While many of Sony's marketing terms mean nothing in English (or sometimes even Japanese), there have been some memorable ones: Bravia, WEGA, XBR et al. Here's another less-catchy, less capitalised one to add to the list: Triluminos. It's Sony's term for a technology, also known as Quantum Dots, which theoretically enhances the number of colours an LCD can produce. CNET writer Geoffrey Morrison examines the dots in depth here, but in essence, it's a film of microscopic crystals that glows green, red or blue when stimulated by a light source.
The KDL-55W900A is the first production TV we know about to use Quantum Dots, and despite this tech's whiff of marketing gimmick, its colour is superb. In addition, its overall picture quality is excellent for an LED-based LCD TV, thanks in part to deep black levels courtesy of Sony's local dimming technology.
At a AU$2299 list price, the W900A is more expensive than the excellent Panasonic ST60 but cheaper than the amazing Panasonic VT60, both plasmas with better pictures. Among 2013 LED LCDs, on the other hand, it has no picture-quality equal that we've reviewed so far. Its closest rival is the Samsung UAF8000, and while the two are very evenly matched, the Sony has a slightly better picture overall, although it can't compete with the Samsung in design or features.
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If it weren't for the different coloured bases, you'd swear that the W802 and W900A were the same TV, and since one is exactly twice the price of the other, this almost seems a lazy design choice. Both models feature a very slim black bezel with a "Quartz-cut" edge that glows blue-green when it catches the light.
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The W900A trades the brushed-aluminium base of the W802 for a chrome finish, making this TV look even more like it should be propping up a hipster at your local speakeasy. So far so elegant, but then it gets strange with a tacked-on, non-detachable "box" bulging with Sony's logo.
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The television comes with two remotes: one standard, medium-size infrared and the other smaller Bluetooth. The standard remote is compact and yet easy to use with dedicated SEN and Netflix buttons. The Bluetooth remote, which doesn't require line of sight to the TV, is quirky yet surprisingly ergonomic, with most of the buttons you'll need.
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After six years of the XMB (Xross Media Bar) interface, Sony has decided it's time for a change. Instead of stretching from left to right, as with the original PS3 interface, Sony has opted for a traditional vertical menu. The menu is animated, which can make it a little slower than your traditional list, though.
Along with the 4K XBR-X900 series, the W900A is Sony's "kitchen sink" television when it comes to picture enhancements. The standout, of course, is the "Triluminos" or "Colour IQ" coating that enhances the picture's available colours by the application of a thin multicolour-crystal film over the backlight. The company used the term a few years ago for its three-colour LED system, but this is a different technology. The theory is that the TV is able to reproduce more of the colours that are in the source versus a standard LED, and Sony's representatives say it should be able to handle even wider colour gamuts if they ever appear in the future. Interestingly, however, it still isn't wide enough to handle the colour of multicolour-crystal film .
If you love your picture to be buttery smooth, you'll be happy to hear this is a Motion Flow XR800 system, but be aware that this translates in reality to a 200Hz panel. Another major step up over the W802A is the employment of local dimming from the edge-lit LED backlight.
Sony keeps things simple with a bunch of mobile-phone-friendly features like Miracast mirroring and MHL, and the second Bluetooth remote is also NFC-enabled. Beyond these minor additions, the TV's non-picture-affecting features are mostly unchanged from last year.
Smart TV: The interface has improved a little since last year, with no more scrolling lists or separate, competing interfaces, and the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) is now the default smart TV destination. It's available only from the SEN button on the remote control, although some apps are available under the Applications menu. All of the apps sit on one screen, and I found the layout preferable to scrolling through a seemingly endless vertical list via the XMB. Happily, the home page allows for shortcuts to your most-used apps, which means you won't even need to load the slow SEN in most cases.
The Sony features a web browser, but without a pointing device, it becomes unbearably difficult to navigate. I don't anticipate many people will use this feature.
Picture settings: Despite being a more expensive TV, the W900A actually offers less tweaking than is available on the W802. There's no 10-point greyscale, although it does have a number of gamma selections and the usual array of picture presets. Unlike some competitors, Sony doesn't offer a colour management system.
Connectivity: The standard physical connections include four HDMI (with one offering MHL), three USB ports, one component/composite, one stand-alone composite and Ethernet. MHL compatibility enables you to connect your smartphone via HDMI and stream content while you charge your phone, but for wireless convenience, the on-board Wi-Fi direct is probably better.
When you're paying over two grand for a 55-inch TV, you'd like to think you're getting close to the best picture quality available. In the case of the Sony W900A, you are. The Sony's Triluminos system helps boost colour performance, with hues that were the equal of the ST60 plasma. Of the LCDs we compared, the W900A had the best colours and the most saturated blues and skin tones in particular.
Despite local dimming, however, it isn't quite as good as last year's HX850 in the most important area: black levels. The W900's black areas were slightly lighter in some scenes, and the edges were prone to light leakage. Though gamma levels were more consistent from light to dark than the cheaper W802, it was a little more hesitant to show up shadow detail.
Black level: Although very good for a LED LCD, the Sony W900A wasn't able to beat the HX850's superior black levels. It performed in the middle of the pack when replaying dark scenes, for example an 80's-era Manhattan skyline from "Watchmen". With its local dimming, the Sony could dredge up solid levels of pure black depending on the scene, but both the Sony HX850 and the Panasonic ST60 were able to beat it in terms of consistent black levels, while the Samsung ES8000 was very similar in depth of black overall.
Colour accuracy: The W900A had the most saturated colours of the collected LCDs, especially blue, and this is likely due to the work of the Triluminous crystals. The W900's colour looked very close to that of the Panasonic ST60, particularly in its portrayals of Dr Manhattan in "Watchmen". The character has brilliant blue skin, and he casts a purple-blue light on others around him, and the only TVs that could convey this without resorting to banding or missing subtle variations in colour were the W900A and the ST60. Given this excellent performance, perhaps there is some merit to Sony's claims of Quantum Dots' efficacy.
Video processing: Both the W802 and W900A passed the "I Am Legend" test of the fly-by of an aircraft carrier, showing correct film cadence. There was a bit of halting judder when I looked very closely but not enough to be considered a "fail".
However, in the synthetic 1080i playback test there was significant strobing in the moving image; you may lose some very fine detail when replaying film-based 1080i sources. On the motion resolution test, the TV displayed 330 lines when I disabled the smoothing dejudder mode, and as usual, engaging Motion Flow enabled the TV to go to 1000 lines.
Uniformity: Compared directly against last year's HX850, the W900A does suffer some uniformity issues, particularly with light leakage at the sides leading to a blue-black haze on a dark scene. However, it does perform better than all the other LCDs in the line-up; random splodges appeared on the Sharp, Sony and Panasonic LED televisions.
Sound quality: The W900A has a very warm sound, which is suited to dialogue and the THWACK! of action movies. Our "Mission: Impossible III" sound test was delivered clearly but without the high-end tinkle of some of the other sets we've heard. We'd still say that if you want to watch movies and expect serious sound, get a separate speaker system.