Sony Unveils XBR-Z9D TVs, Demos Advanced HDR Processing and Backlighting

Late this summer, or shortly thereafter, Sony will attempt to upend the way we look at UHD and high dynamic range (HDR) with its new Z9D series of premier Ultra HD. Don’t look for them at Joe’s Video down the street, however, but rather in premier outlets such as Magnolia (located in or adjacent to selected Best Buy stores) and custom installers. They’re also likely to find their way into more than a few professional facilities.

These new sets, which will be available in 65-inch ($6999), 75-inch ($9999) and 100-inch (price TBD) sizes, won’t replace the current XBR 900-series in Sony’s lineup, but will become the flagships of the company’s Ultra HD offerings.

The new sets employ highly refined full-array backlight technology that Sony calls Backlight Master Drive, together with a new 4K HDR Processor X1 Extreme. The latter is said to be 16x more precise when processing HDR content and 64x more precise with SDR material.

The Z9D’s advanced backlighting is said to put a more tightly focused beam onto the LCD panel, minimizing blooming around bright objects against dark backgrounds. The LED backlight clusters are also individually controlled, rather than the looser control typically offered in local dimming in which the LED clusters are modulated as groups of several clusters. In other words, if we’re understanding this correctly, each LED cluster is its own zone, rather than a number of clusters being grouped together and controlled as multi-cluster zones. But the number of LED clusters in the Z9D sets weren’t specified.

In short, the Z9Ds are claimed to offer brighter whites, darker blacks, and a wider color gamut. No specific numbers were given for how wide that actual gamut can extend, or what the peak brightness will be, but it was implied that the latter will go significantly beyond the 1000 nits available from current top-of-the-line HDR sets.

Other Z9D features will include Sony’s object-based, HDR Remaster feature, which analyzes each object in each frame individually. The advanced data processing is also said to be capable of removing noise from the image without losing detail. Sony also includes the latest version of its Super Bit Mapping in the Z9Ds, using frame-by-frame processing to minimize or eliminate visible banding. As with Sony’s current HDR sets, however, the Z9Ds will not support Dolby Vision, but only HDR10.

The assembled press was given several convincing demos of the Z9Ds’ capabilities on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, CA, near Hollywood. The sets certainly looked liked they offer impressive advances, though like most promotional demos, some of the material presented in our first-look on the 100-inch version appeared overdone for maximum impact. However, other demos in Sony’s Digital Motion Picture Center—a facility on the Sony lot designed to educate filmmakers about getting the most out of HDR—were more convincing.

A side-by-side comparison with an OLED from LG and Samsung’s current premier set, the 65KS9800, certainly showed the Sony in an impressive light. All three displays were said to be set up in their non-calibrated, Standard Picture Modes. While that’s certainly fair in avoiding the appearance of skewing the result, we know from experience that out-of-the-box settings don’t often show a set at its best. My upcoming review of the Samsung 65KS9500, for example, indicated that while it’s certainly watchable in its (largely default) Standard HDR mode, a tight calibration can improve it significantly. Whether the same can be said for the LG and, in particular, the new Sony, is hard to say.

But even as presented, the Sony Z9D certainly looked the part of a state-of-the-art challenger. We hope to get the chance to have a closer look at one for ourselves when it hits the street.

hk2000's picture

"Whether the same can be said for the LG and, in particular, the new Sony, is hard to say."
No it's not hard to say!! You review TVs all the time, how many TVs have you reviewed that did not improve significantly with proper calibration?
I encourage anyone curious about Sony's new TV series to read the AVSForum article- much more comprehensive and useful.

Warrior24_7's picture

I've already seen the X85D on sale at Frye's for $7999.Iv'e read some reviews on that TV and they were VERY mediocre to poor considering the size and price. The only good thing about it was that it was the largest and best 4K TV you could get at that price. But,you could definitely get a smaller, "better", less expensive, 4K TV from the same company. Now the top of the line goes from 65-75, then 100 inches in size. With the 65 outclassing the 85 for the same price!

pw's picture

Yikes! I will never buy another Sony TV or anything.

The Customer service was poor to scam level. My HD XBR failed and apparently Sony Customer service is now in Boca Raton Florida.. so they owe the consumer nothing due to that states laws. Just a scamming crabby company now.. and the fact that Sony is attempting to enter the High End stereo game with a $10,000 pair of loudspeakers is laughable..

