Having already been wowed this year by Sony’s flagship Full HD TV, the 55W905A, expectations are sky-high for the step-down W805 series. After all, if the 47-inch Sony Bravia KDL-47W805 sat on our test benches can deliver the majority of the W905A’s quality at a significantly lower price, then it may very well end up being the smash hit part of Sony’s 2013 range.
Its feature sheet certainly looks promising enough, including as it does 3D playback, a variation of the very fetching ‘Sense of Quartz’ design introduced on the Sony 55W905, Sony’s latest SEN online platform and the latest version of Sony’s X-Reality Pro video processing engine.
The only possible areas of concern are that the Sony 47W805A doesn’t boast the intriguing new Triluminos advanced colour system found on the W905A series, and the use of a passive 3D system rather than an active one.
This makes the Sony 47W805 – priced at £1,299 (around US$2,030 / AU$2,135) – the first passive 3D TV Sony has ever launched.
If you can live without 3D and want to save some money, you could step down to Sony’s new W6 series, which still retains the SEN online support, a startlingly slim design and X-Reality processing.
Or if you want to try the Sony 47W805 out against some similar-level rival televisions, your best ports of call would be the slightly more expensive Samsung UE46F7000, with its active 3D and groundbreaking smart TV system, or the Panasonic P50GT60 plasma, with its excellent pictures and brilliantly friendly My Homescreen interface.
Even if you’re not into 3D, for anyone who follows the TV world the Sony 47W805’s single most intriguing feature is its passive 3D playback. Supported by the inclusion of four passive 3D glasses, this feature is particularly interesting here because it’s the first time Sony has offered a passive 3D TV in its range, after years of dedicated support for the active 3D format.
In principle we applaud Sony’s willingness to embrace both 3D formats in its 2013 range, on the grounds of offering consumers a 3D choice.
Yet there’s a little voice in the back of our mind that can’t help but feel slightly concerned about how having to shift to using one of LG’s passive 3D panels might have upset the excellent picture balance Sony struck on the W905A series and last year’s brilliant Sony HX853 models.
Doing a good job of putting this doubt to bed, though, is the Sony 47W805’s retention of Sony’s X-Reality Pro video engine. By cunningly comparing incoming sources against a huge installed database of different picture types and scenarios, X-Reality Pro is able to deliver a processing shortcut that should enable it to deliver more accurate results in real time than most – if not all – rival systems.
Obviously the effectiveness of this system depends greatly on the extent of the database and the ability of the processor’s parser to correctly and quickly pair an incoming source up with the right database rules.
But these are precisely the areas Sony has most worked on in improving X-Reality Pro from its 2012 iteration. It’s also reduced the previous three X-Reality Pro chipsets down to two, to reduce costs and improve performance efficiency.
Also a highlight of the Sony 47W805’s feature list is its carriage of the latest Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) online platform. This sensibly focuses on providing plenty of video services, including such heavy hitters as BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm, Netflix, Demand 5, Sky News and Sony’s own TV archive and Movies Unlimited services.
There’s also a near-bewildering selection of smaller video channels, most of which carry very niche but occasionally still interesting content.
There’s no disguising that Samsung and LG have trotted past Sony when it comes to providing A-list video content. Plus, as we’ll see in the Usability section of this review, Sony’s latest interface has fallen a bit off the pace too.
But Sony’s smart TV stuff is nonetheless a very worthwhile addition to the Sony 47W805, and there are enough innovative touches around to show that Sony is still thinking on its feet where smart features concerned.
These touches include an NFC remote control so you can mirror the screens of secondary NFC-supporting devices onto the TV screen; a Fast Zapp option that provides a great way of quickly surfing both broadcast and on-demand listings without disrupting what you’re currently watching; and a prettily presented control and content-sharing app for iOS and Android devices.
It’s a pity, though, that this app doesn’t follow the lead of many rivals this year by supporting second-screen sharing of what’s being shown on the TV screen.
The Sony 47W805’s multimedia support also extends to photo, video and music playback via DLNA and USB ports, of course, while its apparent commitment to picture quality can be seen in an extensive quote of picture calibration tools, including a (slightly offbeat) colour management system and white balance controls.
The Sony 47W805 carries its decent list of features inside a reasonably attractive body. The television’s bezel is a bit wider than most these days, but it’s given a welcome dash of panache by a sliver of reflective blue – or a ‘Sense of Quartz’, to use Sony’s marketing jargon.
