Back in the days of the CRT, Sony had a fairly unassailable position as the reference when it came to picture quality: everyone aspired to owning a Trinitron. Sadly, the company's reputation has dulled in recent years with the transition to LCD, and Samsung dethroned the Japanese company saleswise many years ago.
But this doesn't mean Sony has put out poor TVs, and in some cases the company can outdo its rival at the same price. Case in point: the W800B is a better performer than the Samsung H6350, with better blacks, shadow detail, and uniformity.
No, it's not as flashy as other TVs for the price -- it doesn't have "the best remote control ever invented," for example -- but this is a very solid television with pleasing design. It won't sell as many units, but it is nonetheless much better value for money than the Samsung H6350 and H6400.
But there is one thing that prevents top marks going to the W800B: that little upstart Vizio and its phenomenally good (for the money) 2014 E-series television. It's cheaper than both the Samsung and Sony by quite a bit and has class-leading black levels.
While I'd point you in Vizio's direction first if you're after a "cheap" TV, if you're a Sony fan or a super-keen gamer then the very low input lag times of the W800B make it worthy of consideration.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the Sony KDL-50W800B, but this review applies to the 55-inch model, too. Both sizes have identical specs, and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
The W800B is unmistakably a Sony design, with its "mirror" central panel and spindly metal stand. The bezel features a thin, attractive black aluminum frame that wraps around the edges of the television. This helps foster the illusion that the Sony is "all screen."
The main difference between this model and the step-up W850 is in the design of the cabinet. While the W800 opts for the standard skinny profile, the more-expensive W850 chooses an unusual thick-bottomed"wedge" design that has the added benefit of improving its sound, particularly the bass.
Speaking of thick, the W800B is the first TV we've seen of its size to include an external power brick.
Sony's remote control has a bit of the World Cup fever about it with its dedicated "football" button, but aside from this and the Twitter-centric Social View, it is a mostly practical and ergonomic remote.
The menu system has received an upgrade with a more "OS-like" appearance -- for example, the Home page now features a set of icons along the top including a Settings cipher. Once you get deeper into the menu system it's just as easy yet confusing to use as before. One confusing bit is accessing the Scene menu: it's accessed via Options>Cinema which gives you the best picture quality, and isn't all that intuitive.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology:||LCD||LED backlight:||Edge-lit|
|Cable box control:||No||IR blaster:||N/A|
|3D technology:||Active||3D glasses included:||Two pairs (TDG-BT400A)|
|Screen finish:||Semi-matte||Refresh rate:||120Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||Yes||Control via app||Yes|
|Other: Optional subwoofer, available in black or white (SWF-BR100, $299), extra 3D glasses (TDG-BT400A, $50 list); PlayStation Now streaming game compatibility|
As the second-cheapest model in Sony's lineup for 2014, the W800B comes with mainstream-level features. As far as picture quality enhancements are concerned, this is an edge-lit television that lacks local dimming. It features a 120Hz panel; just ignore the higher number specified by its "MotionFlow 480 XR" processing.
As a 3D TV, the W800B includes two pair of active 3D glasses. Additional pairs are available for $50 each, but since the TV adheres to the full HD 3D standard, you can use third-party glasses like Samsung's cheap SSG-5150GBs.
If you want to boost the sound quality of the W800B, the company offers an optional subwoofer (SWF-BR100, $299) that connects wirelessly to the TV.
Smart TV: Most companies have upgraded their smart TV offerings for 2014, these range from complete (LG) to mild (Panasonic). Sony is somewhere in the middle with a new interface and more content suggestions than before.
The old XrossMediaBar is long gone, and it's been replaced by single pages as well as a small group of icons along the top. You get a choice of Movies, Album, Music, and Apps, all of which heavily feature Sony content, of course.
The selection of content is ample, with the only major omission among major video apps being HBO Go, something Sony offers on the PS3 but not its televisions.
Sony includes hundreds of Apps in its menu, but accessing them is mainly for the adventurous. Sadly, there is no way to sort them by name, only by whatever secret formula Sony seems to have determined is the key. and organizing them is done only by scanning through them all and adding individual items to a "My Apps" list.
The aforementioned Football remote button brings up a load screen enabling the Football picture mode as well as links to Sony's World Cup website. The Social View function allows you to watch tweets stream by along the bottom of the screen, keyed to trending topics or a custom search.
Users can also control the W800B with a second screen app called TV Side View, which includes a program guide. You can mirror a phone or tablet on the big screen via Miracast, or use a new Photo Share function to show photos from such a device on the Sony.