It's the thin end of the wedge as far as Sony's TV line-up is concerned
The dust has barely settled after CES and already the manufacturers are rolling out their full UK product line-ups for 2014.
First out of the gates were Sony who, following on from a strong showing at CES, invited the UK tech press to their Weybridge headquarters to see what they have in store for this year. The swagger that typified the Sony stand at CES seems to have been carried over and the Japanese giant is confident they have a strong product range in 2014. Unsurprisingly there are a number of Ultra HD 4K TVs included but there are also plenty of 1080p models in the new line-up. As we've come to expect from Sony the design of the TVs are very attractive, with their new 'wedge' shape taking pride of place and we were glad to see there wasn't a curve in sight. However before revealing their new line-up the manufacturer was keen to demonstrate some of the new features found on their TVs.
We saw most of these on the Sony stand at CES but it’s always better to get a closer look away from the less-than-ideal conditions of a show floor. We’ve been big fans of Sony’s X-Reality Pro image processing for some, especially when it comes to upscaling high definition content to match the higher resolution of an Ultra HD 4K screen. It was good to see that the 2014 variety is just as effective as previous generations. The same is true of their Triluminos panel which, whilst not delivering quite the huge colour gamut that Sony claim, certainly ensures that the TVs can hit the industry standard of Rec.709, which is what really matters.
Sony have also improved the viewing angles on their latest models, which when combined with the excellent blacks is quite an achievement. The new X-tended Dynamic Range feature is also very interesting, giving images a much wider dynamic range and better perceived depth and impact. Sony’s local dimming has always been excellent and when combined with X-tended Dynamic Range, the results were genuinely impressive. Sony were keen to stress that in terms of local dimming zones or contrast ratios they didn’t want to get into a numbers game, but would rather let the results speak for themselves.
The new X-tended Dynamic Range feature is impressive, delivering greater perceived depth and impact.
The same was true of their new ‘wedge’ shape design, which is intended to not only look attractive but also to allow for larger speakers and thus better sound. It would seem that Sony at least have realised that ultra-thin TVs don’t sound very good and they hope through a combination of a bigger chassis, front-firing magnetic fluid speakers and fibreglass tweeters to produce a bigger more immersive sound experience. The results were excellent, with the demos delivering some of the best TV sound we have heard in a long time. As an added benefit, the larger chassis and wedge shape create a lower centre of gravity which means the new TVs are more stable. As a result the feet that support the panel have two different fixing points, which means you can move them inwards, thus creating a smaller footprint and allowing you to position the TV on equipment racks that don't extend the full length of the chassis. The wedge shaped TVs also come with dedicated spacers to allow for easy wall mounting using a standard VESA bracket.
The larger chassis and speakers helped create greater presence at the lower end but if you feel you need a bit more bass there is also an optional wireless subwoofer. This connects to the TV using uncompressed audio over WiFi thanks to a USB dongle that you plug into the TV itself. The subwoofer automatically recognises and pairs with the TV, calibrating itself and adjusting the crossover accordingly. How effective this will be in the actual production model remains to be seen but the demo certainly added better low-end presence, although the bass was quite directional, suggesting the crossover may have been set too high. Sony have also included Clear Audio Plus, which adds digital signal processing to the audio if you so wish, although it can also be turned off. There are three main settings and their uses are fairly self-explanatory - Clear Sound, Clear Voice and Clear Surround.
The other area that Sony were keen to demonstrate is their revised smart platform and new ‘One Flick’ remote. The remote itself has a touch pad - a first for Sony - that is designed to make navigating both the smart platform and the ‘One Flick’ features easier. There’s also a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag on the remote to make it easier to connect your suitably equipped smartphone with your TV. The TVs themselves now have a Quick Start feature which means they turn on in two seconds, which is almost instantaneous. The Home menu has had a facelift, with a navigation bar along the top and areas for featured apps and your favourites. The Sony platform has a decent selection of apps, including most of the big ones, although ITV Player and 4OD are still missing and Sony seemed reticent to discuss the matter.
There is a new overlapping menu system at the bottom which shows various tabs (Digital TV, BBC, Recommendations etc.) which you can flick through using the new remote. You can flick across or up and down and access features such as Video Unlimited, YouTube, 500px, any connected USB device and your home network. There is also USB recording and this year Sony’s 4K TVs will include four tuners - two Freeview and two free-to-air satellite. However this year the remote app has dropped the feature for sending video from your TV to your smartphone or tablet. All Sony's new Ultra HD 4K TVs will include HDMI 2.0 and HEVC decoding, along with Netflix 4K, which is good news as this will be one of the only ways to get 4K content this year - assuming your broadband is sufficiently fast.
Sony are a major sponsor of the FIFA World Cup and this year's TVs include a 'Football' mode.
