Sony made a huge splash with their BRAVIA-branded HDTVs back in 2007 and while the brand still exists today, it has taken a back seat as Sony continues to focus on their core TV technologies. Sony’s TV division hasn’t been doing particularly well in terms of sales but that hasn’t stopped them from innovating. Sony recently announced their new Triluminos TVs and 4K displays and they all simply look stunning. However, these high-end displays are not exactly budget-friendly and that is why Sony is bringing their midrange lineup up to speed too with the Sony KDL-50R550A representing the 50-inch category.¬
The KDL-50R550A looks like a one of those flagship TVs released a couple years ago and that isn’t a bad thing for a midrange TV. The TV has the usual rectangular form factor minus the rounded corners but the bezel is attractively thin. For a 50-inch TV that matters a lot because thin bezels really emphasize how large and beautiful the display is. The only other part of the TV is the squarish stand and it is pretty easy to install.
All of the connections located on the left and back side of the TV are organized well and easy to access. The usual component, composite, analogue RCA and optical audio out ports are present along with 4 HDMI inputs and 2 USB ports.
Gone are the days when technologies like 3D and networking were reserved for the high-end models. Although 3D isn’t exactly a technology that everyone cares about, the inclusion of 3D is still welcome. All 4 HDMI ports are 3D-enabled so any supported gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and AV receivers can take advantage. It uses the same passive 3D technology that movie theaters use so you can expect a satisfactory 3D experience. The Sony KDL-50R550A also comes with 4 pairs of 3D glasses so other folks can enjoy the 3D visuals.
The KDL-50R550A not only offers “Smart TV” functions but it also has built-in Wi-Fi so you won’t have to take out an Ethernet cable and worry about connecting the TV to the router just to take advantage of the networking features. By connecting the TV to the Internet, you can access popular streaming services including Hulu Plus, Flixster, Pandora, YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Crackle and many others. Like the way smartphones work, these services come in the form of apps so you don’t need a separate computer or Web browser to stream content to the TV.
Of course, not everyone likes the idea of using the TV remote control to access the Internet. Fortunately, the Sony KDL-50R550A offers smartphone connectivity, albeit with some caveats. For wireless connectivity, your smartphone must be Miracast-enabled. Otherwise, you will need an MHL cable that is to be connected to a smartphone that supports MHL. Once the connection is established, you can do cool things like mirror the YouTube video playing on your phone or tablet to the big screen. The advantage of using the MHL cable is the fact that it charges your phone as well. Plus, the TV remote can still control the interface.
The USB ports offer another way to check out multimedia content. Just load any USB flash drive with pictures, videos and/or music and you can play them back immediately. Supported formats include MPEG, WMV, Xvid, MP3, WMA, AAC and JPEG. Unfortunately MKV videos won’t work unless you convert them.
As a standard TV, the KDL-50R550A comes out strong in the areas that matter, namely picture quality. The Sony KDL-50R550A may not be backed by any fancy advertising jargon but the edge-lit LED display is enough to provide some beautiful 1080p visuals. Black levels pale in comparison to affordable plasma displays but it can still display some impressively bright whites. It is also possible to tweak the picture settings to achieve some very natural colors. Viewing angles are average with noticeable degradation at 30 degrees although you can mitigate that by cranking up the backlight levels. It is really the backlight that saves this TV in terms of overall picture quality.
The KDL-50R550A also features a pretty stripped down version of Sony’s proprietary Motionflow technology. With Motionflow XR 240, the TV is able to achieve some blur reduction by utilizing its 120 Hz panel and combining it with backlight strobing to achieve the 240 value. In a nutshell, this feature does a pretty good job in improving the overall look of sports programming. Other types of footage really depend on your preferences and you have 4 modes to experiment with – Clear, Clear Plus, Smooth and Standard.
Overall TV performance is pretty much the area where Sony cut corners to bring down the price to sub $1,500 levels. It is powered by a single-core processor which hampers the Internet features. The apps launch slow so it might be better to connect a modern game console or a small HTPC if you frequently stream online.
Audio quality is lackluster and that is understandable since you really cannot expect much from a pair of 10-watt speakers. But that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker since you can always buy one of Sony’s impressive sound bars that support BRAVIA Sync. Just don’t forget there is a sound booster option along with several sound modes to try out.
The official Sony store currently sells the Sony KDL-50R550A for a cool $949.99 which is an excellent deal for 2013-class 50-inch TV. The TV’s strengths (picture quality and features) are what most average consumers care about most so Sony deserves a kudos for making the right compromises. Because this is an LED TV and not a plasma or LCD TV, you also get some nice energy savings while still having that impressive picture quality. The KDL-50R550A is Energy Star compliant and features a dynamic backlight control so the TV should normally operate efficiently. On standby mode, the TV can consume as little as 0.2 watts. As long as you are not looking for the best “Smart TV” experience, the Sony KDL-50R550A is a fantastic 50-inch LED TV to consider.
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