Sony KDL-40W905A TV Review
After missing out last year, the UK finally gets Sony's W905. Was it worth the wait?
What is the Sony KDL-40W905AFor reasons best known to themselves Sony decided not to release the HX955 in the UK last year, despite its availability in the rest of Europe. That left the HX853 as the de facto Sony flagship in the UK, although this was hardly a disaster as it was an excellent TV, ultimately winning a Highly Recommended badge when we reviewed it here. However, as good as the HX853 was, having seen the HX955 at Sony's offices in Tokyo, there was always a nagging feeling the UK had missed out. This year we finally get Sony's flagship TV - not counting their new Ultra HD models - but the W90 is joining a particularly competitive LED LCD market place, with strong entries from both Samsung and LG. After seriously upping their game last year, Sony seem to have raised the bar again in 2013, with an impressive list of specifications. The W90 includes a new look, improved sound, better picture processing, an updated remote app, expanded smart features and Sony's proprietary Triluminos technology, which promises 'ultra-real colours'. Is the W90 a genuine step forward or the victim of marketing hyperbole? Let's find out...
Design and ConnectionsThe 40W905 incorporates Sony's new 'Sense of Quartz' aesthetic but it actually appears very traditional, especially compared to the more avant garde designs coming from the competition these days. The 40W905 uses a simple black brushed metal bezel that measures 1.5cm wide and surrounds the entire screen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and we actually prefer a screen to have a black border as it generally improves the perceived image. The rear panel is made of metal but has a 'plasticy' appearance and the overall construction is surprisingly light for a flagship model - we guess Sony had to save money somewhere. The upside is that the 40W905 is obviously easier to wall mount. The 40W905 is saved from being a complete plain Jane by its chrome semicircular stand that is not only quite attractive but actually swivels, which is becoming something of a rarity these days. Between the panel and the stand is what Sony refer to as an 'intelligent core' but is basically a shiny rectangular section with Sony written on it and an LED light underneath that thankfully can be turned off. At the rear right, next to all the connections, there are some basic controls and the power cable is hard-wired, measuring 1.5m in length.
The 40W905 comes with a decent set of connections and we were glad to see it retains four HDMI inputs, one of which supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) and three of which are downward facing. We have been complaining about sideways facing HDMI inputs for a few years now, so its good see someone has been listening. The fourth HDMI input does face sideways but since it supports MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) that makes sense because it's easier to connect your smartphone or tablet. There are also three USB ports, one of which is for HDD recording, a CI (Common Interface) slot, an aerial socket, a satellite connector, a headphone jack, an Ethernet port, an optical digital output, a SCART socket, analogue stereo inputs and a combined composite/component video input. The 40W905 comes two pairs of RF active shutter 3D glasses, which have clearly had a redesign since last year. The new look is very reminiscent of Samsung's current design, with all the benefits and the same basic problem. Whilst the glasses are light and comfortable to wear, they have no shielding at the sides to block out ambient light. However, they are a big step up from previous generations of Sony 3D glasses and are far more tolerant when it comes to tilting your head.
The 40W905 comes with two remotes, the first of which is the same basic model that Sony used last year. It's comfortable to hold and the buttons are sensibly laid out, covering all the major controls. There are dedicated buttons for accessing the Home page and the smart features (SEN) but the Exit button remains easy to miss and only takes you out one layer, which just mirrors what the Return button does. The second remote is a stripped down version that doesn't even have an Exit button, only basic controls such as On/Off, Home, SEN, Volume, Programme, Return and Options. You can access a more complete virtual remote on-screen but frankly we found this approach frustrating and time consuming and we never used it. The real reason for this second remote is that it supports the One-touch NFC (Near Field Communication) feature that allows instant wireless mirroring of your smart device.
MenusThe menu system has also been redesigned and whilst it retains some of the dreaded Xross Media Bar's (XMB) DNA, it's a vast improvement. There is now a central home page from where you can access all the features, devices and menus using one of six options - Featured, History, TV, Applications, Connected Devices and Settings. The first choice is Featured where you will find various features recommended to you such as movies, TV shows, music and apps. The next choice is History which shows you channels, inputs, devices and content that you have recently accessed.
