After years of being left hanging limply on the ropes by its big hitting Korean rivals, Sony suddenly exploded back onto the TV scene in 2012 with its multi-award winning HX853 series. This set saw Sony combining its high-end X-Reality Pro processing engine with the most sophisticated local dimming system ever seen on an edge LED TV to spectacular effect, instantly redefining our expectations of what LCD could do.
Attempting to ensure the HX853 wasn't a one-off fluke, Sony's engineers have beavered away at another innovation the brand hopes will keep its new W905 flagship TVs - as represented here by the 55-inch Sony 55W905A - ahead of a chasing pack with serious TV teeth.
That innovation is called Triluminos, and as we'll discover later, so long as you handle it with a little care, it really is impressive. Its name also handily raises echoes of the legendary Trinitron technology that served Sony so spectacularly well back in the days of CRT (remember those?).
The Sony W905 models also inevitably sport local dimming like that used so effectively on the HX853 series. They also feature an improved version of Sony's X-Reality Pro engine complete with a fine-tuned, expanded database of image scenarios and a two- rather than three-chip configuration that's cheaper to produce and more efficient in its workings.
Add in 3D, a video-packed online service and a new, much slimmer design approach than we've seen before from Sony, and it's abundantly clear that the Sony Bravia KDL-55W905A is intended to be a real statement TV with which to kick off Sony's 2013 television range.
As such, its main competition from the 2013 TVs we've seen to date would have to be Samsung's UE55F8000. This set delivers an even slimmer design and some startling if occasionally hard to follow smart TV innovations, as well as a large step forward in performance terms as Samsung finally manages to ditch its old backlight clouding problems.
The £2,399 (around AU$3,646 / US$3,714) Sony 55W905A is the largest screen in the W905 range, at 55 inches, and is joined by smaller brothers the 46-inch Sony 46W905A (priced at £1,799) and 40-inch Sony 40W905A (costing £1,399).
In terms of alternatives from Sony's own range, the W905 is the flagship series until Sony launches its X series of 4k models in the next couple of months.
So if you want something different you're looking at stepping down to the new W8 series, which ditches Triluminos and carries a less powerful audio system but keeps pretty much everything else.
Sony's most mass-market option, we suspect, will be the W6 series, which still retains the slim design, X-Reality processing and smart TV functionality, but dispenses with local dimming.
We definitely need to take a look at Sony's Triluminos innovation. This seeks to deliver a significantly wider colour gamut than normal TVs by placing red and green 'quantum dot' colour filters directly onto the LED lights arrayed around the image's edges. This means the blue light from the LEDs both creates the colour blue in the image and energises the red- and green quantum dots to complete the RGB effect.
Since Triluminos technology is a physical process incorporated into the hardware construction of the TV, it can't be turned off. So fingers crossed that we like it.
Sony's X-Reality Pro technology, meanwhile, essentially uses an expansive database of different video types to enable it to deliver video processing that's more accurate and less troubled by artefacts. In other words, the TV swiftly analyses the incoming source, compares its attributes against its pre-stored database of video 'conditions' and then applies picture setting rules already worked out as being the most appropriate for it by Sony's picture quality boffins at Sony's factories.
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While Triluminos and X-Reality Pro grab the high-tech headlines with the Sony 55W905A, its design will be the first thing that strikes most ordinary punters on the shop floor.
In place of the somewhat chunky look of Sony's previous LCD TVs, the Sony 55W905A revels in a much more on-trend super-slim bezel that's only marginally more than 1cm across. Even better, its mostly black colour scheme is given a bit of swagger in the form of a distinctive angled, blue-toned reflective strip that runs right along the TV's top edge. Sony's name for this subtle touch of flare is A Sense of Quartz.
Also rather distinctive about the Sony 55W905A's design is the little silvery rectangular box that sits in the centre of the TV's bottom edge. This is the set's Intelligence Centre, hosting the TV's brainpower. It also serves a useful practical function in that it emits a different coloured light depending on what type of input you're using (Bluetooth, network, HDMI and so on).
Even the gleaming circular open-frame desktop stand is a radical departure from Sony's recent design trajectory, but the all-round newness hasn't stopped Sony's designers from pulling the whole concept together beautifully.
