What's more, a Full HD (1080p) TV like this makes a lot of sense for most viewers: The lion's share of movie and TV content is still capped at 1080p, while cable and satellite content is still playing catch-up from HD to Full HD. With only a little 4K content available between apps like Netflix and Amazon Instant, going 4K right now isn't the most practical choice for most people.
And fortunately for most people, the W850C is every bit as good as its 4K sibling, the X850C. We measured excellent contrast, accurate colors, and smooth motion. At $1,500 online, the 65-inch W850C is a good value, but the 75-inch option—currently $1,000 off its list price—is actually a crazy good deal if you're looking to go really big this year.
The Sony KDL-65W850C (MSRP $1,899, online for $1,500) performed very well overall during our lab tests and evaluation. Other than a small issue with out-of-the-box gamma—which is likely related to the Cinema pro mode being calibrated for the TV's Advanced contrast enhancer and Ambient light sensor settings—and the usual slightly narrow viewing angle, the W850C delivers top-notch contrast, good color accuracy, and an all-around excellent viewing experience.
Sony's W850C series is available in two sizes
The W850C series is available in a 65-inch size (Sony KDL-65W850C, or Sony KDL65W850C) and a 75-inch size (Sony KDL-75W850C, or Sony KDL75W850C). The 65-inch retails for $1,899, but can be found online for about $1,500. The 75-inch retails for $2,999, but can be found online for about $1,999.
From the design, to the ports, to the Android TV platform, both sizes of the W850C are essentially identical. Both feature 3D functionality, 120 Hz refresh rates, and Full HD (1080p) resolution.
It's worth noting that while Amazon reports that the W850C models are "edge-lit," our findings during testing are that they're Direct (full) LED with frame dimming.
Our 65-inch W850C was purchased directly from Amazon and given roughly 24 hours to warm up and break in prior to testing and evaluation.
We calibrate each TV we review in order to both measure the accuracy of its out-of-the-box settings against international standards and to check the efficacy of its controls and ability to be professionally calibrated at home. As usual, the W850C includes both 2- and 10-point white balance controls and a gamma slider, but no CMS (Color Management System).
Oddly enough, while the TV's 2-point controls worked as expected, the 10-point white balance was ineffectual, making no changes to the RGB balance at 10 IRE steps, even at the most extreme changes from 100 IRE down. Fortunately, the 2-point control was enough to reduce grayscale deltaE to acceptable levels. Below, you'll find Sony's out-of-the-box settings in Cinema pro on the right, and my final calibration settings on the left.
Sony keeps things simple in the looks department, but the W850C's still got style
The W850C might be Sony's top-tier Full HD model for 2015, but it doesn't go out of its way to be flashy. A thin, curved metal stand secures the panel, which is quite thin from edge-to-edge, and sports very slim bezels that place heavy emphasis on the screen. It's a minimalist design for sure, but a modern one that will fit most rooms.
The rear casing is charcoal-colored plastic and smooth metal that yields the TV's on-set controls and AV ports. Back here, you'll find plenty of ways to get connected: four HDMI inputs, a full composite input, a shared component/composite input, and a coaxial jack for cable/antenna. For audio, you've got hybrid headphone/analog and digital audio outputs. There's also a LAN (ethernet) port and two USB ports.
Alongside the TV and stand components, you'll get the basic Sony remote control and two AAA batteries. The remote should be familiar if you've used any Sony TVs in the past: it's tall and narrow, with a full number-pad and lots of hotkeys. You won't find one of the smaller, touchpad-centric smart remotes with the W850C like with Sony's high-end 4K options, but navigating Android TV is easy enough that you won't miss it.
Contrast is one of the W850C's strongest areas. The 65-inch model exhibited a great deal of flexibility: using a standard 6x6 ANSI checkerboard pattern in the Cinema pro picture mode (with the Ambient light sensor disabled), I measured a black level of 0.032 cd/m2 and a reference brightness of 264.30 cd/m2 , giving the W850C a static ANSI contrast of 8,260:1.
This is an awesome result for an LCD TV in this price range, well beyond many pricier models and almost any edge-lit TV on the market, 4K or otherwise.
Like many LCD TVs, the W850C uses a VA (Vertical Alignment) style panel to achieve its high contrast. Unfortunately, such panels don't exhibit the best viewing angles, often not exceeding more than 30° or so in either direction. This is passable, of course, but nowhere near the viewing flexibility you'd find on an emissive display like a plasma or an OLED.
For the W850C, I measured a total viewing angle of 42°, or ±21.5° from the center to either side of the screen. At 10 feet away, this only gives you about 4 feet of lateral movement away from head-on viewing before the picture starts to degrade. That's enough room for most purposes, but anyone with an "L" shaped viewing setup may want to be careful about placement.
As simple as this TV looks on the outside, it's quite complex on the inside
In my years reviewing TV's, I've noticed one thing about Sony: the company doesn't skimp on menus and options. To that end, the Android platform—arguably the most heavily saturated and customizable mobile OS around—makes for a perfect fit with the W850C, and if you've used an Android device before, you already know your way around.
There is one notable drawback, however. Android (and Android TV, by association) receives a lot of updates and tweaks, repeatedly requiring users to optimize and update apps, and Sony's Android TV-equipped models are not exempt. As it stands, the first time you turn on an Android TV (like the W850C), boot up takes a lot longer than usual. What's more, after the initial startup, you'll have to do another full update and optimize all your apps. It takes quite a while, especially compared to LG's webOS or Samsung's Tizen.
