Sony KDL-50W829 £899.99
10th Mar 2014 | 12:50
Sony's W8 TV offers high-end performance at a surprisingly affordable price
Introduction and features
The KDL-50W829 may seem an unglamorous mid-range offering from Sony, but with a full armoury of features including Smart connectivity, 3D compatibility and a picture processor that punches well above its weight (although you'd never guess it).
Also available in 42- and 55-inch guises (aka the KDL-42W829 and KDL-55W829), it sits some way above the brand's entry-level R4 and W6 ranges, and offers a dimensional shin-up from the similar 2D-only W7 models, which are available in 50-, 42- and 32-inch screen sizes.
Immediately above the W8 are Sony's range-topping wedge-designed W85 and W95 Full HD models, which span 55-, 60- and 65-inch screen sizes.
High street rivals include Samsung's similarly priced 6-Series, principally the UE50F6200, as well as LG's 47LA860 Full HD Smart TV.
However, this will undoubtedly change as all manufacturers' ranges are in a state of flux this early in the year, with the price and positioning of many 2014 launches yet to be revealed. Sony is first out of the gate with its new TV fleet.
Embracing minimalist design
Design wise, the 2014 W8 is unapologetically minimalist. A black, ultra-slim, brushed aluminium bezel provides just enough contrast to set off the image – black always works better in this regard than silver or grey – and the pedestal itself is thin and mirrored.
Connectivity is generous. There are four HDMIs with support for both ARC (that single reciprocal soundbar connection) and wired mobile phone standard MHL, plus component and phono AV inputs, not to mention SCART. The set also offers two USBs, one of which allows shows to be time-shifted to an external hard drive. In addition to an Ethernet port there's also integrated Wi-Fi.
The supplied remote control is a stock IR zapper. It does the job, but that's about all you can say about it.
The KDL-50W829 offers a single Freeview HD tuner, but there's also a generic HD satellite input that will deliver the full Freesat channel bouquet, plus some other interesting content choices when plumbed into a spare Sky dish lead.
In addition, there's a goodly amount of streaming Internet TV available from the Sony Entertainment network (SEN), including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Mubi, BBC News and a hodgepodge of supporting players. Unfortunately, there's a paucity of mainstream catch-up, with only BBC iPlayer and Demand5 represented.
Revamped user interface
Actually, the big news here isn't so much content as the user interface, which has been significantly revamped. Last year's subtle interweaving of IP services within the main menu has been replaced by a dedicated screen of streaming services.
This rather apes what we've long seen from the likes of Samsung and LG. The new interface proves a little slow to respond though, which is indicative of base level processing.
More impressive is the brand's new One Flick search and recommendation engine, which is easy to use and extremely powerful. A Discovery content bar of thumbnails revolves at the bottom of the screen, offering up curated highlights for TV, radio, YouTube and Sony's own Video Unlimited movie streaming service, plus any bespoke searches you might instigate with keywords. As a recommendation tool it's extremely compelling.
The same can't be said for Social View. This is Sony's new Twitter implementation that pours tweets across the bottom of the screen; you're given the choice of a smaller non-obscured image with Tweets below, or a larger image with overlap. Social View can automatically lift the name of a TV show as a search term and find related messages. You can alternatively customise the search with your own phrase or word.
The implementation of Social View is a bit clunky to be honest, and we remain unconvinced that moving social media from a personal second screen to the main communal living room screen is beneficial. In many ways it's actually antisocial. It does, however, look quite slick.
Another new feature worth kicking around is the Football mode. While its introduction smacks of world cup gimmickry, Sony insists the feature has long-term appeal. The mode is basically a DSP audio treatment that sets out to create greater ambiance. Stadium crowd noise is teased out to create wider soundstage. The feature also allows users to easily browse content on the FIFA website and watch YouTube footie clips.
Smartphone integration is accomplished. A Screen Mirroring function allows whatever's on a mobile phone to be sent via Miracast to the larger screen. This proves to be a fun, easy way to share images, video clips or websites.
If there's one aspect of the W8 that absolutely impresses, it's picture quality. When it comes to fine detail, colour performance and dynamics, the W8 positively shines. Sony's X-Reality PRO picture processor is fearsomely effective, here pulling an astonishing amount of fine detail from any attached source.
Heavyweight image manipulation often fails to distinguish image noise from real information, but that's not the case here. X-Reality PRO pulls believable detail from textures and backgrounds without ever looking over-processed. This is processing alchemy of the highest order.
Stunning motion resolution
Motion picture resolution is also excellent. The screen sports the XR800 iteration of Motionflow and in the majority of modes (Clear, Clear Plus and Impulse) we measured near full moving picture resolution without undue motion artefacts. This makes the KDL-50W829 a superb screen for watching sports.
The screen's edge-lit backlight is surprisingly effective, with no glaring pools of light evident during general viewing. Also clearly improved over last year's W8 models is off-axis viewing. There's no longer a pronounced drop in contrast and colour intensity when you view the TV at an extreme angle. This is down to a change in panel supplier. The move is probably also responsible for improvements in black level.
