Sony XBR-65X900A 3D LCD Ultra HDTV Page 2

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.

2K Comparisons
For a side-by-side comparison, I fortunately had two first-tier 60-inch plasma sets in house: Samsung’s new PN60F8500 and a Pioneer Kuro PRO-141FD. The latter was the top model in Pioneer’s last generation of plasmas (2009), which many experts still consider the flat-screen HDTV to beat in some important respects, particularly black level.

713sonytvv.rem.jpgI’ve already noted a minor blue shift on the darkest scenes from the Sony. Two other viewers also commented that the Sony’s fleshtones had a hint of green in them, though I didn’t agree. The Pioneer has its own minor color issue, with a visible (though not always) light red tint on a totally black screen and in the black bars on widescreen movies. None of these deviations on either the Sony or Pioneer was serious, but the Samsung triggered no criticism of its color at all. For that reason alone it won the color faceoff by a nose.

With the Sony’s upconversion of the source material to 4K, utilizing the set’s smaller pixels, you might expect it to score a walk-off home run in resolution. But it didn’t. On much of the material I watched, it was the softest looking of the three displays, even with optimum settings of its many resolution-altering controls (it has five, actually—Resolution in the Reality Creation menu, Sharpness, Detail and Edge Enhancer, and SBM—while the other two sets made do with a plain vanilla Sharpness adjustment). But softest does not mean soft. And the better the source resolution, the closer the three sets looked. The Avengers, the new Total Recall, and Battle: Los Angeles, for example (the latter two are from Sony’s new “Mastered in 4K” disc releases, mentioned earlier), were some of the sharpest transfers auditioned. They looked terrific on all three sets, and while the Sony never came out on top in the subjective resolution department (the Samsung did), its overall picture struck a pleasing balance of fine detail and creamy smoothness—a difficult combination to achieve.

Plasmas have a particular form of video noise called dithering, and when you’re very close to the screen, you can see it as a restlessness in the pixels—almost a squirming effect. Both the Samsung and the Pioneer had this (most obvious in the latter), and while it was invisible to me from several feet away on either set, some viewers are more sensitive to it. LCDs on the other hand, the Sony included, offer a “quiet” picture with no visible dithering at any viewing distance. Both plasma panels also generated a low-level buzz, but this was easily drowned out at any reasonable sound level. The Sony produced no odd noises.

Plasmas in general, and these two in particular, have no picture degradation off axis and no significant motion blur. LCDs, like the Sony, are less good in either regard. I found the XBR’s off-axis performance somewhat worse than on previous Sony sets, though at up to 20 degrees off axis (three viewers on a sofa about 8 to 10 feet away), most viewers won’t be bothered by the minor color fading and loss of contrast. But this worsens progressively at wider angles.

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I wasn’t bothered by the Sony’s motion blur on most normal program material, even without Motionflow. I saw the blur clearly only on test scenes and patterns specifically designed to show it. But without frame interpolation, or brightness-robbing dark frame insertion, all LCDs produce at least subtle motion blur. This will inevitably reduce the resolution (and the benefits of 4K) on material with a lot of motion.

With the three sets adjusted for equal peak brightness on a window pattern, the Sony actually looked dimmer than the Samsung and the Pioneer on material of average brightness. But with the changes to the Sony’s settings discussed earlier, which made the Sony about 20 percent brighter on peak white than the plasmas, the three sets actually looked equally bright on most movie scenes. In this configuration, the Sony kept up with the other two sets nearly step for step in both black level and shadow detail. It was, for example, hard to fault in dark scenes from The Hobbit and The Avengers. Only on the most challenging material, such as the darkest scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 or Prometheus, did the Pioneer significantly beat the other two sets. The Pioneer’s strength is that it never put a foot wrong on any dark, difficult material I used to challenge it. Keep in mind, however, that the Pioneer is the dimmest of the three sets and has no additional linear output available beyond what was needed for these tests. While its peak brightness was more than sufficient for a dark or dimly lit room, the Samsung had brightness in reserve, and the Sony was simply loafing.

4K and FauxK
By the time this review hits print, Sony should be offering an optional 4K server loaded with 10 movies. This server will be compatible only with Sony’s own 4K sets, and the initial content will be updatable for a charge when new movies become available. The company was not able to provide us with such a thoroughly loaded server for this review but did send along a small server designed for retail demonstrations. It had several short subjects, including a very short clip from the remake of Total Recall and the trailer for After Earth. All of this looked outstanding, even if some of the clips had outrageously over-the-top colors rarely seen in real life beyond trade shows.

Fortunately, the brief film clips were more realistic. I did compare the Total Recall clip with the same scene on the recently released “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray version. Despite some matching and synchronizing issues that made the comparison less definitive than I would have liked, the two were very close. From a foot or two nearer to the screen than I prefer, I thought I saw additional detail in the native 4K version, particularly on small facial imperfections in close-ups, but this was very much a “now you see it, now you don’t” experience. The earth didn’t move under my feet as I switched back and forth—even here in California.

