- Beautiful picture quality
- Exceptionally space-saving design
- Content-rich smart system
- Android TV system doesn’t impress
- Very average audio
- Not cheap considering it’s not 4K
Key Features: 55-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Full HD native resolution; Android TV smart system; X-Reality Pro Video Processing; Multimedia playback from DLNA and USB
What is the Sony Bravia KDL-55W805C?
You might believe that there’s no longer room in the marketplace for a premium Full HD TV now that such models have been backed into a corner by the all-conquering juggernaut that is 4K.
Much as TV manufacturers and the tech press would like to get worked up about 4K, the simple fact remains that 4K UHD won’t be for everyone. Embracing 4K technology involves extra costs and practical issues – such as super-fast broadband connections – that extend beyond the up-front price of a new television. And, annoyingly, the amount of 4K UHD content in wide circulation remains painfully limited.
So it’s a genuine pleasure today to be testing Sony’s KDL-55W805C – a 55in Full HD TV that offers plenty of features despite its non-4K focus. Admittedly, this means its £1,350 price is actually higher than some of the latest 4K TVs flooding onto the market. But so long as its promising specs translate into plenty of cold, hard picture quality, it should still find an audience.
Design and Features
Following the sheer enormity of Sony’s KD-75X9405C, with its huge, speaker-bearing “wings”, the svelteness of the KDL-55W805C comes as quite a shock. The frame around its screen is super-thin, extending for barely half a centimetre beyond the image’s extremities.
While the 55W805C’s design looks futuristic and space-saving, it is with compromise: there simply isn’t space for the extraordinary, forward-facing speakers that made the 75X9405C the best-sounding TV we’ve ever heard. Not surprisingly, unlike the 75X9405C, the 55W805C doesn’t earn Sony’s hi-res audio badges of honour.
Also, the 55W805C’s finish feels a bit plasticky, and the set wobbles markedly on its exceptionally low-profile desktop stand. From a normal viewing distance, however, neither should be an issue.
Connections on this premium HD set are extensive. To start you have four HDMI ports, complete with MHL mobile phone-connection compatibility. There are both LAN and integrated Wi-Fi network options, plus a trio of USBs, which you can use for either playing back content from USB storage devices or recording to USB hard disks via the TV’s Freeview HD tuner.
The 55W805C’s pictures are created by an edge-mounted LED array. The set doesn’t benefit from local dimming or Sony’s new X1 processing engine since this was created predominantly for 4K, but it does feature Sony’s X-Reality Pro system. This draws on a huge repository of knowledge about different types of content to streamline video processing, resulting in more effective, accurate results when it comes to contrast, colour, motion reproduction and detailing. Previous experience suggests that X-Reality Pro will help the 55W805C deliver an unusually intelligent, automatic picture-optimisation system – a welcome trick considering how few people ever bother to manually adjust their TV’s settings.
4x HDMI, 3x USB, component, SCART, Freeview HD & satellite tuners, LAN, audio outs
Sony’s MotionFlow motion-processing system also features in the 55W805C. The company claims a 1,000Hz effect from the set’s combined backlight scanning, native refresh rate and frame interpolation systems, which is actually higher than the figure quoted for many of the brand’s 4K sets – including the upcoming X90 super-slim models.
Of course, it’s possible – probable, even – that if you attempt to achieve the full weight of this pseudo 1,000Hz effect you’ll end up with pictures that look unnatural and processed. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that the 55W805C provides you with so much flexibility when it comes to optimising the picture to suit your tastes.
As you’d hope for from the top-level 55in TV in Sony’s HD range, the 55W805C also includes Android’s new smart TV system. As discussed in a dedicated review, Android TV hasn’t entirely convinced us that it’s the leap forward for smart TVs that we’d hoped it might be. It lacks proper customisation for Android menus, and the recommendations system feels too obsessed with quantity over quality where apps are concerned.
It also doesn’t currently support any of the UK’s most popular catch-up services, making it just as well that Sony will, at some point, be adding the YouView platform via a firmware update.
The 55W805C also boasts Sony’s Discover smart system, which for our money offers a more streamlined and TV-focused aid to finding and accessing content over Android TV.
Given the range of smart features supported by the 55W805C, it’s good to see that the TV ships with a One-Flick smart remote controls.
One final trick of the 55W805C is its ability to play 3D, using the Full HD active format. You don’t receive any free 3D glasses with the TV however, and it’s worth noting that 3D isn’t included in Sony’s HD range as soon as you step down from the 8 series models.
While the 55W805C is pretty astute at automatically selecting picture settings, there are certainly tweaks you can make to enhance picture quality further.
Our most important recommendations are that you reduce the set’s contrast to around the 80-83 level from the maximum it defaults to, and turn off both of the noise-reduction systems provided when watching good-quality HD content. If you don’t follow these steps you’ll find the picture affected by what is, at times, quite striking amounts of smearing over moving objects.
We also found it better to run the Black Adjust setting on its Low mode (rather than the Medium default) to boost shadow detailing, while Live Colour gives more balanced (if less dynamic) colour results on its Low setting than its Medium default setting. Finally we found we preferred the Film Mode interlaced/progressive conversion system set to Medium for Blu-rays rather than its High default.
