Sony KDL-W850B series review: Sony gets a good picture in wedgewise

For live programming, you get a grid-style guide that, again, was inferior to the one on my cable box, with inadequate navigation, pokey load times, and the annoying tendency to start at channel 001 (standard-def!) rather than the current or last-tuned channel. Beyond the guide, there's a "TV selections" menu -- essentially a bunch of thumbnails from what appear to be randomly selected channels -- and the Discover tab, said to learn your preferences and suggest shows to watch.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: Sony hasn't changed much from previous years, continuing to offer plenty of picture presets under its Scene Select menu. Diving deeper allows you to adjust the company's Reality Creation video processing; choose from six dejudder (smoothing) modes including an Impulse mode that engages black frame insertion; play with a two-point grayscale system, and pick from a few gamma settings. Unlike many TVs at this level, the W850B lacks a 10-point grayscale and color-management system.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: The selection of four HDMI inputs is perfectly ample, and one supports MHL and another ARC. You also get two analog video inputs, one of which can handle component-video, as well as a pair of USB ports, an Ethernet port, and a digital audio output that can pass surround sound.

Picture quality

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Compared with the "8" series Sony TV we reviewed last year, the KDL-W850B is better by far. Its black levels are on par with the better local dimming-equipped LCDs from last year, including the Sony KDL-55W900A and Samsung F8000 series, although it can't match those sets in overall contrast or some other areas. One of its major strengths, however, is picture quality in a bright room, thanks to one of the most matte screen finishes on the market.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Black level: The W850B delivered a satisfyingly deep shade of black, competing well against the best TVs in our lineup and handily outdoing the less-expensive Sharp, Vizio, and Sony R520A. During the darkest sequences of "Gravity," for example Chapter 2 (16:25) when Ryan Stone is tumbling through deep space, the letterbox bars and black of the void were darker than that of any TV in our lineup, with the exception of the Sony W900A and Samsung F8000--and it was very close to those two.

On the other hand, the W850B didn't do quite as good a job of preserving highlights in those dark scenes. The swath of Milky Way, for example, appeared dimmer, fewer stars were visible and the ones that did appear lacked the contrast and pop of the stars on most of the other sets. As a result the W850B's overall contrast lagged behind the F8000 and the W900A, but still managed to outdo the others in our lineup thanks to its deep blacks.

In brighter scenes, the differences between the better sets were less stark, and the W850B more than held its own. As Stone and Kowalski approach the derelict shuttle in Chapter 3 (22:11) there was no difference in the brightness of highlights and the sets' black levels evened out as well, with the Vizio matching the better three and only the Sony R520A and the Sharp LE650 lagging. Shadow detail among the dark instrumentation and the spacesuits looked very good on the W850B, outdoing the Vizio and pacing the F8000 and W900A impressively. Of course, I appreciated the lack of blooming artifacts, something the Vizio had issues with.

Color accuracy: According to my measurements the W850B had few issues in this category, scoring well below the threshold for error levels in grayscale, and at or near the threshold for every color aside from red.

In program material it looked very good. As Stone pulls herself from the lake in Chapter 9 (1:22:30), her skin tone, as well as the brownish red of the sand and the green of the grass and trees, appeared natural and realistic, if a bit undersaturated compared to the reference Samsung. Part of that was intentional as I had slightly reduced the color control during calibration to help deal with the red error.

The differences in this material wouldn't be visible outside of a side-by-side comparison, and when I looked specifically for issues in red, for example in Stone's parachute stripes or the flames around her ship during reentry, differences were likewise extremely tough to spot..

One reason is because the error in red is mostly due to errant hue -- it skewed toward orange -- as opposed to the more-visible (in a primary color) saturation or luminance error. In highly saturated areas, like the opening logo or Buzz's own re-entry (1:43) from the beginning of "Toy Story 2," the orangish skew was a bit more visible, but it was still subtle.

Video processing: Sony has increased the number of smoothing/Soap Opera Effect modes this year, but unlike Samsung and some other TV makers, it still has yet to offer one that combines full motion resolution with proper 1080p/24 cadence. For viewers who demand the proper look of film with 1080p/24 sources, the MotionFlow settings of True Cinema, Off, and Impulse are the only ones that qualify. The former two, between which I couldn't find any difference, are also the ones with the lowest motion resolution; just 300 lines.

