Sony Bravia KDL42W705 review: Great picture quality makes this mid-range TV stand out from the crowd
Sony's new strategy for TVs may be to concentrate on the higher end of the market, but that doesn't mean that its latest sets are unaffordable for those who don't have MD or CEO in their job title. That's certainly true of the 42W705 that I'm looking at here, which you can buy online for around £550.
For this year's TVs, Sony has created a new menu system that streamlines navigation by separating different categories of content into a series of pages that you scroll back and forth through. In this regard it's similar to Samsung's smart TV system, although Samsung's interface is slicker and nicer to look at due to its more appealing use of colour. The pages presented here cover everything from recommendations for TV shows to watch through to Sony's Video Unlimited movie streaming service and the TV's settings menu.
Tweaking picture or audio settings on this model is relatively straightforward. It doesn't offer a colour management system, so instead you're left to play with the usual colour, contrast and brightness controls. It does, however, offer fine levels of control over the processing options.
This model actually has two TV guides onboard. Alongside the standard Freeview guide there's an Internet-enabled guide that's able to pull up more information on shows and movies, including data on directors and actors. Even if you've got fast broadband, however, this guide is slow to populate and as a result a tad tiresome to use.
Luckily the standard Freeview guide is much faster. It opens in the blink of an eye and makes it speedy to move between channels and upcoming shows. It lacks a video window though, which is a downer, but at least audio keeps running in the background when you've got the guide open, so you don't totally lose track of the show you were watching.
What's not impressive though, is the fact that the TV takes a long time to start responding to the remote control when you turn it on after a long period in standby. Often this phase can last for over 30 seconds, which can feel like an eternity if you get home and want to quickly flick to a specific HDMI input to watch the footy on Sky.
Design and connections
From the front, the W705 looks pretty traditional. The black bezel around the screen is supremely slim, measuring just over 1cm thick at the top and sides, even though it does thicken out at the bottom where you'll also find the Sony logo along with the white LED power light. Thankfully you can control the latter via the settings menu to turn it off or set it up so it only flashes when it receives a signal from the remote.
Around the back the design breaks from the norm. Although the top half of the chassis is quite slim, the bottom part that houses most of the electronics and the speakers sticks out by a full 6cm. Also, the power supply isn't integrated into the TV. Instead it's a large external unit so it may cause some issues if you're planning on wall mounting the TV.
Connectivity is still good though, as Sony has packed in four HDMI ports. Three of these are mounted on the rear, while you'll find another one on a panel on the left hand side. The set also has two USB ports, a full-sized Scart socket and a set of component inputs. The Wi-Fi chip supports Miracast too, allowing you to mirror compatible Android handsets or tablets to the TV.
As with most of the other TVs in Sony's current lineup, this model has a satellite tuner sitting alongside the Freeview HD tuner. The satellite tuner isn't Freesat compatible though, so it isn't much use in the UK unless you want to view foreign channels. This is because it tunes UK channels in a jumbled order and the EPG only shows now and next information.
Another year, another new design for Sony's smart TV system. This time around it's aping Samsung's approach, with content laid out across different pages that you swipe through. Using these pages you can access everything from on-demand movies via Sony's Video Unlimited service, to photos shared to the TV via a PC, as well as the settings menu and all of the TV's smart apps.
It's easier and faster to use than last year's system and there are some extra elements such as a new Football mode that selects the best audio and video settings for watching football, as well as giving you on-demand access to FIFA's library of vintage games. Also new is the Discovery feature, which like the Football mode, is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote. It overlays a bar at the bottom of the screen that suggests content you might want to watch across a range of platforms including YouTube, iPlayer and Sony's Video Unlimited service.
Despite these additions, Sony's system still feels a tad disjointed and lacks some key apps such as ITV Player and 4oD. There are also times when it's slow to populate some menus, such as the Discovery bar, which can make it feel slightly sluggish to use. It's certainly no match for Samsung's leading smart TV.
Sony has kitted this model out with its Bass Reflex speakers. Essentially these are speakers with a separate bass duct to take low frequency sound coming from the rear of the driver and channel it out the front to try to improve the set's low-end response. Sadly this didn't seem to make much difference in my experience. The TV's bass response still sounds as boxy and thin as most other 42-inch LED TVs I've used.
Still, its speaker can go quite loud without distorting and dialogue is crisp and clear. Sony has also added quite a lot of sound processing options to this model, including a pseudo surround-sound mode that helps add some width to the stereo image and a Voice Zoom mode that does a good job of making dialogue stand out from background soundtracks.
The two other Sony TVs I've reviewed this year, the KD-L50W829 and KDL-55W955 , produced very different results. The expensive W955 was a letdown, while the W829 was an excellent performer for the price. Thankfully this set follows the W829's lead due to its impressive picture quality.
For starters the backlighting on my review sample was very even across the display, so there was almost none of the grey misting that affected the pricier W955. The set's black levels were also very deep and rich and this was twinned with strong contrast performance. The result was that it was able to tease out lots of shadow detail in darker, murkier scenes, adding a substantial feeling of depth to its images.
This model also produces really excellent colour performance in its Cinema picture preset. Its colours look accurate, warm and very cinematic. As you'd expect from an LED TV, colours have plenty of punch too, being both bright and vivid.
The W705's native motion resolution is around 300 lines, and while it doesn't have standard motion processing, it does have LED Motion Mode, which strobes the backlight to reduce blur. Using this mode the set can deliver a full 1,080 lines of motion, but it's not something you're going to want to call into play. Why? Because it dims the screen substantially and also introduces a lot of flicker on brighter areas of the image, making it uncomfortable to watch. Personally I didn't think the motion blur on this set was bad with the LED Motion Mode turned off, even when watching sports footage such as F1 and footy.
On the whole, the set's upscaling performance is also very good. Its X-Reality Pro engine does a good job of cleaning up standard definition pictures without adding in unnatural levels of sharpness or too much picture noise. If you look closely you can see some jagged edges on standard definition footage that was shot on video due to de-interlacing issues, but it's relatively minor and not really noticeable when watching the set from a normal viewing distance.
Many Sony TVs in the past have suffered from poor viewing angles because it's a weakness of the VA panels that Sony tends to use. The W705 performs fairly well in this area though, as you have to view it from reasonably far off axis before the colours and contrast start to wash out.
Despite some oddities, such as its external power supply and sometimes slow start-up time, the KDL-42W705 is a great performer for the money. It offers up deep and rich black levels, as well as vibrant and natural looking colours, making it a great TV for both daytime and evening viewing. The only slight issue is that it's not much cheaper than Sony's own 42W829. On some online stores the price difference is as low as £50. As the W829 supports 3D, unlike this model, and also has 400Hz motion processing, we think it'd be a better buy for those who can stretch their budget that far.