Connections on the Sony 55W905A are where we'd expect them to be on a flagship TV in 2013. Which is to say that as well as four HDMIs for digital video duties, you get three USBs (one of which can be used for recording from the built-in Freeview HD tuner), a D-Sub PC port, and both LAN and built-in Wi-Fi networking options.
Sony has never sought the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), and this situation hasn't changed with the Sony 55W905A. However, this television does go a bit further with its picture set-up options than Sony is often wont to do, especially in its inclusion of a white balance toolset complete with gain and bias adjustments for the RGB colour elements, and a few gamma presets.
Admittedly there's still plenty more the Sony could do in colour management terms, but the brand is slowly moving in the right direction.
The Sony 55W905A also has a bundle of image processing options. Taking in everything from black level boosting to noise reduction, colour widening, edge and sharpness boosting and motion enhancers, many of them clearly won't be of interest to video purists. However, we recommend that you at least experiment with some of the settings on offer.
Sony's Reality Creation system, for instance, is one of the cleverest engines around for boosting sharpness - especially with standard definition footage - while simultaneously reining in noise, and Sony's Smooth Gradation system does a subtle but welcome job of removing the potential for colour striping in colour blend that even good quality Blu-rays can sometimes suffer with.
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Even the Sony 55W905A's motion processing is worth more of a trial run than most systems, since some of its numerous setting options are gentle - and customisable - enough in what they do to deliver benefits without leaving the image looking unnaturally processed or riddled with artefacts.
Some options that we wouldn't recommend you leave active, though - at least when watching HD - are the noise reduction features, the edge and detail boosters, the black level booster, and especially the Live Colour feature, because even on its low setting this stretches the colour palette in very unnatural territory. This feature just isn't necessary when you've already got Triluminos delivering an enhanced colour gamut.
One final picture setting feature you need to pay attention to is the LED Dynamic Control System, since it's here that you are given a modicum of control over the local dimming engine that's so important to the TV's picture quality.
Two more features common to any self-respecting flagship TV these days are 3D playback and smart TV functionality, including online features.
3D is of the active flavour, and impressively from a situation just a couple of years ago of not including any 3D glasses with most of its TVs, Sony now includes no less than four with the 55W905A. Excellent.
Smart TV features
Smart TV features include playback of an impressively wide array of photo, music and video file formats from USB sticks or networked DLNA PCs, as well as access to Sony's latest online platform, dubbed the Sony Entertainment Network (to bring it in line with the online platform of the PS3).
This online platform impresses for the most part, thanks to the prodigious number of video streaming platforms it supports. Highlights include both Lovefilm and Netflix, Sony's own increasingly impressive Video and Music Unlimited services, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, BBC News, Sony's Entertainment Television library, BBC Sport, a Sony-branded channel of 3D content, and Sky News.
Plus, of course, there are the usual social media suspects of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Picasa and Skype (if you purchase the optional extra Sony CMU-BR200 Skype camera).
There are loads more minor video services too, along with a reasonable cluster of basic games and a handful of utility and information apps. These second tier apps aren't nearly as numerous as they are on Samsung's current smart platform, but then the majority of Samsung's second-tier apps are just pointless clutter, really.
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The Sony 55W905A follows current trends by shipping with a second remote and working in tandem with a dedicated iOS/Android app. We'll look at these in more detail in the Usability section of this review, but the key tricks of the second remote are that it offers a streamlined button count and supports Near-Field Communications (NFC) technology.
This means you can tap the remote against an NFC-capable portable device such as Sony's latest Xperia smartphones and instantly enable that device's screen to be mirrored on the TV.
The TV Sideview app, meanwhile, is one of the best presented we've seen to date, and provides exceptionally easy second-screen browsing of the TV listings and your digital media, as well as making it easy, of course, to present a chosen TV show or media file on the TV.
There is one feature that's surprisingly absent on TV SideView, though: second screen viewing. In other words, you can't stream video from the TV to your portable device for, say, watching in another room. Samsung, Panasonic and even Philips (on iOS, at least) by comparison, all offer this handy feature.
One final feature to mention is the Sony 55W905A's really exceptional input lag performance.
Our tests revealed that - so long as you use the TV's game preset and turn off as much video processing as possible - Sony's new flagship TV takes barely 10ms for on-screen video signals to arrive at its inputs. This is the lowest figure we've seen from a TV (as opposed to a dedicated PC monitor).