The thin end of the wedge?
What is the Sony KDL-55W955B?
Last year’s equivalent product, the confusingly similarly titled W905, was a stonker of a TV.But the 2014, W955 is not really a flagship product any longer and has to take its place in line behind Sony’s 4K offerings. That said, for most of the buying populace, who neither care nor know what Ultra HD is all about, this will be as much as they could ever want and it is Sony’s top-end 1080p TV. As befitting that status, the W95 packs in a huge array of Smart TV features, as well as passive 3D technology and a clutch of fancy image processing wizadry.There is only a 55-inch version of the W950B Series currently available, so we’re not sure why Sony calls it a ‘series’ at all and if you want to go bigger, you either have to go with the step-down W85 or W60, that come in 60-inch screen sizes, or go 4K with the X95 which is available at 65-inches. One welcome side-effect of the emergence of 4K TVs has been the subsequent price erosion of Full HD TVs so you can get your hands on the 55W955B for around £1,500. Let’s see what the value that actually represents.
Design & ConnectionsIt’s always nice to have something new to discuss here and Sony has provided us with not one, but two, talking points. First and foremost, Sony has been brave enough to shun the trend for anorexic TVs with its new wedge design. As the name would suggest, the W95 features a design that tapers outwards from top to bottom giving a maximum thickness of 9cm, which is positively portly by 2014 standards. It’s only around 2cm deep at the top, however, and, as we’ve said numerous times before, you can’t see the chassis of a TV when you’re viewing it from the front.
In fact, we think this is a triumph of design know-how from Sony and the wedge form is attractively finished with a metallic trim to the sides. Of course, the idea behind the design is to allow for bigger (and therefore better) speakers to be deployed within the chassis and the results are certainly impressive on the sound front, with a much bigger and more dynamic soundstage on offer than found in your run-of-the-mill flat panel TV. Sony even offers an optional wireless subwoofer (SWF-BR100) to accompany the 55W95, if the larger speakers aren’t enough for you.
The other new idea Sony has come up with are the adjustable feet which the TV sits upon. These can either be placed at either extremity or more centrally to reduce the overall footprint. Again we think this a great idea that should mean most won’t have to factor in the cost of a new stand along with that of a new telly.
Actually, we lied, there’s a third new design feature in the form of the new ‘One Flick’ remote, which sports a touchpad controller and an NFC tag on the back for instant pairing with compatible phone or tablet. It is pretty successful in speeding up navigation around the various features and menus but we think the average consumer will get confused by the control system employed, despite the presence of a tutorial, and its speedy content discovery powers will likely go underused. The other remote is plain and ordinary, gets the job done and doesn’t really necessitate further description.
Connections wise, Sony have done the right thing and included 4 HDMI, inputs as well as solo legacy Scart and Component connections. One of the HDMI connections supports MHL up to 1080p @ 30Hz and HDMI 2 is your ARC (Audio Return Channel) complaint port for hooking up compatible audio equipment. We also have three USB ports on the side, a LAN port (there’s WiFi too), a S/PDIF Digital Audio output and a headphone jack. The W95 can also connect to devices by Bluetooth although, strangely, we couldn’t get ot to pair with a Bluetooth capable Sony soundbar.
Touch and Flick is good but the control scheme may confuse
MenusSony’s new homepage is all about content discovery so the first few ‘pages’ are dedicated to TV, Movies, Music and Apps. We don’t mind this approach but there should be a way to get at the full menu options without having to scroll all the way across. Once you do get to the Settings, it’s the same familiar XMB layout as in years gone by with, more or less, the same submenu headings. In all honesty, they are convoluted and unnecessarily sprawling making navigation around them a bit tiresome.
Fortunately, most – but not all – of the key Picture settings can be accessed via the Options button on the remote but colour space, overscan and input signal handling can only be fully got at from the main settings menu. For most accurate picture, a press of the Options button and navigation to Scene Select will yield the option of the Cinema Mode and we suggest you choose this. Sony still hasn’t seen fit to include a Colour Management System in its TV ranges but there is a two point white balance control. We also have a Film Mode, Adv Contrast Enhancer, Motionflow, LED Dynamic Control, Black Corrector and Reality Creation settings to tinker with. Unusually, in the case of this TV, we actually needed to engage some of these processes to get the most out of the panel.
The new UI is extremely 'content discovery' focussed
FeaturesWe are shortly to conduct a full Sony 2014 Smart TV platform review so we’ll just skim over some of the highlights here. As per Samsung and LG, last year, Sony includes an IR blaster with the W95 which lets it control your HDMI connected set top box, be it Sky, Virgin, Freeview or whatever. It will also download the full programme guide for each platform allowing it to present suggested viewing content on the new homepage. The media player – be it USB or DLNA – is excellent, also, and we literally could find nothing it wouldn’t play. There’s a built-in/on 5MP Skype video camera at the top, which we trust was impressive, given Sony’s digital imaging prowess but as this was a retail sample, we didn’t remove the protective cellophane to find out. Finally, the number of apps available through Sony’s online platform is bordering on bewildering and most of the major on-demand /catch up services are available, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Prime Instant Video, 4OD and YouTube.
