SONY XBR-65X900F LCD UL­TRA HDTV

Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Thomas J. Nor­ton

OLED UL­TRA HDTVS grab most of to­day’s head­lines. And al­though prices for OLED sets have dropped dra­mat­i­cally over the last year, they still com­mand a high premium. Even flag­ship LCD sets— Sony’s Z9D line, for ex­am­ple—re­main be­yond the price reach of many con­sumers. Sony’s new X900F LCD TVS, which are avail­able in screen sizes all the way up to 85 inches, pro­vide a more rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive. Choose the 65-inch X900F un­der re­view here and you’ll leave the store with a far smaller dent on your credit line than you would when buy­ing an OLED or a flag­ship LCD.

DE­SIGN AND FEA­TURES

Thin at the edges but nearly 3 inches deep at the cen­ter (not count­ing the stand), the XBR-65X900F is less svelte than some of its com­pe­ti­tion, par­tic­u­larly OLED mod­els. But that fact shouldn’t bother most buy­ers. Two legs at the left and right of the screen pro­vide good sta­bil­ity, though their wide spac­ing means that your stand will need to be nearly as wide as the TV for a ta­ble mount.

The X900F’S four HDMI in­puts are all HDCP 2.2-com­pli­ant, but only HDMI 2 and HDMI 3 can sup­port the full band­width (18Mbps) re­quired to pass Ul­tra HD sig­nals at 60 frames per sec­ond. As with other 2018 flat-panel TVS, the X900F doesn’t dis­play 3D video.

'The X900F ar­guably ex­ceeds OLED when it comes to near-black shadow de­tail.'

Sony’s lat­est pro­cess­ing chip, the 4K HDR Pro­ces­sor X1 Ex­treme, en­ables some of the set’s more so­phis­ti­cated fea­tures. One of the most sig­nif­i­cant is X-tended Dy­namic Range. This con­trol, which is set to High by de­fault when the X900F dis­plays high dy­namic range (HDR), con­verts the static meta­data used on HDR10 sources to dy­namic meta­data, an­a­lyz­ing and pro­cess­ing the source on a shot-by-shot ba­sis.

If you turn on X-tended Dy­namic Range when dis­play­ing stan­dard dy­namic range (SDR) pro­grams, the pro­ces­sor also gen­er­ates an HDR ef­fect. While the High set­ting was used in this re­view for all HDR sources, my SDR eval­u­a­tion was made with X-tended Dy­namic Range left at Off (the de­fault set­ting for SDR sources).

The X900F of­fers both 2-point and 10-point Ad­vanced color tem­per­a­ture con­trols. The 10-point ad­just­ment was frus­trat­ing to use since there was no in­di­ca­tion of the bright­ness per­cent­age: When I ad­justed steps 4 and 5 to cor­rect an HDR cal­i­bra­tion is­sue in the mid­dle of the bright­ness range, there was no cor­re­spond­ing change. For­tu­nately, that is­sue, even un­cor­rected, didn’t im­pact the picture. Sim­i­lar to other Sony TVS, there is no color man­age­ment sys­tem on the X900F to fine-tune the color gamut.

The X900F is a full-ar­ray lo­cal dim­ming (FALD) de­sign with mul­ti­ple zones of LED light­ing be­hind the screen. This im­proves con­trast by in­di­vid­u­ally dim­ming LED zones as the scene re­quires. Like most man­u­fac­tur­ers, Sony doesn’t spec­ify the num­ber of zones, but we mea­sured 48.

That amount isn’t par­tic­u­larly gen­er­ous— the more zones, the more ef­fec­tive the lo­cal dim­ming process— but it still of­fers far bet­ter per­for­mance than sets that use edge light­ing. (Sony’s pricier flag­ship Z9D LCDS have hundreds of FALD zones.)

Mo­tion blur is a par­tic­u­lar is­sue with LCD sets (and OLEDS as well) due to the way they dis­play mov­ing im­ages. Most

TVS have a mo­tion com­pen­sa­tion feature, un­der a va­ri­ety of names, de­signed to deal with mo­tion blur.

One form of mo­tion com­pen­sa­tion, known as black frame in­ser­tion, has been around for years and can smooth out mo­tion with­out pro­duc­ing a soap opera ef­fect. But us­ing it typ­i­cally re­sults in a sig­nif­i­cant loss of bright­ness. What Sony has done with its “Mo­tion­flow” feature is to com­bine the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the X1 Ex­treme pro­ces­sor with the set’s FALD back­light to dy­nam­i­cally vary the re­sult scene by scene and by zone. Does it work? Yes— sort of. Pic­tures look less soap opera-like than with most such fea­tures, par­tic­u­larly in the Cus­tom (1 or 2) set­ting. I’d still leave it off for movies, but your mileage may vary.

