Sony X900E TV Review

The Sony X900E UltraHD TV is a new model to their lineup for 2017. It features a full array backlight with 45 zones of local dimming (9×5 I believe, but am not certain), HDR and wide color gamut support, a true 120Hz refresh rate, and integrated streaming through Android TV. With one of the only full array local dimming backlights on the market, it is primed to compete directly with the Vizio P65 in performance and price. Can the Sony dethrone what has been the best value in a HDR TV this past year?

We’re testing something new here and writing the review as we test. Expect text to update over the course of a week or so as we make final conclusions.

Sony X900E Design and Features

Specs
Manufacturer: Sony
Model: XBR-65X900E
Display Type: LED LCD
Resolution: 3840x2160
Inputs: 4x HDMI 2.0a (2x 18.0Gb/sec), 1x Composite, 2x Component, 1x RS232, 1x Ethernet, 3x USB
Outputs: 1x Optical
Streaming Services: Android TV (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, more...)
Wi-Fi Support: Yes
3D Support: No
Display Size: 57" x 32 3/4" x 2 3/8"
Display Weight: 48.5 lbs.
Review Date: May 8, 2017
Price: $1,998.00
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The Sony X900E comes in 49”, 55”, 65”, and 75” sizes. All of these use VA panels with a 120Hz refresh rate so you can get the same image quality regardless of how much space you have. While image quality should be similar between the sizes, the brightness of HDR highlights might vary since the backlights will be different. For our testing, we are using a 65” model.

Connectivity is handled with four HDMI inputs, though only inputs 2 and 3 offer the full 18.0Gb/sec bandwidth needed for HDR and WCG content. Android TV integration lets you stream Netflix, Amazon and others in UltraHD with HDR as well. In a nice touch the X900E includes a pair of IR emitters so the included remote can easily control your cable box or another device without resorting to the less reliable HDMI CEC.

Sony uses a center pedestal design for the X900E stand, something I prefer to the “clawfoot” style stands other companies are using. It’s easier to place on a cabinet that might not be the full width. The remote has a rubber coating so it seems like it might stand up to some excess water better than most, and has a microphone in it for searching with Google. Despite having this microphone, which means it has Bluetooth or WiFi direct for communications, it uses IR for signals and has a relatively small sensor for it.

Most important to the Sony X900E is that it includes both HDR and WCG support. HDR is done with a 20-zone full array backlight. I usually love full-array backlights, though 20 zones are on the smaller side when compared to the Vizio or other models. The WCG support covers almost the entire DCI/P3 gamut, though as discussed in our Color Volume article, this isn’t the best way to measure this. We will have full Color Volume data in the full review once it is complete.

Sony X900E HDR Performance

I tested the Sony X900E using the Oppo UDP-203 UltraHD Blu-ray player along with a Shield TV, Roku Premiere+, and the internal streaming apps. Measuring the Cinema Pro preset, the EOTF tracks almost perfectly, though the grayscale has a touch of blue to it.

Using a 10% window, the Sony X900E puts out 900 nits of brightness. As with all HDR displays, it has a slight issue with the EOTF around the 70% knee, but nothing big. Since the Sony has no CMS you don’t need to do any edits to that at all. Like most recent Sony displays, SDR and HDR share a grayscale memory so if you calibrate one, the other will also use it. In our sample, the SDR grayscale average dE2000 after we calibrated the HDR grayscale was a tiny 1.36, so this system works fine.

One thing that is noticeable with the Sony X900E is that the tone mapping varies a lot between Cinema Pro, Custom, and Standard modes. We measured Calibrated Pro initially, since it should track the standards like we want it to, but watching Pan I found that Custom did a better job with tone mapping the extremely bright highlights. More detail was present compared to Cinema Pro, while Standard just blew them out. We will have to go back and perform a full set of measurements on Custom to see how it compared to Cinema Pro, but I prefer how it does the tone mapping.

Doing some direct comparisons to the P65, there are clear differences between the two sets. The P65 has better blacks as far more dimming zones make it easy to see the difference. By comparison, the brighter highlights the X900E can do in HDR are also clear to see. During the nightclub raid scene in John Wick, bits of red neon are much brighter and red on the Sony compared to the Vizio. Scenes with bright clouds snow more details on the Sony, while the sky in Pan is a rich shade of blue on the Sony while it is a washed out blue on the Vizio. More comparisons, especially with darker material like Harry Potter, will be needed to compare the two.

Update: May 10, 2017

With some more time, I’ve gone through and measured more of the presets on the X900E after the update to Android 7.0 and have some notes on each of them.

Cinema Pro: This is the most accurate mode. It tracks the EOTF correctly and has the lowest grayscale errors of any of the presets.

Cinema Home: Cinema Home makes everything brighter, earlier. So a pixel that should be 95 nits is coming out at 251 nits, while one that should be 10 nits is 34 nits. This continues all the way up. What it does provide is a brighter, punchier image in many scenes, but when you have bright highlights those clip to a high degree and you lose lots of detail.