CalibrationPre Calibrated Results
The 55W955b made a good fist of things in the out of box Movie preset with just a slight over-emphasis of green and red in the greyscale. This gave a slight yellowish cast to a greyscale stair step pattern but nothing to lose any sleep over with delta Errors topping out at just above 4 for peak white. The Cinema default gamma setting of -2 gives a fairly flat 2.4 response which not only is too dark for the majority of living rooms but is also outside the capabilities of this TV in terms of delivering credible shadow detailing. Sony’s Tri Luminous edge lighting tech was in full evidence with green, red and yellow all over-saturated by quite some margin at full stimulation levels and with no controls to rein it in, it’s likely it would be stuck that way.
Post Calibrated Results
Sony’s 2 point white balance settings proved sufficient to attain an excellent level of neutrality in the greyscale, with all delta Errors well beneath the perceptible threshold of 3. By reducing the Gamma slider to -1 we were able to get a response averaging 2.3 which better suited a low light environment and improved detail in the dark areas of the picture.
We can see from the CIE chart, top right, that there was nothing that could be done about the oversaturated red, green and yellow which resulted in some fairly sizeable colour errors but in terms of hue and luminance they were very close to correct. The interesting thing to look at here is how the colours lined up at lower saturation levels and here they were very impressive indeed. The net result of this is that whilst deep reds, greens and yellows are going to look more overblown than they should, when compared to the Rec. 709 standard, everything else will look as it should. How much of an effect this had on overall colour fidelity is slightly open to question because with real world content, whilst we knew it wasn’t right, sometimes it certainly looked it. Grasses were sometimes greener, sports shirts redder and the sun shone brighter. It’s not reference but we could understand people liking it as preference.
Contrast, Uniformity & Black Levels
And here we have the W95’s weakest spot. For reasons we will cover later, the ‘local dimming’ feature of the W955B is not really usable so all measurements were taken with it off and the results were far from spectacular. We can see from the checkerboard pattern below, that readings for both black and white were a bit all over the place with white as high as 130.7 cd/m2 and blacks as high as 0.263 cd/m2. This lack of uniformity was most noticeable around the perimeters of the screen which was generally more washed out than the centre. We got an averaged black level of 0.185 cd/m2 against an average peak white of 116.31 cd/m2, producing an ANSI contrast of only 628:1. That is not flagship TV performance by any stretch of the imagination. Other than the patchiness of the screen luminance, general screen uniformity wasn’t bad and there was no excessive pooling or dirty screen effect to get in the way, although we could see some panel array banding on panning shots, from time to time.
Sony is almost always excellent in this department and the W95 didn’t disappoint. It passed the standard definition film cadence detection tests for both 2:2 (PAL) and 2:3 (NTSC), with Film Mode set to Auto, and scaling of standard definition signals was also superb without visible ringing or blur. As with previous years, there are a number of options when it comes to Motionflow, with 'Standard' and 'Smooth' far too aggressive for us but Clear is usable on the likes of sport content or anything shot on video. For 24p content (most Blu-rays) a setting of True Cinema produces a 4:4 frame pull-down without interpolation so it’s desirable but beware it can cause issues with non 24p material. For instance, we streamed Person of Interest from Netflix through a Roku at 60Hz and it was stuttering terribly. It’s as though the W95 can detect the original cadence but not the refresh rate although, whatever is the case, it wasn’t pleasant. Still, that’s not really an issue with the W95, per se, but something to look out for.
Whatever secret sauce Sony is currently utilising in its Game mode, it is most tasty and effective. We got an averaged reading of 18.3 milliseconds which is amazingly latency free and right at the top of the pack in 2014. To find better you would need to seek out a dedicated gaming monitor and that ain’t going to be in a 55-inch screen size. 3D gamers will also be pleased to note that lag doesn’t increase significantly in that mode.
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 63W
Calibrated – Cinema Mode: 57W
Calibrated – 3D Movie Mode: 88W
Native black levels are poor for a flagship TV
Sony KDL-55W955B Picture Quality – 2DAs we alluded to above, to get the most out of this TV we had to resort to employing processing options we wouldn’t normally bother with. There were some inevitable compromises in doing so but anything that could improve the poor native contrast without too many costs was worth pursuing. First of all, you can forget the LED Dynamic Control because it’s truly hopeless.
