168 Hours with Sony KDL-65S995A Curved-LED TV

Sony-KDL-65S990A-curved-LED-angle

Nearly two decades three decades ago Sony came up with a flat-screen CRT TV that is although flat vertically, it still had convex curvature on the screen. It revolutionized the display industry by minimizing the glare and reflection by quite a lot when compared to a semi-spherical shape of regular CRT TV. About a decade later, Sony once again revolutionized the display industry by producing absolutely flat CRT which further minimizing glare and reflection. This turned into a standard fare for CRT displays which then translated further into LCD and plasma panels.

Three decades later, Sony introduced an exact opposite of Sony’s first convex CRT TV… a concave LED-backlit LCD TV. Sure it may sound like a gimmick but theory behind it is quite sound, actually. With the curvature of the screen, there is now even less glare and reflection shown on the screen. Furthermore, because of the distortion of the remaining glare and reflection, it is harder for the brain to process the glare and reflection making them seemingly more negligible than they actually are resulting in a virtually glare-free and reflection-free presentation. Also, by having the curvature, viewers are more likely to sit in between the left and right frames of the TV, making the colour reproduction seemingly more solid and impactful. Most importantly, the 65” TV’s angle of curvature viewed from THX and SMPTE recommended viewing distance of seven to nine feet away is quite similar to the angle of curvature of our eyeballs which makes it easier for our eyes to focus on every single point of the screen creating the illusion of sharper image, higher resolution and causing much less eye strain especially in a gaming situation.

The above statements are actually NOT included in any Sony brochure or marketing pamphlets. Too bad actually as they are all true as they have also been corroborated by a couple of doctors of optometry (one an ophthalmologist and another is a retired professor of the same discipline). At least in theory, the curvature is nothing gimmicky but a well thought-off design. How does it translate to the real world? Read on.

As for the speakers flanking the sides of the TV, the KDL-65S995A carves its own AV niche by offering what Sony calls a Multi Angle Live Speaker.
Described as an ‘unbelievably clear, powerful surround sound experience’, the KDL-65S995A has two speakers on either side of the curved screen that are capable of providing a quasi 4.2-channel array. There are actually six speakers in total, plus two subwoofers, that make up the Multi Angle Live Speaker, which is rated at 40W in total. It’s mostly about stereo, of course, with the promised virtual rear sound effects created by Sony’s S-Force Front Surround technology. Once again, this is not just a gimmick. By having a pair of speakers physically angled forward and another angled inwards, it is easier for the S-Force Front Surround to create the illusion of surround sound just by using the front speakers. I still would not call it “surround sound” but at least the soundstage is enormous and the bass is rich and rather kicking. The sound is actually better than the old Sony monitors from two decades ago (some of you might remember that Sony used to use a subwoofer and a pair of speakers – in a separate enclosures – for their top of the line CRT TVs).

Calibrating the curved TV is also resulting in a very accurate image reproduction. Strangely enough, however, my starting point had to be from Warm1 preset as opposed to the usual Warm2 (the original manufacturer’s “custom” preset is set to Warm2 which is overly warm by almost 2,000 degrees Kelvin). Pushing the X-Reality Pro engine’s “Resolution” setting to the 40 mark (out of 100) and setting the “Sharpness” to 40 (again, out of 100) does not create visible ringing from the THX and SMPTE viewing distance. Yet another big difference than the common settings I tend to end up with on most Sony TVs (14 and 20 respectively). As a result of the ability to bring up the “Sharpness” and X-Reality Pro’s “Resolution” settings to a higher number without apparent artifacts, the end result is an appearance of higher resolution picture. “Hue” setting, just like most Sony panels are accurate at “0” (the way it is supposed to be as per ATSC standard) although the “Colour” and custom white balance needed to be adjusted rather extensively (just like any TV). “Gamma” curve is pretty solid, creating a very deep black level (for an edge-lit LED LCD display) with hardly crushing any black details below 30 IRE.

