Sony KDL-55W900A review: Quantum Dots make compelling argument

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The Good The Sony KDL-55W900A features some of the best colors available on an LCD; deep black levels with excellent shadow details and gamma; sleek design; solid features including four pairs of active 3D glasses; introduces very little input lag.

The Bad More expensive than an ST60 plasma; only available only in a 55-inch size; some strange artifacts in 3D.

The Bottom Line The Sony W900A is a fine high-end LED LCD television, with excellent color performance and deep black levels.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Value 8

While many of Sony's marketing terms mean nothing in English (or sometimes even Japanese), there have been some memorable ones: Bravia, WEGA, XBR, et al. Here's another, less-catchy, less capitalized one to add to the list: Triluminos. It's Sony's term for a technology, also known as Quantum Dots, which theoretically enhances the number of colors an LCD can produce. CNET writer Geoffrey Morrison examines the dots in depth here, but in essence it's a film of microscopic crystals that glow green, red, or blue when stimulated by a light source.

The KDL-55W900A is the first production TV we know about to use Quantum Dots, and despite this tech's whiff of marketing gimmick, its color is superb. In addition, its overall picture quality is excellent for an LED-based LCD TV, thanks in part to deep black levels courtesy of Sony's local dimming technology.

Among 2013 LED LCDs, and a list price of only $1,999, the Sony W900 has no picture quality equal we've reviewed so far. Its closest rival is the Samsung UNF8000, and while the two are very evenly matched, the Sony has a slightly better picture overall -- although it can't compete with the Samsung in design or features.

After starting at a list price of $3,299, the Sony has lost a whole $1,300 and this has improved its value significantly. If you want a 55-inch LED LCD and care foremost about the picture quality, the W900A is probably your best option in 2013.

Editors' note: In light of another price reduction -- after a $1,000 drop in July -- this review was modified on November 8, 2013, with a higher value rating (from 7 to 8) and a corresponding, manual increase in its overall rating to 4 stars (80).


Sarah Tew/CNET

If it weren't for the different colored bases, you'd swear that the W802 and W900A were the same TV, and since one is exactly twice the price of the other, this almost seems a lazy design choice. Both models feature a very slim black bezel with a "Quartz-cut" edge that glows blue-green when it catches the light.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The W900A trades the brushed-aluminum base of the W802 for a chrome finish, making this TV look even more like it should be propping up a hipster at your local speakeasy. So far, so elegant, but then it gets strange with a tacked-on, nondetachable "box" bulging with Sony's logo.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The television comes with two remotes: one standard, medium-size infrared and the other smaller Bluetooth. The standard remote is compact and yet easy to use with dedicated SEN and Netflix buttons. The Bluetooth remote, which doesn't require line of sight to the TV, is quirky yet surprisingly ergonomic, with most of the buttons you'll need.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After six years of the XMB (Xross Media Bar) interface, Sony has decided it's time for a change. Instead of stretching from left to right, as with the original PS3 interface, Sony has opted for a traditional vertical menu. The menu is animated, which can make it a little slower than your traditional list, though.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard & Bluetooth remotes
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Active 3D glasses included 4 pair, No
Refresh rate(s) 240Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes, No
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: Bluetooth remote

Along with the 4K XBR-X900 series, the W900A is Sony's "kitchen sink" television when it comes to picture enhancements. The standout, of course, is the "Triluminos" or "Color IQ" coating that enhances the picture's available colors by the application of a thin, multicolor-crystal film over the backlight. The company used the term a few years ago for its three-color LED system, but this is a different technology. The theory is that the TV is able to reproduce more of the colors that are in the source versus a standard LED, and Sony's representatives say it should be able to handle even wider color gamuts if -- big if -- they ever appear in the future. Interestingly, however, it still isn't wide enough to handle the color of Rec. 2020.

If you love your picture to be buttery-smooth, you'll be happy to hear this is a Motion Flow XR960 system, but be aware that this translates in reality to a 240Hz panel. Another major step-up over the W802A is the employment of local dimming from the edge-lit LED backlight.

Sony keeps things simple with a bunch of cell-phone-friendly features like Miracast mirroring and MHL, and the second Bluetooth remote is also NFC-enabled. Beyond these minor additions, the TV's non-picture-affecting features are mostly unchanged from last year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The TV includes four pairs of 3D active glasses, the TDG-BT500A, which retail for $50 each. New for this year, Sony's active 3D TVs finally comply with the full HD 3D standard, so it will work with third-party glasses like the these Samsungs ($20).

Smart TV: The interface has improved a little since last year -- no more scrolling lists or separate, competing interfaces -- and the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) is now the default smart TV destination. It's available only from the SEN button on the remote control, though some apps are available under the Applications menu. All of the apps sit on one screen, 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.

Unlike some competitors, Sony offers no app store, just a long list of preloaded apps which includes the inevitable litany of disposable games. There have so far been no new additions to last year's Smart TV content selection, and Yahoo Widgets and CinemaNow have both disappeared. Of course favorites like Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora are still available.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sony features a Web browser, but without a pointing device it becomes unbearably difficult to navigate. I don't anticipate many people will use this feature.

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 to a receiver or a decent sound bar to get the best out of Music Unlimited.

Picture settings: Despite being a more expensive TV, the W900A actually offers less tweaking than is available on the W802. There's no 10-point grayscale, although it does have a number of gamma selections and the usual array of picture presets. Unlike some competitors, Sony doesn't offer a color management system.

Connectivity: The standard physical connections include four HDMI (with one offering MHL), three USB ports, one component/composite, one standalone composite and Ethernet. MHL compatibility enables you to connect your smartphone via HDMI and stream content while you charge your phone, but for wireless convenience the onboard Wi-Fi direct is probably better. For a complete list of inputs and outputs, check out the Specs section of this review.