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. We’ll have more to say about these “Mastered in 4K” releases in the near future.

3D to Die For
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 relatively rare and came and went so quickly, 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, A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me, Wreck-It Ralph, Avatar, Life of Pi, Captain America, and Rise of the Guardians all drew me in. 3D fans who are on the fence (or skeptical) about the benefits of 4K, particularly on a less than Jumbotron-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 compelling.

Conclusions
I’ve been relatively picky about this new Sony, but make no mistake, it’s an excellent set. Apart from the lack of full LED backlit local dimming, which in our experience is superior to the edge-lit dimming offered here, this is arguably the best LCD HDTV of its size—Ultra HD or not—that Sony has yet produced.

Only with extended exposure to more 4K material than we have today, on sets of a size likely to show a significant benefit to 4K (I suspect this will be more than 65 inches), are we likely to know whether or not 4K is something we can’t live without. But despite this, and the XBR’s high sticker price, early adopters who want to bring home 4K, together with good black levels and shadow detail, brilliant but natural color, and state-of-the-art 3D, won’t be disappointed.

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COMMENTS
SirPoon's picture

Thanks for a detailed review. Do you have the detail calibration settings? 2D and 3D?

Thanks!

maj0crk's picture

The sentence that begins "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." reminds me of earlier advertising claims by all manufacturers called "Deep Color." I've not heard this claim for some time. Has "Deep Color" been reintroduced to us under the 4K banner? If so, why haven't you referred to it in your 4K reviews to date?

JustinGN's picture

I think what they're referring to is the actual use of xvYCC/Deep Color by letting the user swap color gamuts on the set itself. I remember PC monitors that supported such a wide gamut had a "sunburn effect" on human skin until color management systems allowed them to process sRGB accurately again, and I think this is a similar setup here. Without having an actual set and instrumentation, this is speculation, but it sounds like the set uses a wide color gamut by default (xvYCC/Deep Color compatible) while using the on-board processor to adjust the image into Rec. 709 should the user desire it.

As for Deep Color coming back under 4K, it makes sense from a marketing standpoint (more color AND resolution? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY, say the serial upgraders). Unfortunately, HDMI doesn't have the bandwidth for both 4K and xvYCC, hence why it was (if I'm reading the article right) passed via a metadata table instead of hard coded into the video stream of the testing material. From a practical standpoint, more color may not be a good idea for living room display; Rec. 709 covers a pretty sizable spectrum as is, and I'm not seeing any producers using the expanded color gamut in digital video (or even in gaming, which seemed a ripe prospect for xvYCC many years ago with the PS3).

aleksandr's picture

excellent review with no bias.

Jarod's picture

More hi-end sets need to have better speakers like the XBR-65X900A appears to have. I have a dedicated HT but in my living room I just have my Pioneer Kuro that comes with the removable soundbar. One of the best sounding tvs ive ever heard. Why dont more companies do that? Even though some people will add a surround sound and never use the internal speakers many live with the tvs internal speakers and more sets need to not try to cram those little speakers in the tiny bezels of the flatpanels of today.

JustinGN's picture

I'm torn. On the one hand, I love the idea of better speakers on the sets themselves, especially for smaller installations like bedrooms or living rooms outside the theater itself. On the other, I loathe such large speaker installs on my sets, because I use my external speakers only.

For TVs of this price range, I'm shocked detachable speakers are no longer an option. Those speakers add so much weight to the set, that I'll need a brand new mount and entertainment furniture for it if I were to buy one. Bleh!

Speakerphile's picture

" As with the other flat-screen sets we’ve tested (and we only added this test recently), if you connect a source with any form of DTS or Dolby Digital multichannel audio directly to an HDMI input, the Sony will only give you two-channel PCM audio at its TosLink optical digital audio output. This may be a concern if you plan to connect a multichannel powered soundbar to this output."

You made this claim with the 55W900A as well, but you were wrong. Are you sure this set actually lacks the ability to pass DD or DTS through optical from an HDMI source?

Thomas J. Norton's picture
You argue that we were wrong but offer no details as to why.

To perform this test we fed both DTS and Dolby Digital audio into each set over HDMI. The set's Toslink output was fed into an Integra pre-pro that indicates either DTS or Dolby Digital on its front panel display when it receives such a signal. The only indication we received was "Dolby Pro Logic II," which indicates a 2-channel mixdown over Toslink.

We provide all of our reviews to manufacturers prior to publication to offer corrections for any factual errors Sony did not contest these results.

Speakerphile's picture

The manual for both models states that they support output of "Dolby Digital" via the optical output. I am not disillusioned enough to think the manual couldn't be wrong, but it would be somewhat surprising if they got it wrong on both. Maybe there was something wrong with the review sample? It would be one of few models that offer this feature, which makes it substantial. Would you guys be willing to investigate this with Sony?

JustinGN's picture

I'm just going to swipe this from Mr. Norton real quick...