It's worth the wait, however. While you don't get the full Play Store at your fingertips, you get a huge chunk of Google's cleanly tailored, proprietary services (like Google Music and Google cast) and a well-trodden app store that's constantly tweaked and updated. Android users will certainly love this TV experience—but we think everyone will find something to at least like about it.
That rich, highly tooled experience extends to the menu software, too. While the W850C doesn't have quite the same array of options as one of Sony's high-end 4K models, there's still plenty to play with here. Sony judiciously breaks up picture quality controls (contrast, color, and sharpness/scaling, namely) into sub-menus, allowing for experienced TV tuners and home/professional calibrators to tune the picture to calibrated settings.
You still don't get access to a color management system, but the rest of the usual controls are in-tow. Additionally, the audio menu contains plenty of pre-set modes and a full EQ for you audiophiles. Also, owners take note: if the W850C seems too dim, try turning off the "Ambient light sensor" in the picture adjustment menu.
Just as good as Sony's premium 4K options—just without the 4K
We had high hopes for the W850C, and it didn't disappoint. As Sony's top-of-the-line Full HD model for 2015, it's basically inherited all the quality and special software you'll find with 4K models like the X850C, which is this one's twin in all but resolution.
To start, the W850C is capable of excellent contrast: it's plenty dark for a dedicated home theater, but can get bright enough to battle ambient lighting, too. Likewise, while it lacks some of the color abilities of its HDR-ready brethren (like the X930C), it's great by non-HDR color standards, producing rich, vivid hues that are still accurate enough not to put off picture purists.
If you do choose to watch in the dark, just note that you may notice some edge dimming around the perimeter of the screen. This is fairly par for the course for full-array (direct) LED models like this one, however, and is a minor problem. As it stands, the TV's backlight uniformity is quite good, though it gets quite a bit less palatable if you shut off the "Advanced contrast enhancer" local dimming mode.
Just keep in mind that in specialty modes like Cinema pro, the TV has been factory calibrated to function nominally with local dimming, and will look best with it on. (As a rule of thumb, if a TV has full-array with local or frame dimming, just leave it on.)
Additionally, the TV boasts the same suite of motion assistance/backlight dimming software as Sony's higher end 4K models, giving it reliable resolution retention regardless of content. Sony's Cinemotion and Motionflow settings can be customized liberally to suit either film-based (24p) or faster action content, though even with them shut off, I didn't notice any excessive blurring or juddering.
I watched plenty of content—shows like Breaking Bad streaming via Netflix, scenes from our Blu-ray of Mad Max: Fury Road, and even a little cable content, and everything looked excellent. Naturally, native 1080p (Full HD) resolution stuff is going to look best on a 1080p television, but scaled 720p cable content looked fine, too.
Gamma is another area where the W850C behaved a bit strangely. As a result of being setup with both the Ambient light sensor and Advanced contrast settings tuned up out of the box, testing revealed that without ambient light backlight compensation, the TV's gamma needed to be recalibrated. Initially, this meant a too-dark, lopsided gamma of 2.57, though after calibration (even without a gamma control) it quite easily hit the dark room gamma standard, with a very neat 2.41 sum.
Despite that the W850C's 10-point grayscale control didn't seem to function properly, the TV's starting grayscale error was already quite low (at a dE of 4.42), and using the 2-point RGB adjustments I was able to reduce it to 1.81, which falls below the 3 dE or less ideal threshold.
If we take a closer look at the W850C's underlying RGB emphasis, we can see where the initial error stems from: overemphasis on the red subpixel, and concurrent underemphasis on the blue sub-pixel, which is unusual for LCD TVs in this price range—usually, there's too much blue. While the lone 2-point control didn't allow me to smooth out the emphasis as much as I would have liked, it still cinched the TV into respectable balance.
Sony's top-tier Full HD option may be one of the best this year
Lately, the boss-man's been dumping a lot of 4K TVs on my plate, but Sony's W850C is proof that there's still plenty of room for Full HD resolution. In fact, unless you absolutely need a 4K TV right now, the W850C might be the best-performing LCD set you can find in this price range. For quality like this, getting the 65-inch for $1,499 or 75-inch for $1,999 are both high-value buys.
It's also worth mentioning that jumping to 4K right now still isn't very pragmatic. There's just so little 4k content out there; almost everything on Netflix is 1080p, there still aren't any 4k Blu-ray discs on the market, and many cable broadcasts are still in 720p, with over-the-air 4K still a long ways off.
If the pricing is steeper than you'd like, however, there are more affordable 65-inch options without all the bells and whistles. The Vizio 65-inch E Series and Sharp 65-inch LE653U can both be found for around $1,000 online.
And if you're still sitting on the 4K fence, consider that while the 65-inch W850C may be only $750 less than Sony's equally stellar X850C, the 75-inch W850C for $1,999 is an insanely good value—it's half the price of its 4K cousin, but is fully equal in design, smart features, and overall picture quality.
The W850C lacks a CMS (Color Management System), but fortunately its colors were accurate enough (per the rec.709/sRGB color standard) that an in-depth color calibration was not wholly necessary, even if it would have been a boon. Out of the box, both green and red are just a little off-hue, while blue is undersaturated, but overall deltaL and deltaE for colors is quite low across the board. After calibrating the TV's gamma and grayscale, as well as reducing the backlight to 40 fL, some of the luminance and overall color error was naturally reduced.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
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.
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