Australian Review: Sony Bravia 50W800C 50-inch HD Android TV - Droids on Film
Google's Android TV operating system was announced well over a year ago, but Sony's 50W800C is one of the very to make it to Australian shores.
I can't blame TV manufacturers such as LG and Samsung for not jumping on the bandwagon themselves - they clearly want to foster their own operating systems that they've already invested in - but I'm pleased Sony has, and after two weeks with the 50W800C, I'd love to see more companies do the same.
While Sony has typically had a good reputation when it comes to TV manufacturing, Android TV is the big attraction in the company's 2015 line-up. That's not to say the TVs themselves are bad (they're not), but Android TV gives the new models a pretty big point of difference when compared to the other televisions on the market.
If you're familiar with Lollipop, Android TV won't be a big surprise - aesthetically, it makes use of the same Material Design aesthetic you'll find in the latest version of Google's operating system. It's flat, it's clean, it's reasonably minimal. Despite the visual similarities, you don't have to come from an Android background to get the hang of Android TV; you might already be familiar with some of the apps and iconography, but that's the only real advantage you get.
Android TV is a very different beast compared to its smartphone-based namesake - and so it should be, using a phone is a fundamentally different experience to using a TV, and both have very different purposes. The interface is big, bold and image heavy. At first, this can result in a bit of scrolling to the find the apps you want to use, but the operating system tends to group them by how recently you've opened them. With the exception of a few minor quirks (which I'll get into a little later) Android TV is reasonably easy to get the hang of.
Of course, if you are an Android owner, you do get some advantages. Movies, music and TV you've purchased via Google Play is all accessible, as are any apps that have an Android TV version - such as Crossy Road, for example.
On the subject of apps, you've got the usual culprits baked in - Netflix (there's even a big Netflix button on the remote), YouTube, Play Movies, and Play Music - alongside local catch-up apps for ABC, SBS, Nine, Seven and Ten.
One of Android TV's big features is voice navigation, but unfortunately Sony has opted to only include a traditional remote with the 50W800C, rather than a remote with an integrated microphone (as featured in higher-end modles). However, if you have an Android smartphone, you're able to use your device's microphone via the Android TV Remote Control app.
If you're hell bent on using voice navigation, the app providers a reasonable solution, but you lose tactile buttons and a bit of convenience. To Google's credit, the Android TV Remote Control app worked seamlessly.
Voice navigation is reasonably effective in Android TV, mostly due to the fact typing out words with a remote is terribly ineffective. The feature is most effective when you're looking for something to watch, such as "action movies from the 90s," and the fact it understands natural language queries is a bonus; you're not just limited to search by a title.
As promising as voice navigation is, it can't currently dig into apps like Netflix or iView which is a bit a bit of a shame. While a search for "movies with Kevin Spacey in them" will bring up titles you can buy on Google Play and videos you can watch on YouTube, it can't find anything on the other apps you've got installed.
For me, Android TV's built-in Chromecast capabilities steal the show. The 50W800C essentially has a Chromecast built right into it, meaning you can beam video from smartphone apps such as Stan and Presto, or music from apps like Spotify without the need for a separate dongle. It's much more convenient than swapping to a separate Chromecast input, and it saves you a HDMI port.
Android TV is easily one of the best television operating systems I've used, but it still feels like a first generation product. In my time with the 50W800C, I encountered a few quirks and the odd technical issue; after about a week using the TV, it suddenly started to suffer from major slow-issues where all native app would run at half their normal speed. A hard reset fixed this, but it's not the kind of issue you should have to deal with on a television.
Oddly, there's several different apps for accessing content on connected drives; if you want to watch a file you have on a USB, you have to open to the Movie app, but if you want to listen to music, you have to open the Music app. Stranger yet, these are separate to the baked in Play Movies and Play Music apps. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but it's a decision that makes very little sense from a usability perspective.
While Android TV can control most aspects of the 50W800C, you still have to go into a separate, non-Android TV menu to tinker options such as picture settings. It's a bit disorienting, but not a problem for the most part; it will however kill your Cast if you've got one going.
Otherwise, Android TV is a great television operating system that is - for the most part - easy to learn and use. At the very least, it should see more app support than smart TV platforms.
The TV itself
But enough about Android TV, it's time to talk about the 50W800C itself. While the 50W800C is a technically speaking a midrange TV, its design is more along the lines of what you'd expect from a more premium product. A thin elegant bezel frames the display, and the unit itself is reasonably thin.
As sleek as the 50W800C is, it's somewhat betrayed on the usability side of things by a few odd design decisions. Only one of the TV's four HDMI ports is easily accessible after setup. It's not a huge issue, but a little tedious if you - like myself - have more than four HDMI devices and cycle through them regularly. With the exception of USB, you face a similar situation with the majority of the 50W800C's inputs and outputs.
In terms of key inputs, the 50W800C has four HDMI ports, an Ethernet jack, two USB 2.0 ports and optical.
The 50W800C is an edge-lit display, and as result suffers from some minor backlight consistency issues. While there were a few small patches of clouding scattered all around the display, these were only noticeable when looking at the TV from an angle.
In fact, the 50W800C has a surprisingly small viewing angle; colours start to change as soon as you stop looking at it front on. If you're in a small living room, this shouldn't be an issue, but it means the 50W800C is a no-go if you've got two couches in an L shaped configuration for example.
For an LED TV, the 50W800C is capable of surprisingly dark blacks, even without dimming. It's not OLED black, but it looks great for the price. The trade-off is the 50W800C isn't very bright, to the point where you'll likely to need to pump up the backlight by a couple of notches for a picture that doesn't look "dull". Even after you've turned up the brightness, it's not a great fit for a room with a lot of windows if you're planning on watching during the day.
The 50W800C is capable of great picture quality, but you'll need to work for it. A lot of the preset settings hinder quality, rather than help it; a number of Sony's "auto" settings work very inconsistently, but are on by default. Auto Contrast was the biggest culprit, and would result in the entire TV suddenly becoming lighter or darker in the middle of a shot. You'll also want to turn off or tone down the TV's Motionflow settings.
The 50W800C doesn't feature a 4K panel, but at just 50-inches, there'd be very little difference over 1080p anyway.
At AUD$1,799, the Sony 50W800C is a compelling midrange TV option. While it's capable of great picture quality, there's a few issues that could be deal breakers.
The biggest is the TV's viewing angle; if you were hoping to put the 50W800C in a larger room, the limited viewing angles will result in a subpar experience for anyone not directly looking at the TV.
A smaller issue is the amount of configuration required to achieve optimal picture quality; there's no way the 50W800C will look its best without a dive into the "Advance Settings". This might not be a problem if you're to spend some time tweaking with options to find what works best for you, but it's not great if you just want a TV that's ready to go out of the box.
As a whole, the 50W800C is a great TV with a great operating system. If neither of the above issues concern you, it's worth considering if you're in the market for a midrange TV - especially if you're in the Android ecosystem.
Cybershack Score -
|Android TV||Android TV has a few odd quirks|
|Great design||Subpar viewing angles|
|Good picture quality after you've tweaked settings||You'll need to tweak picture settings a bit for the best results|