Last year’s 900E series was Sony’s hottest television, offering the best price-to-performance ratio amongst the entire Sony TV line-up. How does the latest model stack up? I took an in-depth look at the 55X900F XBR-series UHD TV to gauge.
It’s amazing that, following last year’s X900E series, this new F series still uses Full Array Local Dimming LED lighting, which translates to amazing blacks. Although the “merely” 48 zones can, in some cases, create blooming, as if you’re watching dark scenes in horror movies. At least when you’re watching 21:9 movies, the black bars will be very nearly absolutely black; even in a darkened room.
Alas, also like last year, 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 in a literal sense. I wish Sony had left the power supply inside the TV. Regardless, most people (myself included) will concentrate more on the TV’s performance instead of nitpicking the otherwise cosmetically beautiful TV. That said, I do have one more quibble: I don’t understand why Sony moved away from the clean look of the 900E stand to the duck-feet styled stand of the 900F. But it could simply be a matter of personal preference, so I’ll digress.
For performance tests, I used a Panasonic UB900 THX-certified UHD Blu-ray player with the UHD test pattern generated from Murideo’s ISF-certified pattern generator and several UHD Blu-ray movies, including Insidious – The Last Key, Dark Tower, and Despicable Me 3. For the connection, I used Panasonic’s 18Gbps certified HDMI cable.
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 at this price level. I hardly even noticed the extremely subtle darkening, which is also commonly dubbed as a “dirty screen” effect on full-field white patterns at levels 40 and 50 IRE of full white. On real program materials, however, there wasn’t a hint of this at all. Even with slow moving and still images, I couldn’t find it.
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 -1.8 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. Too bad, however, if you customized a preset on an input. The preset won’t be saved for a different input so at the very least, you will need to jot down all the settings and copy them for a different input. It is sadly a very time consuming process. It took me only about 30 minutes to calibrate the TV using my calibration tools, but I had to spend approximately the same amount of time to jot everything down and re-enter the values to all five inputs (well, there are four HDMI inputs plus streaming).
Sony’s bad habit of exaggerating or pushing the red colours is present with this TV (oddly, it wasn’t evident in last year’s model), making professional calibration a must.
As this year’s model employs the X1-Extreme chip, the TV now carries X-tended Dynamic Range Pro. It is used to extrapolate brighter highlights on standard dynamic range materials, turning them into pseudo HDR images in a very convincing way. It’s compatible with the HDR10 format used exclusively on all UHD Blu-rays released to date, and ALSO with Dolby Vision.
4K upscaling is another area where this TV performs well. Last year, the 900E used the X1 processor, but this year, Sony upgraded the 900F by using X1E processor. This is the same processor used by Sony’s top-of-the-line A1E OLED and Z9 LCD. This upscaling engine is the absolute best I’ve every seen. Pixel interpolation, 8-bit to 10-bit colour mapping, and dynamic range remapping are all astonishingly amazing. The colour volume is also reproduced very convincingly. Even watching Rose McIver in iZombie was fun, despite the fact that I was viewing the upscaled skin and clothing textures of the various cast members.
While picture quality when watching any one of my UHD Blu-ray discs wowed me, the TV truly shined with Despicable Me 3. That animated movie on UHD Blu-ray is one of the finest examples of what the format has to offer in terms of HDR and WCG. The inky black and the blue skies, while the unique yellow colour of Minions, pop off the screen, giving the image an almost 3D-like quality. The wider colour gamut is jaw-dropping, regardless of viewing distance.
Watching Netflix series in native 4K using the app was a great experience as well. Imagine all the funny zombies in Santa Clarita Diet, or the back-stabbing characters in Dynasty. 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 inherently unreliable HDMI Audio Return Channel.
Other than the slow response of the Android operating system, which is inherent to Android in general, I did not experience any problems. I still hope that one day, Sony will stop using the Android OS. In my experience, other platforms are superior in running native apps. For $2,000 and this level of performance, even for a videophile like myself, I’m not sacrificing much. I’d have to spend almost triple the amount to get something that is noticeably better than this TV. If not for the duck-foot stand, which makes it impossible to fit the TV on my armoire, I would have purchased this TV instantly.
• Excellent uniformity for the price
• Implements the best video processor in the industry
• Unfathomably affordable considering the performance
• Android OS is still somewhat slow
• TV stand is ugly
• Outboard power supply is gigantic