After blowing our socks off with its 2014 TV debut, the 50W829, I'm salivating at the prospect of wrapping my eyeballs around Sony's flagship 55-inch HD TV for 2014, the KDL-55W955.
The 55W955's appearance does little to dampen my ardour. While there are elements of its design that could potentially divide opinion, for the most part it's a seriously stylish hunk of telly.
Introducing the wedge
The thing that most sets it apart is its wedge shape. Look at it from the side and you'll see that it gets wider the further down from top to bottom it goes, with the bottom edge ending up quite chunky by today's super-slim standards.
What's more, Sony has boldly emphasised this chunkiness by fitting the TV's sides with a glinting metallic finish.
Sony hasn't shunned the modern obsession with size zero TVs merely in a bid to look different, though. The wedge also delivers two significant practical benefits.
The first of these is stability. As in, loading the bottom half of the TV with width and weight makes it stand more robustly than your typical flat TV
The other, more important, benefit of the wedge is that the wider base gives Sony's audio people more room to work with. This enables them to build a more powerful version of the long duct down-firing speaker system introduced on some of Sony's 2013 models.
The 55W955 can be mounted low on either a pair of spindly legs (which can sit either right at the TV's outer edges, or tucked nearer the TV's centre if your table can't support a full-width attachment). Or it can be wall hung slightly awkwardly via a special mount.
While the 55W955's backside is chunky, the bezel round the screen is extremely slim on its top, left and right edges. The bottom edge is a bit wider, but it still looks attractive – especially thanks to its carriage of a slim, coloured light that changes colour based on what source you're watching.
Connections on the 55W955's protruding rear are extensive. The four HDMIs will provide most people's main video options, while a trio of USB ports and both LAN and Wi-Fi network options provide the multimedia features now so fundamental to any high-end TV.
The USBs can play the main video, photo and music file formats, with similarly wide multimedia streaming support available from networked DLNA computers.
The network options enable you to take the 55W955 online via the latest Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) platform.
This platform is, for me, a considerable improvement over 2013's Sony smart TV offering. It has been designed to make it much easier to find content quickly – especially via the new Discover system.
Press the Discover button on the remote and you get a row of suggested content links along the bottom of the screen. The come from both the tuner and on-demand services you're connected to, based on an assessment of the sort of programming you most like to watch.
What's more, you can easily scroll down from this first list of options to all sorts of other content shortcut lists, including one for YouTube videos. This system works really well – especially in conjunction with the 'one-flick' remote control you get with the 55W955.
The 'one-flick' remote employs a tactile thumb-swipe touch pad, a hugely streamlined button count and a clever and quite intuitive contextualised usage system. This all comes together to provide a mostly welcome alternative to the more standard Sony remote.
The number of apps available via the SEN is decent, with a sensible focus on video sources such as the BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sony's Video Unlimited service, Netflix (which gets its own button on Sony's main remote), Amazon Instant and Sky News.
It's a shame Sony still hasn't managed to get the ITV Player and 4OD signed up to the SEN, but we live in hope that it might happen at some point.
This being a World Cup year the 55W955 has a Football mode, which adjusts the picture to settings Sony believes are best suited to football playback. It also provides access to various online footie sources – including the FIFA World Cup clip archive.
You can use the football mode in conjunction with new Social View functionality that combines a hashtag-themed ticker tape Twitter feed with the facility to Skype call multiple mates to share a game's highs and lows using the built-in camera.
I remain deeply sceptical of the idea that such 'social' features belong on a family TV. Especially when the Twitter feeds contain no bad language filters!
But Sony has gone to more trouble than most to make the social features work here, including such clever technologies as an audio filter that stops you hearing your own words over your friends' Skype feeds.
You also have the ability for the camera software to track your friends' faces so that they always appear in the centre of the portion of their Skype image that's reproduced on your TV.
Moving on from the multimedia and 'social' features of the 55W955 to what makes its pictures tick, I should start by reiterating that this is a full HD TV, not a 4K/UHD one.
As part of Sony's flagship HD range, its pictures benefit from one of Sony's local dimming systems applied to its edge LED lighting array. Sony has set new local dimming standards over the past year or two, so obviously we have high hopes for the brand's take on the technology again here.
Also likely to play a major role in the 55W955's picture fortunes is Sony's X-Reality Pro processing engine, which uses a huge content 'database' to streamline the processing it applies to whatever type of source content it receives.
It's backed up from a processing point of view, too, by Sony's MotionFlow XR 400 system, delivering a 400Hz-emulating effect via a combination of backlight scanning and frame interpolation. Though I'm a bit puzzled that this is a clear 'down spec' from the MotionFlow XR 600 system sported by the considerably cheaper Sony 50W829.
It's interesting to note, too, that the 55W955B uses a passive 3D system rather than the active one of the 50W829, clearly revealing that it uses a different panel source. The shift to passive 3D will mean, of course, that the 55W955's 3D will likely have less resolution but also less crosstalk ghosting and flicker.
Finishing this section up by looking through the 55W955's picture adjustments reveals a solid array of calibration tweaks. A more standard set of colour and gamma management tools would have been a good idea, but the 55W955 makes this oversight easier to forgive by providing easily the most useful and well-considered array of picture presets in the TV world.
What's more, thanks to X-Reality Pro the 55W955 is uncannily good at figuring out what presets to apply to different sources without any input required from you at all. Excellent.