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Sony W802A review: Sleek Sony LED LCD gives decent picture

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Sony had a good year for high-end picture quality in 2012, delivering some of the best-performing LED TVs on the market in the HX850 and XBR-HX950 series. While there are a couple of potential heroes in this year's lineup -- the extremely expensive "Triluminous" W900 and the even more expensive Ultra HD 4K X900 -- the step-down 2013 model reviewed here is more of a good Samaritan.

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6.4

Sony W802A

The Good

The <b>Sony W802A</b> offers relatively deep black levels and good shadow detail for an LED-based LCD TV; has sleek, minimalist styling and a simple, clear interface; well-rounded feature set includes enhanced mobile connectivity options; introduces very little input lag in Game mode.

The Bad

Somewhat expensive; color fidelity, uniformity and picture processing are a mixed bag.

The Bottom Line

The Sony W802A LED LCD delivers lots of style and features, but its picture quality is only decent at this price.

Despite the "8" moniker, the W802A is actually closer to last year's disappointing HX750 than the excellent HX850. The cosmetics have received a small update, with a jewel-like chamfered edge, and the internals have also seen some changes. The panel is now a passive 3D LCD and features an edge-lit LED backlight, sans the local dimming that made the HX850 so good. To get local dimming from Sony in 2013, you'll have to pay nearly double for the step-up models.

The good news is that the W802A is a little better than the HX750 and goes for $200 less. With a little bit of tweaking it can achieve perfectly decent quality for an LED-based LCD. It's also plenty sleek, with a nice mix of features.

On the other hand, unless you're a gamer who appreciates its minuscule input lag, the W802A doesn't really stand out at this price. Unless you really want passive 3D with a Sony nameplate, or you really like its looks, it's tough to recommend over models like the Panasonic ST60.

Editors' Note: This review was updated to include testing for gaming-related input lag, but its rating has not been modified. See the Picture Quality section for more.

Sony KDL-W802A is decent for an LED-based LCD TV (pictures)

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Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the Sony KDL-55W802A, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Sony KDL-47W802A 47 inches
Sony KDL-55W802A 55 inches

Design

The elegance of the circular base is somewhat spoiled by the 'Sony' box. Sarah Tew/CNET

Though the technologies inside are different, the W802A and W900 look almost identical in terms of design. Both feature a slim black bezel with a "Quartz-cut" edge that glows green in the light. The W802's cylindrical base resembles something you'd find on a modern bar stool, with a brushed-aluminum appearance and a handy swivel so it can reach the Beer Nuts. The only incongruous part of the design is the large silver Sony "box" at the bottom of the bezel. It looks like it could detach, and I wish it could, but it doesn't.

The beveled edge of the W802A looks greenish under lights. Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is fine but not particularly special. It has a dedicated Netflix button, and a shortcut for the newish SEN (Sony Entertainment Network). Sadly, it's missing a backlight, but you could always purchase a Logitech Harmony 650 instead.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sony's 2013 menu system has seen the biggest overhaul in years. Gone is the XMB (Xross Media Bar) which has been replaced by a more traditional, vertical menu. It's animated with big, helpful icons for inputs and picture settings, but they also slow navigation.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: MHL port, Miracast, NFC "ready," additional passive 3D glasses (TDG-500P, $9.99 each)
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Passive 3D glasses included Four pairs
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Features
While competitors have let their imaginations run wild with features like voice control, gestures, and electronic pens, Sony keeps things a little more simple. Sure, you get Miracast mirroring with compatible phones, MHL, and an optional NFC remote, but mostly the TV's features are unchanged from last year.

The W802A uses "Dynamic Edge LED backlighting," but on this TV that means "frame dimming." Apparently it dims the entire backlight at once and not select portions individually; in other words, it not true local dimming as found on the HX850 and W900A. Sony's specifications use the term "Motion Flow XR480," but according to a Sony rep we spoke to, the panel has a native refresh rate of 120Hz. The other 360 apparently comes from mumbo jumbo.