Also eye catching is a little silver box sitting in the centre of the bottom edge. Dubbed the Intelligence Centre, this houses the TV’s processing brain, and rather niftily changes the colour of its light output in response to the source you’re watching.
The TV’s rear, meanwhile, sports a fulsome suite of connections, including four HDMIs, three USBs, and both LAN and built-in Wi-Fi network options.
The last thing worth covering here is the other ways in which the Sony 47W805 differs from the specifications of its W905 sibling. The main one is its use of an IPS panel design rather than the VA type Sony has used previously. This should result in wider practical viewing angles, though experience suggests it might also result in a reduced contrast performance.
The Sony 47W805 also applies less power to its motion handling, delivering a MotionFlow XR 400 (400Hz) system versus the MotionFlow XR 800 (800Hz) effect on the W9 series.
First impressions of the Sony 47W805 in action are promising. Right away, for instance, your attention is grabbed and held by the screen’s potent colour performance, which combines plenty of vibrancy with above average levels of tonal subtlety so that even the trickiest of colour palettes is rendered with genuine high-end finesse.
HD material looks impressively sharp too, as the innate quality of the Full HD screen combines with Sony’s clearly on-the-money video processing to ensure you generally lose not one pixel of detail from a Full HD source.
There’s a marginal drop-off in clarity over moving objects compared with the brilliant W9 model we’ve tested, but the Sony 47W805’s sharpness and clarity is still strong by the standards of other televisions at the same sort of price level.
We also appreciated the wider viewing angle delivered by the Sony 47W805’s panel – especially given the unusually narrow effective viewing angle of the Sony W905 TVs – and were hugely impressed by how well the Sony 47W805’s processing system manages to upscale standard definition to its Full HD resolution.
The way it adds sharpness while also reducing source noise – even with heavily compressed standard definition digital broadcasts – really is exceptional, and must surely be down to the efficacy of the latest X-Reality Pro engine.
Popping on a pair of the Sony 47W805’s lightweight passive 3D glasses is well worth the effort too. Sony has taken to the passive format like a duck to water, taking full advantage of passive’s key advantages of no flicker, no crosstalk and a very natural, clean experience full of credible depth.
Also enhancing the 3D experience is the impressive brightness and colour vibrancy of the 3D images, with the glasses removing scarcely any punch from the image.
Not surprisingly the Sony 47W805 does also suffer from the natural weaknesses of the passive 3D format. For instance, crosstalk double ghosting issues suddenly go from nothing to excessive if you try to watch Sony’s screen from a vertical viewing angle of more than around 13 degrees above or below.
There’s also slightly less detail and sharpness in the passive 3D image versus active ones, and the filter applied to passive 3D screens can cause a bit of jaggedness around the edges of small or contoured objects.
Another issue is that as the panel runs harder in 3D mode to compensate for the small amount of dimming the 3D glasses can introduce, dark areas look a touch grey and can show small evidence of backlight inconsistency, with ultra-contrasty content.
Overall, though, the Sony 47W805’s 3D efforts are comfortably among the most fun and undemanding we’ve witnessed.
Good though the Sony 47W805’s pictures have been so far, the greyness that infuses dark 3D scenes sets a few alarm bells ringing – especially as we didn’t witness the same sort of 3D issues with Sony’s W9 or HX853 models. So it was with a degree of nervousness that we fired up a few dark 2D movie sequences – and sadly our fears proved at least partially justified.
First, we turned off all the TV’s various contrast-boosting tools to get a feel for the panel’s natural contrast performance. And the results were disappointing to say the least, as dark sequences appeared behind a really quite high amount of the sort of grey clouding we tend to associate with low-contrast TVs.
This issue stands in particularly stark contrast to the ground-breakingly good black levels witnessed on Sony’s own W9 and HX853 models, and must be a direct result of the shift to an LG 3D panel and the use of a less sophisticated edge LED dimming system.
You can, thankfully, greatly increase the TV’s black level response by calling into play a provided Advanced Contrast Enhancer feature. In fact, with this in play black levels go from being below average to being very good. However, there’s an unfortunate price to pay for this increased black level: distracting brightness shifting.
The amount of backlight manipulation the TV has to undertake to try to disguise the lack of native contrast in its panel is just too extreme – even if you stick with a relatively low-powered Advanced Contrast Enhancer setting – so that you can see the image’s brightness levels jumping around in response to subtle shifts in the brightness of the image content.
Another side effect of how hard the dynamic contrast system has to work to fight the screen’s native lack of contrast is a loss of shadow detail in dark parts of the image.
