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Sony KDL-50W829B (W8) LED TV Review

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Now Sony, which one is the flagship product again - the W955 or this?

by Mark Hodgkinson Mar 26, 2014

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    Highly Recommended
    Sony KDL-50W829B (W8) LED TV Review
    SRP: £899.95

    What is the Sony 50W829?

    The new TV Season for Sony kicked off with the slightly disappointing flagship W95, it simply wasn’t what we’d come to expect from Sony’s top drawer.

    So, the 50W829B is carrying the weight of expectation on its narrow frame when it comes to delivering the goods on the picture quality front. On paper, the W829 has more in common with Sony’s 2013 Flagship Full HD TV, the W90, with a panel bearing similar technology and an active shutter 3D system. The significance of the panel details is brought to bear in the native contrast levels it is able to deliver and that’s where the W955B was most lacking.
    As well as the 50-inch W829, there are also a 42-inch and 55-inch versions in the new W8 series and, to muddy the waters further, there’s a 60-inch W85 which is also sports active 3D but features the wedge design of the W9. We’re sure Sony didn’t set out to confuse everyone with their new product numbers but they’re making a pretty good job of it! Anyhow, the only one we need to concentrate on right now is the KDL-50W829B, so on with the show.

    Design & Connections

    The W829B might not feature the new wedge-shaped design of the top-tier ranges but the bottom of the chassis is far more bulbous than you would suspect from the streamlined façade. The aim of the added depth (it is 6cm at thickest point) is to allow for some respectable speakers to be housed and they are certainly well above average, in flat panel TV terms.

    The unusual back plate is also unconventional in how it spreads around the connectivity options. To the right hand side and outward facing is the MHL compliant HDMI input to connect to compatible phones and tablets for video up to 1080p. Here there are also 2 USB ports and a headphone jack. Moving more towards the centre there’s a LAN port and CAM slot and to the left of those there’s the legacy Scart and Component video connections beside the S/PDIF digital audio out.

    Beneath the legacy video connections are three downward-firing HDMI inputs with one of those being ARC (Audio Return Channel) ready. The general idea of having HDMI ports that point downwards is to aid sleek wall-mounting but that’s negated somewhat by the fattish chassis. Another spot of unusualness is the inclusion of an external power supply, which is probably as a result of intended design to keep those components away from those of the speakers to minimise interference.
    Sony KDL-50W829B Design & Connections
    Sony KDL-50W829B Design & Connections

    As per the W95, the W829 comes with two remote control options. There’s a standard rectangular number which bears very close resemblance to those Sony have been churning out for years. There are some ‘special interest’ buttons; one is to activate the new ‘Football’ Mode and another takes you direct to Netflix but the rest are all fairly standard and it’s a very useable unit.

    The Touch and Flick Smart controller is more pared down but has a touchpad to speed up navigation – particularly in terms of scrolling around the numerous apps on offer. It is fairly successful too but we’d put money on the fact most will use it once and then return to the box.

    Connections are unusually scattered on the back panel

    Menus

    Having lived with the new Sony UI for the best part of two weeks, we’re no fonder of it than we were at first glance. The content discovery nature of the interface will suit some, particularly those bored of traditional EPGs (Electronic Programme Guides) but it does take too long to get to the settings.
    Sony KDL-50W829B Menus
    Sony KDL-50W829B Menus

    There is some relief to this, however, in the shape of the Options button on the remote which allows you to get at the Scene Selections and most of the key picture controls. In the Picture Menu we get most of the flagship processing options, including a 2 point White Balance setting, Reality Creation, Black Corrector, Motionflow options and Adv. Contrast Enhancer but there is no local dimming AKA LED Dynamic Control. For those that have read the W955 review, it might be reassuring to know that the latter was barely missed and most of the others mentioned weren’t really necessary.

    Features

    We are in the process of compiling a Sony Smart TV Platform for 2014 review and that it’s taking quite some time, will give you a fair indication that there is a lot to cover! Bar the lack of a built-in video camera for Skype calling, the W829 packs in the same feature-set of the W95 which we gave a brief overview of here. One thing we did notice with the W829 that we didn’t see with the W955, was that is struggled to stream 1080p video over WiFi. We were using a file with relatively low bitrate and the router was right next to the TV so it’s something that may be of concern if you had designs on a TV for that purpose. We’ll update back here once we’ve completed the full Smart TV review.
    Sony KDL-50W829B Features
    Sony KDL-50W829B Features


    If content discovery is your thing, the Sony UI will be to your liking. If not, tough!

