Can the new Sony W8 series live up to the the maker's 2013 5-star flagship range? Find our in our Sony KDL-W829 review
Sony may be fire fighting on the financial front, but it's red hot when it comes to recent TV launches. Having reclaimed its mojo in 2013 with its flagship Sony KDL-40W905A, the brand is upping the ante again with it intriguing new line of W8 1080p models.
The Sony KDL-W829 featured here is leading the charge. Deemed to be the company's high street hero, it represents a perfect storm of design, price and performance.
Available in 42-, 50- and 55-inch screens sizes, the new Sony KDL-W829 LED flatscreen is a formidable 1080p performer, with some novel features, including enhanced content search and, as befits Sony's sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup, a football mode.
Its main high street competition will come in the form of the as yet untested Samsung Series 8 models and LG's boldly cartoonish WEB OS Smart TVs.
Sony KDL-W829: Design
Design is minimalist in the extreme. The black brushed aluminium bezel barely has room to accommodate the BRAVIA branding, and it sits on a simple wireframe pedestal. Unlike the wedge-shaped W85 sets positioned one rung higher, it's reassuringly conventional.
Sony KDL-W829: Connections
Connectivity is generous. The set sports four HDMIs (with support for both ARC and mobile connection standard MHL), plus two USBs (one of which can be connected to an external hard drive for timeshifting) and legacy Scart and component/phono AV inputs.
To get online, the telly has integrated Wi-Fi and Ethernet. In addition to Freeview HD, there's a generic HD satellite tuner - think of this as Freesat Lite.
Sony KDL-W829: Features
New for 2014 are some significant revisions to Sony's user interface. Some great, others less so. The main Home screen has basically become a wall of apps, echoing earlier efforts from Samsung and LG.
We rather miss the more stripped down approach of last season's screens. It's also somewhat sluggish to commands. However, the new One Flick menu system (a misnomer given there's no flicking involved, at least on the supplied remote), built around a Discover recommendation engine, is a star.
One Flick comprises a horizontal content bar of thumbnails, which rolls up at the bottom of the screen. In addition to offering curated content suggestions for TV, radio, YouTube and Sony's own Video Unlimited movie streaming service. You can also create customise Discovery bars with keywords that the set looks to match.
The W8 will pull relevant content from both linear TV channels and internet services. Just the ticket if you want a snapshot of anything related to 'Lego', 'Batman' or 'Awesome'. This transpires to be a very powerful search tool indeed.
Sony has also rethought its Twitter implementation. The result is Social View, deemed so important it has its own button on the digit-like remote. Social View conjures up a tweet stream, which can run beneath an image or as an overlap. Rather cleverly, the TV creates a Twitter keyword from the name of the show currently being broadcast. It also allows you to manually input a specific keyword. The result is a slow moving river of commentary.
We're really not sure if such frivolity will actually find favour, given that secondary mobile devices do the social job so much better, but kudos to Sony for trying something different.
Sony KDL-W829: Smart TV
In the apps store, there's a solid selection of Smart content, although catch-up remains limited to BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and YouTube. While the brand is still seemingly unable to secure the services of ITV Player or 4OD, it does boast Netflix (also with dedicated remote button), Amazon Prime Instant Video, Crackle and an indefatigable selection of sundry b-grade entertainments.
It's not all gravy though. Our (admittedly early) sample consistently crashed when asked to access content from a networked media server (which should have been no problem given the KDL-W829 is DLNA compliant).
While it fared better with USB content, in both instances it was unable to present a negotiable menu tree. Instead of neat folders, the entire contents of said server and stick were thrown up on screen. Making sense of this alphabet file soup proved impractical. Multimedia support though is comprehensive, with key codecs all playable.
Sony KDL-W829: Performance
But all this functionality is merely window dressing. There's one undeniable reason to short list this newcomer: picture quality.
The HD image quality from the W8 is sensational. Sony's X-Reality Pro picture algorithm pulls an astonishing amount of fine detail from attached sources. Heavy handed image processors often struggle to tell the difference between image noise and pucker detail, but that's not the case here.
Sony's database-packed silicon does a quite remarkable job eeking definition from everyday backgrounds and textures. Images bristle with clarity, yet there's no sense of artifice or over-stressed edge enhancement.
The W8 offers a level of tangible depth that mocks goggle-locked 3D. Football stadiums appear to have grass rather than emerald carpets, and scenery is convincingly layered. X-Reality processing works its magic on all sources, from streaming internet content to games and broadcast TV.
Colour rendering is vivid and black levels reassuringly deep. Even LED edge-lighting is pleasingly even. Off-axis viewing has also been improved. There's no big drop in contrast and colour if you pull up late and get the worst seat in the house.
Adding to our enthusiasm for the set's performance, motion resolution handling is second to none. There's a variety of proprietary Motionflow XR modes on offer, and normally we'd highlight just a couple for best performance.
But on this set they all shine, delivering maximum motion resolution with infinitesimal, or zero, motion artefacts. Consequently, with sport and games, this set is supreme.
The set is, naturally, 3D compatible. It employs active 3D tech, less comfortable than passive 3D, but worth toying with for Gravity and Sky 3D channel curiosities. A couple of pairs of glasses are provided in the box.
Sony KDL-W829: Audio
Rounding out the feature spec is that aforementioned Football sound mode. FIFA-sanctioned, it offers a DSP stadium recreation actually based on measurements taken in the Estádio do Morumbi, Brazil. The idea is to emphasise crowd ambiance.
Sound performance is better than you might expect, given how thin the set is, although it is a bit toppy. If you need more mid-bass, Sony offers an optional wireless subwoofer able to plumb significantly deeper depths.
Sony KDL-W829: Verdict
Overall, we rate the 2014 KDL-W829 a formidable proposition. Sony's new Discovery bar interface makes traditional search modes seem archaic, and there's a wide variety of streaming content to enjoy. While there are niggles, it's difficult not to enthuse. Image quality is the clincher, though. For a list price of £900, this 50-inch looks a steal.
Sony KDL-W829 release date: Available soon
Sony KDL-W829 price: £900