Then there is TV where you can access programmes that you have recorded if you have attached a USB HDD. You can also access the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) from here, although there's also a dedicated button on the main remote control. In addition there are options for the TV Channel List and areas to add and save favourites. The Applicationssection gives you access to the SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) page, although again this can be accessed directly using a dedicated button on either remote, and it includes the Video and Music Unlimited pages, PlayMemories and popular apps.
The Connected Devices option obviously allows you to select from any connected devices, although there is also a dedicated input button on the remote which tended to be a faster method. Finally there's the Settings option where you can access the i-Manual, the Display Settings, the Sound Settings, the System Settings, External Input Settings, Network Settings and Digital or Analogue Setup. Make sure you turn off the Light Sensor in the Eco section of the System Settings menu or you will limit the brightness of the panel.
The 40W905 also includes an Options menu system that is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote. Sony has an annoying habit of hiding key selections away in sub-menus and this is a good example. You need to use the Options menu to access the Scene Select sub-menu, where you can select from a number of 'Scenes', the most important of which are Game and Cinema. You need to select Game if you want to reduce the input lag and you need to select Cinema to access the Cinema 1 Picture Mode that offers the most accurate out-of-the-box settings. As is usually the case with a Sony TV there are too many unnecessary processing features but we'll cover those in more detail in the test section.
FeaturesThe 40W905 includes an excellent Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) that is well laid out, easy to use and includes both picture-in-picture and audio. Last year we felt that Sony's smart TV platform was too fragmented, so it was good to discover that this year everything in centralised on one page which you access by pressing the SEN button on the remote. You can also access the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) page and the Video and Music Unlimited pages from the Home page. Whilst Sony's smart TV platform might not be as comprehensive as some of the competition, it wisely concentrates on the kind of features that people will actually use such as video-on-demand and catch-up services. We cover Sony's Smart TV System in far greater detail in its own dedicated review which you can find here.
As part of this smart TV platform, Sony include their Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited on-demand services. These services can be accessed via the SEN menu or the Applications section of the Home menu and are subscription based, giving you access to a multitude of Sony Entertainment created content. In addition to Sony’s Video Unlimited service, the 40W905 has numerous video-on-demand services pre-loaded from just about every major provider - Netflix, LOVEFiLM, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Demand 5. For some strange reason despite being available on the PS3, the 4OD and ITV Player catch-up services are still missing from Sony's TV line-up. There's a multitude of other apps available including Sony’s streaming 3D Experience service which has a decent variety of sports, video games and nature clips.
The 40W905 can be connected to your network by either Ethernet or built-in WiFi and provides media streaming capabilities with DLNA compliance. In terms of file support the coverage is excellent and includes MPEG, MPEG2PS, MPEG2TS, AVCHD, MP4Part10, MP4Part2, AVI(XVID), AVI(Motion JPEG), MOV, WMV, MKV, WEBM, 3GPP, MP3, WMA, LPCM, JPEG and MPO. Sony's remote app has had an upgrade and this year is called TV SideView but remains one of the best. TV SideView is freely available for both iOS and Android operating systems and can be used on smartphones and tablets. There is an attractive user interface that offers full control through a simplified or full interface. Other features include providing details on the content you are watching, finding media content spread across various services or devices, messaging about the content you are watching, a full QWERTY touch-screen keyboard and a touch pad cursor.
Audio QualitySony has made a big deal in its marketing about the 40W095's use of their unique Signal-to-Sound architecture which uses advanced processing to optimise and refine the audio signals. They have also used what they refer to as 'long ducting' which might sound like an address in Beijing but is actually a method of squeezing a coiled duct into the base of the chassis. There is also an angled flap that redirects the sound waves from the downward firing drivers, helping to project the sound forward. As a result the 40W905 was able to punch above its weight in terms of sound performance and whilst the smaller screen size limited the amount of stereo separation, the audio was surprisingly good. There was a reasonable amount of bass energy, music and effects were well defined and dialogue remained clear. The only criticism was a tendency for the sound to distort at higher volumes but otherwise this was a solid audio performance from the Sony.
