Sony's high-end HX853 had excellent picture and sound quality, but also a surprisingly affordable price tag for a high-end TV. As a result, it ended up scooping a decent clutch of awards.
The KDL-40W905A has been given the unenviable task of following up the HX853. Priced at £1,400, it comes with a more mainstream design, NFC for one-touch mirroring with Sony's Android smart phones, backlight dimming and Sony's new Triluminos colour technology -- but is it a worthy heir to the HX853?
EPG and user interface
Sony had been updating and rejigging its XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface over the last couple of years, but for its 2013 models, including the W905, it’s decided to ditch it completely. In its place comes a menu system that looks and feels more like Windows 8 due to its use of tiles and stylised text lists.
When you hit the Home button on the remote you find yourself on a brand new screen where the main options are shown as a column of text headers. As you select options such as 'TV', 'Applications' and 'Connected Devices' in this list, a row of tiles rotates into view beneath the text header. You can then cycle through these to get to the app, settings screen or feature that you're trying to access.
It looks quite slick and classy, and perhaps just as importantly feels faster and more fluid to use than the old XMB system. That said, it does take a little while to get used to. This is mainly because the layout is significantly different to most other manufacturers' menu systems, and isn't as simple as the new approaches taken by the likes of Panasonic and Samsung lately.
The set now has two programming guides. The first is the standard Freeview HD guide that gets its programming information over the air. The second is Internet based and uses the Gracenotes database to present you with more detailed information about upcoming shows.
The standard guide is really very good -- it includes a video window and its layout is crisp and easy to read, thanks to the high-contrast white text against a black background. The secondary Internet guide looks even sharper and benefits from lots of extra metadata, so it can show information on actors in soaps or movies, for example.
It's very slow to load data and doesn't cache content, so every time you open it up it needs to load up all the information again, something which makes it borderline unusable.
Luckily you can switch between the two guides via the settings menu, although this is long-winded and not explained in the manual. You need to go to Settings > System Setting > General Setup > Guide Key Behaviour and select between 'Launch Guide' (for the Freeview guide) and 'Launch Guide and Search' (for the Internet guide). Not very straightforward, is it?
Digital media and Internet features
Panasonic and Samsung have managed to add seriously appealing interfaces to their smart TV systems this year, but while Sony's overall interface is quite good, the interface for its smart TV system is decidedly underwhelming. The problem is that it just looks downright lazily designed next to the competition, as all it really does is plonk a load of icons for the various services and apps on a single scrolling screen. You're not given any way to customise the order and they're not divided into groups according to content.
To be fair to Sony you can add apps to your favourites list, so they're listed in the main menu. As this list is essentially a single banner though, it can get quite ungainly if you add more than a few favourites to it apps, especially as Sony's own Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited and PlayMemories services always have to sit in this banner.
On the plus side, Sony's smart TV service does include a good selection of video content. Alongside BBC iPlayer and Demand Five, you'll also find both Netflix and Lovefilm. Sony's own Video Unlimited service lets you rent new movies titles, and there are also apps for BBC News and Sport, as well as MuZu TV for music videos. Sadly there's no support for ITV Player or 4oD at the moment, two services that are now available on Samsung's TVs.
There are a few extra smart TV tricks dotted around the interface, though. When you press the channel up button it calls up what Sony calls the 'Fast Zapp' mode. This shows you what's on across different channels to let you quickly flick between them, but you can also jump left or right to see recommendations for movies on Sony's Unlimited services and videos on YouTube. It's quite cool, but in all honesty it's not something I found terribly useful.
Sony's on-board media player is also quite weak, something the company's TVs have always suffered from. Like older models it'll play Xvid and MP4 files, but it doesn't stream MKV video across a network, even though most other manufacturers TVs now support this. In fact, when I tried to play MKV HD files it locked up the TV, requiring me to pull the plug to get it to work normally again.
Design and connections
There are elements of the W905A's design that I'm not particularly keen on -- such as the large rectangular box at the bottom of the bezel that houses the Sony logo -- but as an overall package it's still a feisty looking TV. I particularly like the circular chrome stand. It's extremely clever as no matter which angle you swivel the TV to, the stand always looks as if it hasn’t moved.
Sony has also slimmed down the bezel on this model compared to the HX853, something that makes it look visually lighter and less slab-like. It's still relatively chunky when you peer around the back, but let's fact it, once a TV is in place you rarely actually catch a glimpse of it from its side profile.
I'm not completely sold on the blue tinge that the designers have added to the edge of the bezel. It's quite subtle from a distance, only catching the light every now and again, but up close it looks a bit naff -- like a piece of cheap costume jewellery.
While it's clever that the LED light beneath the logo can illuminate in different colours, it just ends up distracting from the on-screen images. Luckily you can turn off the colour changes and effects, so it just produces a subtle pulse when you fire commands via the remote.