The biggest change for Sony is the use of a passive 3D panel, and it now includes four pairs of 3D glasses. Additional pairs can be had from Sony for $10 each, and of course most third-party glasses should work fine, too. The passive 3D also enables split-screen gaming on one screen with Simulview glasses (available separately) and compatible games.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: The interface has changed a little since last year -- no more scrolling lists or separate, competing interfaces -- and now the SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) is the default repository for apps. All of the apps sit on one screen, lined up in tile form like terra-cotta warriors, and I found the layout preferable to scrolling through a seemingly endless vertical list via the XMB. Happily, the "Home" page allows for shortcuts to your most-used apps, which means you won't need to even load the slow SEN in most cases. Interestingly, the only way to open the SEN is with the remote shortcut; it isn't available from the Home page.

Unlike some competitors there is no app store; just a long list of preloaded apps which includes the inevitable litany of disposable games. Both Yahoo Widgets and CinemaNow have disappeared from the roster with no appreciable additions to last year's Smart TV list. I'd argue that most people would only be interested in Netflix, Hulu, and perhaps Pandora anyway.

The Sony features a Web browser, but as it lacks a pointer, necessitating navigation via the TV remote, it's DOA to me.

The company is currently offering 12 months of Hulu Plus and Netflix, and 30 days of Music Unlimited with the purchase of this TV. As usual, we recommend hooking the TV up to a receiver or a decent sound bar to get the best out of Music Unlimited.

Picture settings: The TV offers a a number of fine-tuning settings such as a 10-point grayscale, which wasn't available last year, as well as a few gamma selections and a large array of picture presets. Unlike some competitors however, it doesn't offer a color management system.

Connectivity: The biggest "upgrades" to last year's connectivity offerings are MHL compatibility and Wi-Fi direct. I'm not an advocate of MHL, which requires a physical cable, and I think users would agree that streaming via Wi-Fi is preferable by a smartphone.

The standard physical connections include four HDMI (with one offering MHL), three USB ports, one component/composite, one standalone composite and Ethernet. For a complete list of inputs and outputs, check out the Specs section of this review.

Picture quality
With TVs such as the Panasonic ST60 out there, the little yellow marker denoting the "world record standard for the money" has moved out even further. Despite some improvements over last year's HX750, an LCD like the Sony W802A has to compete against plasmas that seem to be improving at a much faster clip.

The Sony's black levels are now decent, whereas the HX750's could only be described as "crappy." The W802A only achieves those deeper black levels when you activate the "Adv. Contrast Enhancer" setting, which seems to turn on the frame dimming feature. We usually avoid turning on such extras since they usually provide unnatural contrast, but here it's well executed and significantly improves black levels. Shadow detail was also very good, with the dimming not leading to crushing on even the darkest scenes.

Color is one area where the W802A can't compete, especially against the similarly priced DT60 and the much cheaper ST60. Skin tones were the most subdued of the testing group and colors were muted.

Update: If you play fast-paced video games, this TV's excellent input lag measurement--the lowest we've seen so far--might make it more appealing to you. Check out our in-depth test for more, which includes a discussion of the subject, a subjective evaluation of the W802A's lag and comparisons to other TVs.

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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch LED-based LCD
Sony KDL-55HX850 55-inch LED-based LCD
Panasonic TC-L55DT60 55-inch LED-based LCD
Samsung UN55ES8000 55-inch LED-based LCD
Panasonic TC-P55ST60 55-inch plasma

Black level: In our six-strong lineup, the W802A sat near the bottom, while the two Panasonics bookended performance with the best (ST60) and worst (DT60) black levels. While the Sony placed next to last, there was still a significant jump in the depth of black over the poor DT60, with the W802A able to provide some light and shade in even the most difficult scenes.

The W802A was the weakest of the three Sonys for outright black levels, however. The picture wasn't as accomplished as the HX850's, which had much better black, but for such a crude, frame-dimming system it still worked relatively well. The W900A, which also has local dimming, also looked darker than the W802A.