In ad­di­tion to HDR10, the X900F also sup­ports the Dolby Vi­sion and Hy­brid Log Gamma (HLG) HDR for­mats, but not HDR10+. Sony re­leased its Dolby Vi­sion up­date for the X900F just be­fore our copy dead­line. Upon in­stalling it, the set would switch au­to­mat­i­cally to a Dolby Vi­sion picture mode and dis­played a Dolby Vi­sion logo on­screen to in­di­cate a Dolby Vi­sion source. But that was only with com­pat­i­ble apps that were streamed in­ter­nally by the TV. For out­board sources such as an ex­ter­nal stream­ing box or Ul­tra HD Blu-ray player, Dolby Vi­sion can be ac­cessed only if the

The X900F has four HDMI in­puts, but only two of them can pass the full 18Mbs band­width nec­es­sary to dis­play Ul­tra HD pro­grams with a 60 fps frame rate.

mak­ers of those sources up­date their de­vices ac­cord­ingly.

Another up­date we re­ceived close to the press dead­line for this re­port was the Beta ver­sion of the Dolby Vi­sion firmware en­abling Oppo Ul­tra HD Blu-ray play­ers to play Dolby Vi­sion sources in Dolby Vi­sion on the Sony XBR-65X900F. The Dolby Vi­sion logo ap­pears at the be­gin­ning of a Dolby Vi­sion disc and the set switches to a spe­cial Dolby Vi­sion Picture Mode.

While there was no time to per­form a Dolby Vi­sion cal­i­bra­tion, the de­fault set­tings on that Dolby Vi­sion Picture Mode (apart from Mo­tion­flow, which I turned off) pro­duced ex­cep­tional re­sults.

Sony in­cludes a sat­is­fac­tory multi-func­tion re­mote con­trol with the X900F, though it isn’t back­lit and some of the but­tons are spaced un­com­fort­ably close to­gether. I found my­self ac­ci­den­tally punch­ing the TV but­ton far too of­ten, which had the ef­fect of se­lect­ing the un­used an­tenna in­put.

Based on Google’s An­droid TV, Sony’s Smart TV plat­form pro­vides all of the most pop­u­lar stream­ing apps. With Chrome­cast built-in, the X900F can also play mu­sic, videos, and pho­tos over your home net­work, and it has Mira­cast to mir­ror ma­te­rial dis­played on a tablet, phone, or com­puter screen. While the set of­fers voice-recog­ni­tion, its ca­pa­bil­i­ties are ex­tremely lim­ited un­less you sign up for a Google ac­count and Borg your­self into the Google ecosys­tem.

PER­FOR­MANCE

The Sony passed all of our stan­dard-and high-def­i­ni­tion video pro­cess­ing tests. But though it dis­played a 4K/ 60HZ/4:2:0/HDR sig­nal from a pat­tern gen­er­a­tor and from Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk, the only disc avail­able in that for­mat, in both cases the source was

lim­ited to 8-bit dis­play.

The X900F’S au­dio per­for­mance is ad­e­quate, though un­likely to cure any itch you might have for an out­board sound sys­tem or a good soundbar. (The set’s splayed legs are de­signed to per­mit a Sony soundbar to fit be­tween them.) When fed mul­ti­chan­nel DTS or Dolby Dig­i­tal sound­tracks, the

X900F only out­puts 2.1 chan­nel stereo au­dio from its op­ti­cal dig­i­tal jack, how­ever.

Some of the X900F’S im­por­tant set­tings can’t be con­fig­ured sep­a­rately for HDR and SDR in the same Picture Mode. Sony con­tends that once you’ve es­tab­lished the best set­tings for these con­trols in SDR (par­tic­u­larly Ad­vanced Color Tem­per­a­ture) they will be cor­rect for HDR. I didn’t find that to be the case, though the dif­fer­ences, while mea­sur­able, were vis­ually sub­tle. The only way to gain full con­trol of all set­tings for both SDR and HDR is to choose dif­fer­ent picture modes for each for­mat. For that rea­son, I used Cin­ema Home for SDR, Cin­ema Pro for HDR, and man­u­ally

switched be­tween them.

I spent over a week watch­ing both Blu-ray discs and streamed SDR ma­te­rial on the X900F be­fore at­tempt­ing a cal­i­bra­tion. The only changes I made from the SDR de­fault set­tings were to turn Mo­tion­flow off and re­duce the Bright­ness (back­light) con­trol from its out-of-box level of 40 where it pro­duced an in­sane peak SDR bright­ness level of 108 foot-lam­berts (370 nits) down to 10, which pro­duced just over 42 ft-l (144 nits).

There’s lit­tle that needs to be said about Sony’s su­perb video pro­cess­ing. Up­con­ver­sion of non-uhd sources to the X900F’S 3840 x 2160-pixel panel looked equal in most re­spects to a true 4K source on a 65-inch set at a typ­i­cal view­ing dis­tance.