Thomas J. Norton's picture

There’s no simple answer to your question about how many sets we've seen that haven't been significantly improved by calibration. The entire calibration process, starting with setting the basic controls and continuing on to a full color calibration, often yields a pronounced improvement. But more than half of this improvement typically comes from proper setting of the basic user controls (Brightness, Contrast, Backlight, etc.). In the comparison we saw neither the basic controls nor the color controls were altered beyond placing each set to its Standard Picture Mode. Sony simply chose to do the latter, and this appears fair on the surface. But there’s no guarantee that this will show off each set at its best. Each manufacturer will have its own ideas about what a correct picture should look like in its default settings, and the latter are rarely technically correct.

In addition, proper calibration of a 4K in HDR has introduced a steep learning curve that we’re all—reviewers, calibrators, and industry pros alike—doing our best to climb. I’ve only done one HDR calibration so far—on the same Samsung model used in the face-off. While that set certainly doesn’t look bad in its Standard HDR mode sans calibration, it isn’t even close to offering its best performance in that configuration.

In fact, one other attendee at the Sony event, who has also calibrated a 65KS9800, agreed with me. For these reasons I declined to be specific about the differences noted between the three sets in my initial posting. Without a proper setup I consider such differences interesting but ultimately as irrelevant as attempting to show the performance of a display via screen shots. But none of this takes away from how impressed we all were with the new Sony Z9D.

The color grading demo discussed in the AVS piece showed how much the color and HDR of a scene can be changed in post-production. It also showed how closely the Z9D can come to duplicating the performance of Sony’s pro reference monitor. But the former was expected, and we were seated too far from the latter, with its very small screen, to draw any definitive conclusions—though as far as I could see it was a very close match. The take-away here was no surprise: the color balance and the degree of HDR applied are very much under the control of the colorist, hopefully working together with the cinematographer and/or the director assuming they’re available. In the case of a classic film like Lawrence of Arabia (please Sony, release this jewel in your library crown in UHD with HDR— soon), others must make these decisions while being careful to retain the overall atmospherics of the film.

The event’s comparison of a live studio set with its reproduction on the new Z9D was also interesting, but why the latter was compared side-by-side to an X850 displaying the same scene in SDR at 1080p (upconverted by the set to 4K) puzzled me. The X850 isn’t Sony’s best current 4K set. A comparison of how the new Z9D and Sony’s currently available flagship, the XBR-75X940D reproduced the live scene would have been more interesting, though likely less dramatic. I will say, however that the Z9D, apart from a slightly cool color temperature, came rewardingly close to the live setup.

Warrior24_7: Your impressions of the X85D aren’t relevant with respect to the new Z9Ds. The latter are very different and incorporate significant new technology.

Warrior24_7's picture

First, it seems that "nobody" has actually reviewed this new Sony as of this post. If I'm wrong I'll stand corrected. This is all based off of demos and looking at it. Demos can be deceiving. My point about the Z9Ds vs the X850D (I called it the X85D) 85", is that it's a new line of TVs from Sony that seems not to have gotten any of the goodies, and is bested in some important areas by "cheaper", current gen technology that is sitting on the shelf right now! The Z9Ds only come in three sizes as well! That seems to be real odd to me.

And they want $8000 for it?!! The reviews all say the same thing, grayish black level, hard to see in a dark room, mediocre HDR, and light bleed. Again, for $8000.But the X850D is probably the best 85" you can buy at that price.

hk2000's picture

Stop making things up. The Z series is not even out yet. What reviews are you talking about? You sound like one of those who's either a competition fanboy or some one who got a bad item from Sony and made it their life's mission to keep bashing them- Your transparent, so stop it!!

Warrior24_7's picture

My very first sentence says "nobody" reviewed the Z9D. So "you" stop making things up! That fact also didn't stop you from posting an article about it either, did it?!! Basically I've read the same articles that "you" read before you posted "your" article. There are plenty of user reviews as well as professional reviews on the X850D. I trust those reviews because they are consistent, so I stand by everything that I said about it and my feelings toward it. I actually went to look at it again today. Why, because I'm in the market for a large UHDTV and this one is on my list. It looked great, but it was demoing with a CG cartoon which is pretty safe.. The only loyalty that I hold is to my wallet. I've owned many TVs over the years including Sony, Samsung, Seki, Westinghouse, RCA. I don't blindly follow any brand but I recognize industry favoritism when reviewing or previewing a product. So YOU stop being transparent... Now!

hk2000's picture

I still think you certainly CAN say "a tight calibration can improve [both TVs] significantly"- especially given the technological advantages they both have over the Samsung, but for some reason, you sound as if you have a strong preference for the Samsung that you do not want to concede that it may not be the best. Samsung may have won the popularity contest in forums and such, but I for one have always considered Sony to be the king of picture quality and I'm yet to find anything made by Samsung that approaches Sony's best- and that's before this break through series.

boe's picture

Hopefully next year at CES they'll have an 85" model with DV and HDMI 2.1