SONY XBR-65X900F LCD ULTRA HDTV
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.
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.
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.
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 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.