Test ResultsSince Sony has dropped the THEATRE button on their TV remote, there's slightly more work required to set the 40W905 correctly but not much. All you need to do is go into the Options menu, choose Cinema in Scene Select and then the Cinema 1 Picture Mode. The majority of the other features default to their optimal setting but there is some room for experimentation with controls such as LED Dynamic Control (local dimming) and Motionflow. For the purposes of these tests we turned both LED Dynamic Control and Motionflow off and set the Brightness and Contrast to suit our viewing environment. As we discovered make sure you turn off the Light Sensor in the Eco section under System Settings or it will limit brightness. On the top left is the greyscale performance and whilst it's reasonable, there is some fairly obvious discolouration from about 50IRE upwards. The reason for this is obvious on the RGB Balance graph, there's too much red and green and not enough blue, which is giving everything a yellow cast. The gamma on the other hand is tracking close to our target of 2.2, so it should be easy to calibrate the greyscale using the 40W905's two-point white balance control.
On the top right is the colour gamut and much to our relief, it's actually very accurate, with all the colours close to their targets for the industry standard of Rec.709. We were concerned that Sony's Triluminos technology would result in an over-saturated colour space and without a colour management system (CMS) there would be nothing we could do about it. As it is the luminance measurements are almost spot on, as are the saturation and hue measurements, with just an over-saturated blue. The square in the middle of the triangle is D65 which represents the industry standard colour temperature of white and the error in the greyscale is dragging it towards yellow. Once we have corrected the greyscale, we should see white, cyan and magenta move closer to their target coordinates.
For these measurements we left everything as before and just used the two-point white balance control to calibrate the greyscale. Aside from that there really was nothing else we could do, so let's hope it works. We only needed to drop red and green a few notches at 80IRE for the greyscale to fall into place. Now red, green and blue are all tracking at our target of 100, resulting in DeltaEs (errors) of less than one. This is below the tolerance level of three, which is the point at which the human eye can no longer distinguish the differences, so we would class this as a reference performance.
As a result of calibrating the greyscale, the colour temperature of white is now precisely hitting its target of D65 on the CIE chart above. All the colours now have overall errors of less than one, which is essentially perfect. The luminance measurements are hitting their targets precisely and so are all of the hue and most of the saturation measurements with the exception of some very slight over-saturation in blue. Overall this is a reference colour performance from the 40W905 and probably explains why Sony don't include a CMS! This excellent colour accuracy extends to different saturation levels as well, as can be seen on the graph below. All the tests we have conducted so far were done at 100% saturation but you will rarely look at a fully saturated image, so how a TV performs at lower saturation levels is just as important. As the graph above shows, the 40W905 delivered a superb performance at different saturation levels with all of them at - or very close to - their targets.
It would seem that, based on the measured black levels and the optimal viewing angles, the 40W905 is using a VA panel. Whilst there was a drop off in contrast performance as you moved further away from the centre of the screen, we didn't find it an issue and frankly it's a small price to pay for better native blacks. With all the local dimming off we measured black at 0.02cd/m2, which is very good for an LCD panel. The 40W905 also had no problems hitting 120cd/m2, resulting in an impressive on/off contrast ratio of 6,000:1, which is excellent for an LCD TV. When we measured the ANSI contrast ratio we got an equally impressive 4,088:1. The graph above also shows that the backlight uniformity was very good, with no obvious clouding or light pooling on a dark screen. The black levels and thus the contrast ratio could be improved by using the local dimming, with black dropping to 0.006cd/m2 in Low mode and zero in standard mode where all the LEDs were turned off. Overall we found that a Low setting on the LED Dynamic Control worked best, delivering deep blacks with an impressive dynamic range without losing detail in dark scenes.Sony claim to have upgraded their X-Reality Pro engine for 2013 and overall the 40W905 delivered another great performance in these processing tests. Kicking off with the standard definition film cadence detection tests, with Film Mode set to Auto, the 40W905 immediately found and locked on to the PAL 2:2 and NTSC 2:3 cadences, and this was true at both 480/576i and 1080i. A combination of mixed film and video content is always a stern test of a display's cadence detection abilities but the Sony didn’t bat an eyelid with video encoded text over film based material either horizontally or vertically scrolling. Scaling of standard definition signals was also excellent with all the fine detail in the SMPTE 133 pattern resolved without blurring or ringing.
