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Vaguely Related Review: Sony Bravia 3DTV

View Nelson Schneider's Profile

By Nelson Schneider - 01/17/16 at 03:07 PM CT

Way back in 2014, my old Vizio television – the one with all of my consoles and my Steambox hooked up to it – started playing tricks on me. When turning it on from a ‘cold off’ state, it would randomly have large portions of the LED backlighting that were dimmed out. It would correct itself after a time, but I found that I had to make accommodations to the television and treat it with kid gloves by never turning it on and off in rapid succession, and leaving it on if I was going to come back to it within a few hours.

R.I.P. Vizio

Click to Enlarge

As time went on, the screen got progressively worse, and in the middle of 2015, the dimmed sections of the screen began to flicker as well. I knew the moment the backlighting started to dim that I would need to replace the entire TV sooner or later, but with the advent of 4K resolution, I was determined to put-off replacing it for as long as possible. I could still play games with random patches of dimmed pixels… but the flickering… it was just too much to bear.

Even though I wasn’t 100% ready to take the plunge on a 4K screen, I knew I had to replace the dying Vizio with something immediately. I was prepared to go to Sam’s Club (where I bought the Vizio) and grab a curved Samsung LED TV in either 1080p or 4K resolution. But before heading into the Big City, I decided to stop by my Friendly Local Furniture Store and see if I could throw some money at a small business, support my local economy, and get a good deal in one fell swoop.

The salesperson at Ernie’s confirmed what I had read online during my new TV research process: That Sony TVs are considered spectacular for gaming because they have low display latency (which I generally scoff at as being a placebo effect). The store was also conveniently willing to sell me a floor model of a 55” Sony Bravia 1080p LED TV ( KDL-55W950B) for $800, which came out to $900 after taxes and an extended warranty (because, well, floor model).

It wasn’t until the delivery guy dropped the Bravia off at my house that I learned that I had inadvertently bought a 3DTV. Like most other people, I had already dismissed the idea of 3D in the home as a ridiculous fad that would never go anywhere due to terrible technology. The rest of the MeltedJoystick Crew and I had even given up on 3D in the theater due to the greed of the movie industry in pushing the cost of a 3D ticket from $1 more than a 2D ticket to 50% more. That isn’t to say that we didn’t like the modern take on 3D movies, it was just that the extra cost wasn’t justified, especially in cases where the 3D effects were added in post-processing, resulting in a blurry, sub-par experience.

Early 3DTVs scared me away from the technology in the home due to the completely insane idea of shutter-based 3D glasses. Instead of the passive 3D experience offered by theaters, early 3DTVs offered heavy, noisy, battery-operated glasses. I tried out one of these early 3DTVs in… I think it was 2010 at a Best Buy store and was thoroughly unimpressed.

Fortunately for all, 5 years makes a lot of difference in the technology market, and Sony’s current 3D Bravia TVs don’t have shutter-based glasses. Instead, they use the exact same passive 3D glasses as the theaters. My Bravia came with two pairs of new glasses, but because I kept the 3D glasses the theater gave me when I went to see “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and three other 3D movies I don’t remember, I have an extra 5 sets of compatible glasses on-hand, allowing a critical mass of people to watch 3D content in my rec room.

Watching movies on 3D Blu-Ray (via the PlayStation 3’s ability to play that format) is just as good as the best theater experience, and fairly cost-effective (provided a group of 3+ people is present to watch). 3D gaming, on the other hand, has withered on the vine to the point where it is almost impossible to find any content, let alone good content. While the (now deprecated) nVidia 3D Vision software and drivers provide for full 3D compatibility on a Windows PC, the only 3D content I’ve been able to look at on my Steambox is nVidia’s demo featuring an animated nVidia logo dancing around in 3D. The TV itself does feature a type of Fake 3D that allows it to simulate 3D over the top of any 2D imagery, but I found that to be very hit and miss: Hit in that it looks fairly convincing when playing a 3D game like a FPS or TPS; Miss in that it makes any on-screen text completely illegible. With none of the console makers – not even Sony! – moving forward with 3D gaming content, it looks like the concept is already dead, just as the technology was finally getting to the point of working well (or maybe it will arise from the ashes once Virtual Reality takes off). Of course, there is still an irreconcilable disconnect between the technology and the users, since a 3D signal in Windows automatically locks the screen to 24 frames per second, and the “Glorious” PC Gaming Master Race would rather rip out their own eyeballs and eat them than play at anything less than 60 frames per second.

At the most basic level, though, Sony’s Bravia line of televisions make fantastic screens. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are crisp, the motion is smooth, and the pixels are imperceptible. Even more impressive than the video – which one would expect to be good on a 1080p TV – is the fact that the audio is fantastic as well. Ever since I switched from CRTs to flat-panel HDTVs, I have always found a soundbar or other form of external speakers absolutely essential, as Samsung, Toshiba, LG, and Vizio (the companies with whose TVs I have first-hand experience) all include absolutely abysmal built-in speakers with their screens. The Sony Bravia is a breath of fresh air, as the built-in speakers perform just as well as a mid-priced external sound system, all without the nonsense of extra wiring or extra costs. I’m happy to report that my old Vizio soundbar is sitting in a corner collecting dust! Finally, it’s worth noting that my model of Bravia features a comprehensive array of ports in the back: 1 Composite, 1 Component, and 4 HDMI, allowing for the easy, adapter-free connection of both new and legacy devices and consoles. The upscaler for legacy resolutions looks much nicer than my old Vizio for playing Wii games as well.

The only downsides of the Sony Bravia are minimal niggles. First, the TV doesn’t boot up instantly. While the screen and speakers do turn-on instantly (unlike the hatefully slow Toshiba monstrosity my mother bought for herself), it takes a minute or so before the TV is ready to accept commands, such as changing inputs or adjusting settings (of course, the latter should be a one-and-done experience). The only other bothersome thing about the Bravia is the fact that its SPDIF is set to turn off instantly if there is no audio input hitting it. This is, apparently, the default method of SPDIF functionality, but my old Vizio didn’t follow the rules and just kept its SPDIF open all the time. The problem with the Bravia behaving this way is that the Windows operating system does not transmit a signal to keep the SPDIF awake at all times, instead transmitting the wake signal simultaneously with any new sound played by the system. The result is that Windows system sounds are cut-off at the beginning (or don’t play at all if they are short enough) due to the milliseconds it takes for the Bravia’s SPDIF to realize that it should be doing something. There’s a simple enough work around available freely online in various forms, as this is a common problem with SPDIF and Windows, but I consider it a downside of the Bravia line nonetheless.

In sum, the Sony Bravia is the finest HDTV I’ve ever owned. Even though I don’t use any of the SmartTV features, the presence of passive 3D, a gorgeous screen, and high-quality built-in audio makes this TV is winner, for movie lovers and gamers alike.

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