4K TVs are undoubtedly the stars of the show at this year’s CES with LG, Samsung and Sony all eager to wow both the media and buyers alike. Here’s our hands-on review from a brief but close-up look at the XBR-55X900A.
Sony already has a 4K model in the XBR range, the XBR-84X900, which we reviewed in September 2012. Sony says the new 55in and 65in models make 4K TVs ‘affordable’ but since no prices were given, you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out whether the XBR-55X900A or XBR-65X900A could grace your living room. We’re told that the ultra HD TVs will go on sale in the spring.
Sony Bravia X900A hands-on: image quality
One thing’s for sure, both models produce outstanding picture quality. Quite apart from the 4K native resolution (3840x2160) which resolves the tiniest details, Sony has also introduced a new backlight filter, which it calls Triluminos. This increases the colour gamut and allows the TVs to more faithfully reproduce reds and greens.
Looking at the XBR-65X900A against last year’s flagship 65in model, the differences were stark. Reds were much deeper and the demo of tomatoes and strawberries made the older set look washed out. The claims were proved true for greens as well – in fact the overall image looked richer and more lifelike.
Watching native 4K content on both TVs was an impressive experience, just as it is with Samsung and LG’s models. A good Full HD TV, such as Sony’s 46in HX853, reviewed, is enough to draw oohs and aahs from those who don’t already have a large HD TV, or who have never seen top-quality HD footage.
However, even the HX853 looks like a standard-def model when faced with any 4K TV. As you’d imagine, boosting the resolution by four times means that you can see tiny details even when an object isn’t filling most of the screen. With HD, you can marvel at the wrinkles and lines in people’s faces on close-ups, but most of the 4K demo footage we’ve seen so far is of wide-angle landscape or aerial shots.
In these, the XBR-65X900A wows you with super-sharp rendering of cliff faces, forests and seas. Cityscapes, too, take on a new dimension with smooth lines at all angles.
Colours, of course, are a particular strength thanks to that Triluminos filter. Again, side-by-side comparisons with last year’s range of LED TVs shows that the X900A models are noticeably better with more saturation.
The final piece of the 4K puzzle, if you will, is upscaling. With virtually no 4K content around, it would be slightly pointless buying an XBR-55X900A simply to look at photos from your digital camera and watch 1920x1080 video.
The X900A has Sony’s 4K X-Reality PRO picture engine which upscales Blu-ray and HD TV to give a pseudo-ultra HD image. A side-by-side demo showed a standard Full HD TV playing a Blu-ray movie next to the X900A. The result was that the image looked soft on the ‘old’ set and nice and sharp on the XBR-65X900A.
We’d like to run that test in our own labs before jumping to any conclusions, but it certainly appeared that the upscaler was able to make Blu-ray content look considerably sharper. Obviously, there was no more detail in the image, but it did give that impression.
Sony says that YouTube videos and clips from your smartphone or tablet also look great when upscaled, but didn’t show any footage.
4K content is unlikely to be broadcast any time soon, but Sony said it would launch a 4K content delivery service by mid-2013. It will also release ‘Mastered in 4K’ Blu-ray movies, and a Blu-ray player that’s compatible with Triluminos, indicating that you’ll need special hardware to benefit from that wider colour gamut. Similarly, some of Sony’s new cameras and camcorders support Triluminos.
We were also shown a prototype of a consumer 4K camcorder which will complete the set and allow you to make your own 4K home movies.
Sony Bravia X900A hands-on: design and specs
One of the X900A’s highlights is the front-facing magnetic fluid speakers. These eschew the traditional paper cones and use a relatively new technology to create good-quality sound without requiring much depth.
In our limited time with the set, and with the noise of show hampering the demo, we were impressed with the speakers. Without a proper listening environment, it’s not possible to give a final verdict, but the speakers sounded a good step up from most TVs currently on sale.
One of the adjectives you won’t see applied to the X900A is thin. You can still wall mount both the 55in and 65in models, but they’ll stick out a good way into your room.
Still, at least you can feel like your money’s been well spent as there’s built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. Plus, as it uses passive 3D, you’ll be able to afford enough 3D glasses for all your friends to watch a film at the same time.
The X900A is MHL ready, so you can connect an Android device and mirror its screen on your TV. The bundled NFC remote works with the new Xperia Z to wirelessly mirror its screen simply by placing it next to the controller. Other Android devices will require more labourious setup to achieve the same thing.
Sony has also released a new companion app for Android and iOS devices so you can remote control your TV, launch apps quickly and select and view content. It also includes an EPG which is faster to browse than the on-screen version and lets you schedule recordings if you have a hard disk connected.
We’ll bring you a fuller review of the X900A when we get a review model shortly.
Due to the limited amount of time we've spent with the X900A, we can't give a definitive verdict. We'll update this review when we've done a full test of the TV.