Sony LCD TV KDL-32W650A Review
By Chris Heinonen on
Just a decade ago, the best displays you could buy for your home were close to 30” in size. CRTs were unable to go much larger so displays like the Sony KD-34XBR960 were state-of-the-art then. Now 32” displays are seemingly relegated to entry-level, low-end models despite being the best-selling TV size.
For many people 32” is an ideal size. They have smaller apartments or condos, or want a high-quality TV in a room that doesn’t dominate the space. Some vendors release premium 32” displays in Europe and Asia where space is more of a concern but not in the USA. This year Sony is bucking that trend by releasing the KDL-32W650A LCD TV.
The 32” W650A comes in at the middle of the Sony LCD range, but is a higher end 32” LCD than almost anyone else produces. With full 1920x1080p resolution, WiFi, streaming content, Reality Creation technology and more, the 650A is not lacking for features. Straight out of the box, the display impresses me.
Setting It Up
Setting up the 650A requires attaching the stand, but it isn’t your usual stand. The included stand can function as a tabletop stand or as a wall mount. It is a bit of an ingenious design on Sony’s part to make it work as both. The downside is that the display lacks VESA mounting holes for a full-motion stand but most people typically mount a display flat.
After the quick stand attachment you can connect your devices, but not too many. In one of the few downsides I found for the W650A, there is only a pair of HDMI inputs on the rear. One is ARC compatible so you can easily use it with a HDMI equipped sound bar but I’d still prefer more. There are component and composite video connections but I’d really like at least 3 HDMI inputs on a display of this caliber. All the inputs are side or bottom mounted, not rear, so it is easy to keep it flat against the wall.
As soon as the W650A is connected I turned it on and used a pair of test discs, World of Wonder and Spears & Munsil on Blu-ray, to set up the basic controls. I used the Cinema 1 mode as it looked the most accurate and made a few small adjustments. Then I used my full setup of calibration gear to get everything really dialed in.
I shouldn’t have bothered.
The W650A comes as well calibrated out of the box as anything I have seen. The gamma is spot-on in cinema mode to 2.4 and the grayscale is basically perfect. The only thing I set was getting the backlight level correct (a setting of 3 produces 35 ftL while 4 produces 40 fL) as no other control is adjusted by more than 1. Save your money on a calibration if you buy the W650A as it just doesn’t need it. It looks and measures perfect out of the box. Full details on the best and after calibration numbers, and other test data, are found on the second page.
How Does It Look?
In use the W650A is even better. It handles the darkest of dark scenes, the hilltop from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, with ease. The last LCD I reviewed is a cloudy, muddled mess on this scene. The Sony is clear with great black level definition and loads of shadow detail. Action is clear and crisp on the 120 Hz panel and colors are accurate. Having owned one of those amazing 34” XBR960 CRT displays, I am having flashbacks to the joys of a small, beautiful display.
Other films continue to show off what the Sony can do. Zero Dark Thirty has incredibly clarity and detail on the W650A. You can make out the subtle dark shades and folds in a black suit at the CIA while scenes in the desert are bright and vivid. The nighttime raid on the bin Laden compound is easy to follow and make out despite the incredibly dark shadows it often has.
Amelie and its bright, imaginary dream world of Paris pop off the screen on the W650A. In their bar encounter, the skin of Amelie Poulan is warm and smooth while that of Dominique Bretodeau has the worn creases and wrinkles of time. The blue sky of director Jean-Piere Jeunet’s imagination is just as he wants it to be: startlingly real but dreamlike at the same time.
The W650A has a wide range of streaming content at your disposal as well. It has the proprietary Sony Music and Video unlimited services that other companies can’t offer and the main services as well: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon On Demand and more. Sony has a bit of a custom interface for Hulu Plus and Amazon On Demand while Netflix uses the standard Netflix one. Setting them up is reasonably easy but I do with Sony let you enter all the credentials online instead of some online and some with the remote.
Netflix plays back very well though did take a while to buffer for HD content. Amazon On Demand works great with my Prime subscription and Hulu Plus also looks great. Even on a 32” display I can still tell the difference between Blu-ray and streaming content but having the full array of services integrated into the display is useful and saves you a valuable HDMI input.
Sony needs a bit of congratulations on the on-screen display for the W650A. Fast, graphical, and easy to use, it puts other OSDs that I have recently used to shame. This is something I first saw on the STR-DN1040 receiver and something that continues here. I only hope that more vendors can learn from this and start to make their equipment more intuitive to use.
Bench Test Data and Analysis
I stated in the review that the Sony KDL-32W650A does not really need a calibration and I mean that. Straight out of the box I set it to the Cinema 1 mode and adjusted the primary controls (Color, Tint, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness) using test discs and a color filter. I disabled all the fancy processing features that really aren’t necessary and got a result that is almost textbook perfect. CalMAN 5.1.2 is used for testing the display with an AccuPel DVG-5000 pattern generator along with C6 and i1Pro meters.
