You might believe that there's no longer room in the marketplace for a premium Full HD TV now that such models have been backed into a corner by the all-conquering juggernaut that is 4K.
Much as TV manufacturers and the tech press would like to get worked up about 4K, the simple fact remains that 4K UHD won’t be for everyone. Embracing 4K technology involves extra costs and practical issues – such as super-fast broadband connections – that extend beyond the up-front price of a new television. And, annoyingly, the amount of 4K UHD content in wide circulation remains painfully limited.
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So it’s a genuine pleasure today to be testing Sony’s KDL-55W805C – a 55in Full HD TV that offers plenty of features despite its non-4K focus. Admittedly, this means its £1,350 price is actually higher than some of the latest 4K TVs flooding onto the market. But so long as its promising specs translate into plenty of cold, hard picture quality, it should still find an audience.
Following the sheer enormity of Sony’s KD-75X9405C, with its huge, speaker-bearing "wings", the svelteness of the KDL-55W805C comes as quite a shock. The frame around its screen is super-thin, extending for barely half a centimetre beyond the image’s extremities.
While the 55W805C’s design looks futuristic and space-saving, it is with compromise: there simply isn't space for the extraordinary, forward-facing speakers that made the 75X9405C the best-sounding TV we’ve ever heard. Not surprisingly, unlike the 75X9405C, the 55W805C doesn't earn Sony’s hi-res audio badges of honour.
Also, the 55W805C’s finish feels a bit plasticky, and the set wobbles markedly on its exceptionally low-profile desktop stand. From a normal viewing distance, however, neither should be an issue.
Connections on this premium HD set are extensive. To start you have four HDMI ports, complete with MHL mobile phone-connection compatibility. There are both LAN and integrated Wi-Fi network options, plus a trio of USBs, which you can use for either playing back content from USB storage devices or recording to USB hard disks via the TV’s Freeview HD tuner.
The 55W805C’s pictures are created by an edge-mounted LED array. The set doesn’t benefit from local dimming or Sony's new X1 processing engine since this was created predominantly for 4K, but it does feature Sony’s X-Reality Pro system. This draws on a huge repository of knowledge about different types of content to streamline video processing, resulting in more effective, accurate results when it comes to contrast, colour, motion reproduction and detailing. Previous experience suggests that X-Reality Pro will help the 55W805C deliver an unusually intelligent, automatic picture-optimisation system – a welcome trick considering how few people ever bother to manually adjust their TV’s settings.
Sony's MotionFlow motion-processing system also features in the 55W805C. The company claims a 1,000Hz effect from the set’s combined backlight scanning, native refresh rate and frame interpolation systems, which is actually higher than the figure quoted for many of the brand’s 4K sets – including the upcoming X90 super-slim models.
Of course, it’s possible – probable, even – that if you attempt to achieve the full weight of this pseudo 1,000Hz effect you’ll end up with pictures that look unnatural and processed. Nonetheless, it’s impressive that the 55W805C provides you with so much flexibility when it comes to optimising the picture to suit your tastes.
As you'd hope for from the top-level 55in TV in Sony’s HD range, the 55W805C also includes Android's new smart TV system. As discussed in a dedicated review, Android TV hasn’t entirely convinced us that it’s the leap forward for smart TVs that we’d hoped it might be. It lacks proper customisation for Android menus, and the recommendations system feels too obsessed with quantity over quality where apps are concerned.
It also doesn’t currently support any of the UK’s most popular catch-up services, making it just as well that Sony will, at some point, be adding the YouView platform via a firmware update.
The 55W805C also boasts Sony’s Discover smart system, which for our money offers a more streamlined and TV-focused aid to finding and accessing content over Android TV.
Given the range of smart features supported by the 55W805C, it’s good to see that the TV ships with a One-Flick smart remote controls.
One final trick of the 55W805C is its ability to play 3D, using the Full HD active format. You don’t receive any free 3D glasses with the TV however, and it’s worth noting that 3D isn't included in Sony’s HD range as soon as you step down from the 8 series models.
While the 55W805C is pretty astute at automatically selecting picture settings, there are certainly tweaks you can make to enhance picture quality further.
Our most important recommendations are that you reduce the set’s contrast to around the 80-83 level from the maximum it defaults to, and turn off both of the noise-reduction systems provided when watching good-quality HD content. If you don’t follow these steps you'll find the picture affected by what is, at times, quite striking amounts of smearing over moving objects.
We also found it better to run the Black Adjust setting on its Low mode (rather than the Medium default) to boost shadow detailing, while Live Colour gives more balanced (if less dynamic) colour results on its Low setting than its Medium default setting. Finally we found we preferred the Film Mode interlaced/progressive conversion system set to Medium for Blu-rays rather than its High default.