Custom: Custom tracks the opposite way that Cinema Home does, it in that it makes everything dimmer. This leads you to seeing more detail in bright highlights, but most other scenes are dimmer than they should be. A pixel that should be 10 nits is instead 8.4, one that should be 94 nits comes out at 73 nits. The first value that should peak at 906 nits instead is only 554 nits.

With Custom I found I had a peak light output of 906 nits. Cinema Pro gave me 902 nits, and Cinema Home was 890 nits. Those are close enough that there could easily be measurement error for each as the peak level can rise and fall some as the pattern is left up for longer.

SDR Viewing

As much as new displays are designed to showcase HDR, most people still watch more SDR content than HDR by far. Again I compared the X900E to the P65, as it is the LCD that is most comparable today.

During the opening Macau scene in Skyfall, there is clearly more light blooming happening in the letterbox bars and on screen with the Sony than the Vizio. When fireworks explode the clouds in the sky light up more with the Sony as the backlights are not as finely controlled due to fewer dimming zones. Blooming is kept in pretty good control, but it is noticeable if you look for it. The letterbox bars are brighter, but not to a degree that most people will notice unless they’re either looking for it or have another display next to it.

Pre-calibration, you can see the image is very accurate. The grayscale was slightly adjusted in HDR mode already, but not much. The defaults are very good to start, and only get better.

Post-calibration we see very little wrong with the image at all. The flaws that we don’t see objectively we can see in viewing, with the black levels not quite to the same level as the Vizio P65 but you can’t tell that from the charts.

Watching the NCAA basketball championship game, the motion on the Sony is often better but not always. With a bit of reality creation engaged you see some more detail on the 1080i recording, but sometimes you can see a bit of judder on panning shots. Neither the Vizio or the Sony stood out from the other one, and it would not bother me to watch sports on either display.

Both displays make very good SDR displays. A slight edge goes to the Sony as it has more options for motion and image processing, including black frame insertion. This drops the light output significantly, and the overall flicker kept me from using it long term, but some people won’t mind. I still need to test the scaling with some more test patterns, and input lag, but overall it is performing well.

Initial Thoughts

I still have lots of testing to do on the Sony, but so far it performs very well. The differences in HDR compared to the Vizio are actually less than I thought they would be, but they are noticeable when side-by-side. With dark scenes is clearly falls behind the Vizio with far more blooming around bright objects on a dark background. We’re working to finish up our review this week and will have all the data you would ever want about the display.

  • ray

    I’d like to hear thoughts on cable TV comparisons too, also the smoothing of bands with the X1 chip.

    You counted the 20 zones correct? There seems to be a lot of conflict about the zones. HDTV test and digitalfernshende measured 35 zones on the 55″ so it makes no sense that the 65 would only have 20.

    Personally, I would choose the 900e all day because I love the sony processing, the better colors, and the brighter picture which gives more pop to hdr. The loss of blacks is a little disappointing but it’s its a pick your poison type deal. I have a ks9800 so I get the best of both worlds. (BTW the ks9800 can be had now for slightly more than the 900e).

    Looking forward to the rest of your review! – ray0414

    • Thanks for the feedback. We’ll go back through and count the zones again. We’d heard 20 from Sony but no one ever confirms anything, so we’ll test it again and see what we can find.

      The difference in brightness with HDR is noticeable when we pause the compare them side-by-side, but in real world viewing the higher black levels can make it more even. Tone mapping is more visible, but I’ll need to do more measurements today on that to see how Custom and Standard compare to Cinema Pro. I’ll also be using OTA content recorded to a Plex TV to see how that looks, as I don’t subscribe to cable.

      The KS9800 is likely better, but is also curved which is a deal-breaker for many people, including myself.

      • ray

        The curve is a deal breaker for a lot of people, doesn’t bother me as long as I’m somewhat in front of the TV, it does offer a great mix of black, colors, and brightness, really hard to find all 3 right now.

        There’s definitely a lot of discussion going on about which picture modes to use for hdr on the sony owner threads, eve with the higher end sets. They all tone map differently and offer different levels of brightness. Some were arguing that cinema home mode was the best, so I showed them your picture that looks like cinema home is actually the worst. Though some may prefer it because it’s brighter than the other modes.

        • I’ll add more to the piece tonight, but what Cinema Home does is ramp up the EOTF much earlier, so things are brighter than you would expect. So looking at the data, instead of 95 nits you’re getting 251 nits. Instead of 10 nits you get 34 nits, etc.. So you start to clip earlier than expected because it makes dimmer scenes have more pop than they do in more accurate modes. It’s going to be brighter, but it is also less accurate and has much more clipping of highlights.

          • ray

            What is the peak nits for all modes?

  • Surlias

    i recently bought the x900e. it is the best tv ive ever owned by far.

  • mmu7

    So I will buy this TV. But how do I calibrate the TV after buying it, should I just leave the setting on Cinema Pro?