Sony KDL-55W800B LED TV Review
On the cusp of posh and bargain
The Sony KDL-55W800B ($1,499) is a 1080p (Full HD) display that delivers a healthy suite of smart features and 3D functionality.
As a series, the W800B falls below the W850B and W950B within the company's 2014 lineup, meaning it's a good way to buy a high-end Sony without paying for extraneous bells and whistles. The W800B series is available in 50- and 55-inch versions starting at $1,199.
In short. the W800B is a hidden gem in Sony's 2014 lineup. Within the 55-inch class, it's $500 cheaper than the W950B flagship, but offers the same clean, detailed menus and stellar core performance.
Ultimately, the KDL-55W800B offers a winning combination of smart features and picture quality—consumers on the market for a new TV should keep this Sony on their radars.
An expertly crafted machine
When I reviewed Sony's 1080p flagship, the W950B, I was pleasantly surprised by its picture quality. Its out-of-the-box calibration in the Cinema picture mode was almost perfect, and the W800B follows in its footsteps—for $500 less. For a high-quality picture that you can enjoy the minute it's out of the box, the W800B is a stellar choice.
In the lab, I discovered deep, inky black levels on par with Panasonic's plasma-like AX800U. One mild drawback is that the W800B doesn't get very bright: This TV just barely achieves standard luminance with the Backlight setting at max, which also causes a small amount of light bleed in the corners.
If you're going to invest in the W800B, bear in mind that it looks best in a very dim or completely dark room. In fact, in the Cinema 1 picture mode, the TV is already calibrated to ideal home-theater settings. The TV adds very subtle luminance to dark grays just above black, preserving smooth gradations and fine details at the crucial low-end of the luminance spectrum; in other words, it retains plenty of lifelike detail throughout shadow tones, which makes movies look spectacular.
As a cherry on top, Sony's Advanced Contrast Enhancer setting does wonders for the TV's contrast, producing healthy dynamics without negative processing effects like a laggy interface or motion blur. And while some high-paced action scenes are a little too much for this Sony, the included Motionflow feature offers multiple settings to combat ghosting and blurring.
Unfortunately, I did discover a single performance flaw. While the W800B renders most digital colors correctly, it struggles to saturate reds to the ideal level. This isn't a massive problem, but it does mean that low-luminance reds like an ebbing pile of dying embers won't look as rich and realistic as they could, instead appearing a bit hazy and overly luminous. Users should also be aware that this TV doesn't offer the widest viewing angle—so don't spread all over the room on movie night.
When we tally everything together from top to bottom, the W800B is simply a fantastic performer for an edge-lit LED TV, with strengths that heavily outnumber the weaknesses.
A high-end panel in a midrange suit
Unlike Sony's highest-end offerings, the W800B doesn't offer viewers the company's new "Wedge" design. Instead, you'll find the same curved, hollow pedestal and predictable flat-panel appearance as Sony's lower-tier TVs.
That isn't a bad thing, of course: As far as we can tell, all of Sony's 2014 TVs look pretty good this year, even the cheapest of the lot.
The W800B's primary attributes are its narrow black bezels and whisper-thin silver stand. The finished product is handsome enough, even if it lacks the same flash as the flagship series. Hidden on the back of the panel are small on-set control buttons and a decent selection of video and audio hookups.
In fact, for what it is, the KDL-55W800B offers a ton of connectivity options. Other than the odd placement, we liked what we found. Rather than clustered to one side or the other, the W800B's video and audio connections are centered on the lower-half of its rear casing.
Central ports include two analog audio inputs, a shared component/composite input, three HDMI inputs, a LAN (ethernet) connection, and a digital audio jack. Side-facing ports number a subwoofer out, audio out, two USB 2.0, another HDMI input, and a headphone jack. I think the kitchen sink's in there somewhere, too.
The W800B is a bit conservative when it comes to extra goodies, but that's what saves you some money here. The TV is 3D, so it ships with two pairs of 3D glasses—but other than a standard remote control with batteries, that's about all she wrote. Don't expect mounted cameras or touchpad controllers like what you find on the company's flagship models.
Run of the mill
By today's standards, the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) is a fairly average smart platform. You can expect a decent spread of apps and features, though it's not as tricked-out as the version found on the company's top-tier TVs.
This smart platform is broken into four tabs: Movies, Album, Music, and Apps. The Movies tab primarily houses content pulled from Sony's first-party Video Unlimited service, but you'll also find easy access to Crackle, Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus. The Album tab sources content from PlayMemories Online service, Sony's own cloud-based picture, music, and video-hosting service. The Music tab—as you might guess—features Sony's first-party Music Unlimited service. Finally, the Apps section contains everything else.
Basically, you get three well-presented tabs of proprietary Sony content and a single tab for other apps. It feels a little biased, but all the content is there nonetheless.
As for on-board menu software, the X800B features the same handsome, minimal picture and audio menus we've seen on every other Sony this year. Clean, high-resolution white text against an opaque black backdrop is easy to read, but not always easy to navigate.
Like in previous years, Sony TVs tend to confuse newcomers by allocating various picture/audio presets to a menu called Scene Select. This means you can't jump from Game mode to Cinema mode in the regular picture adjustments menu, which is very unintuitive.
From a quantity perspective, however, the W800B has the same multitude of options and settings as Sony's top-tier TVs. Picture-quality buffs might be disappointed to discover that there's only a two-point white balance control for advanced calibration. Fortunately, the TV is calibrated so well out of the box that you probably won't miss high-end staples like 10-point controls and color tuners anyway.
A flagship by any other name
Within the 2014 lineup, the W800B has a multitude of strengths compared to the competition. It's more stylish than Vizio's E Series; it trumps Samsung's H6350 in screen size-per-dollar; and it even outperforms its big brother, the W950B, for $500 less.
While the tech du jour might be affordable full-array local dimming, there's something to be said for an edge-lit LED TV that performs this well while looking this good. If you're as invested in style and durability as you are in pure picture quality, the KDL-55W800B is a great choice.
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