In the Low setting, it actually brightens black levels, whilst causing frequent luminance fluctuations whilst in Standard, it just causes more frequent brightness jumps, albeit with better blacks. Instead we used the Black Corrector feature to improve perception of, well, black levels, which is particularly effective in fade to black frames. Instead of a very milky grey screen, we would get something that looked truly dark, which is far more palatable. That setting comes at the expense of shadow detail, however, but you can restore some of that with the Adv Contrast Enhancer at only a small cost to picture fidelity. Used sparingly, it only slightly increases colour luminance and the two controls used together definitely does result in images that are far more appealing on the eye.
The Reality Creation setting is also interesting with the likes of streamed HD material. For instance, although the Super HD streams from Netflix generally look quite good – House of Cards, in particular – there are instances where the compression is quite obvious. Notching up the Resolution slider under the Reality Creation settings definitely does give a sense of improved detail, even if it’s only working by manipulating luminance at a per-pixel level. We’ve seen this trick done by a number of manufacturers, under various different guises, and whilst we certainly wouldn’t recommend its use with your higher quality Blu-rays, it can be very effective with anything less. Again, it’s to be used sparingly unless you value on over-processed, hyper-realistic kind of look to your pictures.
There's a decent picture waiting to get out but it takes too much effort & experimentation
The fact we had to experiment so much with the W955’s settings certainly counts against it. For a top-tier TV worth its salt, we would usually expect that by simply switching in to the most accurate picture preset, we would be rewarded with excellent images but that isn’t the case here. The majority of owners are never going to simply stumble upon the various combinations of settings required to get the most out of this TV and will be left wondering why they’ve had to shell out so much at something that’s giving them so little. There’s a decent picture to be had - and we can actually forgive the over-saturated colours Tri Luminous produces – but one shouldn’t have to work so hard to get it.
Sony KDL-55W955B Video Review
Sony KDL-55W955B Picture Quality - 3DIf you like passive 3D, as I personally do, you’ll have very few complaints about how the W955 handles it. It delivers exactly what we’d expect from the technology and that is bright, completely flicker-free 3D images that are very easy to watch. The 2 pairs of glasses provided in the box are among the more stylish we’ve seen and are very neutral grey in tint. Colours look nice and accurate in the 3D Cinema mode, too, and motion is handled free from stutter or soapiness. The weak spot again is the lack of contrast punch and outright black levels, which somewhat marred my first viewing of the 3D Gravity Blu-ray, but the fact I was able to sit through the entire 91 minutes without feeling nauseous is probably fair compensation.
In the final analysis - it falls short of what we expected and is a downgrade from the 2013 model
- Wedge design is lovely & helps audio
- Truckloads of apps and features
- Adjustable feet is great move
- Poor native contrast for a top tier TV
- Some array banding
- Colours are too saturated to meet standards
- UI is too content discovery heavy
Sony KDL-55W955B (W95) 3D LED Television ReviewSony’s flagship 1080p TV breaks the mould in terms of its design, with an innovative shape allowing it to house a very respectable set of speakers. Not only that but we think the wedge also looks lovely in the flesh and we also like Sony’s thinking when it comes to the adjustable feet, allowing the W95 to be placed on most AV cabinets of any reasonable proportions.
At the back of the wedge-shaped chassis are a very decent set of connections, including what we’d consider the prerequisite four HDMI ports. The W955B comes with 2 remote controls in the box; one that is what would be considered normal and the other a touchpad affair which really does help you scroll through the vast amount of apps and Smart TV features available.
We’re not convinced Sony has got their new content discovery heavy interface quite right, however, and although it is attractive enough, it’s not particularly well laid out, which nearly defeats the object of the exercise. Sony still rightly places an emphasis on catch-up and on-demand services and most of the big hitters are serviced, including Netflix, iPlayer, YouTube, Prime Instant Video and 4OD.
Sony’s prowess with video processing engines is maintained into 2014, with the 55W95 a very capable performer in every aspect, from scaling to deinterlacing and it does some less routine things well, too. In fact, in order to get a reasonably contrast rich picture we were forced to come up with a concoction of settings we usually wouldn’t consider, meaning very few owners are likely to ever see the best of this TV.
Native black levels are the Achilles heel of this television and without some of the processing workarounds noted above, dynamic range is extremely limited. Even when they are used, contrast performance nowhere near reaches the levels attained by last year’s model and there are, of course, some compromises as a result. Thanks to the Tri Luminous technology in the W95, it doesn’t struggle to deliver a wide and convincing colour palette, however, even if the gamut is a bit too wide to meet the HD standard.
In the final analysis, the Sony 55W955B also doesn’t match the standards set by their flagship Full HD TV of last year and although there is a really good picture to be had out of it, it takes too much work to get it. We’d urge Sony to review what they consider a top-tier TV should be delivering when designing their 2015 range as this one just doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level6
2D Picture Quality7
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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