At downtown Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum today, Sony announces price and availability of Sony XBR-84X900. This 4K TV, at quadruple the resolution of regular HDTV, is Sony Electronic’s first and originally debuted last month at IFA on August 29.
4K in a Nutshell
The 4K image standard is 4096 x 2160 pixels. This represents four times the resolution of 2K digital cinema and High Definition (1080p) images. The smaller the pixel size and the greater the number of pixels in an image frame results in the ability to display more detailed and realistic images. An additional benefit of the ultra-high resolution offered by 4K systems is that their on-screen pixel size is incredibly tiny, approximately one quarter the size of pixels displayed by equivalent HDTV. The greater resolution offered by 4K enables more detailed, more realistic, more engaging images to be displayed without a visible pixel structure, even when viewed from 1:1 image distance (or in this case, viewing the 65” TV from 65” away) .
More About Sony XBR-65X900
This TV is also Sony’s first XBR line which dive into passive 3D (together with the 55” and the 84” versions). However, because of the 4K native resolution, the passive 3D can be shown in full 1080p resolution and without visible scan-line unlike its competitions. Furthermore, this TV also allows full-resolution (1080p) SimulView where two gamers can compete against each other using only one screen and each wearing a pair of passive SimulView glasses.
Unlike most TVs, Sony utilizes the cavity in the TV to install Magnetic Fluid Speaker System that produces proper sound without the usually tinny and undefined sound coming from regular TV speakers. More impressively, Sony a six-core 4K X-Reality Pro picture engine to upscale any image source to near 4K quality (on the 84” version, Sony use three dual-core chips to do the same thing). When I did an A/B comparisons between the native 4K movies provided by Sony for this review versus the upscaled picture of the same movie titles, the upconversion of a good regular-HD source were very extremely nearly indistinguishable from the 4K original source regardless of the titles I use (note: the titles I used were: Karate Kid, Total Recall 2012, Ghostbusters, Spiderman; played back using Sony BDP-S5100 BD player). As a side note, please bear in mind that even most digital projection commercial theatres are using 4K projectors from Barco, Sony and Christie (amongst others), close to 100% of the movie distributed are only in regular-HD and then further upscaled before they are being projected on the screen.
It is rather unfortunate that the TV which retails at $8,999.99 only use Dynamic Edge Lit as opposed to full-array LED backlighting. On the other hand, the choice of using IPS LCD panel makes the viewing angle to be much wider than Sony’s last year’s models. Even when I moved 45 degrees to the side, I saw none of the loss of contrast and colour de-saturation common in regular LCD panels.
What truly impresses me as a calibrator and a videophile is that the TV’s 2D greyscale and gamma performances before calibration are impressive. The tracking of its greyscale is almost perfect at Delta-E of only 0.79 (the closer to 0 the better) where most good TV out of the box Delta E are usually in the 5 to 7 area. Gamma is also averaged at 2.28, which is also very impressive considering the gamma for good consumer TVs are in the 2.6 to 2.8 range. This does not mean that calibration is no longer needed; this only means that this TV can be calibrated to near-studio-quality to at-studio-quality levels. Also with my review unit, I can calibrate the TV as per THX brightness of 45 foot-lamberts (which to me to be very bright) AND as per SMPTE brightness of 37 foot-lamberts.
With 3D, it’s another story. Delta-E value, before calibration, was a whopping 9.1 but after calibration I also can bring it down to 3.57, which is extremely good for a 3D performance. 3D brightness level is also of a very respectable 24 foot-lamberts.
Setting up the TV
After I’m completely done with my calibration, I ended up with a backlight value of 1 (to achieve SMPTE brightness recommendation) with Contrast set to 90 (like most Sony TVs usually end up with) and for the first time, I actually use LED Dynamic Control although I use the most un-intrusive mode, which is “standard”.
For the upscaling engine, there are five major controls which are Sharpness, reality Creation, Detail Enhancer, Edge Enhance and SBM (to be exact, the name is supposed to be SBM-V, which stands for Super Bit Mapping – Video). After tweaking various parameters in order to make the upscaled video to be as close to native-4K video source as possible, I find that Sharpness on 30, Reality Creation on Manual (resolution set to 14, Noise Filtering to 0), Edge Enhancement and Detail Enhancement to 0 and Super Bit Mapping to ON position yields the most natural upscaling result from any good 1080p blu-rays. In fact, the 4K upscaling quality on this TV is far superior than even Oppo BDP-105 Marvell QDEO K2H chip!!