But I'd still recommend them over Impulse. That mode, said to incorporate both black frame insertion and blinking, is significantly dimmer than the others and evinced visible flicker, particularly in brighter scenes and flat fields like an overcast sky or ice hockey rink.

Inpulse looked the best in our motion resolution test however, delivering the full 1,200 lines extremely cleanly. Two other modes, Clear and Clear Plus, also hit the 1,200 line threshold but weren't quite as clean as Impulse on the test pattern. Both introduce a minor ampunt of smoothing, and neither dims the image as much as Impulse--although neither gets as bright as the others. Finally there's Standard and Smooth, which introduce significant and massive smoothing respectively, preserve maximum light output, and registered 600 lines of motion resolution.

For one reason or another the W850B failed our 1080i de-interlacing test, despite setting CineMotion to Auto. We were surprised because most TVs, including Sony's own W900A and R520A, pass. Failure isn't a huge deal, but attentive watchers may notice some artifacts, for example moving lines or moire patterns, at times with film-based material delivered to the TV in 1080i, for example via a cable TV connection.

Sony also offers its full-fledged Digital Reality Creation circuit on this TV, complete with sliders for Resolution and Noise Filtering, designed to improve standard-definition and low-quality HD sources. I didn't test it for this review, and left it turned off for Blu-ray sources.

Uniformity: The screen of our W805B review sample was quite evenly-lit for an edge-lit LED-based LCD, showing none of the brighter blotches of the Sharp or the R520A, and of course none of the Vizio's blooming. Compared to the F8000 and W900A, its edges appeared a bit brighter than its middle, and in bright field test patterns very faint brightness variations were visible, but I didn't notice either issue in program material.

From off-angle, the W850B was about average, washing out at a similar rate as the other sets aside from the Vizio -- which lost black-level fidelity even more quickly. Color shift was also typical, and as expected the Vizio (with its IPS screen) preserved colors better than the others.

Bright lighting: No complaints in this area. The W805B's screen is even more matte than that of the Sharp, controlling reflections better than any of the TVs in our lineup. Black levels were also preserved admirably, for a bright room image that's overall among the best we've tested.

Sound quality: Given that audio is one of the W850B's big selling points, I found the sound somewhat disappointing, even though at its best it outperforms that of most TVs. My music listening test revealed a surprisingly echoey, thin sound in the default Music setting at the midrange and high end; the F8000 and the other two Sonys sounded better. I played around with the EQ and disabled simulated surround and things improved, exceeding the other sets by a bit. Bass response was also better than any of the other sets, but it was still relatively muddy and could be overwhelming unless I resorted to the EQ again.

The story was similar with our movie sound test. The explosions and breaking glass of the bridge scene from "Mission: Impossible 2" weren't conveyed with more oomph on the other three compared to the W850B's Cinema setting. Again, I got decent results with the EQ, but nothing spectacular. In sum, you can get the W805B to outperform most TVs' sound, especially with bass, but it's not leaps and bounds better, and any decent sound bar will clobber this TV's audio.

3D: I'm not sure what the issue is, but the 3D performance of the W850B I tested was particularly bad. It suffered from some of the most-visible crosstalk I've ever seen, causing noticeable and distracting double images pretty much everywhere during "Hugo." Worse, fringing and discoloration marred many images, in particular transitions from dark to light. When Hugo lights a match to examine the automaton, for example (17:22), his hands and coat suffered green and red banding in the transitions, in addition to rampant crosstalk in his fingertips.

I tried every solution I could think of to solve the issue, but no dice. I'm guessing there's some flaw in Sony's software that can be fixed by an update, and I have a query in to the company to see what's what. When I hear back, I'll update this section.

Tested specs

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.002 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.39 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.795 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.93 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.667 Good
Avg. color error 3.090 Good
Red error 6.449 Poor
Green error 2.824 Good
Blue error 3.272 Average
Cyan error 0.566 Good
Magenta error 2.515 Good
Yellow error 2.912 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 24 Good

Sony KDL-60W850B CNET review calibration report by David Katzmaier

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Enhanced Refresh Rate 480 Hz
  • 3D Yes
  • LED Backlight Type Edge Lit
    Edge-lit
  • Display Format 1080p
  • Diagonal Size 60 in
  • Type LED-backlit LCD TV
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