We tried every trick we could think of to try to find some miracle setting combination that might enable us to find a perfect balance between the Sony 47W805’s various contrast enhancement tools. But we never stumbled upon a combination that enabled us to feel truly immersed in or convinced by dark scenes.
Usability, sound and value
There’s good news and bad news to report here. Kicking off the good news, Sony’s new main TV menu design is a big improvement over the tedious, inscrutable double axis system found on last year’s Sony models. It makes good use of high-res graphics, and is much better organised.
Also a great idea is the Fast Zapp feature that enables you to quickly scour both the digital TV EPG and some of the supported streaming services without having to interrupt your current viewing.
The television’s support for NFC linkage to NFC-compatible secondary devices is well implemented too, and the simplicity with which you can mirror the screen of portable devices on the TV screen is a great touch.
The control/content sharing app Sony provides for iOS and Android devices is one of the best looking such apps we’ve seen too, even if its functionality isn’t quite as extensive as we’d like.
The Sony 47W805’s interface does falter a bit when it comes to handling SEN content, though. It presents all the content as a simple list of icons, with no means of organising them by genre or type, or organising them into an order that suits your own personal needs. This means you could potentially have to scroll down row after row of app icons before you get to a specific one you want to access.
As with its pictures, the Sony 47W805’s sound is a bigger step down from Sony’s W9 series than we’d hoped it would be. The excellent long-duct speaker design of the W9 TVs has gone, and taken with it the impressively potent bass levels and open mid-range sound we liked so much.
The result is that while the Sony 47W805 sounds absolutely fine with relatively undemanding news or daytime TV fodder, it can start to sound a bit thin and harsh when the audio going gets tough.
It’s not entirely fair to compare the Sony 47W805’s audio with that of the equivalent W905 model, though, given the fairly large price gap between the two.
And actually, compared with many similarly priced rivals the Sony 47W805 sounds decent enough. It’s not outstanding, but certainly more than acceptable.
This is a hard one to call. The Sony 47W805 scores well on features for its money, with its 3D, smart TV and expansive online video support. It also looks like a premium model aesthetically.
Its performance sparkles with bright, colourful content too. But if you’re prone to dimming the lights and closing the curtains from time to time for a spot of serious film viewing, you might well feel as if you wanted to be getting a bit more dark-scene consistency for your £1,300 (around US$2,030 / AU$2,135).
The Sony 47W805 is a seriously promising TV. Its design is cute, its specification list looks strong with its video-friendly online TV service and potent picture processing, and most important of all it shares a stable with Sony’s imperious W905 models.
We have no doubt, either, that many users – especially families – will feel drawn to the television because it’s Sony’s first to use passive rather than active 3D technology.
However, there’s a slight lack of sophistication about the interface employed for accessing the Sony 47W805’s multimedia services, and more alarmingly the TV’s mostly robust picture quality is let down by a number of difficulties when it comes to showing dark scenes convincingly.
The Sony 47W805 is a pretty TV thanks to its Sense of Quartz design, and it’s well connected with its four HDMIs, three USBs and built-in Wi-Fi. Bright content looks punchy and crisp, and the set’s online services include an impressive amount of video sources.
The interface for accessing Sony’s online content is a bit basic by this year’s standards, and the TV’s contrast performance is a real disappointment compared with the glories found elsewhere in Sony’s range.
Excitement levels were extremely high for the Sony 47W805, since we fully expected it to deliver much of the performance quality of Sony’s W905 series for a much lower price.
However, while it retains many of that television’s features bar Triluminos, it doesn’t deliver anywhere near as much picture or sound quality. In fact its contrast performance is so average it’s hard to believe it’s coming from the same brand as the Sony 55W905.
We guess this flawed contrast issue might not be too big a deal if you don’t tend to be the sort of person who watches films seriously. But if you do consider yourself a bit of a movie buff, we’re pretty confident that the Sony 47W805’s difficulties with dark scenes will annoy you from time to time.
A great alternative to the Sony 47W805 would be Panasonic’s P50GT60. This TV costs £100 or so more, but as well as giving you an extra three inches of picture the quality of that picture is also sensational, especially when it comes to contrast – the thing the Sony 47W805 struggles with the most.
Panasonic’s new My HomeScreen smart TV interface is a work of personalised genius too, though Panasonic’s online platform isn’t nearly as video-rich as Sony’s.
Another option would be Samsung’s UE46F7000. This is a bit costlier and an inch smaller, but its picture quality is outstanding, and its smart interface is in a different league.
By John Archer, TechRadar