For even better upscaling performance, Sony has recently released a number of “Mastered in 4K” discs designed to take advantage of the increased resolution and wider color range of its new 4K sets while we wait for a wider selection of genuine 4K sources. The XBR-65X900A also has a control in the Reality Creation menu designed to mirror the downconversion Sony used to author its 4K masters onto 2K Blu-ray Discs. While this can’t re-create the true resolution of those 4K studio master files, it just might wring out the best this set can do with a 1080p source. In order to have the TV’s upscaler to do this, you will need to set “Mastered in 4K” option in the upscaler option to the “ON” position. Furthermore, just switching to a wider color gamut on playback when the source is mastered to the Rec. 709 color standard, however, will merely distort the color choices made by the program producer. To make accurate use of the wider color range available on the XBR, these discs also include metadata containing xvYCC data that conveys colors beyond the Rec. 709 standard HD gamut. Given a compatible delivery chain from player to set (not all players or AVR switchers can pass xvYCC), this is said to produce a wider range of colors while remaining true to the source.
In the USA, Sony is offering an optional 4K server loaded with 10 movies (Thanks to CRTC, we in Canada can not have this unit). This 4K server is said to be compatible only with Sony’s own 4K sets, and the initial content will be updatable for a charge when new movies become available. This is not the case, however, as I have been able to play the 4K content from the 4K server to other brands of 4K TVs including Samsung and Sharp. If you live in the USA, you can also download new movies (for a price, of course) through Sony Movie Unlimited online store. For the purpose of this review, Sony provided me with a server packed with various retail demonstrations. It had several short subjects, including a clip from the remake of Total Recall and the trailer for After Earth. I did compare the Total Recall clip with the same scene on the recently released “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray version. The result of my A/B comparison between the same scene in native 4K against the “Mastered in 4K” disc of the same title being upscaled by Sony’s 4K Reality Pro Engine, the two were very close. From five feet viewing distance or nearer to the screen, I saw additional detail in the native 4K version, particularly on small facial imperfections in close-ups, but this was very much a nitpicking experience. From THX viewing distance of seven feet? The difference is extremely negligible.
As noted earlier, Sony’s “Mastered in 4K” Blu-rays offer a route to using the new XBRs’ wider available range of color even on today’s 2K Blu-ray format. At first I thought these discs produced richer color, particularly reds. On The Other Guys, for example, a bright red Prius appeared unusually punchy and deeply saturated. But at most other times the color differences on these discs, compared with their bread-and-butter Blu-ray equivalents, were elusive.
As for 3D, The XBR-65X900A is the first Sony 3DTV designed for passive glasses. Four pairs are provided with the set; extras are $10 each. They’re light and comfortable, even when worn over prescription glasses.
When passive glasses are used for 3D in conventional HDTVs, the vertical resolution seen by each eye is reduced by half, to 1920 x 540. This is not HD, though in our experience it still looks sharp. In a 4K set, however, the resolution becomes 3840 x 1080 at each eye, and while this is no longer full 4K, it’s still clearly high definition. This enhanced vertical resolution also eliminates the black horizontal lines often visible with passive 3D on 2K sets.
The Sony’s 3D impressed me even more than its currently 4K-content-starved 2D. Its crisp detail, brilliant color, and more than satisfyingly bright images jumped off the screen. I measured a peak white output of 24 ft-L in its Cinema 1 3D mode. While the black levels weren’t quite as good as in 2D, they were still respectable. There was some 3D ghosting, but it was extremely rare, it was easy to ignore. Much of my 3D viewing was performed before the 3D calibration, and even then the extended sequences I watched from The Avengers, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, Despicable Me, Wreck-It Ralph, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Pacific Rim, and Captain America, all drew me in. 3D fans who are on the fence or skeptical about the benefits of 4K, particularly on a less than IMAX-sized screen, simply must see a good demo of 3D on this set. Apart from the immersion possible from a theater-sized screen, I’ve never seen 3D in the theater (even IMAX 3D) that looked anywhere near this mind boggling.
All in all, it is an excellent set. Apart from the lack of full LED backlit local dimming, which in my experience is always superior to the edge-lit dimming, this is arguably the best LCD Ultra HDTV on the market. The jaw droppingly amazing upscaling capability together with good black levels and shadow detail, brilliant but natural color, and state-of-the-art 3D, I don’t think anybody would be disappointed
Other video equipments used for this test:
Anthem MRX-700 Receiver
Kimber Kable HDMI 19e Wires
Pioneer BDP-62FD Blu-ray Player