Sony KDL-W800B series review: Gaming-friendly TV gives good picture and value

While the smart TV interface is largely identical between the two models, the W800B lacks the IR blaster and cable box control of higher-end Sonys like the W850B.

If you're a gamer, you may appreciate the addition of PlayStation Now, a feature that allows you to play streaming games on the TV itself by simply pairing it with a PS3 controller. I didn't test this feature for this review.

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 W800B lacks a 10-point grayscale and color-management system.

Connectivity: The selection of four HDMI inputs is perfectly ample; 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

While the Vizio E- and M-series have together redefined our expectations for picture quality in a "budget" LCD TV model, the Sony still manages to put on a decent show for itself. Sure, it doesn't have the plasma-like blacks that a well-tuned local-dimming system is capable of, but the W800B's frame-dimming does a manageable job against its Korean and and Japanese peers.

picture_settings3.jpg

Even without inky blacks, the Sony is capable of acceptable contrast and boasts very good shadow detail, especially when compared against the slightly crushed pictures of the Vizio E-series. Color is excellent, as is picture processing with excellent lag levels (hello, gamers!), and black uniformity is good with no backlight clouding to spoil dark scenes.

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: It may not have been able to compete with the televisions offering true local dimming, but the frame dimming of the W800B managed to convey depth in most scenes. When given a dark scene with some faint highlights, such as the fly-by of the Romulan vessel in "Star Trek" Chapter 4, the Sony showed better shadow detail than the Vizio E-series. The W800B gave both a better approximation of the ship's shape, and in the next scene was able to conjure up more detail from the slab captain Nero was lying upon. In these mixed scenes the E-series actually looked slightly crushed while the M looked more natural.

While it depended on the content, generally the Sony was able to get deeper shades in the black bars than did the Samsung, which improved the overall sense of contrast. The Sony step-up W850B was capable of slightly deeper black levels and had very similar shadow detail. Compared to the last frame-dimming model, the Sharp LE650, the W800B also had deeper blacks and none of the uniformity problems we encountered on either the Sharp or the Samsung.

Of course none of these TVs could match the Vizio E series, which had the deepest blacks and thus the best contrast of all the TVs, despite its slightly muted highlights.

Color accuracy: The two Sony televisions had very similar color reproduction, and this was demonstrated in the scene from "The Tree of Life" where the mother and father are lying on the grass. Like the more expensive model, the W800B was capable of natural skin tones and was able to reproduce the cyan of the mother's dress without making it blue. The grass in the background was perfectly green with the occasional purple flower highlight.

The big-brother Sony was better at communicating red tones though, as switching to "Star Trek" showed: the scarlet of the Starfleet uniforms looked a little muted on the W800 but were more fully fleshed out on the W850.

While color reproduction was uniformly good across the lineup, it was the Vizio E-series that showed the biggest differences. Reverting back to Nero lying on the slab in the aforementioned chapter of "Star Trek," the Vizio had the strangest yellow tint on his face (29.32) that none of the other models including the M-series displayed.

Video processing: Based on previous models I've tested, Sony's picture processing is usually pretty solid, and recent models have had the additional benefit of offering low-lag modes for gamers. Happily, the trend continues with the W800B.

Both Sonys in the lineup exhibited the best performance in the film resolution loss test, with a stable test pattern and a lack of moire error in the slow pan of a football stadium. The 24p test was also rock solid with no noticeable pull-down error creating fake judder. If you don't like judder at all you can enable Clear mode under MotionFlow to get a full 1,200 lines of resolution: a pass.

While the Sony W800B got one of the lowest lag readings I've seen yet -- a total of 22.63ms -- the test wasn't without some weirdness. The flickering screen our test pattern generates is supposed to give a stable reading, but the TV started at 50ms and slowly counted down to the eventual 22.63 as if the screen was taking a long time to lock onto a steady rate. I was unable to test what effect if any this would have on games.

Uniformity: Compared to the other competing frame-dimming TVs, the uniformity of the Samsung and the Sharp were both very good, with a lack of spotlighting in the corners or blue patches on a back screen. When viewed off-axis, the blacks could melt into dark blue and the colors did mute a little.

Bright lighting: The W800B has a semi-matte screen that equated to comfortable viewing -- due to a relative lack of reflections -- with the lights on. Contrast wasn't as pronounced as with the lights off though, as blacks could appear blue in light depending on content.

Sound quality: The Sony W800B defaults to Cinema mode for sound, and I found it to be pretty terrible. It adds too too much echo to music, and that's no matter what your content is. The Standard mode is better than both Cinema and Music; that's what I used for testing. Unsurprisingly, the Sony W850B with its dedicated bass circuit sounds a lot better with music than the W800B. On Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," the bass guitar sounded like an actual instrument on the W850B whereas on the W800B the music sounded thin, and the bass roiled in it like an upset stomach.

With an action movie on the platter the W800B's speakers exhibited plenty of tinkly glass and clear dialogue, but there was no heft to explosions; they came off a little anemic sounding.

3D: Almost no one will be buying this TV based on its 3D performance, but if somehow that's what you're considering, then don't do it. It's one of the poorest I've seen in a while. While we don't calibrate for 3D, in its default Cinema mode I found that there were false contours or "banding" in some of the images. This had the effect of creating unusual 3D bumps on flat surfaces, and this was in addition to an unhealthy amount of ghosting on contrasting images. We saw similar issues on the W850B, for what it's worth.

Geek Box

Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.002 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.32 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.070 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.677 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.585 Good
Avg. color error 2.662 Good
Red error 3.39 Average
Green error 2.049 Good
Blue error 5.198 Poor
Cyan error 0.597 Good
Magenta error 3.033 Average
Yellow error 1.706 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 320 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 22.63 Good

Sony Kdl 50w800b calibration report

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