FOR Natural pictures; handles motion well; good black detail AGAINST Muted HDR picture; upscaler isn’t very impressive
Just a short while ago, 4K and HDR was the pinnacle of the spec list, available on a select few top-of-the-range televisions. Now, with more reasonably priced TVS getting the same feature list as the blow-your-bank-account sets, the midrange has seen a huge improvement in quality.
With that in mind, enter Sony’s latest KD55XE8596. At a midrange price mark, this TV gives you a natural, enjoyable picture and an impressive spec list, including 4K Ultra HD resolution at 3840 x 2160, HDR support in both HDR10 and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) varieties, and full support for the BT.2020 colour space.
Dolby Vision (HDR with dynamic metadata) is missing, but few TVS boast that out of the box. So you’ll be able to watch content at pretty much the pinnacle of what’s currently available. Amazon Video and Netflix are both here, the latter getting a dedicated button on the Sony remote (as does Google Play), but other on-demand services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are included too.
The Android Nougat OS is responsive, but the interface isn’t as clean or snazzy as Samsung’s Tizen or LG’S WEBOS. As you’d expect from an Android TV, you also get Chromecast built-in, so you can stream content from compatible apps on iphones and any content from an Android phone. This also gives it compatibility with Google Home, should you wish to shout at a speaker to get your favourite shows.
The XE8596 isn't the flashiest looking flatscreen, but the thin layer of silver around the edge of the bezel is a nice touch and the minimalist look is appealing.
Sony’s ‘cable-less’ design means you can tuck the cables into gaps in the legs of the stand to avoid tangling. Four HDCP 2.2 HDMI connections should be enough to cope with your set-top box, console and Blu-ray player needs.
The XE8596 is a good performer, but doesn’t quite set the standard at this level. On the positive side, it handles both blacks and whites well. We load up the Planet Earth II Ultra HD Blu-ray and the shadow’s gradation when the sun breaks over the red rocks of the Arabian peninsular is rather impressive.
Similarly, the XE8596 has a surprising sophistication when it comes to mountain snow. The ice under the crows, as they steal food from eagles, is nuanced with differences in tone. It’s a pretty convincing picture, without any unnatural exaggeration or enhancement.
Changing to John Wick: Chapter 2, there’s a good amount of insight to the beads of sweat on Abram Tarasov’s glistening forehead as he realises that Wick is assaulting his chop shop, and the texture of his rough beard comes across nicely.
Even without Sony’s ‘Motionflow’ motion smoothing turned on, the XE8596 handles Wick’s rapid-fire punches and brutal fight scenes with ease. Putting it in ‘Standard’ mode makes the action a little slicker, but our advice is to try it out and see if it’s to your taste.
The Sony runs into trouble when playing a lower-quality standard definition broadcast. Blu-rays are a little noisy, while standard definition programming isn't particularly detailed or sharp. It does well enough for a relatively large screen at a mid-range price, though, and the picture is perfectly watchable.
But, while the XE8596 should be applauded for its generally balanced nature, it’s let down by a lack of punch that hampers its HDR performance. In Life of Pi, the popping, luminescent glow of the islands and the roaring oranges of Richard Parker the tiger, are muted and reserved.
Playing with the ‘Live Colour’ or ‘Adaptive Contrast’ settings can coax a bit more life out of the television, but it's at the expense of the subtlety in the dark details. For everything non-hdr, the Sony’s lack of punch is less of an issue, and levels of contrast and brightness are what you’d expect of a good LCD TV fed SDR content. Sound quality on the XE8596 is decent, but nothing special. We find that ‘Standard’ mode suits most everyday viewing, while the slightly more expansive ‘Cinema’ setting is worth a go if you’re watching something more action-packed.
On the whole it’s detailed, but there’s a hint of harshness to treble-focused effects such as glass smashing. We’d recommend pairing the TV with a soundbar for the complete experience.
While the Sony XE8596 ticks all the specs boxes, it lacks the punch and contrast to make the very most of HDR content. Yes, it's pretty affordable for a 55in 4K TV, but we think it’s worth spending a little bit more to get the HDR you deserve.
“The Sony XE8596 ticks all the boxes but lacks the punch and contrast to make the most of HDR content”
The XE8596 is a decent midrange TV, but its HDR performance is a little muted Google Play and Netflix both have dedicated buttons on the remote