may actually prefer to watch the TV au naturel. And as there’s no expletive filtering, it’s hardly a suitable feature for family viewing.
Despite some big connected ideas, the actual execution is undermined by the set’s operational speed, or rather lack of it. The TV sometimes appears to struggle to keep up. ‘Please Wait’ messages are not uncommon, and just manoeuvring around the UI can see the menus shudder and stutter with effort. It’s far from buttery smooth.
On the plus side, image quality borders on top-notch. The set doesn’t offer any deep calibration trickery, but then doesn’t really need it. For the best clarity without unwanted ringing artefacts, set Sharpness to around 30. Any less, and the image blurs significantly. Finer details are enhanced by Sony’s proprietary X-Reality Pro processor which manages the difficult job of improving subjective resolution without adding artifice.
The TV couples Sony’s X-Tended Dynamic Range processing to wide gamut Triluminos colour, resulting in bold, beguiling images. Jack Asher’s lurid cinematography on Terence Fisher's Dracula (1958), as played back on the remastered Blu-ray set from Lionsgate, provides the perfect palette to push the panel. The movie’s preponderance of rich red curtains and drapes positively glow on the screen, while the use of velvety greens and purples are lush without ever seeming radioactive (a typical flaw of lesser LCDs).
Motion resolution, a long-standing strength of Sony, is consistently above average. Warranting a Motionflow XR 400Hz rating, the set offers a range of interpolation cocktails, most of which taste great. For studio content and sports, use Motionflow Clear which combines crisp clean images with a fulsome 1080 lines of moving resolution (measured at 6.5ppf). Avoid the Smooth preset, though. This imparts smudgy motion artefacts around moving objects, without retaining any high resolution detail. The Standard setting is a better bet; motion resolution is around 800/850 lines. True Cinema looks similar, but motion resolution here drops to around 700 lines. Alternatively, just turn Motionflow off whenever you get out the popcorn.
The panel itself delivers deep, smooth blacks (but not best-in-class) with punchy contrast. Night scenes are inky without sacrificing too much shadow detail. And while there are some uniformity errors, backlight illumination is generally good. The backlight gives the best results when set on 4.
The TV employs passive 3D, with two pairs of glasses supplied. Stereographic images prove comfortable to watch, although the lack of resolution is noticeable. Still, Disney’s Tangled remains bright and immersive, so bespectacled viewers are unlikely to complain.
The W95’s wedge-enhanced audio performance proves to be very satisfying. There’s appreciable volume from the on-board S-Force 2x 10W digital amplifier, as well as mid-range heft. There’s really no incentive to add a soundbar (apart from a very good one) to augment audio.
While the W95 has an integrated media server for playing content from both networked devices and USB, it’s a bit rubbish. The player repeatedly stopped working from two different NAS devices, and even baulked when accessing USB (normally the bullet-proof option). Video support, when it worked, covers a host of codecs and containers, including MKV, MP4 and WMV. Audio spans MP3, AAC/M4A, WMA and WAV. Music plays with album art if it's available.
Overall, the KDL-55W955 can be considered an accomplished AV performer, yet with a somewhat curmudgeonly personality. Hopefully Sony will address the unreliability of its media server software – it fails too frequently to be forgivable – but other aspects of its connectability can’t be changed. The 2014 app user interface is a mixed bag; aping rivals too closely for comfort and not offering a particularly seamless user experience, although conversely the One Flick Discovery bar is a worthwhile content search and filtering tool.
Where it does warrant plaudits is its performance. The wedge design has been successfully exploited to bolster audio. Full HD picture clarity is high, with vibrant colour fidelity and great dynamics.
Price: £1,450 Approx
Highs: Excellent image detail and motion resolution; Wedge design; Discovery content bar
Lows: Clunky app portal; sluggish behaviour; unstable media server; ugly Skype camera; Social View nonsense
3D: Yes. Passive (two pairs of glasses supplied)
4K: No. 1,920 x 1,080
Tuner: Yes. Freeview HD; satellite
Connections: 4 x HDMI; Scart; component; 3 x USB; Ethernet; optical digital audio output; CI slot
Sound: 2 x 10W
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (Claimed): ‘More than one million’
Dimensions (off stand): 1,240(w) x 790(h) x 92(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 19.5kg
Features: Motionflow XR400; media server playback from USB and network; integrated Wi-Fi; X-Reality PRO processing engine; Clearaudio +; One-Flick Discovery UI and Sony Entertainment Network; Skype; Miracast; Social View; Triluminos display; Wedge design; numerous picture presets including Vivid, Standard, Custom, Cinema1 and Cinema2; Advanced Contrast Enhancer
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