Deinterlacing performance was also excellent in both high and standard definition, with jaggies only appearing when the line was at an acute angle in the first test and, in the second, slight jaggies only appeared on the bottom bar of the three moving bars. With a Blu-ray player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided the Full Pixel option is enabled. Once 1:1 pixel mapping had been enabled, the 40W905 was able to display all fine luma and chroma details. It also had no problems displaying peak white along with just above reference black with no clipping or crushing and it could also show all the primary colours at very high levels without losing detail.
As with last year there are a number of options when it comes to Motionflow, which is Sony's name for their frame interpolation software. The first two choices - 'Standard' and 'Smooth' - use heavy interpolation which results in an overly smooth effect that is best avoided with film-based content. The other options use different methods that might appeal to some people depending on how susceptible to flicker they are. If you choose Impulse you'll see an immediate dimming of the picture and possibly flicker due to black frame insertion. Since the 40W905 copes perfectly well pulling down 4 frames at 96Hz the 'Impulse' option seems slightly redundant, especially as 'Clear Plus' uses 4:4 pulldown with a black frame insertion technique that flickers considerably less. However both 'Clear' and 'Clear Plus' do use some frame interpolation which can be spotted if you know what to look for. 'True Cinema' increases the frame rate by repeating rather than interpolating, thus reducing judder, so for film content that was our preferred choice.
At just under 23ms the 40W905 has one of the lowest input lags we've measured, not just this year but any year. Whatever Sony are doing to bypass all their processing, it's certainly working and it's a big improvement on last year. Whilst you can argue about the point at which input lag can be perceived, there was no question that the low lag on the 40W905 resulted in a smooth and responsive gaming experience. Any serious gamer who is looking for a TV that combines a great image with a very low input lag should demo the 40W905, there really is almost nothing that comes close.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 56W
- Calibrated – Professional Mode: 43W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 55W
Sony KDL-40W905A Picture Quality - 2DThe big selling point of the 40W905 is the inclusion of Sony's Triluminos Colour technology which is essentially an implementation of Color QI quantum dots. Traditionally an LED LCD TV uses a blue LED coated with a yellow phosphor to create white light. With their Triluminos technology Sony are instead using these quantum dots as tiny green and red filters that replace the traditional yellow filter, thus creating a purer and wider spectrum of colours. Initially this rang alarm bells because we don't want a wider colour gamut, we want a TV to hit Rec.709 exactly. If the 40W905 is producing a colour gamut that is too wide, there's no colour management system (CMS) on board to bring it back to Rec.709. Thankfully, as we discovered in the test section of this review, the colour gamut was almost exactly hitting Rec.709 and after calibrating the white balance we had a near-reference picture. This accuracy may in part explain some of the glowing reviews published for the 40W905 but there have been other TVs just as accurate, so why all the fuss? Well it might be for the same reason that a Rec.709 calibrated LED projector appears more realistic than a similarly calibrated bulb projector - the colours just appear purer to our eyes.
Whatever the reasons, there's no denying that the 40W905 produces some genuinely lovely 2D images, with well defined and natural looking colours. The calibrated greyscale also helps here, whilst the excellent blacks and very effective local dimming also played their part, resulting in images with a superb dynamic range. Fine detail was also impressive, as was the motion handling and whilst we turned most of the unnecessary image processing off, deinterlacing and scaling was generally very good. As we mentioned in the test section, the excellent native blacks come at a price and the viewing angle is slightly limited but that seems a small price to pay. Apart from that, the 40W905 was a stellar performer, producing some of the nicest LCD based images we've seen. Whether we were watching standard or high definition content, the results were equally spectacular, with our recently acquired Blu-rays of Jack Reacher and A Good Day to Die Hard looking particularly impressive.