    Calibration

    Pre Calibration

    In the default Cinema Scene Mode we’re presented with a greyscale that is quite noticeably tinted green. This is especially evident with white and shades of grey near it and leads to delta Errors approaching 10 in the brighter portions. When you consider that it is generally accepted that an error of 3 is discernible to the human eye, these are not insignificant inaccuracies. As per Sony’s recent track record, the default -2 gamma setting leads to a reasonably flat 2.4 response which certainly works better on this TV than it did the W955 but it’s still not ideal, in terms of revealing details in the shadows
    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration
    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration

    By far the largest concern with the colour gamut is red, which is under-saturated by some margin at full stimulation levels. It’s almost as though Sony is trying to push prospective customers towards the higher end TVs featuring Tri Luminous tech. There’s no doubt, given the right demo materials, that a W95 would look more appealing in some instances put side by side with the W829 but we can’t imagine Sony would resort to such skulduggery. Would they?

    Post Calibration

    The W829’s ‘paltry’ 2 point White Balance controls were all we needed to obtain a virtual reference greyscale performance. We managed to iron down delta Errors to below 1, right the way from black to white and by notching the gamma slider to -1, we were able to get an almost flat tracking 2.3 which suits this TV better than 2.4.
    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration
    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration

    As we can see from the CIE Diagram, top right, there was nothing that could be done for the under-saturated red and the various uneven luminance readings but there’s nothing to be of huge concern. Interestingly, as per the chart below, we can see that colours are tracking extremely well at lesser stimulation levels – red included – so the W829 is almost the mirror image of the W95 here. Where the W95 was similarly blessed at 25, 50 and 75% saturation levels, it was quite ‘wide’ at 100% so ideally we’d want somewhere in the middle of the two.
    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration

    Contrast, Black Levels & Screen Uniformity

    This area of testing is certainly, ‘score one’ for the W829 over its more illustrious stable mate. Not only were black levels deep and satisfying but screen uniformity was also excellent. On a completely black screen there was just a little lightening toward the bottom left corner but it was rarely evident with real world material. There was no real need to resort to any of Sony’s processing options to improve the native blacks, although you could put Adv. Contrast Enhancer to ‘Low’ - if you really wanted - without doing any harm.

    Sony KDL-50W829B Calibration
    From a checkerboard pattern the W829 produced an average black reading of 0.039 cd/m2 against an average white reading of 95.09 cd/m2 producing an ANSI contrast ratio of 2462:1, which is some 6 times better than that of the W95. Since contrast and dynamic range are the most important factors to our eyes in determining what constitutes a good picture, perhaps the numbers tell quite a story here.

    Video Processing

    The same X-Reality Pro processing engine found in the W955 is present in the W829 so it was no surprise to find our test results mirrored. So we get excellent scaling of standard definition signals and deinterlacing of 1080i and 576i signals was also clean, without undue break up of lines or fine detail. The cadence detection for both PAL (2:2) and NTSC (2:3) sources was also excellent, with the W829 able to lock on instantly and thus deliver pictures without loss of resolution or shredding. In short, there’s almost no video task this Sony isn’t up to, so complaints here.

    Gaming Performance

    Perhaps, someday soon, competing manufacturers will be able to unravel the secrets behind Sony’s Game Mode but, until then, they will be ahead of the pack when it comes to producing TVs with incredibly low latency. Using our specialised testing equipment we took measurements ranging between 19.5 to 22.3 milliseconds lag to controller input, which is just in to the second frame of a game running natively at 60fps and within the first of one running at 30. We would say it actually improved some of performances in certain games although, to be fair, there was plenty of room for doing so.

    Energy Consumption

    Standby: 0W

    The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:

    Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 37W
    Calibrated – Cinema Mode: 53W
    Calibrated - 3D Cinema Mode: 74W

    Sony 50W829 Picture Quality – 2D

    An LED/LCD TV that’s good for watching sports? Yes folks, the Sony KDL-50W829 is one of those ever so rare beasts. In the majority of cases, we normally find at least one issue with panning shots over grass backgrounds, either in the form of a dirty screen effect or the structure of the panel array behind the glass being visible – and sometimes both, together – but the W829 was almost as clean as a whistle in that respect. To be mega-picky, there was, very occasionally, a very mild dirty screen effect in these instances but we only saw it because we were putting the display under intense scrutiny. Had we just been viewing for pleasure, it’s highly doubtful we’d have picked it out. Even the interpolating, Motionflow processing was of benefit to fast moving action, when set to Clear. It’s not something we’d consider for any other material, as it gives an unnatural smoothness, even for programming shot on video but it does work used in the sporting arena.