I’m sure it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore Ti­tanic is avail­able on 4K Ul­tra HD Blu-ray with HDR. In the mean­time, I have the reg­u­lar Ti­tanic Blu-ray, which looked ex­cel­lent on the Sony. But a Blu-ray of the 2012 minis­eries Ti­tanic: Blood and Steel, a slow and soapy but beau­ti­fully shot por­trayal of the ac­tual build­ing of the Ti­tanic ship, looked even bet­ter, and was as good as any HD/SDR source I watched on the X900F. Viewed on the Sony, the show’s level of de­tail was im­pos­si­ble to crit­i­cize, and its sub­dued but nat­u­ral color ren­di­tion never dis­ap­pointed me.

An­i­ma­tion, of course, is known for vivid color, and one of my fa­vorites an­i­mated movies, How to Train Your Dragon, is a prime ex­am­ple. I’m hop­ing for a fu­ture re­lease of this ti­tle on Ul­tra HD Blu-ray, though view­ing the beau­ti­fully ren­dered reg­u­lar Blu-ray ver­sion on the X900F didn’t leave me want­ing for more.

Any down­sides to the X900F? Yes, its picture looks pro­gres­sively more washed-out the fur­ther you move away from the cen­ter sweet spot. Be­yond 20-25 de­grees and all bets are off. But this came as no sur­prise since a nar­row view­ing win­dow is com­mon to most LCD sets.

HDR PER­FOR­MANCE

It’s likely that many buy­ers of a mid-priced set such as this won’t con­sider spend­ing up to 15 per­cent of its price (per­haps more) to get it fully cal­i­brated. But even be­fore mak­ing a cal­i­bra­tion, the X900F looked su­perb with its Cin­ema Pro picture mode and de­fault HDR set­tings se­lected. I watched ma­te­rial as var­ied as Pas­sen­gers and Guardians of the Gal­axy Vol.2 on Ul­tra HD Blu-ray and The Man in the High Cas­tle and Lost in Space via stream­ing. From res­o­lu­tion to color to HDR, I was not left want­ing for more.

Af­ter cal­i­bra­tion, the hits

con­tin­ued. De­spi­ca­ble Me 3 looked crisp and de­tailed, with more vivid, com­pelling color than I’d seen be­fore from this ti­tle. The Great Wall was also awash with sat­u­rated reds, blues, and greens in both bright and dark scenes, and the Sony’s HDR per­for­mance was clearly more vivid than what I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced with OLED TVS. But that’s not sur­pris­ing since the peak bright­ness avail­able to dis­play bright high­lights on the X900F is roughly 50 per­cent higher than even the best OLEDS can man­age.

The Sony de­vi­ates from the stan­dard HDR gamma (EOTF) by be­ing darker across much of the bright­ness range than the EOTF calls for. But in ac­tual use I didn’t find this to be an is­sue. In fact, the Sony was less prone to the peak white clip­ping some­times vis­i­ble with HDR on con­sumer sets with HDR sources.

As noted ear­lier, the X900F’S FALD back­light em­ploys a lim­ited num­ber of zones com­pared with some of its (of­ten more ex­pen­sive) LCD com­pe­ti­tion. This has con­se­quences. Here’s one ex­am­ple: When bright ar­eas in the picture are ad­ja­cent to the black let­ter­box bars on widescreen films, those bars be­come slightly lighter. Also, they’re usu­ally a very dark gray with most ma­te­rial rather than the to­tally black bars you get with an OLED. The X900F also has no­tice­able bloom­ing, par­tic­u­larly when bright ob­jects ap­pear against a solid black back­ground. And be­cause high­lights are sig­nif­i­cantly brighter in HDR, both of those is­sues are more vis­i­ble in HDR mode.

The X900F’S screen fades to to­tal black when dis­play­ing a to­tally black, full-screen im­age. And on uni­formly dim scenes with only a few high­lights, the Sony of­fers su­perb shadow de­tail with­out any ob­vi­ous black crush. Star fields stand out against the dark­ness of space as long as there are no large, bright ar­eas (such as a planet) in the same shot. An acid test for shadow de­tail, the en­tire last act of Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows Part 2 has never looked bet­ter on any set I’ve tested, OLED mod­els in­cluded, than it did on the X900F.

CON­CLU­SIONS

I’ll ad­mit to be­ing an OLED fan. But Sony’s XBR-65X900F comes very close to that tech­nol­ogy in im­por­tant ways. The Sony’s back­light-re­lated bloom­ing and off-cen­ter uni­for­mity is­sues are some­thing you don’t see with OLED, and it can’t match OLED'S con­sis­tent black depth. But the X900F ar­guably ex­ceeds OLED when it comes to near-black shadow de­tail. It also equals OLED tech­nol­ogy when it comes to color and res­o­lu­tion and ex­ceeds it with punchier HDR high­lights. Com­bine those ben­e­fits with a price roughly a third lower than OLED for com­pa­ra­ble screen sizes and you have an LCD Ul­tra HDTV well worth se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion, even for an OLED fan like me.

The Ver­dict

The new Sony XBR-65X900F is no Oled-killer, but it of­fers Oled-like ben­e­fits at a rea­son­able price.

Sony's re­mote does the job, but it's densely packed with but­tons.

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