The Sony Trinitron was once the Cadillac of color TVs and it was all due to just how good the picture looked so who cared how much it cost. The Sony KDL-50R550A 50” Bravia LED LCD HDTV with 3D goes a different route in that it is priced far less than its more immediate predecessors ($1399.99), thanks to some cost cutting measures. But once the 1080p resolution LED backlit panel lights up, the only problem you’ll have is deciding when it’s time to turn it back off again. If you want a slightly larger model, check out the best 55 inch smart TV.
Assembling the KDL-50R550A just required inserting the squarish stand into the back and tightening a few screws — the bezel surrounding the panel is very thin. The placement of the inputs, both on the back left and at the left side, are easy to get to and it’s appreciated that there are 4 HDMI inputs (all 3D capable) as well as 2 USB. The other inputs consist of Component and Composite for video and analogue RCA for audio, with an optical audio out. This, by the way, is more than just convenient to have, since the sound field generated by the 2 10 watt speakers at the bottom may be fine for TV sitcom and talk shows (using the “Sports” sound mode upped the clarity), but aren’t capable of providing the “big” sound needed when running a movie (no included subwoofer). So I went with a 50-inch 300 watt sound bar that could sit directly in front of the screen.
The “smart TV” functions, combined with the menus for adjusting screen characteristics (i.e., aspect ratio, contrast, color temperature, etc.) don’t follow the now familiar PlayStation 3-inspired horizontal layout many Sony electronic devices now sport. Instead it’s a series of vertical menus with text and simplistic icons. The information provided from them is concise and short: a press on the appropriate remote button bringing up what is desired, be it selecting from the USB drive or going to a premium movie site like Netflix or choosing from among the options of the Sony Entertainment Network. The value of this menu set is twofold: first it is blindingly simple to get to and choose from. Secondly, because the KDL-50R550A does not employ a multi-core processor, reactions from the remote and activation of functions from the different sections move at a normal pace rather than being slowed down due to the graphic intensity that would occur were it to have a PS3 type menu bar.A quick button press takes you to the inputs you can choose from, or to picture settings you can choose from or the “smart TV’ sections you can choose from. The “speed” of the menus never became an issue, nor did the selection exhibit any slowdown that could be related to the TV’s processing power (for example, YouTube inside of the provided web browser played videos at full speed).
But the most important aspect of the KDL-50R550A is the video image. It’s here that the KDL-50R550A shines and makes all the cost-cutting measures unimportant.
The KDL-50R550A’s screen is as bright, colorful and evenly lit as any I’ve seen — certainly on par with the more expensive Sony models that preceded it. I tried out a number of different DVDs to both test the up-conversion quality as well as its visual abilities. One in particular stood out — an advance copy of The Hollow Crown series, which contained adaptations of Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. My goal here was to see how the panel handled skin tones, although as I later found out the KDL-50R550A also proved adept at detailing the scenery and costuming. I couldn’t find any flaw in the faces of the actors — Jeremy Iron’s straggly beard being very dominating — and the detail was quite good overall, though not true high-resolution. I also found that the KDL-50R550A displayed black extremely well, regardless of where the image came from, and can’t remember when black areas of a DVD looked this good or had as much shadow detail visible (I’ll credit a lot of this to the Edge LED backlit technology). Other things also stood out — for example, the interplay of light reflecting off of the chain mail worn in scenes had excellent contrast to it.
I also played 720p digital rips on it, watched television shows taken off a set-top box as well as an over-the-air antenna and played Blu-ray discs — all displayed at their top end of the level of detail and resolution that they possessed. The same goes for streaming: Netflix could attain HD resolution with my home network and looked it; no artifact issues, no banding effects segmenting the colors. I normally would use a wired connection, but the antennas on the KDL-50R550A were broad enough to pick up and maintain a WiFi connection without any signal loss (full disclosure: the KDL-50R550A was not placed right against the wall and the wireless router’s signal was less than 30 feet away). I also had no issues leaving the screen settings at their default, although I did go and modify the contrast level slightly after a time to be more in line with my preference.
The KDL-50R550A also has passive 3D and the size of the panel helped to mitigate the loss of resolution when in effect. The simulated 3D effect came into play when I played a few PS3 games, as I could “tweak” the 3D for a pretty good effect.The HDTV’s wide viewing angle was also of aid here since any group of 2 or more will not be able to sit at the center (“sweet spot”).
Bottom line: The Sony KDL-50R550A 50” Bravia LED LCD HDTV with 3D may cut a few corners to keep the price down, but where it counts — the picture — none of that matters. The features and navigation may be less than top of the line, but what appears on the screen looks as good as any other high-end 1080p HDTV out there. And by that I mean REALLY good.