Sony's latest plan to return to the glory days when it ruled the world of TVs is to concentrate on higher-end, more expensive models, leaving other manufacturers to duke it out at the cheaper end of the market. The KDL-55W955 is a pretty important TV for Sony this year then, because it's the range-topper in the company's Full HD lineup.
Priced at £1,600, it's cheaper than the likes of Samsung's bendy UE55H8000. The question is, are its picture quality and range of features good enough to make it worth a look over much cheaper mid-range options, such as Sony's own impressive KDL-50W829?
User interface and TV guide
Once again Sony has made some major chances to the menu system that its TVs use. On this model, as with the other 2014 TVs from the brand, the new approach centres on a home screen from which you can access pretty much all the TV's key features, from picture controls to smart apps.
For a high-end TV it's slightly weird that the set lacks a full colour management system. Instead you have to make do with a single colour slider, although you can set colour temperature and white point and it does, naturally, includes the usual brightness and contrast controls. The layout of the controls is mercifully well thought-out, so there isn't much jumping around between different menus when you're trying to tweak the picture.
As with last year's models, Sony offers two TV guides on this set. There's a standard Freeview one and a secondary Web-enabled guide that's able to drag down more information on shows and movies, such as the names of actors and directors.
Although it looks good, the web-enabled guide is slow to start up and a tad sluggish to use. I found it was better to stick with the standard Freeview guide instead. It's fast and easy to use, despite the fact it's a tad annoying that it doesn't include a video thumbnail window like most of the guides on rival manufacturers' sets, such as those from Panasonic and Samsung. Still, it does keep the audio running in the background while you're viewing the guide, so it's not as intrusive to use as the guide on LG's TVs, which also lack a video window.
Design and connections
Sony is swimming against the tide somewhat with the design of the W955. When viewed side-on, this set has a wedge-shaped profile with a thick bottom end that rises into a slim peak. Instead of trying to hide this, Sony has actually accented the wedge shape by finishing the side panels in chrome.
Sony says there are two benefits to this new shape. Firstly, it lowers the set's centre of gravity, which has allowed it to perch on smaller feet and secondly, it has allowed the company to squeeze in larger speakers for better sound. Personally, I think the wedge design looks quite ugly -- it's very chunky at the bottom and not all that slim at the top.
One advantage of the design, though, is that there are secondary slots on the base for the feet, so you can mount them near the centre of the TV. This means you don't have to have a very wide AV unit to accommodate it, although I do think they look a little odd when they're locked in this position.
No high-end TV is complete these days unless it comes with two remote controls. In the case of this TV you get Sony's new touch zapper as well as its traditional, box-shaped remote. The touch zapper has a new, more futuristic look compared to the ones shipped with Sony's TVs last year, but I still found it lacking. My main frustrations with it were that it lacked a dedicated TV guide button and that the trackpad was sometimes a bit temperamental as to whether it registered swipes or not, which are key to how the remote works with the new menu system.
I've got no complaints about the lineup of ports and connections, though. The four side-mounted HDMI ports are joined by three USB ports, as well as a set of component inputs and a full-sized Scart socket. As you'd expect, Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port are included, while the set also supports Miracast so you can mirror the screens of compatible Android smartphones to the TV.
This model does also have a satellite tuner alongside its Freeview HD tuner, but the satellite tuner isn't Freesat-compatible. The result is that it's not really much use for UK channels, as the EPG doesn't work with them. Also, unlike Samsung's H8000, this model only has a single tuner for terrestrial and satellite. This means that while you can record TV to a USB hard drive, you can't watch one channel while recording another.
Sony's smart TV system has a fresh new design for this year. It's now properly integrated into the company's home screen menu system, so as with Samsung's system, you swipe back and forth across different pages to access functions such as media streaming, video on demand and smart apps.
There are other additional elements, including a new Discovery feature that overlays a bar at the bottom of the screen suggesting content you might want to watch from a range of sources, including the onboard digital TV tuner, YouTube, iPlayer and Sony's Video Unlimited service. It even lets you add your own keywords. So, for example, if you add Formula One, there'll be an additional column added to the bar to show content related to F1.
Also new is a football mode button on the remote. This selects audio and video settings best suited to watching the beautiful game, and also gives you quick access to video on demand content from YouTube and FIFA.