Hands On: Sony 65X930D UHD TV

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This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.

PROS:

  • Very good uniformity
  • Can reproduce HDR and WCG
  • Rather affordable considering the performance

CONS:

  • Android OS is slow and buggy
  • Netflix and YouTube apps freeze on occasion when playing UHD files
  • Outboard power supply should never be utilized for a TV at this price

With the proliferation of UHD 4K content from major and independent studios and streaming services like Netflix, it’s clear that UHD is no fad – it’s here to stay. Sony is already on its fourth generation of UHD TVs. All of the latest models now come with full HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.2 compliance; while USB inputs (and smart TV functionalities) afford the play back of content using HEVC and VP9 codecs.

Now that Sony is deep into the UHD TV space, how do its latest models stack up? I took an in-depth look at the 65X930D XBR-series UHD TV to gauge.

The Design

Sony is proud of how thin this new TV is, but the claim that it boasts a screen roughly as slim as a smartphone is a bit misleading. The electronics to drive the panel have to fit somewhere, so while the top half of each set is as thin as advertised, the bottom half is about 1.5″ thick (without the stand). That said, that’s still a very slim-profile TV.

The TV requires an outboard worldwide power supply (100V-240V to 24V), a big no-no in any custom installer’s book, as it can get messy. I wish Sony had left the power supply inside the TV, especially for a display at its $3,700 price. Regardless, most people (myself included) will concentrate more on the TV’s performance instead of nitpicking the otherwise cosmetically beautiful TV.

The Performance

For performance tests, I used a Panasonic UB900 THX-certified UHD Blu-ray player with the Q-Tec UHD test pattern disc and several UHD Blu-ray movies, including Deadpool, Mad Max Fury Road, and Pacific Rim. For the connection, I used Panasonic’s 18Gbps certified HDMI cable.

The TV employs Slim Backlight Drive, Sony’s latest version of edge-lit local dimming. This can be confusing: why call it “backlight?” A newly-designed grid array diffuses the edge lighting uniformly across the back of the screen. This is said to offer performance, including high dynamic range (HDR), that’s competitive with full-array local dimming.

My uniformity tests using black, grey and white photo files showed uniform lighting. In fact, the set’s black, grey and white uniformities were the best I’ve seen on an edge-lit LCD. The only unevenness I noticed was a subtle darkening (commonly dubbed as a “dirty screen” effect) near the top middle edge of the screen on full-field white patterns at levels below 40-50% of peak white. On real program materials, however, there wasn’t a hint of this at all, and none of the often-seen dirty screen cloudiness that can be evident in regular viewing. With my entry-level Sony UHD TV (the X850C), the dirty screen effect is very apparent in most scenes. It’s worth the upgrade just to get rid of that annoyance.

The edge lighting of the 65″ XBR-65X930D uses Sony’s updated Triluminos colour technology. Sony used quantum dots in 2013 to achieve wide colour gamut, marketed under the same Triluminos trademark. But the company has since evolved past that into an updated colour technology for 2016 that provides an even wider colour gamut than was possible in the earlier sets.

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Out of the box, I measured that the Cinema Pro picture preset is the closest to the THX/ISF calibrated target point with Delta-E of merely -2.3 for all non-UHD/non-HDR sources. I strongly recommend consumers use the HDR Video picture preset for HDR materials so you don’t miss out on the HDR glory of the UHD format. The TV retains your preferred settings for both modes and automatically switches between them, depending on the source.

Interestingly, Sony’s bad habit of exaggerating or pushing the red colours was not apparent in this TV at all. In fact, the red levels were a tad too low. Selecting the “Live Color” option and setting it to “Low” remedied the situation. Of course for the best and most accurate result, professional calibration is always needed.

Sony’s HDR feature is called X-tended Dynamic Range Pro. That’s another trademark carried over from prior years when HDR content didn’t exist and it was used to extrapolate brighter highlights on standard dynamic range materials, turning them into pseudo HDR images. It’s compatible with the HDR10 format used exclusively on all UHD Blu-rays released to date, but not (yet?) with Dolby Vision. As of this writing, sources using Dolby Vision HDR are limited to streaming services. In Canada, the only streaming provider that uses Dolby Vision is Netflix. But I find that HDR10 is more than enough for UHD viewing, especially in a dark room. In the case of HDR, a higher dynamic range than what’s offered by HDR is not going to make a movie presentation any better, but rather only create higher peak brightness, which, in many instances, can be too blinding and uncomfortable to watch.

While on the subject of brightness, Sony has renamed some of the parameter controls on the TV to be more accurate. Rather than “Picture,” it is now called “Contrast,” the way it’s supposed to be. “Brightness” has been replaced with “Black Level.” That’s not an industry standard, but “Brightness” actually controls the black level, so I welcome Sony’s renaming of this parameter with open arms.

The TV’s off-axis viewing was better than that of most other LCDs I’ve tested this year. From a distance of eight feet, it can fully satisfy four seated viewers on a sofa. THX say that to see the full benefits of 4K over 2K on a set of this size, you must sit six feet or closer from the screen. But in some cases, this is not practical, particularly for non-dedicated viewing areas. Besides, one should remember that UHD is not only about the resolution, it’s also about HDR and WCG (Wide Colour Gamut), which can be noticeable from even 20 feet away.

Evaluation

While picture quality when watching Mad Max Fury Road and Deadpool wowed me, the TV truly shined with Pacific Rim. That film on UHD Blu-ray may just be the finest example of what the format has to offer in terms of HDR and WCG. The inky black levels of drift-dreams and the ocean floor drips in shadows, while the neon glow of Hong Kong cityscapes pop off the screen, giving the image an almost-3D quality. The wider colour gamut is jaw-dropping, regardless of viewing distance.

Watching Netflix series in native 4K using Sony’s Netflix app was a great experience as well. Imagine all the glory of the violence of Pablo Escobar in Narcos, or the ditzyness of Kimmy Schmidt in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Every detail and nuance was reproduced in all of its glory. Better yet, this TV’s optical output bitstreams Dolby Digital 5.1, so I don’t have to use the unreliable Audio Return Channel (note: ARC unreliability is inherent to the HDMI protocol, not Sony’s fault). Why is this a good thing? Most TVs nowadays, including the more entry-level Sony, only output either Dolby Digital 2.0 or PCM 2.0.

Other than the slow response of the Android operating system used by this TV and the occasional hiccups from the Netflix and YouTube apps (only when running 4K content), which are inherent to Android in general, I did not experience any problems. I can only hope that one day, Sony will stop using the Android OS. In my experience, other platforms are superior in running native apps.

It’s not a deal breaker. But if you’re concentrating more on the smart TV functionality, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But those who buy this TV will likely be enthusiasts who put more emphasis on the display performance versus the apps. And performance-wise, I highly recommend this TV.

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