Sony KDL-47W805 review: Sony KDL-47W805
Sony's KDL-47W805 delivers good pictures in bright rooms, but it's not a great choice for your evening movies. It's also a tad expensive.
The KDL-47W805 occupies the second rung of Sony's range of Full HD LED TVs, sitting just underneath the W905A models. There's quite a difference between the two sets though, as this model uses passive rather than active 3D and doesn't have the W905A's Triluminos colour technology. Nevertheless, priced at £1,000, it's around £500 cheaper than its more illustrious sibling.
User interface and EPG
For this year's TVs, Sony has ditched the old and somewhat awkward XrossMediaBar and replaced it with a new menu system that feels more like the user interface on Microsoft's Windows Phones, thanks to its use of stylised text lists and chunky graphical tiles.
It's relatively easy to use. The home menu shows a text list of options and as you select each of these a row of tiles rotates into view beneath. You can then scroll left and right to select the feature or setting you want to get at. The only slight issue is that the menu system can at times feel sluggish, especially compared to the menus on Samsung's current high-end models, which are presumably powered by speedier processors.
Sony now also gives you the choice of using two different electronic programme guides (EPGs), although the company hasn't exactly explained this very well or made it easy to switch. You actually have to delve quite deeply into the settings menu to find the option that toggles between the two.
The default guide is the standard Freeview EPG. This is excellent -- it's fast, with a clean layout, and includes a programme description box as well as a video thumbnail of the channel you're currently tuned too.
The secondary guide draws its information from the Gracenotes Internet database rather than over the air. This allows it to show lots of flashy extras, including pictures for upcoming shows, as well as information on actors in TV shows or movies.
Admittedly it looks visually appealing, but it's very slow to load. So slow, in fact, that I wouldn't want to use it on a daily basis, especially as it's also sluggish at loading in data as you move around channels in the guide.
Digital media and Internet features
The W805A's overall menu system is an improvement over what appeared on Sony's older tellies, but the interface for its smart TV system has definitely taken a backwards step. While others, such as Samsung and Panasonic, have added new and useful features to their Web-connected systems, Sony has instead stripped down its offering.
The main problem is that when you open the smart TV menu it just lists all of the available apps on a single screen. There's currently no way to group apps together into categories or customise their order to place your most used ones higher up in the list.
Sony does allow you to add apps to your favourites list, so they then appear in the main menu. However, this is a single line of icons and you can't remove some of the existing icons in the list, such as Sony's own Video Unlimited service. As a result, if you've got quite a few apps in here it can become ungainly.
The system does have a decent lineup of video services, which is the most important thing. As well as the Beeb's iPlayer, it also supports Demand 5, Netflix and Lovefilm. You can also rent new movies via Sony's own Video Unlimited service or watch music videos using the MuZu TV app. Unlike Samsung's TVs, it doesn't have apps for ITV Player or 4oD, sadly.
The company has also finally updated its media player so it supports the popular MKV format, as well as other file types such as Xvid, MP4 and DivX. It happily plays these files either locally from a USB drive or over a network from a PC or networked hard drive, and unlike recent Samsung and LG TVs, the fast forward and rewind controls do wok properly when you're streaming files over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.
Design and connections
The W805A looks very similar to the W905A that I reviewed recently. It has a much lighter and more airy design than the older HX853 and so looks less imposing in your living room.
One of the signatures of the new look is the clever circular, chrome stand -- when you swivel the TV it retains its uniform look, no matter which angle the TV has been shifted to.
Compared to last year's models, Sony has slimmed down the bezel too, and this helps the TV look much more contemporary, even if it's still not quite as slim as those on recent LG and Samsung models.
There are still some elements of the design I'm not keen on, such as the overly large rectangular box that juts down from the bottom of the set and the showy turquoise trim on the bevelled edge of the bezel.
As is the fashion at the moment among high-end TVs, the W805A is supplied with two remote controls. The first one is the standard larger sized remote, which is overly boxy, but has a good button layout. The second is a much smaller and thinner Bluetooth remote with a pared-down line-up of buttons. There are no numerical keys, for example.
This remote also has an NFC sensor -- if you hold one of Sony's new Xperia phones up to it, it'll pair with the set to allow you to mirror what's on the phone's screen to the TV. Neither remote is backlit, though, which is a bit of an oversight on Sony's part.