    No banding, no dirty screen effect? Are we sure this is LED?

    But it wasn’t just with sports where the 50W829B looked great. Across the board, the deep blacks helped the Sony deliver images packed with clarity and contrasty punch and it was only from relatively acute viewing angles where colours washed out. Even lowly standard definition sources (we watch them only for test purposes, you understand) looked remarkably clean on the 50-inch panel, which is testament to Sony’s X-Reality Pro processing engine. Naturally HD is where it’s at but there are still some worthwhile movies yet to make the transition to Blu-ray disc.

    Where we had to come up with a cocktail of settings to extract a picture we’d consider approaching good, with the flagship W955, we didn’t really need to mess with any of the more exotic controls on the W829 to see it shine. If you do want some improvement on all, or nearly all, black screens you could set the Adv Contrast Enhancer to Mid but it will come at the cost of some luminance flashes on frame transitions, albeit only fleeting ones. The Reality Creation settings are again quite interesting for the likes of streamed HD content, where the micro adjustments in pixel luminance can help give the impression of restoring some of the detail lost during compression but it’s to be used on a case-by-case basis, rather than wholesale.

    Sony 50W829 Video Review




    Sony 50W829 Picture Quality – 3D

    If there is a significant area where the W829 is inferior to the W955, then it is this one. How much significance you place on 3D performance, in the scheme of things, is of course a matter of personal taste but this isn’t the best 3D TV we’ve tested. We saw lots of crosstalk with pop-out (negative parallax) moments during our second run through the Gravity Blu-ray and even the depth-heavy (positive parallax) Dredd 3D suffered distracting ghosting with high contrast scenes in the backgrounds. To compound the comparatively miserable 3D experience, the active shutter glasses supplied are uncomfortable to wear with snout-pinching nose rests and lenses that would taint colours with even slight head movements. If you’re after a decent 3D TV, move along, but we know most people really don’t care about it anymore – if they ever did!


    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Excellent black levels
    • Great dynamic range
    • Superb screen uniformity
    • Almost perfect greyscale post calibration
    • Colours generally correct
    • Top notch video processing

    Cons

    • Red can look visibly undersaturated
    • 3D performance leaves something to be desired
    • Menus are tiresome
    You own this Total 35
    You want this Total 5
    You had this Total 0

    Sony KDL-50W829B (W8) LED TV Review

    The Sony W829 doesn't feature the new Wedge design of the top-end TVs but it does have a fairly bulbous bump at the back of the chassis where some decent speakers reside. From the front aspect, it looks like your average 2014 flat panel TV with a micro-thin bezel and a slightly unusual wire-style stand that may make tidy cable management more of an issue than it needed to be.

    That rotund backside has all the connectivity options one could wish for, including 4 HDMI, Scart and component video connections plus two USB inputs and digital audio out. Sony gives you two remote controls to play with in the box with the W829. One is of a traditional design whilst the other has a scroll pad on the front. The 'Touch and Flick' remote is fairly successful in speeding up navigation but we'd expect most will favour the traditional controller.

    Sony's 2014 Menus take some getting used to. You now have to traverse your way through a load of suggested content, to watch or listen to, before getting to the actual settings. We've been on at Sony for years to improve their menus and whilst this incarnation is undoubtedly their most attractive, they leave something to be desired on the usability front.

    Where it really matters, however, the W829B definitely delivers with images that combine an excellent degree of accuracy with deep and consistent black levels, for maximum impact. Very few of Sony's clever processing tricks are needed for this TV for it to deliver, something we couldn't say of the supposed flagship W955. It was only the 3D performance that was really lacking but who but a very small minority really care about that?

    Sony probably wont thank us for saying this but the Sony W829 performs far more like a top-end TV than the W955 although perhaps they'll forgive us with the award of a Highly Recommended badge.


    The Rundown

    Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

    8

    Screen Uniformity

    9

    Colour Accuracy

    8

    Greyscale Accuracy

    9

    Video Processing

    9

    2D Picture Quality

    9

    3D Picture Quality

    6

    Sound Quality

    7

    Smart Features

    8

    Build Quality

    7

    Ease Of Use

    7

    Value for Money

    9

    Verdict

    9

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