There was a time, not so long ago, when you needed a mortgage to get a 4K TV. Or at the very least some sort of exchange involving kidneys.
But these days they’re within reach of mere mortals. And what’s more, they’re largely very good now. It’s still early days, yet we’ve already dealt with some stunners.
Now it’s the turn of the Sony KD-55X8505B, the “entry-level” model in the company’s 4K range. Does it have what it takes to beat our current favourite, the Samsung UE55HU7500? Perhaps not, but then it is a heck of a lot cheaper.
READ MORE: Samsung UE55HU7500 review
Bare aesthetic necessities
With a price like that, we’re not expecting a diamond and fur lining (although that would be quite a sight). This is a more stripped-back affair.
It doesn’t have its bigger brothers’ massive built-in speakers or the aesthetically pleasing (yet stable) wedge shape that houses them. But if you’ve already got some home cinema speakers, you probably don't want to pay extra money and find extra room for a TV with better in-built sound anyway.
And it does have a pop-up camera (well, push-up, really) for video calls. And it has flexible stand placement: you can have its feet near the centre, or wide apart at either end of the screen. The wider setting is more stable, but it’s nice to have the option to make the footprint much smaller if you’ve only got a little shelf.
Sony follows the trend of offering two remote controls. There’s a standard button stick, which is nicely laid out, and then there’s the minimalist, touchpad-tastic One-Flick remote, which is unfortunately utterly unintuitive and more than a little frustrating. LG’s Magic Remote this ain’t.
So the aesthetics aren’t particularly fancy, but Sony has sensibly refrained from stripping down the specs.
What you get here is about as much as you’ll get on any current set: four HDMI 2.0 inputs, three USBs and a bunch of legacy connections such as SCART and component (we do hope you’re not using these anymore. There are Freeview HD and satellite tuners, and the t’interweb connection can be hard-wired and wireless.
Less visible but arguably even more important to a 4K telly is the internal HEVC decoder, which is what Netflix wants for 4K streaming. Considering the rarity of 4K footage right now, we’d say that’s pretty important. Bear in mind you’ll need good internet speeds: 15-20mbps is recommended.
Screen size: 55in
Resolution: 3840 x 2160
Display technology: LCD with LED backlight
Speaker output: 20W
Built-in camera: yes
Connectivity: Freeview, Satellite (x2), HDMI 2.0 (x3), USB (x3), Component, Composite, Scart, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Headphone, Optical output
Dimensions (hwd): 79 x 123 x 28.5cm with stand, 74 x 123 x 6.6cm without stand
On that note, let’s get playing. Who in their right mind would get a 4K TV and not immediately load up some 4K? It’s straight to Netflix for a bit of Breaking Bad.
We watch Bryan Cranston fiddle with blue crystals and it looks lovely. As is the point of 4K, the picture is superbly detailed and razor sharp. Edges are well defined without looking processed.
Colours are rich, but skin tones remain convincing. We wouldn’t call it a natural palette – it’s a little punchy – but it’s never noticeably unrealistic, and there’s plenty of subtlety in gradation and shading. To say this is a step-up from Blu-ray doesn’t do justice to how much of a massive jump it is.
But the Sony does have a weakness, and it’s the depth of the black levels. It never gets really, truly, inky dark, so very dim scenes suffer. The Black Corrector setting helps, but even so the Samsung UE55HU7500 edges ahead.
The Samsung also does better with the standard-def and 1080p stuff you’ll be asking it to upscale on a regular basis. Sony always handles colours beautifully, but it loses out on fine detail and subtlety.
And if you’re one of the few people who actually enjoys watching 3D movies at home, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Sony plays them well, with decent brightness, minimal crosstalk issues, and passive 3D glasses that are very comfortable. There’s no escaping looking like a nerd, though.
Like most TV manufacturers these days, Sony doesn’t seem that fussed whether or not you watch actual TV on your TV, and so there’s a fancy interface. It’s nowhere near as ambitious as the LG 55UB950V’s brightly coloured webOS UI of prettiness, but it does the job.
What you get is a mature, neatly laid-out portal. The main categories of TV, Movies, Music and Apps are divided into neat panels, and navigation is intuitive.
As is the case with most smart hubs, there are some questionable features. Take the Social View button, for instance. That turns the TV into a sort of Twitter (but worse) with a feed scrolling along the bottom of the screen. Less pointless is the Discovery feature, which gives access to favourite and oft-used services, while recommending related content.
Sony’s app offering is fairly strong, but not quite as comprehensive as Samsung’s. There’s still no sign of ITV Player or 4oD, but you do get BBC iPlayer, Amazon Instant Video and Netflix, as well as Sony’s own on-demand Video Unlimited service, which gives pay-as-you-go access to loads of movies day-and-date with the DVD release, all in 1080p with surround sound.
Sony KD-55X8505B 4K TV verdict
If you’re after the very shiniest, most sparklingly advanced 4K TV out there, this isn’t it. It doesn’t have the sexiest styling. It doesn’t have the fanciest interface. It doesn’t have the very biggest app offering. And it doesn’t have the absolute best picture quality.
But it’s not actually far behind in any of those departments, and when you consider that it’s currently a good £400 cheaper than the £2200 Samsung UE55HU7500 benchmark, that will seem a very reasonable compromise to lots of people looking to take 4K into their lounges.
READ MORE: The 10 Best TVs in the World right now