In terms of connections, the W805A is well specified. For example, it has four HDMI ports and one of these supports MHL for use with smartphones that can output HDMI signals via their microUSB ports. There are also three USB ports, as well as a set of component inputs and a Scart socket.
The set also has both Freeview and HD satellite tuners, although these are both single tuners, so while you can record shows to USB drives, you can't watch one channel while recording another. Also, the satellite tuner doesn't support Freesat, so it's of limited use in the UK -- it doesn't tune channels in the correct order and the EPG doesn't work properly.
2D picture quality
Sony has arguably the best picture processing technology around. This can be seen in how the W805A handles upscaling of standard-definition TV broadcasts. It does a really excellent job of improving sharpness, while at the same time suppressing compression artefacts like mosquito noise and MPEG blocking. HD pictures also look incredibly crisp and detailed.
With the motion processing turned off, the set is nothing special in terms of its motion handling, as you'll see just as much blurring on it as other LED screens with a native 100Hz refresh rate. Sony's motion processing system is quite good, however, and using the Clear and Clear Plus modes you can get quite smooth motion out of it without introducing lots of tearing into the image on the edges of moving objects. The only downside is they cut brightness slightly, as they use some backlight scanning to achieve their impressive results.
Its colour performance is not bad, but there's a noticeable step down in the vividness of its colours compared to the W905A and skin tones don't look as natural or realistic as they do on the likes of Panasonic's GT60.
The set's biggest problem is that its black levels just aren't as good as competitors' models at this price point. The set uses what Sony calls frame dimming rather than the local dimming found on the W905A. Frame dimming essentially means that it can adjust the backlight according to what's being displayed on screen, but it can only turn the whole backlight up or down, it can't adjust the light intensity in specific areas of the image.
The frame dimming is controlled via the Advanced Contrast Enhancer setting in the menu. With it off, the set's black levels are very disappointing. Turning it on improves things quite dramatically, but they're still nowhere near as deep as the company's W905A or what you get on good plasmas. Also, although Sony has done a reasonably good job on the dimming feature there are times when you can see it kicking in and out, which can be jarring.
On the plus side, though, if you tend to watch TV during the day or with bright lights in your room, the deficient black levels aren't as much of an issue, especially as the TV generally does a good job of teasing out shadow detail from darker scenes. In fact, it's a tad better at this than the W905A, which I found had a slight tendency to crush detail in darker areas of the picture.
It's also good for off-axis viewing, which is traditionally a strength of the IPS panels used on this model. If you're watching this TV from a more side-on view, its colours and contrast remain pretty stable, rather than starting to look too dark or washed-out as you get on many TV's that use VA panels.
Overall, while its pictures are certainly far from bad, the W805A isn't as good as some similarly priced competitors in terms of overall viewing experience.
3D picture quality
Sony used active 3D on its more expensive W905A model, but here it has gone with passive 3D instead. You get four pairs of passive specs in the box, but as always with passive 3D screens buying extra pairs isn't a major outlay as you can pick them up for as little as £2 each.
The W805A produces very good 3D pictures, as colours remain bright and punchy, motion is well handled and the 3D effect produces a good, convincing sense of depth. There's almost no crosstalk visible either, and as the passive glasses don't flicker they don't fatigue your eyes as much as TVs that use active 3D.
The only slight downside is that the set's passive 3D images don't look as sharp as those on the W905A, which is unsurprising given that the passive system halves the horizontal resolution. As a result you can see some jaggies on the edges of some objects. This isn't a big issue really as, on the whole, the TV's images in 3D are a lot of fun to watch.
The TV's audio performance is not on a par with the W905A. It doesn't sound as bassy or as open and airy as that model, presumably because it lacks the long speaker duct on the rear that worked so well the W905A.
Still, it's far from lacking in bass and its mid-range performance is pretty strong -- dialogue manages to sound very clean and distinct. Still, given the price of the TV, I have to admit I was expecting it to put in a slightly better showing on the audio front.
The KDL-47W805A delivers good-looking pictures across both HD and standard-definition sources if you're using it in a brighter viewing environment. Many people will also like its crisp design -- especially the classy circular stand.
But its black levels aren't quite deep enough to make it a good choice for viewing movies in the evening with the lights dimmed, its smart TV system isn't as good as Samsung's sets and I can't help feeling its price is too high for the features on offer.