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Meet the 50-inch Sony R550A, a mid-range unit that offers a lot of screen for a fair price. At a $999.99 MSRP, it's priced fairly, though there are plenty of 50-inch TVs out there for less. On the other hand, this TV is 3D-capable, smart, and has a bountiful selection of ports for a middle-tier product.
Between last year's brand name models and this year's budget entries, the 50R550A has a lot of competition. The 2013 "new" quality you're paying for is, unfortunately, not worth the money. This 3D smart TV is more a media-streaming device than a strong performer, and we're willing to bet most people already have other ways of watching these apps. Do yourself a favor: Buy something a little less frilly, and a little more performance-made.
The 50R550A is not a small TV by any means, but it manages to feel that way by virtue of its streamlined bezels, thin panel, and minimalist stand. This design is modern (and unique to Sony TVs), while still following the tradition of putting a heavy emphasis on the panel. It's an aesthetic that places connectivity ports, control buttons, and any other function-based accoutrement out of sight on the back or sides of the TV.
Despite its form-favoring appearance, however, the R550A is quite usable. Assembling the subtle, curved stand is a matter of few screws, and the set's controls and ports are tastefully placed and easy to use—unless you wall mount it, which will block off the rear connections to a degree. The 50R550A offers four HDMI inputs, two USB inputs, a shared component/composite connection, and the usual RF jack for cable or antenna.
In the box, you'll find a boring little remote and two pairs of Sony's new passive 3D glasses. The glasses are kind of a highlight—they're very lightweight and made of a sturdy clear plastic. It's very easy to forget you're wearing a pair.
This is solid TV craftsmanship, just be careful with the way you handle it. It's a smudge magnet if ever there was one.
From the standpoint of customization, the 50R550A has plenty to offer. It's almost a bad thing, as Sony packed so many menus and sub-menus into the software that it's tricky to use, even for TV veterans. The remote's layout helps, but users must navigate a labyrinth just to find basic picture controls.
Altering picture settings is an easy, but limited affair. Calibrators will feel uncouth attempting to alter the finer points of color management or grayscale balance—the controls simply aren't there. All of the basics are easy enough to find, though.
For a smart TV, the R550A is okay. Its ability to scan and find wireless signals is a bit weak, but once it's connected, you're good to go. Within Sony's "Sony Entertainment Network," users will find familiar apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and VUDU. This particular iteration of Sony's smart platform is not the most customizable, but it's fairly-well streamlined. The remote even has a Netflix button, so you won't miss a single episode... just don't lose the remote. There's really no other way to access the smart content.
For a closer look at Sony's 2013 Smart Platform, check out our full article here.
Our full range of tests revealed a mixed-bag performance from the R550A. Picture dynamics, or the light output of this TV, are a disappointment. The TV's contrast ratio, a highly-valued spec for all displays, is very narrow. This is due primarily to overly bright black levels; the R550A can put out a lot of light, but it cannot produce truly black shadow tones, which really gimps its ability to produce a beautiful picture.
This is unfortunate, as this TV's color integrity is very good. While it's not perfect out of the box, the defaults in Movie mode are very close without any tweaking. Sony even rolls the sharpness setting (edge enhancement) down to 0, which is something I wish every TV manufacturer would start doing. Its color gamut is quite accurate for a mid-tier display, and it manages a fully fleshed-out palette of colors like a tall, mustachioed carnie, effortlessly tossing and catching color-burst bowling pins with a smile.
This TV's biggest performance flaw, however, is its overly narrow viewing angle. It's always a shame to find a limiting angle of viewing on a larger-sized TV. Wall-mounting this display would prove a mistake, as it suffers from serious degradation at off-angles. We recommend keeping it on the stand and shifting it subtly when you need to watch from different places.
Rounding things out, this Sony's detail retention during motion is poor without the extra processing effects available; with them, however, it looks fine. The overly bright LED backlighting can really mar black areas of the picture in a darker viewing environment, and will definitely disrupt the harmony of black bars when watching 4:3 content. Overall, the R550A falls short as a credible performer.
If you're going to purchase a TV in the R550A series, do so because you need a media-hosting device, or are particularly attuned to 3D movies. The 50R550A has plenty to tweak to make the picture better, but the bottom line is that it does not have the dynamic power to create a majestic image, and no amount of fiddling will fix that.
There are plenty of smart, 3D, lower-performance 50-inch TVs available this year and last year for less than $1000. If you're going to pay that much for a TV, pay for one that performs to higher standards, such as the Panasonic S60. The 50-inch S60 is available online for $700.
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