Sony goes Android with its TVs, and shows that edge-lit LED-LCD TVs can still hold their own in many regards.
One of the best things that’s happened in TVs over the last couple of years is that many of the manufacturers have abandoned their own increasingly creaky proprietary operating systems and shifted over to something smarter. In Sony’s case, it is Android, the same OS that powers more than half the smartphones on the planet.
In the case of the Sony Bravia KD-55X8500C TV, that Android is packed into a very handsome television. The black frame seems thinner than it actually is — the body occupies just over 13mm more space to the left and right of the picture, and the same above. The desktop stand is also slim and holds the TV down low, so a sound bar is unlikely to sit comfortably in front of it.
Sony specifies the depth of the TV, sans stand, at 60mm, but near the edges it’s only 20mm deep, so it seems much slimmer.
The UHD panel uses Sony’s ‘Triluminous’ technology. It is LED edge-lit. The image processing is by means of Sony’s 4K Processor X1, with detail enhancement, dynamic
contrast enhancement and precision colour mapping.
Sony says it supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) video with its various abilities — we await source material for this, however. Netflixis already streaming some HDR material to those blessed with NBN-level bandwidth, YouTube to follow, and UHD Blu-ray the only option for those wihtout NBN, but having a very cautious launch.
There are four HDMI inputs, all HDCP 2.2 and capable of supporting signals up to 4K at 60p. Three USB sockets (one USB 3.0) provide for hard disk recording, the addition of an optional camera, plugging in flash drives, and keyboard/mouse. The TV supports dual-band Wi-Fi. If placed close to a wall, you’ll need a 90-degree plug on your Ethernet cable if you wish to have your network connectivity wired.
The TV supports 3D, but no 3D glasses are included with it. Even though they are active shutter models, they are relatively inexpensive at $49 RRP and weigh just 36 grams.
After the initial automated set-up there are, of course, still things you should do for good picture quality. You must start by zeroing the ‘Sharpness’ control, which defaults in the ‘Standard’ picture mode to 60 on a scale of 100. Otherwise there’s nasty haloing and edginess and a very tiring picture. (Why use ‘Standard’ picture mode and not one of the ‘Cinema’ options? Because the latter use a different colour temperature, resulting in a more difficult to adjust colour misbalance.)
Having done that, something was still wrong with the test pattern. There was very little to no ghosting, but the long diagonal lines on the test pattern had become much narrower than they were supposed to be. This, it turned out, was due to the ‘Reality Creation’ process used by the TV. This seems to be the principle control by which mapping from 1080p signals to the UHD panel occurs. Switching this off returned the diagonals to their proper width, but at the cost of them appearing with their natural level of relative fuzziness. Indeed, aside from this the process was pretty good at sharpening things up. If you’re sitting fairly close to the TV, you might like a bit of Reality Creation. There’s a manual setting so you can compromise on the amount.
Another thing I’d have liked to fix was the ‘Contrast’ control level. When maxed out it was still insufficiently high. A quick reminder: in TV talk the ‘Contrast’ control adjusts the brightness at the white end of the scale. Feeding the TV with RGB at video level or with component video via HDMI, the full white test band was markedly duller than the ‘whiter than white’ band. That typically will not have much effect on picture quality (since whiter than white does not appear in normal program content) other than leaving the picture a little less bright than it could be.
But, but — HDR to the rescue? While we can’t test the HDR function with HDR material (we don’t have any yet), the TV nevertheless has an ‘HDR’ picture modem and our contrast issue applied to every picture mode except the HDR one. Using this, full white was clearly brighter than the other picture modes. A test pattern revealed why — with the default contrast setting the brightest six of the greyscale bars on the test pattern (out of 21 from full white to full black) were crushed into the same brightness as whiter than white. I fiddled with this for quite a while. Dragging the Contrast control down from its Max setting to 68 eliminated the crushing. But the Gamma level seemed out. Despite pushing it to the Max setting, the TV now seemed a bit dark in what should have been midbrightness scenes. This actually enriched the colours, but I doubted the accuracy. So I’d suggest leaving the HDR mode to view HDR material when available.
Being an edge-lit LCD model, you won’t see OLED levels of black from this panel. But what it did do was provide extremely good subjective levels of black, even during dark scenes. Importantly, there was no back-light mottling, so the blacks were very even, and that permitted the improved revelation of low light detail. When scenes faded to full black, the TV smoothly ramped down the edge backlighting to full black as well, and brought them back up again instantly as required. All that improves the subjective impression. Do note: if you leave the dynamic contrast processing switched on, there will be a little brightness pumping, particularly noticeable in dark scenes in ‘Game of Thrones’ (i.e. much of the show) as candles flickered and moved in and out of frame.
The TV has a motion smoothing system called ‘Motionflow’. There are several options for this, including a ‘Custom’ mode for tweaking. ‘Standard’ mode seemed optimal — this eliminated the nastiest juddering without adding noticeable gloss to the picture or any other distortion. The ‘Smooth’ mode overdid things a little.
Gamers rejoice! This is a great TV for you. It does its picture processing with remarkably little delay, with the picture lagging real time by only 68.5 milliseconds in ‘Standard’ picture mode, despite the use of a motion smoothing system.
(That’s just a little more than half the delay imposed by many big-brand TVs. (And for faster still, the ‘Game’ picture mode brings that down to 36.5ms, among the fastest we’ve seen in a UHD TV. Perhaps as the company producing one of the two top-selling games consoles, Sony has an incentive.
You won’t need to make an adjustment if your AV receiver supports auto lip sync, because the TV also supports this.
The TV comes with an RF touchpad controller in addition to a traditional IR remote control. The touchpad unit includes a microphone for voice searches. The touchpad function works at least as well as any other brands and better than most, but is far less effective than those which control an on-screen pointer via movement of the remote. So that makes it slower to navigate.
You can plug in a mouse and keyboard, but mouse control was inconsistent. It didn’t work on the home screen, but did quite effectively in most apps. In the Opera web browser, for example, it would click on links, but couldn’t be used with the on-screen keyboard to enter text, so you still need a physical keyboard, or you’ll be picking out letters one by one with the Sony remote.
It’s never quite certain what voice control will actually give you with a TV, the depth of these systems varies enormously. I started with a simple command of ‘Volume up’. Since it uses Google’s voice recognition engine, the response was fast and accurate; the TV showed ‘volume up’ — but didn’t respond by increasing the volume, instead offering some Google play Movies and TV recommendations, starting with Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac, Part 1’. Hmmm. It seems to be entering search terms only, not control commands.
So it turns out that Android makes a very effective OS for a TV, and has the built-in advantage of supporting Google Cast and a relatively extensive app store. Happily, all this is packaged into a mostly very good UHD television, though providing that little extra contrast ratio would allow full white to go to actual full white.