Sony seems determined to improve its image. While rival TV manufacturers tout voice recognition systems and play tuner Top Trumps, Sony’s latest flagship is all about picture quality. Indeed with its groundbreaking wide colour Triluminos backlight and uprated X-Reality Pro picture engine, the 40-inch KDL-40W905A might well offer the best picture yet seen on a consumer full HD LED LCD display.
The model reviewed here is the smallest set in Sony’s W9 range. Also available are the 46-inch KDL-46W905A (typically £1,799) and 55-inch KDL-55W905A (£2,399). Curiously, this smaller model only comes with two pairs of shuttering 3D glasses, while both the larger models ship with four apiece.
The design of the W9 is unconventional but striking. A distinctive aluminium bezel, with hairline finish and green-glinting diamond-cut edge, invites a closer look. The set comes with a chrome-plated version of this year’s in vogue loop pedestal.
The user interface has been dressed up too. Clean and graphical, navigation now requires fewer button presses and definitely seems more intuitive. Disappointingly, the selection of streaming TV services offered on Sony’s smart TV portal pretty much mirrors what we had last year. Catch-up remains limited to BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, with Netflix, Lovefilm, Acetrax, YouTube, DailyMotion and more making up the numbers.
On the plus side, the brand has significantly improved file support. Last year, MKV was deemed a no-play, but now all key codecs and containers are accessible. The set’s EPG is off the shelf, albeit with a PIP window and live audio.
Connectivity is solid. There are four HDMIs (one with ARC), three USBs, SCART and component, stereo phono in, plus an optical digital audio output and Ethernet. There’s a choice of either Freeview HD or DVB-S2 satellite tuner. Wi-Fi is built-in.
The TV also comes with a second, simplified remote control that incorporates an NFC (Near Field Communications) chip which can be paired with any suitably equipped smartphone. It’s a great way to quickly share YouTube clips and snapshots. Sony also offers a rather nice EPG companion app, best used on a tablet, called TV SideView. This allows you to peruse programme listings, search for content on streaming services and bone on your favourite shows and movies.
The KDL-40W905A offers outstanding image quality, not least because of some serious silicon lurking beneath the hood. The latest iteration of Sony’s X-Reality Pro picture engine boasts a powerful picture algorithm database which dynamically optimises images based on content; while the brand’s XR 800Hz Motionflow processor manages the near-unique trick of maintaining full HD resolution without constricting images with unwanted motion artefacts - seen as those weird smudgy halos around moving objects.
More fundamentally, the set combines deep blacks with convincing shadow detail. Image clarity is nothing less than sensational, courtesy of Sony’s Reality Creation processor, which manages to pull extra nuance and texture from images without any edge-enhancement penalty. Skin tones and textures bristle with lifelike detail.
The set’s greatest claim to fame though is its colour performance. This is the first Sony TV to incorporate Triluminos LED edge lighting. A Color IQ (Quantum Dot) filter has been placed over the screen’s backlight enhances colour fidelity permitting a wider colour gamut from X.V.Color sources, such as Sony’s upcoming range of Mastered in 4K Blu-rays.
The KDL-40W905A’s game mode is also worthy of special mention. Previously when you selected game mode on a Sony television, picture processing was defeated so that the hardware could minimise image lag. For the first time, this year’s range topper has enough processing brawn to reduce picture lag when gaming without sacrificing the benefits offered by Reality Creation and those associated visual tweaks. The result is sharper, colour-rich graphics.
The set’s 3D is bright and crisp. While Sony has adopted a passive tech for the bulk of its LED offerings, the W9 is defiantly active shutter - which transpires to be a good thing; the detail in its stereography makes a welcome change from lower-res passive 3D. While the panel doesn’t eliminate the spectre of crosstalk completely, it’s negligible enough to earn itself a pass.
Audio quality is surprisingly robust for such a slim screen. Sony’s TV engineers have beefed up the quality of the set’s audio components over last year’s HX8 models and magically found a way to incorporate a long duct speaker into the chassis giving more pronounced bass. The downward-facing drivers are angled onto a lip on the underside of the screen, so that audio bounces forward. The end result is more direct and pronounced stereo imaging. You’ll probably still want to add a soundbar at some point, but out of the box this is pretty good.
The bottom line: Sony’s KDL-40W905A is a gorgeous LED screen with class-leading colour performance and motion resolution, and a design that’s unashamedly lush. We really like the way the emerald green diamond cut bezel sets the TV apart from its narrow bezel competition. While Sony hasn’t seemingly invested much effort in expanding its online portal, the brand has done a good job of improving functionality with Miracast and NFC. Once you’ve used these, any other type of mobile hook-up seems antiquated. Of course, this set isn’t particularly cheap, but then televisions of this calibre rarely are. Consider it a flatscreen for connoisseurs, and enjoy.