Sony KDL-55W955 LED Smart TV review
The 55-inch Sony KDL-55W955 is the first of the company's new "wedge" flatscreen designs to land on our test bench. Reserved for its W85 and W95 Full HD screens and the X85/X9 4K Ultra-HD fleet, the triangle profile isn't just eye-catching but cleverly creates greater cabinet volume for the onboard sound system and improves stability, meaning only short pedestal legs are required.
Following umpteen generations of wafer-thin panels, the wedge takes some getting used to, but it's definitely a grower. Is it the future of television? We've been living with one to find out if it's lit up our world.
The W95's build quality is substantial, with metallic end plates and an artfully rolled top. If the set's wide-footed stance doesn't fit your AV furniture, the feet can be moved closer together using a secondary central fixing point, although frankly the aesthetics suffer. Alternatively, the screen can be wall-mounted using a conventional VESA mount, as spacers are provided to square-up the slanting back.
Connectivity includes - deep breath now - four HDMI inputs, one of which is ARC and MHL compliant, three USB inputs (one assignable for HDD recording), Ethernet, Scart, component video, headphone jack, a CI slot, optical digital audio output, Wi-Fi is built-in and single terrestrial and generic satellite tuners are also on board. Now breathe.
The W95 comes with a Skype camera that plugs into a dedicated rear USB port and peers comically over the bezel. It rather ruins the clean lines of the set, but can at least easily removed from view. Which is exactly what we did with ours, reserving Skype for the laptop, as this peek-a-boo camera works for Skype calls, but the set doesn't support Skype Instant Messaging.
Sony has made several significant changes to its Smart User Interface for 2014. The best new addition is the Discovery bar, which runs horizontally across the bottom of the screen. Part of the rather dismissively named One-Flick entertainment system, this offers thumbnail recommendations for upcoming broadcasts, as well as YouTube, Sony's Movies Unlimited streaming service, Catch-up and custom keyword searches.
The SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) front-end has also been revamped, and now features an alphabetised screen of available apps. There's a lot of icons to rummage through here, among which is a fair amount of compelling content, including BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Mubi and YouTube.
Also new this year is Social View, which combines live broadcasting with a live tweet stream. Technically it's a nice trick, however the combination proves distracting to use. You can set your own hashtag, but there's no expletive filtering. Which has the potential to be a bit, um, insert your own expletive here. We're yet to be convinced that the future of TV is displayed social media either, but there's some fun to it.
The W95 also has a dedicated Football mode which is principally notable for its unsubtle video setting - as we detailed in the Sony W8 TV review - plus Screen Mirroring for Android smartphones, utilising Miracast.
READ: Sony W8 review
Multimedia playback support proves to be unreliable, with the TV's integrated media player sporadically crashing when trying to stream content from our various networked DLNA devices. This is frustrating not least because when it does work, file compatibility is good. The set plays MKV, MOV, MP4, AVI and WMV video files, as well as MP3, AAC/M4a, WMA and WAV audio formats.
Even so, overall image performance is great. There's a high level of fine detail on screen bolstered by excellent colour and contrast. Sony's new X-Tended Dynamic Range processing really gives pictures a peaky white glint.
Sony is surprisingly cagey about the tech behind the wide gamut Triluminos colour processing used in the W95. The brand no longer uses the Color IQ Quantum Dot technology that it licensed from QD Vision last year. All we can really say with certainty is that colours are satisfyingly deep, with reds and greens appearing particularly lush, whether the tech is sourced from elsewhere or not.
Motion handling is excellent too, making this a great set for sports. The W95 warrants a Motionflow XR 400Hz rating, and offers a wide range of interpolation modes. The most effective of these are Motionflow Clear, which delivers a full 1080 lines of moving resolution measured at 6.5ppf (pixels per frame); and Standard, which offers a motion resolution of around 800/850 lines. True Cinema is also good - it isn't quite a sharp, but does give a very cinematic presentation.
While we noticed some edge-lighting uniformity errors, these can be tamed by nudging down the backlight setting from the menu settings.
In low ambient light, the set delivers smooth, convincing blacks with plenty of shadow detail. In full blackout conditions however it quickly becomes evident that the W95 can't quite manage deep blacks; bizarrely the brand's cheaper KDL-50W829 panel outperforms it in this regard. Off-axis viewing is good, with contrast and colour retained even at quite severe angles.
The W95 panel supports passive 3D, with two pairs of glasses supplied (although these are easily augmented by the disposable 3D specs readily dispensed by cinemas). While the lack of resolution is noticeable compared to Full HD Active Shutter, the viewing experience is comfortable and free of crosstalk.
Thanks to the innovative wedge design, the KDL-55W955 delivers a significantly enhanced audio experience.
Ingenious long duct speakers and ClearAudio+ processing create a well defined front soundstage. The onboard S-Force 2x10w digital amp goes loud too and despite the fact that it employs down-firing speakers, there's pronounced stereo imaging.
Although there's no integrated sub, Sony does offer an optional wireless subwoofer to add low-end slam if you think you need it.
The Sony W95 is a convincing advert for Sony's unconventional wedge design. The look is not only fresh but technically innovative, specifically when it comes to audio performance where the W95 forcefully out-shouts rival large screens.
The W95 is also a fine picture performer, with excellent colour reproduction, zingy contrast and superior motion handling. Our only reservation is the lack of deep blacks, an unfortunate limitation for what is effectively Sony's flagship Full HD offering.
Smart connectivity is generally decent too, with the brand's One-Flick discovery bar a genuine boon. Social media and Skype aren't something we rush to a TV to experience though.
If you want a set piece; a telly that's visually different and exciting then Sony is on the ball. Good job it's a World Cup year then, although the W95 doesn't score as spectacular a goal as it could given black levels and flaky multimedia playback. It's a star performer for watching sports on, though, thanks to smooth motion playback.