Sony are a major sponsor of this year’s FIFA World Cup and as such have included a ‘Football’ mode on their 2014 TVs, which is an evolution of a similar mode found on last year's home cinema systems. If you engage this mode, it changes the Motionflow setting to something more appropriate for the fast-paced football action and it changes the audio setting to create a more stadium-like atmosphere. There will also be a FIFA app that will be linked to the ‘Football’ mode, giving you access to tournament standings, fixtures and classic World Cup moments sourced from YouTube. Sony also mentioned that the World Cup Final will be filmed on 4K cameras but they were also quick to point out that they aren’t a broadcaster so actually showing the 4K content was largely out of their hands.
Other new features include a Tweet View which will search Twitter for tweets on whatever subject you select, these tweets then scroll along the bottom of the TV picture in layers. The social networking features can be accessed by pressing the Social View button on the remote. The Skype feature has also had a facelift and now you can have a Skype call whilst still watching TV, with the picture-in-picture appearing in the top left hand corner, although you can adjust the framing. All models from the W9 up will have a built-in 720p camera but otherwise it will be available as an optional extra. Finally there is a new PhotoShare feature which uses WiFi Direct to allow up to ten people to share photos on your TV from their smartphones or tablets and then save those photos to another device. This feature will be available for smartphones and tablets that use either iOs or Android.
The TV line-up itself begins with the R4, which is Sony’s entry level model. It comes in two screen sizes, a 32-inch 720p model and a 40-inch 1080p version. The R4 has a redesigned stand, an external power supply, Clear resolution enhancer and 100Hz Motionflow. Moving up the range we have the W6 which is 1080p and comes in screen sizes of 40 and 48 inches. These models include edge-lit LED backlighting, X-Reality Pro and bass reflex speakers.
The W7 series includes 32, 42 and 40 inch screen sizes and Sony mentioned that last year's 42-inch model was the best selling TV in the UK in November and December. The W7 includes 1080p panel resolution, edge-lit LED backlighting, X-Reality Pro, 200Hz Motionflow and bass reflex speakers. The W7 is available in either black or silver and 'One Flick' remote is available as an optional extra. The W8 series has screen sizes of 42, 50 and 55 inches and also adds 3D. In addition the 42-inch model has 400Hz Motionflow, whilst the 50 and 55 inch models have 800Hz Motionflow.
The next model in the line-up is the W85, which only comes in a single 60-inch screen size and added the 'wedge' design for improved sound. The W85 also includes all the features found on the W8, including 1080p, edge-lit LED backlighting, X-Reality Pro, 3D and 800Hz Motionflow, along with long duct speakers. The W95 is Sony's flagship 1080p TV for 2014, with screen sizes in 55 and 65 inches. This model also includes the 'wedge' design and all the features found on the W85 but also adds the 'One Flick' remote, Triluminos display, X-tended Dynamic Range and a built-in Skype camera.
Sony's have a strong line-up of TVs for 2014 with something for everyone - from entry level to 85-inch 4K.
Moving on to Sony's Ultra HD 4K line-up and the first model is the X85 series which comes in screen sizes of 49, 55 and 65 inches. Sony feel that 49 inches is as small as you can realistically go with a 4K panel. Given that LG has already stated that they intend to sell their 49-inch 4K TV for less than £2,000, you can expect Sony to follow suit in the hope that 4K can gain more mass market traction. In terms of features, the X85 includes 4K X-Reality Pro, edge-lit LED backlighting, Triluminos display and bass relax speakers. It doesn't use the 'wedge shape' and instead has a narrow chassis with a thin bezel but it does have the movable feet.
At the top of Sony's line-up, with one exception, is their X9 series which comes in screen sizes of 55, 65 and 79 inches. This flagship Ultra HD 4K TV includes all the features you would expect, including the 'wedge' design, 4K X-Reality Pro, edge-lit LED backlighting, Triluminos display, X-tended Dynamic Range, built-in Skype camera, 'One Flick' remote and magnetic fluid speakers. This is a seriously impressive TV, with both the looks, build quality, performance and features to take over from last year's excellent X9. Although we did question the logic of Sony's naming convention, we can't help but feel that with so many similar model numbers to last year, the poor old consumer is going to get confused.
Although not actually on display at Weybridge, there is one more model in Sony's TV line-up, their statement X95. This 85-inch monster includes all the features found on the X9 but includes a full array LED backlight and X-tended Dynamic Range Pro for even deeper blacks and a wider dynamic range. We saw this model at CES and the picture quality was staggering, although we suspect the price will also take your breath away. We also weren't completely sold on the feet used with the X95, it made it look like a school blackboard - possibly a rare design misstep from the Japanese manufacturer. However there's no denying the overall strength of Sony's 2014 TV line-up; there's something for everyone and based upon what we've seen their confidence is certainly justified. Full pricing and availability of the announced products are yet to be confirmed, but we will update this article when those are announced.
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