Overall, the Sony KDL-50W829 can be regarded as something of a star. The interface could be more responsive, although priced at less than a grand, it delivers an uncompromising picture performance, and well-rounded feature spec. Its Smart connected functionality is solid, although it lacks a full complement of catch-up. We particularly like the new One-Flick Discovery search and recommendation bar. In all, the W8 is a superb Full HD flatscreen that won’t break the bank.
The 2014 iteration of Sony’s W8 TV range is significantly different from that of 2013. A change in panel supplier has led to some significant picture differences and the brand’s Smart TV portal user interface has been completely overhauled. The end result is a forward-looking LCD television that appears to offer remarkable value for money. See also: Group test: what’s the best TV?
The Sony W8 – tested here in its 50-inch KDL-50W829 guise but also available as the 42-inch KDL-42W829 and 55-inch KDL-55W829 – is not a high-end proposition. At £900, it sits just above Sony’s lookalike W7 models (available in 50-, 42- and 32-inch screen sizes) and below the fancy wedge-designed W85 and W95 models.
The design is suitably minimalistic. A slim black metallic bezel barely seems wide enough to contain the image, while a thin mirrored stand bucks the trend for inelegantly wide feet; it certainly won’t dwarf your AV furniture. The only sop to sensationalism is an illuminated logo and so-called Intelligent Core, which glows at the bottom of the screen in a portentous way.
Connections are generous and include four HDMI, component, phono AV, SCART, two USB (one of which records programmes from the single Freeview HD or HD satellite tuner) and ethernet. Wi-Fi is built-in.
Image quality is outstanding. In terms of detail, colour fidelity and dynamics the W8 punches well above its weight, and motion handling is superb. Adding a really crisp bite to pictures is Sony’s X-Reality PRO picture processor, which works on any connected source. The processor delivers extra texture and nuance to images and seems to have no problems distinguishing between fine detail and unwanted noise.
Motionflow XR800 processing similarly does a cracking job of retaining full motion resolution. The set’s Clear, Clear Plus and Impulse modes all deliver a full 1080 line moving image at 6.5 ppf (pixels per frame) with no obvious artefacts.
Of course the resulting hyper-clean high frame rate look isn’t massively cinematic (unless you really dig the HFR visuals of The Hobbit), so for those that want a more traditional movie viewing experience, there’s also a True Cinema mode. While this sacrifices moving-image resolution (we noted nothing much above 600 lines), it does give a pleasingly cinematic presentation.
The aforementioned panel supplier change has led to improved off-axis viewing (far less contrast is lost when you peer from the side), and a return of Active Shutter 3D technology (last year’s models were Passive).
The 3D performance is fun, with pronounced depth; however there is some crosstalk double imaging evident. It’s unlikely users will find this trait distracting though for causal viewing. Two pairs of 3D glasses are bundled.
When it comes to the Smart user interface, the rather subtle approach of last season has been replaced with a more in-your-face Home screen o’ apps.
The UI is actually a little slow to respond, so processing power is obviously not a core strength.
Still, there’s a good deal of content on the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN), including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and Sony’s own Video Unlimited movie streaming service.
Also new is the so-called One Flick Discovery search and recommendation engine. This comprises a set of horizontal thumbnail bars at the bottom of the screen which previews upcoming TV and radio shows, as well as filtering YouTube and movie content.
What makes the system particularly powerful is the ability to create customised bars with your own keywords. The W8 looks for hits from both broadcast TV and the internet. Keywords can be programme titles, genres or actors; the more generic the better the spread of results populating the Discovery bar. For example, if you have an ongoing penchant for baking, you can be sure whatever’s cooking will be sitting within easy reach.
There’s also neat interaction with Android mobile devices in the form of Screen Mirroring and content lobbing via Miracast.
The screen is DLNA compliant and will play AV content from local USB sticks and across a network. All popular file codecs and containers are supported, including MKV, AVI and WMV.
Despite its slender frame, the W8 actually sounds surprisingly rich, thanks to a pair of ingeniously housed, downward-firing bass reflex speakers. If they don’t deliver quite enough bass for you, Sony offers a dedicated wireless subwoofer priced at £250.
Sony KDL-50W829: Specs
- 50-inch LCD TV
- 1920 x 1080 pixels
- 1x Freeview HD, 1x Satellite DVB-S tuner
- 7-day EPG
- stereo speakers with 2 x 8W amplifier
- 4 x HDMI, 1 x SCART, 1 x component (YPbPr)/composite
- 1 X Scart, stereo phono audio input
- digital optical audio output
- 3.5 mm headphone jack
- 10/100 ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi built-in/Wi-Fi Direct
- CI slot
- 2 x USB 2.0, 51 W avg power consumption
- 656 x 1116 x 162mm (whd, w/o stand)
- 13.6 kg