Despite producing some great TVs last year, Sony is still struggling to sell enough to the public to make its TV arm profitable. As a result, this year it's spinning off its TV division into a separate business. It's also decided to concentrate on the mid- and higher-end of the TV market, at least in Europe and the US. There will be plenty of 4K set's from Sony later in the year, but the first model from the 2014 range that I'm looking at here is Full HD, rather than 4K, and it can be yours for £899 from Sony.
It's essentially an updated version of last year's W807, but it boasts a redesigned smart TV system, 800Hz motion-flow picture processing and active 3D support. It lacks the camera and touchpad remote that will be offered on Sony's soon to be released W9 series TVs though.
Thankfully, Sony has decided to redesign its user interface once again for this year's TVs. The new system is much easier to find your way around thanks to its streamlined menu structure. You can now access all of the TV's features -- including the settings menu, smart TV apps, TV guide and media player -- from the set's homescreen. A banner across the top lets you quickly jump between live TV channels, on-demand movies, smart TV apps and music or photos shared from your PC. There are also entries on this tab for search, choosing an AV input and accessing the settings menu. It's much speedier to use than last years' slightly convoluted system.
As with older Sony TVs, there are two TV guides available. The default one is good -- it's the standard Freeview EPG that displays upcoming shows in a traditional bricks-in-the-wall layout. Alternatively, you can use the Web-enabled guide instead. This is able to pull in more metadata, so includes info on actors and directors, for example, but it's slow to open and takes a few seconds to populate. As a result, it really isn't worth the hassle, especially when the standard guide works so well.
Unsurprisingly for a TV of this price, you can control all aspects of the set's pictures via the settings menus, including adjusting the aggressiveness of the motion processing and making fine colour changes in its colour management system. Sony has also kept its Scene selection preset modes, which are essentially picture and audio presets grouped together. If you select Cinema, for example, it'll choose the best audio and video settings for watching movies on Blu-ray. The presets are generally high quality too, unlike those on Samsung's TVs, so that's a bonus if you don't feel confident fiddling with colour and contrast controls.
Design and connections
Weirdly the W829 follows the design of last year's W6 series rather than W8 series. It's got the same wire stand, which is fixed and doesn't swivel, and also has an external power supply. That's very unusual, as last year's W6 was the only other large screen TV I've come across with an external power unit. It's not a big deal, but may be slightly awkward to hide if you're wall mounting the TV. Also, this TVs stand can be reconfigured to act as its wall mount. That's a plus, but bear in mind that the set doesn't have standard VESA mounts, so it can't be used with normal LCD wall-mounting brackets.
Other than that, the TV is actually quite easy on the eye. It's got an extremely narrow bezel, so looks suitably fresh and modern, and Sony has ditched the ugly rectangular box that protruded from the bottom lip of last year's sets. Instead, the Sony logo now sits on the bottom part of the bezel and the power LED is mounted on a thin, transparent, plastic strip. It's a much cleaner, less fussy look.
Sony's been pretty generous with the range of ports on offer. The set includes four HDMI ports (one of which supports MHL, so it can charge mobile devices when connected), a set of component inputs, a full sized scart socket and two USB ports (one of which can be used for recording TV from the onboard tuners). Speaking of tuners, it has two: a standard Freeview HD tuner and a basic HD satellite tuner. The latter doesn't support Freesat though, so it's not hugely useful in the UK unless you want to tune in to foreign satellite stations, as it just tunes stations in a random order and the TV guide doesn't work.
Naturally Wi-Fi is built-in and there's an Ethernet port if you'd rather use a wired connection, which is often the best option for HD media streaming anyway.
Sony has changed the user interface for its smart TV system to better integrate it into the set's homescreen. It's a much improved approach as it makes the smart TV system feel like it's really part of the TV rather than something that's been bolted on as an afterthought. I also like the way there are dedicated SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) and Netflix buttons for quick access to apps or a fast launch of Netflix.
Also new is the football mode button. It selects a dedicated preset for audio and video settings best suited to watching the beautiful game, while also offering quick access to footy videos on YouTube as well as World Cup footage. Sony has added a Social View mode too. This overlays an attractive scrolling banner of Tweets related to your chosen hashtag on Twitter. It's hardly a mainstream feature, but some may like it when viewing reality telly, for example.
Another addition is the Discovery feature. When you call it up via the button on the remote, it offers up thumbnails of suggested content you might want to watch from a range of sources including Live TV, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Sony's Video Unlimited service, among others. You can also add your own keywords so it'll suggest specific content more tailored to your tastes.