Where the W802A outperformed the more expensive W900 was on shadow detail. The W802A was able to divine more out of the murk in the testing scenes of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II." This is likely due to the relatively low gamma brought on by the frame dimming system, but it's preferable in our view to the washed-out black levels caused by leaving frame dimming turned off.

At the beginning of Chapter 12 the camera spins around a mountaintop where Voldemort has gathered his army. As the camera closes in on "You-Know-Who," the folds in his robes are more easily definable on the W802A and more of the valley and mountain behind Hogwarts is illuminated. The Samsung ES8000, for its part, also showed a similar level of onscreen shadow detail.

Color accuracy: Of all the sets in our lineup, the W802A had the least saturated colors, with the weaker blues and skin tones brought out by the intensely colorful "Watchmen." On all of the TVs, bar the W802A, Doctor Manhattan's blue skin is vivid, but on the Sony his skin and the light he outputs and transmits onto others - particularly his girlfriend Laurie -- was more purple than blue. Again this could be caused by the relatively light gamma, but again the trade-off was worth it.

On the movie "The Tree of Life," the lighter blues and skin tones again manifest themselves in the scene where the mother lounges on the grass (Chapter 5). The Sony looked the weakest amongst the other TVs, all of which featured more saturated colors in comparison.

Video processing: Despite all of its good work on the basic image-quality side -- particularly in regards to generating convincing blacks and shadow details -- the W802A isn't the best video processor. While it was able to get the full 1080 lines in moving resolution via Impulse mode (which inserts black frames), the lower light output and flicker make it difficult to watch. The TV also failed the 1080i film test with large artifacts in the scrolling lines. It was able to pass 24p cadence correctly, however.

Uniformity: Even with the strongest contrast enhancer on, the TV still exhibited issues with black uniformity with spotlights/leaking from all three corners. Without frame-dimming, the set's uniformity problems looked identical to the Panasonic DT60, with yellow spotlights along the top and light leakage out of the corners.

One of the benefits of this particular screen, though, is off-axis viewing. There was only a slight loss of contrast at extreme angles, with color fidelity and black levels remaining relatively intact.

Bright lighting: Of the lineup of TVs, the Sony W802A had the second glossiest screen after the DT60, which resulted in more reflections in a lit room. However, the reflection was "fuzzier" than the W900's, which had more reflective "detail" -- the reflection of myself was dimmer on the W900 but I could see my face more clearly. Which is better? Fewer reflections, and hence the W900.

Sound quality The only TV I've heard this year that I would want to listen to music on is the Panasonic VT60. You can expect no such sound quality on the W802. Music listening is decidedly average, even with all the sound processing turned off. The sound profile tends towards the bottom end of the spectrum, leaving no room for high-frequency instruments like cymbals or glockenspiels. The bass in Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" is distorted, and the vocals tended toward distant and echoey rather than in-your-ear menacing.

The TV does have more muscle than last year's HX850, though, with better bass reproduction and more middle frequency spaciousness. Male voices are more present and the explosions of the Bridge scene of "Mission: Impossible III" have more oomph.

3D: At its default 3D intensity, the W802A had too much depth and the visuals were a little disorienting on deep, intense 3D material such as "Hugo." Changing the setting in the 3D menu to Auto (Low) solved this problem. Whether left at default or in Auto, both modes were able to track motion well and, as expected from a passive set, left no trace of cross-talk in the demanding "ghostly hand" test (Chapter 1, 4.44) where Hugo's pale hand is contrasted against a dark background.

As this TV is a passive model you do get a halving in resolution, and this manifests itself as interlacing through images, though it had no detrimental effect on movement. The upside is that you get a brighter image than you do on an active 3D TV.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.003 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 1.99 Poor
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.9 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.406 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 2.599 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.607 Good
Avg. color error 2.883 Good
Red error 2.413 Good
Green error 3.856 Average
Blue error 3.115 Average
Cyan error 3.629 Average
Magenta error 2.193 Good
Yellow error 2.09 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 1080 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 330 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 16.9 Good

Sony Kdl 55w802a Calibration report

Sony_W800A_35661317_35561934_04.jpg
6.4

Sony W802A

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6Value 6