The 55W805C’s picture quality is mesmerising. The highlight – or, at least, the thing that struck us first – is its truly outstanding contrast. Dark scenes look totally convincing: black areas of the picture look sufficiently dark against the bright areas, which look dynamic and bold despite the set having to limit its light output to create a credible black tone for the majority of the image. This is an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that the TV doesn’t sport local dimming.
It’s clear that Sony hasn’t used an IPS panel design in the 55W805C, as it did to such unfortunate effect in some of its 2014 TVs.
It isn’t only the depth of the 55W805C’s reproduction of blacks that make it such a brilliant home-cinema display. Also remarkable – and further evidence of Sony’s almost impossibly clever light management – is the shadow detail that the set is able to deliver in dark corners of an image. There’s no sign of the hollow, unrealistic look commonly associated with LCD TVs when attempting to deliver blacks as deep and rich as those on show here.
We were also delighted to see that Sony achieves all this without so much as a trace of the backlight clouding problems that plague so many LCD TVs. The 55W805C’s screen is unusually good at soaking up reflections from light sources in your room, which also helps it to deliver outstanding dark scenes.
Profound black levels usually lead to dynamic colours, and that’s the case with the 55W805C. In fact, as previously mentioned, colours can be a touch too strong if the Live Creation tool is set to its default level, even though the 55W805C doesn’t sport Sony’s Triluminos colour engine.
With minimal tweaking, though, the 55W805C delivers image quality that combines richness with levels of subtlety, precision and balance that, frankly, look almost 4K-like at times. Skin tones are free of blocking or striping artefacts, and look natural, avoiding the pink, orange or green undertones commonly present on LCD TVs.
The combination of balanced tones and exceptional contrast performance also helps the 55W805C’s pictures deliver superb field depth and object solidity that we’ve come to associate with only the very finest picture performers.
The 55W805C excels with sharpness and detail, too. The quality of its processing – especially where contrast management, colour toning and motion clarity are concerned – helps it deliver pictures that squeeze out every last pixel of information from a good Full HD source.
The 55W805C is certainly no slouch at standard-definition pictures either. The X-Reality Pro system delivers one of the best upscaling performances around, giving images immense detail and sharpness, without bringing undue attention to source noise. It’s also great to see that the 55W805C retains the well balanced, rich colours seen with HD – something many rival LCD TVs struggle to achieve.
It’s difficult to find fault with the 55W805C’s picture quality. As already noted, it does suffer with surprising amounts of motion blur if you don’t treat the contrast and noise-reduction circuits with caution, and we guess you might also point out that you can achieve darker blacks still from TVs that use direct LED lighting with local dimming. But this really isn’t a fair comparison given the 55W805C’s affordability relative to typical direct LED TVs, and shouldn’t detract from the fact that the 55W805C’s contrast performance is by any standards superb.
3D Picture Quality
The 55W805C gets frustratingly close to being as stellar with 3D as it is with 2D. It’s exceptionally good at delivering the Full HD resolution associated with the active 3D approach, creating 3D worlds that feel tangible and realistic enough to reach out and touch. This model is also exceptional at avoiding the judder commonly associated with 3D on LCD TVs, tackling it without leaving the picture looking unnatural or over-processed.
Colours and contrast with 3D content are both superb, helping the screen create a wonderfully assured, large-scale and believable sense of depth and space from good-quality 3D transfers.
For much of the time, the 55W805C suppresses crosstalk noise much better than many of Sony’s previous 3D TVs. The only problem is that, oddly, when crosstalk does appear, it appears surprisingly aggressively, proving more of a distraction than more generalised but lower-level crosstalk.
This is undoubtedly the 55W805C’s weak spot. When fed anything challenging, the speakers become swamped, presenting audio that sounds swallowed, compressed and boxed in.
There isn’t much bass, and the soundstage feels a bit wishy-washy and indirect. Voices, too, tend to sound pretty unconvincing: thin, artificial and dislocated from the environment within which they appear.
These shortcomings are disappointing given the class-leading audio Sony achieves with its magnetic fluid speaker TVs.
Other Things To Consider
The 55W805C is a strikingly good screen for gaming. Input lag measures around 20ms when using the TV’s Game mode, which means it won’t be to blame for any gaming disasters you may suffer. Also, it’s great to see that the Game setting really does turn off all the picture processing for you; it doesn’t try to sneakily leave on some settings like others do.
Should I buy a Sony KDL-55W805C?
This is a tricky question to answer with any HDTV this year given the momentum that seems to be gathering behind 4K. And I guess it’s a question made even more problematic here by the fact that this premium HD set costs more than some similarly sized 4K TVs.
The stunning quality of the 55W805C’s pictures make the answer a bit easier: we can confidently say that if you decide that HD is enough for you, it’s hard to imagine any TV in 2015 doing a better job than this Sony.
If 4K isn’t for you, and you’re prepared to consider adding an external audio system at some point, the 55W805C’s picture quality is just about as good as HD will likely ever get.
Scores In Detail
- 2D Quality : 10/10
- 3D Quality : 8/10
- Design : 8/10
- Smart TV : 8/10
- Sound Quality : 7/10
- Value : 8/10