The KDL-50W829 may seem an unglamorous mid-range offering from Sony, but with a full armoury of features including Smart connectivity, 3D compatibility and a picture processor that punches well above its weight (although you'd never guess it).
Also available in 42- and 55-inch guises (aka the KDL-42W829 and KDL-55W829), it sits some way above the brand's entry-level R4 and W6 ranges, and offers a dimensional shin-up from the similar 2D-only W7 models, which are available in 50-, 42- and 32-inch screen sizes.
Immediately above the W8 are Sony's range-topping wedge-designed W85 and W95 Full HD models, which span 55-, 60- and 65-inch screen sizes.
High street rivals include Samsung's similarly priced 6-Series, principally the UE50F6200, as well as LG's 47LA860 Full HD Smart TV.
However, this will undoubtedly change as all manufacturers' ranges are in a state of flux this early in the year, with the price and positioning of many 2014 launches yet to be revealed. Sony is first out of the gate with its new TV fleet.
Embracing minimalist design
Design wise, the 2014 W8 is unapologetically minimalist. A black, ultra-slim, brushed aluminium bezel provides just enough contrast to set off the image – black always works better in this regard than silver or grey – and the pedestal itself is thin and mirrored.
Connectivity is generous. There are four HDMIs with support for both ARC (that single reciprocal soundbar connection) and wired mobile phone standard MHL, plus component and phono AV inputs, not to mention SCART. The set also offers two USBs, one of which allows shows to be time-shifted to an external hard drive. In addition to an Ethernet port there's also integrated Wi-Fi.
The supplied remote control is a stock IR zapper. It does the job, but that's about all you can say about it.
The KDL-50W829 offers a single Freeview HD tuner, but there's also a generic HD satellite input that will deliver the full Freesat channel bouquet, plus some other interesting content choices when plumbed into a spare Sky dish lead.
In addition, there's a goodly amount of streaming Internet TV available from the Sony Entertainment network (SEN), including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Mubi, BBC News and a hodgepodge of supporting players. Unfortunately, there's a paucity of mainstream catch-up, with only BBC iPlayer and Demand5 represented.
Revamped user interface
Actually, the big news here isn't so much content as the user interface, which has been significantly revamped. Last year's subtle interweaving of IP services within the main menu has been replaced by a dedicated screen of streaming services.
This rather apes what we've long seen from the likes of Samsung and LG. The new interface proves a little slow to respond though, which is indicative of base level processing.
More impressive is the brand's new One Flick search and recommendation engine, which is easy to use and extremely powerful. A Discovery content bar of thumbnails revolves at the bottom of the screen, offering up curated highlights for TV, radio, YouTube and Sony's own Video Unlimited movie streaming service, plus any bespoke searches you might instigate with keywords. As a recommendation tool it's extremely compelling.
The same can't be said for Social View. This is Sony's new Twitter implementation that pours tweets across the bottom of the screen; you're given the choice of a smaller non-obscured image with Tweets below, or a larger image with overlap. Social View can automatically lift the name of a TV show as a search term and find related messages. You can alternatively customise the search with your own phrase or word.
The implementation of Social View is a bit clunky to be honest, and we remain unconvinced that moving social media from a personal second screen to the main communal living room screen is beneficial. In many ways it's actually antisocial. It does, however, look quite slick.
Another new feature worth kicking around is the Football mode. While its introduction smacks of world cup gimmickry, Sony insists the feature has long-term appeal. The mode is basically a DSP audio treatment that sets out to create greater ambiance. Stadium crowd noise is teased out to create wider soundstage. The feature also allows users to easily browse content on the FIFA website and watch YouTube footie clips.
Smartphone integration is accomplished. A Screen Mirroring function allows whatever's on a mobile phone to be sent via Miracast to the larger screen. This proves to be a fun, easy way to share images, video clips or websites.
If there's one aspect of the W8 that absolutely impresses, it's picture quality. When it comes to fine detail, colour performance and dynamics, the W8 positively shines. Sony's X-Reality PRO picture processor is fearsomely effective, here pulling an astonishing amount of fine detail from any attached source.
Heavyweight image manipulation often fails to distinguish image noise from real information, but that's not the case here. X-Reality PRO pulls believable detail from textures and backgrounds without ever looking over-processed. This is processing alchemy of the highest order.
Stunning motion resolution
Motion picture resolution is also excellent. The screen sports the XR800 iteration of Motionflow and in the majority of modes (Clear, Clear Plus and Impulse) we measured near full moving picture resolution without undue motion artefacts. This makes the KDL-50W829 a superb screen for watching sports.
The screen's edge-lit backlight is surprisingly effective, with no glaring pools of light evident during general viewing. Also clearly improved over last year's W8 models is off-axis viewing. There's no longer a pronounced drop in contrast and colour intensity when you view the TV at an extreme angle. This is down to a change in panel supplier. The move is probably also responsible for improvements in black level.
Active shutter 3D returns
The change of panel provider has also led to a return of Active Shutter 3D (last year's models used Passive 3D). Two pairs of Active Shutter 3D glasses are included with the set.
While we're not huge fans of shuttering stereoscopy, the glasses are at least light enough to wear for the duration of the average movie. If you want to be pedantic, there are low levels of crosstalk double imaging evident in the image, but enjoyed in small doses, this TV certainly passes 3D muster.