All of the above observations mean nothing, obviously, if the end result is not pleasing to the eyes. So as part of the test bench, the curved TV was brought to the TAVE Show and during its three-day course, it was viewed by nearly 2,000 people. The results? During the TAVE Show I played various scope-ratio movies (2.35:1 aspect ratio) and because of the TV’s great potential and proper calibration, close to 90% of the viewers thought the TV was an Ultra High Definition display. Furthermore, because of its capability of reproducing a black-enough black (not reddish/greenish/bluish black, and definitely not greyish black) and a relatively amazing light uniformity, more than 60% of the viewers thought the black bars at the top and the bottom of the screen when showing scope-ratio movies to be the bezel. That is quite impressive in my book!

Moving on from movie playback, Sony strangely is promoting this curved screen at IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin more towards gamers than videophiles. Because of this fact, for the first time I also use my Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3 in this test. As all the games used in this test are either in Dolby Surround or Dolby Digital, the sonic prowess of Sony’s S-Force Front Surround was pushed to its limits and listening at exactly seven feet away from the screen (as per THX recommendation) the sound emanating from these built-in speakers are spectacular. Just like the previous movie test, it is still not the full surround sound, but it is suffice for people who do not want to have a surround setup for the gaming area such as myself. The midrange is ample with very wide (but not overly wide) soundstage and just enough solid bass kicks to satisfy me.

Playing my favourite shooting and fighting games from both gaming platforms shows the true advantage of the curvature of the screen in terms of ease of focus and lack of eye fatigue. Moving in very high speed in the game “Mini Ninja” usually gives me motion sickness after about an hour of gaming, yet with this TV, without realizing, I played the game for almost three hours non-stop. I even may be able to play longer if my game playing time was not interrupted by these dreaded things called “work” and “sleep”. Shooting games such as “Ravin’ Rabbids” and “House of the Dead: Overkill” have actually become easier to play. My eyes don’t need to refocus every time I aimed to different targets in different areas of the screen. I usually had to sit around twelve feet away in order to safe my eyes from straining and fatigue but as I previously mentioned, I can now sit from seven feet away to get the same result AND feel being immersed into the game further. I literally played all of these games for too many hours to count without any feeling of motion sickness and fatigue.

Being a Disney fan, I love the shooting game “Toy Story Mania” at Disneyland California. I almost always get the highest score of the day when I play that shoot-them-up game at the park. However, the Nintendo Wii version of the game is frustratingly difficult to play because of the aiming difficulty. If I sit close to my regular TV, I get motion sickness and eye fatigue even before the first set of levels even finished and if I sit far enough to not get motion sickness and eye fatigue, I can not get the high score I want to get because some of the targets are extremely tiny (when viewing a 65” regular flat panel from twelve feet away). It got so frustrating I ended up never playing the game anymore. So when I took out this game as a test media, it is truly a test of the TV’s angle of curvature and to the ophthalmologists’ theory. What a surprise! I can sit from seven feet away – close enough to see all the targets and aim properly – and not experiencing any motion sickness and fatigue whatsoever. For the first time since I bought this “Toy Story Mania” Wii game since October of 2012 that I can play the game for a couple of hours AND reached the high score I always wanted.

So there you have it. Now I understand why Sony aimed this curved TV more to gamers than videophiles. If a non-gamer like myself can experience the advantages of the curved screen, I can only imagine the benefits for hard-core gamers who tend to play games for multiple hours on end. The only fault of Sony is by not including videophiles in their marketing plan. Even though the advantages are not as apparent as for gaming use, the video quality of this curved TV is still very clear and apparent for not only videophiles but also regular video enthusiasts.

To put it simply, if nearly 90% of the 2,000 attendees thought that this curved TV is an Ultra High Definition TV (this is right after they were shown an 85” UltraHD TV from a different manufacturers minutes prior to viewing this TV), isn’t the $4,500 MSRP pricing is worth the admission (well, you will still need to spend a couple more bucks to get the TV calibrated professionally calibrated, but that’s true with any display of any brand – but I digress).

Other Equipments Used in This Test:
Sony BDP-S5100 Blu-ray Player
Sony Playstation 3 Slim
Nintendo Wii
Medias Used in This Test:
Battleship Blu-ray
Iron Man 3 Blu-ray
Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray
Super 8 Blu-ray
Mini Ninja PS3 Game
House of the Dead: Overkill PS3 Game
The Shoot PS3 Game
Toy Story Mania Wii Game
Ravin’ Rabbids Party Collection Wii Game

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