Active shutter 3D returns
The change of panel provider has also led to a return of Active Shutter 3D (last year's models used Passive 3D). Two pairs of Active Shutter 3D glasses are included with the set.
While we're not huge fans of shuttering stereoscopy, the glasses are at least light enough to wear for the duration of the average movie. If you want to be pedantic, there are low levels of crosstalk double imaging evident in the image, but enjoyed in small doses, this TV certainly passes 3D muster.
Usability, sound & value
One of the inevitable problems of having a surfeit of content to contend with is search and filtering. It's all too easy to lose track of what you actually want to watch when material is washing in from every angle.
This is why Sony's One-Flick discovery tool is so effective. It's a fast, fun way to get an insight into what's available, without having to trawl endlessly through listings. It makes for a great personalised search engine.
The internet service launch page may be less seamlessly integrated than last year's models, which is a tad disappointing, however it's quite functional.
Wonky multimedia playback
The KDL-50W829 is DLNA compliant and thus certified to play multimedia content back from both local USB thumb drives and across a network. However there are issues.
The default view when looking at the contents of a connected device is a full content list, rather than a folder tree. This is awkward enough when it comes to a stuffed USB, but woefully impractical on a NAS. You can change the view by ferreting around in the options menu, but this isn't at all intuitive. The folder view should obviously be the default.
Following a firmware update, we also had issues with the set immediately crashing out of its network NAS connection. The TV would handshake with the DLNA server and then bail out almost immediately. Prior to this we had established that multimedia file compatibility is good, with popular codecs and container playable (MKV, AVI, WMV etc). Hopefully this issue will be quickly addressed by a firmware revision.
A surprising sound performer
The set's audio performance is better than expected of a screen so slim. An S-Force digital amplifier generates 16w, enough to encourage the slim, downward firing stereo bass reflex speakers to create a spatially wide image.
Also new this season is Clearaudio+. Utilising some new-fangled sonic jiggery pokery, Clearaudio+ does a quite remarkable job of adding dynamics and scale to the set's performance. This is most notable on music content. Vocals are crisper and seem more believable.
If the sound still isn't phat enough for you, Sony offers an optional £250 wireless subwoofer able to plumb significantly deeper depths. The wireless SWFBR100W sub reach deeper than any onboard speakers.
However if you're looking to really enhance the audio performance of this TV then we'd argue that cash would be better spent with a separate sound system, be it a 2.1 soundbar (Sony offers the £299 Bluetooth-enabled HT-CT260H soundbar with wireless subwoofer) or dedicated audio pedestal system, like the £200 Cambridge Audio Minx TV system.
Overall value for the KDL-50W829 is extremely high. £900 for a high spec 50-inch set of this calibre is great value. More often than not, similarly priced rivals skimp on picture processing refinement, but that's not the case here.
It's difficult not to be wowed by Sony's 2014 W8 wunderkind. This TV delivers absolutely where it counts, offering a scintillating performance that belies its price tag. Indeed, image quality is so uncompromisingly good, coping well with everything from moody movies to sprightly sports, you'll probably find it difficult to justify spending more.
While Sony doesn't offer a full suite of catch-up, there's a broad selection of quality Internet TV services (at least those you'll actually want to use on a regular basis), plus excellent functionality in the shape of the Discovery search and programme suggestion bar.
Design and build quality is also high, if black metal minimalism is what you're after.
With scorching detail, luminous colour performance and effortless dynamics, the HD picture on Sony's 2014 W8 is outstanding. Motion handling is best in class. With high levels of moving detail unsullied by motion artefacts, this screen is ideal for sports fans.
Sony's new On-Flick content Discovery engine is a great way to filter both linear TV channels and online services. Once set up, stuff you like will only ever be a few remote taps away.
Audio quality is better than you might expect, given the slim form factor of the screen. For general viewing the set doesn't disgrace itself sonically.
Sony has sacrificed elegance and integration when it comes to its main Internet TV service Home page, and the lack of full catch-up services is an obvious demerit. Meanwhile the Social View Twitter implementation is gimmicky and cumbersome to use.
On our early sample set, multimedia file playback across a network failed to work correctly, while Active Shutter 3D suffers from low-level crosstalk double imaging.
Offering imperious HD picture quality, the Sony W8 sets a high benchmark indeed. Nominally a mid-ranger, it outperforms expectations to such a huge extent that many buyers will be hard pressed to justify spending more.
Connectivity is excellent, with four HDMIs and two USBs, while its internet connected feature set delivers most of what you'll deem important, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and On Demand movies. Android smartphone integration is also seamless. Decent build quality and tasteful minimalist design merely cement its appeal.
What few caveats we do have are outweighed by that head-turning price tag. This is a cracking 1080p Smart telly.
If 3D isn't a major concern, those shortlisting the W8 could save £££s by jumping for the oh-so-similar W7 2D range instead. These sets employ the same X-Reality PRO detail enhancer and dance-band bass reflex speakers.
Wider afield there's competition to be had from Samsung's 6 Series LED screens, specifically the £50-inch UE50F6200, as well as LG's slightly more bijou 47-inch 47LA860W. However, don't expect either to match the Sony for visual prowess.