One criticism of early fixed pixel displays (FPD) was that they didn’t look analogue, like the CRT technology that we were all so used to. The big square pixels that made up the picture of 480p displays coined the term “screen door affect” when describing the viewable image. When viewing one of these displays it literally seemed like you were watching a TV through the screen door of a house. Compared to the smooth image of a progressive CRT display, these new digital video devices appeared unnatural, harsh, and inferior to any theatrical film or home video experience. To improve consumer confidence in these new LCD and plasma FPD video technologies, manufacturers went hard to work. Consequently, they’ve improved on reducing the pixel size, thus increasing visible detail. Even though most of today’s big screen TVs offer a 1080p resolution (1920×1080 pixel array), pixel size can be reduced further. Ultra HD 4K televisions such as Sony’s KDL-65X900 have four times as many pixels as 1080p displays. In other words, a “1080p pixel” is replaced by four pixels in the same space. The result of doing so, is greatly improved fine details with all current 1080p Blu-rays. Better still 4K TVs are ready for 4K content that’s just around the corner. As of September 2013, Sony’s 4K televisions were available in two 55-inch models – the XBR-55X900A ($4,499) and the XBR-55X850A ($4,199), as well as two 65-inch models – XBR-65X900A ($5,999, reviewed here) and the XBR-65X850A ($5,699). The key difference between the X900A and the X850A series are the side-mounted speakers available with the X900A series.
Wow – this TV is wide! When the long box arrived, it took some lengthy unpacking but the assembly was quick. The XBR-65X900A looks different from the rest. Polished in a glossy piano black finish and with built-in speakers on the sides, in the era of thin bezels, this Sony stands out as something different.
There are plenty of inputs and outputs: 4 HDMI, 1 component or 2 composite (shared), 3 USB, an RF, and a number of audio outputs. The television is thicker to accommodate my favourite LCD feature, local dimming, which dramatically improves contrast ratio because of its ability to produce deeper blacks. This TV plays bright so it’ll easily fit into rooms with sunlight. Sony claims a contrast ratio of over 1,000,000:1.
Sony’s 4K X-Reality PRO Picture Engine chip, with Reality Creation and Super Resolution processing, is designed to squeeze the most resolution out of any source. From smartphone video to Blu-ray discs, Sony’s processing will map the video to the 4K screen with the best detail. It’s user adjustable to give the best results per source.
Sony is pushing colours beyond their borders with the TRILUMINOS display feature. Our HD BT.709 specification covers about 37 percent of colours that we can see with our eyes. The TRILUMINOS display increases green and red saturation, if the source material contains it, such as the ‘Mastered in 4K’ Blu-ray discs. Being able to display more colours brings television closer to reality. Sony’s Motionflow XR 960 feature offers a judder-free image with ultra-smooth camera pans. Which of these features you choose to use and to what degree is entirely up to you. For those who love 3D movies, you’ll be happy to know that you can view full 1080p resolution 3D content thanks to the passive 3D glasses. Gamers can also view two completely different full-screen images from the same game when playing 2 player games, without the need to split the screen, by using the optional SimulView glasses.
While most TV makers now offer tiny, albeit lousy sounding, speakers built into their TV sets, Sony has done exactly the opposite with the X900A series. Mounted on both sides of the screen, Sony’s proprietary Magnetic Fluid Speakers allows big sound from six drivers in thin cabinets. The speakers look slightly crammed into the frame, but it’s a big step up from the tinny sound often offered by flat panel TVs. These speakers can also simulate 5.1 surround audio to more than one viewer. While writing this review, Sony announced the new X850A series of Ultra HD TVs which offer all of the same technology as the X900A series, without the speakers – for those who wish to use their own speakers.
Smart TV functionality promises a convenient way to view mobile content from Android devices by using a Mobile High Definition Link cable and various ways of “mirroring” your device’s picture on the big screen. You can also stream online content from the internet, through a wired or wireless connection, from Sony’s Entertainment network and made-for-TV apps such as Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Skype, etc. The X900A series also offers a web browser. Best of all, you can control the TV with your Android or iOS smartphone/tablet and learn about the programs you are viewing or become more social about them with Twitter.
For this review, I viewed the XBR-65X900A with both 4K and 1080p content. An HDMI splitter helped me compare 1080p content on this 4K TV alongside my reference Panasonic 1080p plasma television. Source materials included test patterns from an Accupel DVG-5000 signal generator and an Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player. All 4K content was delivered by the Sony POP-FMPA1 content server which was provided to me along with the TV. My viewing distance for both 2K and 4K material was 7 feet. This is my preferred viewing distance for 1080p images on 60” to 65” panels, but it may seem awkwardly close for large rooms (which is why 80”+ panels will be the norm in a few years). A 7 foot distance still takes up less field of view than sitting at the back row of a typical movie theatre – and that’s the selling point of Sony’s 4K: we can sit closer to the image if we want to without the dreaded screen door effect.
