Sony’s TVs performed very impressively last year, with its HX853 series scooping up three of our Awards. No pressure then, for the Sony 2013 TV line-up, as we test the Sony KDL-42W805A, the 42in version of the second-tier W8 range.
This KDL-42W805A certainly makes a good first impression. Some rivals have gone for a more understated approach. Not Sony – this 42in Bravia is seemingy a knowingly good-looking product.
A turquoise accent runs along the top edge of the bezel: it’s an attractive design that Sony says is inspired by quartz crystal. That sounds like marketing blurb, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless and a design that’s consistent with many of Sony’s 2013 products.
At the bottom of the screen is a small, mirrored box called the ‘Intelligent Core’, which glows and changes colour depending on the input used or task chosen. A little unnecessary perhaps, but it does give the product a bit of personality (and you can turn it off if you don’t like it).
The TV rests on an attractive circular stand, which contrasts nicely with the sharp angles of the screen. The plastic stand has a matte silver finish, which doesn’t look quite as smart, perhaps, as the glossy silver look of the top-of-the-range W9 series, seen on the Sony KDL-55W905A. And of course both pale in comparison to the Sony X9 4K TV.
Sony KDL-42W805A: design
The real difference between the Sony W8 and W9 ranges, however, is that the W8 series doesn’t have the W9’s ‘Triluminos’ display, which aims to widen the range of shades and hues. Here we instead have ‘X-Reality Pro’, which aims to improve video processing by using a database of visual information.
Round the back, the KDL-42W805A is fairly well equipped. There are four HDMI inputs and three USB ports, one of which can record from the built-in Freeview HD or satellite tuners. Also present are composite, component and RGB Scart inputs, as well as an optical out, a headphone jack, an ethernet port and built-in wi-fi.
We found it fairly easy to set things up, with an intuitive (and attractive) interface and not too many options to flick through. Once we optimised the picture quality with our trusty THX disc, we were able to copy the settings over to all inputs, which is a timesaving feature we always like to see.
There are two remote control handsets: a traditional one with all the buttons you'd expect, and a slimmed-down version with only the most useful buttons. Both units are nicely designed and responsive in use, although they feel a little cheap and plasticky.
The smaller remote has NFC technology in its back, which can be used to cleverly connect a compatible smartphone and mirror its screen on the TV. This worked well with Sony’s own Xperia Z, but it refused to play with a Samsung Galaxy S4. Sony assures us it’s working on it. The remote control also has a ‘fast zapping’ feature, which lets you skim through content lists while you keep watching TV.
Sony KDL-42W805A: app
If juggling those remotes is too much for you, Sony's TV SideView app may just be the solution. This is a versatile, highly functional app that does everything the physical remotes do, along with a few extra tricks.
Its central feature is a slick, intuitive programme guide that works even better than the one on the TV itself – partly because you don’t need to interrupt what’s happening on the TV. Programmes are summarised, and there is cast information, a page for related shows and, somewhat oddly, an option to see what people are saying about it on Twitter. Once you've chosen your desired content, just click 'Watch' and the TV will jump to the right channel – or connect a hard drive and record away.
The app also lets you choose recorded content or stream from a network-connected PC. Don't want or need all of these functions? The app also works as a simple TV remote. It doesn’t, unfortunately, offer second-screen viewing, however, so you won’t be able to wander off and keep watching.
More after the break
The rest of Sony’s 2013 Smart TV interface is a mixed bag. Gone is the XrossMediaBar menu of yesteryear, replaced by a hub approach that’s easy to navigate. It’s neat, with large colourful tiles denoting apps and submenus.
But Sony may have gone overboard on the simplifying, as there’s no way to filter the apps. Instead you get a large list that’s not organised in any obvious order, where Picasa lies next to Backgammon.
Once you’ve trawled through this potentially overwhelming selection, you can pick apps to be kept on a single favourites bar. There is a search function, but even so it's not the organised browsing experience that we’d like.
Sony KDL-42W805A: picture
Thankfully, the Sony’s picture goes some way in making amends. Tuner performance is sharp and clear, with only a hint of noise. The X-Reality Pro software does a very good job, putting out pictures that look crisper than other upscaling efforts we’ve seen recently. It makes watching standard-definition content much more satisfactory as we continue to wait for more HD channels.
We’re also happy with the picture on DVD and Blu-ray. There is plenty of detail, which the Sony handles delicately, with nothing ever seeming overly sharp. We put on a bit of Star Wars on DVD and the Sony does a fine job of reproducing Luke Skywalker’s moppish hair.
It’s a similar performance as we switch over to a Blu-ray and marvel at the texture that can be seen on Spider-Man’s suit. Colours are well judged and manage to appear striking while staying subtle. Motion is handled well, with slow pans going by with little judder.
It’s when we come to black levels that the Sony gets into just a bit of trouble. Dark scenes appear a little washed out, never getting close to a deep black.
This can be remedied by a black-enhancing processing mode, but that then affects the brighter elements of a scene, pushing crisp whites into greyish territory. Even with the mode activated, though, the blacks never reach the depths of, for example, the Panasonic TX-P42GT60B or the Samsung UE40F7000.
The KDL-42W805A is one of Sony’s first passive 3D efforts, and it is an impressive one. Watching Life of Pi in 3D, we found the pictures to be sharp and bright, with plenty of subtle detail.
The sense of depth feels natural; there’s less of the ‘cardboard cut-outs’ effect that plagues many 3D TVs. It’s also comfortable to use, in terms of both eyestrain and the glasses on your face.
The sound the KDL-42W805A produces is detailed, with a real emphasis on clarity and sharpness. It’s on the thin side, however, and more lightweight than we’d like – this is a flat-panel screen after all. It’s fine for speech-heavy content such as the news, but to get the most out of a film, as usual we’d recommend getting some proper speakers or a soundbar.
Sony KDL-42W805A: verdict
The Sony KDL-42W805A is a fine performer with many strengths. We particularly like its fine detail and its stunning, comfortable 3D performance.
It’s a very good television for the price, but we can’t ignore the faults, such as its not-quite-black levels and frustrating smart content layout.
A strong contender from Sony, then, but not quite an out and out class leader.
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