The manual isn't wrong, but it isn't entirely right either. Technically the sets do pass Dolby Digital...so long as it comes from the ATSC tuner built into the set itself. As was explained, when they sent a DD & DTS signal over HDMI into the display, the TOSLINK output only output PCM stereo, rather than the DD/DTS track being sent from the source component. If they had switched to a terrestrial antenna for testing, and picked up a channel using Dolby Digital for audio, the display would've output the signal fine.

Short version: the displays do support output of Dolby Digital, but only when used with a specific source, in this case being the ATSC/Antenna input.

bsd107's picture

OK, I just bought a 65x900 two weeks ago. As my Sony 5300ES AVR does not support ARC, and my family greatly prefers to use the TV itself to switch between components (I.e. have all my devices connected directly to the TV via HDMI, I was greatly interested im the answer to whether surround is passed through the TV.

What I have found is the following, using my devices connected via HDMI to the TV, and using optical out from the TV to the AVR:

XB360 Slim: the AVR sees DD5.1 or 2-Channel PCM.
PS3 Slim: the AVR sees DD5.1 or 2-channel PCM.

Any game or movie disk on either sends DD5.1 to the AVR, and I have verifies that I am indeed getting discrete audio to the rears (not simulated).

Using the PS3 HDMI setup (I think it's called "Video Settings", the PS3 reports the TV as being both DD5.1 and 2-channel PCM capable. Standard DTS is not selectable, which I think means the TV is reporting that is not compatible with DTS.

One key point: I have the TV configured to use external audio and NOT the internal speakers (which get disabled in this mode). That may be a key requirement to pass through DD5.1.

Note also that I received an updated firmware as soon as.I installed the TV. Possible that this changed the audio passthrough, but my bet is that you did not defeat the internal speakers when testing.

I have not used the TV's built-in tuner at all, so I can't speak to that.

Hope this helps. I know I was thrilled to find the DD5.1 being passed through, as it will hold me off until I can get a HDMI 2.0 AVR.

MrSatyre's picture

"Pause bug". That's a good one. I'll have to remember that. Thanks!

Nikotod's picture

Great review! Thank you!
I'd really appreciate SHARP LC-90LE757E review :)

Thomas J. Norton's picture
Sony is touting the capability to display x.v.Color (also known as xvYCC) in its new 4K sets, but that's not the same thing as Deep Color. Nor is it as yet certain that a new 4K delivery system will include either x.v.Color or Deep Color.

x.v.Color produces color beyond the current HD standard Rec.709 color gamut. Deep Color increases the number of bits used to represent color. Our current consumer system uses 8-bits per color (8-bits each for red, green, and blue). Deep Color uses 10-, 12- or even 16-bits per color. While there has been talk about providing such enhancements in a 4K format, the number of total bits required to add x.v.Color and Deep Color to 4K will result in a huge increase of data over a 4K system that otherwise adheres to our current HD standards. Whether or not this will be possible without creating other issues is still an open question, given the added compression required. More compression brings its own tradeoffs.

JustinGN's picture

I like the idea of xvYCC color being presented as metadata, rather than hard-encoded into the video stream (which, as you mentioned, would dramatically increase the bandwidth necessary). Would it be as accurate as the raw stream being encoded in xvYCC? Likely not, but if the mastering and compression software doesn't botch the job, it could be an interesting way of increasing fidelity of the picture on supported displays/sources without completely redefining HDMI again (though aren't we due an HDMI 2.0 spec any time now?).

Thomas J. Norton's picture
JustinGN, thanks for the clarification. That's entirely possible. For buyers who use on-board HD tuners this will be a useful feature. But these days few viewers use these tuners, so we don't test them in our reviews. Nor to our knowledge does any other review publication. And even if we did such tests it wouldn't tell a buyer how the set's tuner would perform under his or her unique reception conditions.

In future reviews I'll clarify that we're testing for the pass-through of DD or DTS from an HDMI input to the Toslink output.

JustinGN's picture

Oh, I found the review perfectly clear, though I suppose it's only because I'm all too familiar with that problem myself from my early foray into digital AV with HDMI; I can see how it's an even bigger problem today with the prevalence of soundbars.

Great review otherwise, well worth the read! Despite its immense value, I'm going to have to take a rain check on this Sony set and wait for either DP 1.2 MST support (unlikely) or an HDMI spec supporting a base 60Hz refresh rate at the 2160p resolution of the panel. It just feels like a bad idea jumping into 4K when you'll be limited to 24/30Hz, depending on the signal being passed (since I'm a gamer, that's a larger point of contention to me).

Macahan's picture

Right now I have a chance to buy the Sharp Elite Pro60X5FD new in the box, or I could get the sony. I'm not interested in 4K at this time and both tv's cost $5,000. What would you guys do in my place?

thecubsman's picture

I love this review, the details...
And especially the calibration report that's included! I know all panels are different, and one may still need professional calibration even after tweaking to these specs...but it's a good start!

I've looked all over, and can't find anything close to these calibration reports for the 850A...
Anything that doesn't just seem like someone's best "eyeball estimate"??? If anyone has similar calibration report for the 850A, I'd sure appreciate direction to that!

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