Sony’s picture controls are spread out all over the TV’s menu system. Picking the right combinations with the appropriate controls turned on or off is the key to achieving the best picture. If you’re not familiar with the Sony menu, the task can be daunting and you’re bound to miss an image-altering feature. Along with standard image controls, there are user adjustable controls for the Reality Creation, 4K Resolution and Motionflow features. The precise effect of these features cannot be done by eye alone; test patterns are needed to see the effect on all image aspects and most importantly for this 4K TV, preservation of resolution. After spending some time putting the TV’s controls through the grinder by trying every possible combination in a majority of picture modes, I finally settled on one I liked and carried on with image calibration. Using the reference Konica-Minolta CS-1000A spectroradiometer for measurements, I can confirm this TV does an excellent job at keeping grayscale at D65 from dark to bright images and its colour points very close to BT.709. Sony’s only ongoing omission is a colour management system to precisely fine tune colours for hue, saturation, and lightness. Using the HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc, this TV didn’t fare so well in the Jaggies 1 and 2 tests which means that you’ll want to do your 1080i to 1080p conversion outside of the television (as in an A/V receiver or Blu-ray player). For further calibration results, please visit the 4K TVs forum at www.canadahifi.com//forum.
My first impression when watching 4K content on the XBR-65X900A was that the picture looks analogue, very analogue. With the pixel grid reduced to a new minimum, I felt like I was watching an image less digital, rigid and coarse. When watching 1080p material from Blu-ray, the image finally had breathing room that would never be possible on any 1080p television. I noticed an increased presence of ultra-fine details that were nearly completely absent on my 1080p display. I blitzed through many episodes of The Bible miniseries on Blu-ray. The series is bright, colourful, and has become one of my reference discs. The amount of fine texture in clothing and in the background (rocks, sand and dirt) became so apparent on this 4K TV, it could have been mistaken as native 4K content. Without the pixel grid present on the 4K set, I could enjoy the image more like a film rather than video through a screen door. Looking back at my 1080p television suddenly seemed much less satisfying. Screen uniformity was very good from edge to edge. Many cheap LCD screens and plasmas cannot show the same level of white from edge to edge without some dark patches. With the LED Dynamic backlight setting set to ‘Standard’, the image was very impressive. Black level was very deep across the screen, with only a minor amount of glowing around bright objects (typical of LED local dimming displays but an acceptable trade-off to milky black levels.) The drop in black level allow me to see all of the finest shadow details that are hard to see while watching the original 1979 film Alien. I didn’t miss a detail as the Nostromo crew ventured into the dark areas of the alien spacecraft.
While watching film-based movies such as Moneyball and Men in Black, film grain structure finally looked like genuine film grain rather than an annoying artifact obstructed by a pixel grid. The XBR-65X900A delivered an absolutely rock-solid image. With true 4K content, film grain should become even more resolved. But for now, with 1080p content, film purists should be demanding these 4K sets. The conversion of 1080p to 4K is very good; the result is much more impressive than Sony’s own flagship VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector. With the correct combination of the ‘Resolution’ and ‘Mastered in 4K’ controls, I achieved a very pleasant picture with minimal horizontal and vertical edge enhancement. Using native 1080p content, the image this 4K set and my 1080p set beside it began to look similar just before 10 feet away, as the pixel grid on the 1080p display almost entirely disappeared. I chose these films because they are part of Sony’s new Mastered in 4K series Blu-ray disc collection. Sony uses 4K sources for the Blu-ray master and an attempt to ease off on the high video compression (but don’t expect perfection).
When watching 1080p 3D content, performance was quite good using the passive 3D glasses. I didn’t get as much of a headache with the passive glasses and the picture looked much brighter than that from an active glasses system. This gave 3D the punch of brightness is deservedly needs. Watching my IMAX 3D discs and clips from Final Destination 5 was fun but not a priority for me. Just know that if you are a 3D buff, this is one of the few televisions on the market that will give you a bright, punchy, and accurate 3D picture.
I’m a little tired of people saying they need to be sitting very close to notice the benefits of native 4K. Stop listening to those people, it’s simply not true. Using Sony’s 4K media server, I could see the benefits of 4K standing 15 feet back from this 65” TV. Since that’s further than most seats in a living room, that means everyone will enjoy native 4K at home. I got a hold of many of the same 4K demo clips on Blu-ray discs at 1080p, which allowed me to compare the images side by side. At closer distances, 1080p cannot remotely compete with the 4K image. Step back – way back, and the 4K image was still the clear winner with radically refined edges, contrast and depth. The image was also much cleaner from artifacts, likely to do with compression on Blu-ray discs. After seeing this, how could I not be excited for native 4K content!
After experiencing a 4K TV for an extended period of time, I’m completely sold on 4K. Since sending the review unit back, I’ve experienced somewhat of a withdrawal. Watching the Sony XBR-65X900A made me realize what I’m missing on my 1080p television. As I was completing this review, Sony announced that these sets will support HDMI 2.0 via an easy software update before the end of the year. This version will accommodate higher data rates, like 3840x2160p at 60fps, a rate that the current versions of HDMI 1.4 do not allow (max is 2160p at 30fps). Among other benefits, the higher frame rate will improve picture detail in fast moving programs such as gaming and sports. At $5,999, the XBR-65X900A is not an inexpensive purchase but realizing the picture quality it offers makes it easier to justify. And if you choose to use your own speakers, you could save a few hundred bucks by getting the XBR-65X850A model.
Mike Osadciw is a THX/ISF
Professional Video Calibrator/Instructor with The Highest Fidelity
Sony XBR-65X900A 65-Inch 4K Ultra HDTV
Price: $5,999 CAD