The average grayscale dE2000 is only 1.22 without a calibration. No value is above 3, which is considered the minimum error to be visible. Our gamma tracks with an average of 2.37, very close to the 2.40 target that we are after. The average dE2000 error for primary and secondary color saturations is 1.37 and the average error for the massive color checker chart in CalMAN 5.1.2 is only 1.70. All of these values are below what is visible to most people.
Setting the light output of the Sony to 36 foot Lamberts (ftL), the minimum light level with an all-black screen is 0.0065 ftL. This resulting contrast ratio is 5565:1 which is very nice for a LCD set. Sony doesn’t use any tricks like turning the backlight off to achieve that number either. The set just produces a very nice black level as I can see when watching films.
The only issue I can find with the KDL-32W650A before calibration is that skin tones are a bit off. They have a bit too much red push to them, but the rest of the gamut it well controlled.
Post-Calibration there is really no change. I tweaked some setting by 1, but otherwise left everything at the defaults. Our grayscale error has fallen to 0.89 on average, which is still invisible. The largest change is that 100% white now has a lower maximum error thanks to the white balance adjustment, so there are no errors visible at all. Our gamma is slightly worse at 2.34 but not by much. The contrast ratio increased to 6313:1 thanks to a lower black reading. That reading is within the margin of error for the C6 meter, so effectively the contrast ratios are the same.
We do see a bit of a problem in the saturations and color checker charts now. Our average error for Saturations has fallen slightly, but we actually have more readings above the visible line of 3.0. We also see that skin tones have gotten a bit worse as our red push increased from before. Even though our averages have improved, we actually have more visible errors than we did before.
After the calibration and consulting the charts, I wound up resetting everything back to its previous levels except for white balance. As the white balance was only adjusted by a single click, there is truly no need to calibrate the Sony. You’ll only serve to make the picture worse it seems.
The KDL-32W650A flew through my video processing tests with HD material. Film and Video content were both deinterlaced properly, though interlaced HD film content is very rare. It can handle all colorspaces correctly (RGB, YCbCr 4:2:2 and YCbCr 4:4:4) and does not introduce any errors to the image. The only processing test that failed is for 480i resolution film content. If you are going to watch a DVD on the Sony, use a player that at least converts it to 480p first and you’ll have no issues. Players that output DVDs at 480i are very rare anyway.
On the test bench the Sony performs remarkably well. It is one of the best performing displays I have ever tested out of the box, and shows that Sony really has tried to put out the best performing display they can in a 32” package.
|White Level:||36.17 ftL||36.23 ftL|
|Black Level:||0.0065 ftL||0.0057 ftL|
|Average Grayscale dE2000:||1.2206||0.89|
|Average Saturations dE2000:||1.37||1.35|
|Average Color Checker dE2000:||1.70||1.93|
|Summary:||The Sony KDL-32W650A is virtually perfect out of the box in the Cinema 1 preset. Use a test disc to get the basic controls right and then leave it alone for a stunning image.|
What Can Be Improved
One feature that disappointed me with the W650A is the black frame insertion. Called LED Motion Mode, it inserts black frames between video frames to produce more fluid motion and a more film-like image. It does what it says, but it adds some noticeable flicker and drops the light output to an unreasonably low-level. Even with the backlight at maximum in a pitch-black room I found it too dark to use. It’s too bad as it is a feature I really like.
The major downside that people will have with the KDL-32W650A is value. It is hard to choose a 32” display for $650 when you can get a reference-quality 50” plasma for $1,000 or a cheaper 32” Smart TV for $300. If you have the room for something like the Panasonic ST60 Plasma then it is impossible to deny that it is a better value. If you don’t have that much space, or don’t want a display that large, then I don’t know of a 32” display with a better image than the KDL-32W650A.
I’d like to see an extra HDMI input, and some VESA mounting holes, but that is it for flaws on the KDL-32W650A. For gamers it will do well as game mode produces only 32ms of lag. Cinema produces 72ms of lag in comparison so you are best served in the game mode. For watching movies and TV it is nothing short of stunning. I’d like to keep it as a reference monitor for evaluating Blu-ray players next to my computer if I could.
If you have space constraints or want a smaller set, but don’t want to sacrifice image quality, go check out the KDL-32W650A. It might be the only game in town, but Sony has knocked this one out of the park where image quality is concerned.
Beautiful image, good streaming content, included wall mount
Only 2 HDMI, No VESA Mounting, Price
It is expensive, but the KDL-32W650A has what matters: a beautiful image. If you don't want a 50" or larger TV and want a reference level image, it should be your first audition.