Sony KDL-40W905A Picture Quality - 3DIn previous years Sony has struggled with the 3D performance of their displays but based upon the 40W905 that's a thing of the past. The overall 3D performance was excellent, with a well defined, detailed and multi-layered image that offered plenty of depth. The 3D visuals were almost entirely free of crosstalk and the newly redesigned glasses were far more tolerant to tilting your head. In terms of image accuracy and fine detail, the 40W905 delivered, whilst the motion handling was also highly effective. The colour accuracy in 3D remained as impressive as it did in 2D and as a result the 40W905 delivered an extremely enjoyable 3D experience. We happened to get hold of a copy of Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful prior to the review and the 40W905 did a great job of replicating the film's complex 3D design. In the early Kansas scenes, Raimi uses a 4:3 aspect ratio and deliberately underplays the 3D but once we arrive in Oz the screen opens to 2.35:1 and the depth is increased. The 40W905 delivered this transition with great aplomb, although it would clearly have had greater impact on a larger screen. This brings us to the only real limitation for the 40W905 when it comes to 3D, the brightness of the image. Whilst the Sony could certainly produce enough brightness for the 3D mode, it lacked the necessary horsepower to give the 3D images the kind of impact and pop that some other screens can.
- Impressive black levels and contrast ratio
- Excellent backlight uniformity
- Superb colour accuracy out-of-the-box
- Reference greyscale post-calibration
- Picture processing is of a very high standard
- Much improved 3D performance
- Lots of video-on-demand content
- Excellent remote app
- Plenty of connections
- Extremely low input lag
- Build quality could be better
- Viewing angles could be better
- 3D glasses could use side shielding
Sony KDL-40W905A TV ReviewWith its simple black brushed metal bezel, the 40W905 seems boringly traditional compared to much of the competition and even some previous Sony designs. The eye-catching semicircular chrome stand saves the 40W905 from becoming a complete wall-flower but the overall construction feels rather flimsy for a flagship model. We guess Sony had to save costs somewhere to hit a competitive price point but we actually like the 40W905's more classic design and a stand that actually swivels makes a welcome change. At the rear are an excellent set of connections including four HDMI inputs, three of which are downward facing - good to see someone's been listening. The 40W905 comes with two remote controls, one of which includes Near Field Communication (NFC) allowing instant mirroring of your smartphone. There are also two pairs of redesigned RF active shutter 3D glasses that, whilst effective, could do with more shielding at the sides.
The menu system has been redesigned as well and although it does still contain some XMB DNA it's a definite improvement. Whilst the majority of settings and features are easy to access, Sony still has an annoying habit of burying important picture options under layers of unnecessary menus. We also lament the passing of the 'Theatre' button on the remote, which automatically selected the most accurate picture mode and annoyingly there is still no simple way of exiting many of the menus. Still by using the Home key and the new menu system you can easily access most features, whilst the SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) button takes you to all the apps, which are now in one handy location. Sony has wisely concentrated on video-on-demand and catch-up services, with all the major ones covered, although the continued absence of 4OD and ITV Player when they're available on the PS3 remains an annoyance. The built-in WiFi makes networking simple and the media player is effective, with excellent file support. Sony claimed to have improved sound this year and the 40W905's audio performance was quite good, although there was some distortion at higher volumes.
However, where the 40W905 really delivered the goods was in terms of its picture. The out-of-the-box accuracy was exceptional and, after tweaking the greyscale, the 40W905 delivered a reference level of colour accuracy - which is just a well since it doesn't have a CMS. The video processing was generally excellent and the local dimming feature proved highly effective without introducing unwanted artefacts. In fact, the native black levels were excellent even without the local dimming engaged which, along with the limited viewing angles, suggested the use of a VA panel. The ANSI contrast ratio was also very impressive, with plenty of dynamic range. The picture quality with 2D material was lovely, with accurate images, good motion handling and plenty of detail. The 3D performance was also excellent, with no visible crosstalk and plenty of depth to the images. The energy consumption was extremely efficient and at 23ms the 40W905 has one of the lowest input lags we've measured.
It's always a good sign when you're struggling to find any faults with a TV and Sony's KDL-40W905 barely puts a foot wrong. It delivers a winning combination of performance, design and features that makes it difficult to resist, easily standing toe-to-toe with some strong competition. If you're in the market of a new LED LCD TV, the W90 should definitely be on your short-list.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,399.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money9
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