Between last year's brand name models and this year's budget entries, the 50R550A has a lot of competition. The 2013 "new" quality you're paying for is, unfortunately, not worth the money. This 3D smart TV is more a media-streaming device than a strong performer, and we're willing to bet most people already have other ways of watching these apps. Do yourself a favor: Buy something a little less frilly, and a little more performance-made.
Handsome and sleek with heavy panel emphasis
The 50R550A is not a small TV by any means, but it manages to feel that way by virtue of its streamlined bezels, thin panel, and minimalist stand. This design is modern (and unique to Sony TVs), while still following the tradition of putting a heavy emphasis on the panel. It's an aesthetic that places connectivity ports, control buttons, and any other function-based accoutrement out of sight on the back or sides of the TV.
Despite its form-favoring appearance, however, the R550A is quite usable. Assembling the subtle, curved stand is a matter of few screws, and the set's controls and ports are tastefully placed and easy to use—unless you wall mount it, which will block off the rear connections to a degree. The 50R550A offers four HDMI inputs, two USB inputs, a shared component/composite connection, and the usual RF jack for cable or antenna.
In the box, you'll find a boring little remote and two pairs of Sony's new passive 3D glasses. The glasses are kind of a highlight—they're very lightweight and made of a sturdy clear plastic. It's very easy to forget you're wearing a pair.
This is solid TV craftsmanship, just be careful with the way you handle it. It's a smudge magnet if ever there was one.
A media-ready centerpiece
From the standpoint of customization, the 50R550A has plenty to offer. It's almost a bad thing, as Sony packed so many menus and sub-menus into the software that it's tricky to use, even for TV veterans. The remote's layout helps, but users must navigate a labyrinth just to find basic picture controls.
Altering picture settings is an easy, but limited affair. Calibrators will feel uncouth attempting to alter the finer points of color management or grayscale balance—the controls simply aren't there. All of the basics are easy enough to find, though.
For a smart TV, the R550A is okay. Its ability to scan and find wireless signals is a bit weak, but once it's connected, you're good to go. Within Sony's "Sony Entertainment Network," users will find familiar apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and VUDU. This particular iteration of Sony's smart platform is not the most customizable, but it's fairly-well streamlined. The remote even has a Netflix button, so you won't miss a single episode... just don't lose the remote. There's really no other way to access the smart content.
For a closer look at Sony's 2013 Smart Platform, check out our full article here.
Solid color performance, poor contrast ratio
Our full range of tests revealed a mixed-bag performance from the R550A. Picture dynamics, or the light output of this TV, are a disappointment. The TV's contrast ratio, a highly-valued spec for all displays, is very narrow. This is due primarily to overly bright black levels; the R550A can put out a lot of light, but it cannot produce truly black shadow tones, which really gimps its ability to produce a beautiful picture.
This is unfortunate, as this TV's color integrity is very good. While it's not perfect out of the box, the defaults in Movie mode are very close without any tweaking. Sony even rolls the sharpness setting (edge enhancement) down to 0, which is something I wish every TV manufacturer would start doing. Its color gamut is quite accurate for a mid-tier display, and it manages a fully fleshed-out palette of colors like a tall, mustachioed carnie, effortlessly tossing and catching color-burst bowling pins with a smile.
This TV's biggest performance flaw, however, is its overly narrow viewing angle. It's always a shame to find a limiting angle of viewing on a larger-sized TV. Wall-mounting this display would prove a mistake, as it suffers from serious degradation at off-angles. We recommend keeping it on the stand and shifting it subtly when you need to watch from different places.
Rounding things out, this Sony's detail retention during motion is poor without the extra processing effects available; with them, however, it looks fine. The overly bright LED backlighting can really mar black areas of the picture in a darker viewing environment, and will definitely disrupt the harmony of black bars when watching 4:3 content. Overall, the R550A falls short as a credible performer.
Don't buy for performance
If you're going to purchase a TV in the R550A series, do so because you need a media-hosting device, or are particularly attuned to 3D movies. The 50R550A has plenty to tweak to make the picture better, but the bottom line is that it does not have the dynamic power to create a majestic image, and no amount of fiddling will fix that.
There are plenty of smart, 3D, lower-performance 50-inch TVs available this year and last year for less than $1000. If you're going to pay that much for a TV, pay for one that performs to higher standards, such as the Panasonic S60. The 50-inch S60 is available online for $700.
This middle-tier Sony is a decent performer. From a dynamics perspective—black level and contrast ratio—it falls short of impressive, fostering an entry-level attempt at black/white differentiation. On the other hand, the R550A's color performance is quite good for a $999 MSRP. At the end of the day, however, the TV's overall performance does not justify its asking price.
A poor black level means a flat contrast ratio
Picture dynamics (black/white differentiation) are extremely important to the performance of any display, but especially to TVs. The R550A is an LCD, so I was expecting its black level to be less than stellar. The result of 0.25 cd/m2 was, unfortunately, even worse than I'd anticipated.
The black level we tested does not combat ambient lighting well, but is also not quite dark enough to look good in theater lighting. The R550A just barely offsets this poor showing with a peak brightness of 252.50 cd/m2 , which is plenty bright for most spaces. The resulting contrast ratio of 1010:1 is wholly average, and wholly disappointing.
What this means for you: Don't expect super impressive images, everything looks a touch flat.
Staunch color integrity, excellent grayscale balance
For a TV lacking color management controls, the 50R550A produces fine colors. The two areas we value the most when it comes to color production are saturation (how much color) and colorimetry (which color). Setting the R550A to Movie mode produced the results you see below.
First and foremost, this Sony's color gamut, while imperfect, is quite good for an out-of-the-box result. We tested almost negligible error within its red and green, which ensures a perfect yellow. Unfortunately, the hue of blue favors magenta ever so slightly—but from a saturation standpoint, it's spot-on. The blue error won't be terribly noticeable, but will cause a slight undersaturation in cyan and a touch of oversaturation in magenta.
Concerning red, green, blue, and grayscale balancing, the R550A again impresses. Our testing process revealed that its grayscale describes a very ideal, gradual curve as it moves in luminosity from 0 to 100 IRE (black to white), and the RGB signal that makes it up does the same, resulting in a balanced palette in all scenarios.
Finally, the R550A's color temperature consistency was quite good, though it pushes a red signal around 30 or 40 IRE. This tapers off as the signal decreases, while the error continues to increase. The final result is a consistent temperature throughout, with a small, severe error nestling around reference black. Not bad.
I've seen some bad viewing angles in my time. I've seen vertical offset that shaded the picture beyond recognition, and intense off-angle color shifting that rendered greens a yellow-tinted mess at the wrong angle. However, rarely have I seen such a narrow horizontal viewing angle, even from an LCD.
This is definitely the R550A's biggest flaw. It doesn't mean it's unwatchable, it just means at wider angles, you're going to notice graying of the already overly bright blacks, and lessening of the light output intensity in high signal spots. The result is a very flat, marred picture. We tested a total viewing angle of 16°, or ±8° from center to either side. Heck, if you have a very wide head, you might notice contrast degradation while watching this thing straight on.
Meet the testers
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email