With Samsung and LG already setting scarily high standards with their first TVs of 2015, the pressure is on the big Japanese brands to keep up. Especially now that 4K UHD resolutions are being joined on the TV tech frontier by the likes of high dynamic range playback and OLED screen technology.
You certainly can’t accuse Sony of nerves with its debut 2015 TV, though. In fact, the $7,998 XBR-75X940C (KD-75X9405C in Europe) is about as bold a statement of new intent as I’ve ever seen.
For starters its screen is colossal: 75 inches from corner to corner. But that’s just the start of its enormity, for stretching brazenly out from beyond the screen’s left and right sides are many more inches of beautifully finished TV bodywork.
There’s more bulk than we’ve come to expect from modern TVs around the back too, with a gradual increase in the TV’s depth as you move your eye from top to bottom resulting in a striking wedge-shaped profile.
While part of me would actually have admired Sony if it had made the XBR-75X940C so mercilessly large just for the hell of it, though, there is actually a very good reason for its bulk. For tastefully inset within the glassy finish of the the XBR-75X940C’s wings are six of the most serious looking speakers ever spotted on a TV.
As well as having their large, front-firing drivers supported by the extra depth afforded by the TV’s distinctive wedge design, it turns out that the XBR-75X940C’s speakers also benefit from Sony’s magnetic fluid technology. This floats the speakers’ moving parts in a – you guessed it – magnetic fluid so they can deliver a big sound without needing the usual amount of space around them.
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To make double sure you get the point about how seriously the XBR-75X940C takes its audio duties it’s even been awarded a Hi-Res Audio badge, indicating that it’s rated as having enough power and dynamic range to handle high-resolution music. To back this up, it’s the first TV I know of that’s capable of playing high-resolution FLAC and WAV files.
While it might be the 75X940C’s remarkable audio features that first grab your attention due to their physical obviousness, though, the heart and soul of Sony’s monster new TV is – as it should be – its picture quality.
The promising picture features start with the construction of its screen. For rather than the common edge LED lighting system it uses a direct LED approach where the lights sit directly behind the screen. This is a more expensive technique, but it can usually be relied on to deliver a superior contrast performance – especially when partnered as it is in the XBR75X940C’s case by local dimming technology, where clusters of the backlights can have their light output controlled individually so dark areas can be made to look darker without compromising the luminance of neighbouring bright ones.
The X1 Factor
The 75X940C also boasts Sony’s Triluminos technology, designed to deliver a far wider colour range than normal LCD TV – especially now that it’s powered by Sony’s new X1 video processing system.
Unlike its X-Reality Pro predecessor, X1 has been designed from day one with 4K TVs in mind. This review would turn into the Encyclopaedia Britannica if I tried to cover all the picture-advancing tricks the X1 system claims to deliver, but among its highlights are a new colour driving engine powerful enough to look at and optimise each individual tone in a picture rather than having to limit itself to the usual macro colour approach; new depth detection techniques to make noise reduction systems more accurate; and new algorithms for upscaling non-4K content to the TV’s native 4K screen.
One of the key elements of the X1 system is its use of a huge database of different types of picture source – including, now, different types of 4K source, including the different types of video compression systems now entering the content marketplace. Being able to quickly recognise and apply pre-defined picture techniques to any type of source lets the X1 chipset use its power more efficiently to, Sony claims, deliver better processing results on the fly. This has the potential to deliver improvements to everything from contrast to colour and sharpness/detail. Unless it’s all just marketing BS, of course!
One other big new development for Sony’s TVs this year is their introduction of the Android TV smart TV system. I’ve written a full review of this system that I suggest you have a look at if a TV’s smart features are a key part of your buying decision. But briefly, while it certainly solves Sony’s previous content shortage smart TV problems, much of what Android TV offers seems of questionable use in a TV environment. Also its recommendations system is ineffective, and it’s currently pretty buggy. Fortunately the Android system is supported by Sony’s own Discover smart system, which for me does a much more effective job of streamlining access to the sort of stuff most people actually want to see on their TV.
3D and HDR support
Wrapping the 75X940C’s key features up are one old trick and one new one. The old one is 3D, which appears here using the active (full resolution) system. The new one is support for high dynamic range (HDR) pictures, with their expanded luminance range and colour response. In fact, the HDR support is so new that Sony’s set doesn’t actually deliver it yet; it’s due via a firmware update later in the year.
This is unfortunate as it means I can’t test the TV’s HDR credentials against those of Samsung’s SUHD TVs (see my reviews of the Samsung UN65JS9500 and Samsung UN65JS9000 for more details). But the fact that HDR is coming to the 75X940C suggests that its pictures should be capable of producing images of exceptional dynamism and richness. After all, the HDR update isn’t going to be available for some of Sony’s new 4K TVs, presumably because they’re not up to the job.
In most ways, the XBR-75X940C’s pictures do suggest that they will be capable of doing HDR at least some justice. Which is a rather tepid way of saying that it performs sensationally well with all the other sources I HAVE been able to test it with.
The set’s colour response, for instance, is glorious. The combination of Sony’s Triluminos technology and new X1 processing leads to a colour palette of such range and richness that it even leaves the colour efforts of Samsung’s brilliant JS9500 models looking slightly flat by comparison – at least when those Samsung sets are showing non-HDR material.
Crucially, though, the breath-taking potency of the XBR-75X940C’s colours does not come at the expense of colour balance or detail. On the contrary, the X1 chipset lives up to the hype by ensuring that every pixel in the 4K screen appears to deliver a wholly natural, accurate colour that seems perfectly judged in relation to all of its neighbouring pixels.
This results in an exquisitely subtle, detailed look to pictures that sells the benefits of a native 4K resolution mesmerisingly well. Especially when you also factor in the screen’s colossal 75-inch size.Watching native 4K content on the XBR-75X940C is like looking at an improved version of the real world, essentially. And let’s not forget that this is the case with today’s streamed and HDD-based 4K sources; the thought of what the XBR-75X940C’s pictures might look like when HDR is introduced is mouthwatering, making me cast my mind back to the incredible sight of a (then specially modified) direct backlit Sony TV running HDR footage of the Rio Carnival during January’s Consumer Electronics Show.
The XBR-75X940C’s colour resolution is supported by further 4K-friendly precision elsewhere. As usual with Sony TVs these days, for instance, this model proves unusually impressive at handling motion. There’s scarcely a hint of resolution loss during action scenes, and Sony’s latest processing engine is so good you can use Sony’s MotionFlow processing on all but its highest power settings without the picture starting to look excessively processed.
Also playing a key part in the XBR-75X940C’s supreme sense of clarity and sharpness is it’s sublime light control. The combination of its locally dimmed direct backlight and new processing engine results in pictures that blend extreme dynamism for an LCD TV with levels of shadow detail subtlety that go way beyond the abilities of most LCD screens. There’s none of that hollowness in dark areas that often characterises LCD TVs thanks to the difficulties associated with their external backlight technologies.
Making this shadow detail strength all the more impressive is the fact that the XBR-75X940C’s black level depth is stunning by LCD TV standards. There’s hardly any of the infusion of greyness usually seen with dark scenes on LCD TVs, and provided you use a bit of caution with its backlight setting and local dimming controls (and try not to sit too far down the TV’s sides) the inky black colours are seldom blemished by ‘blooms’ of backlighting around bright image elements. Even though the local dimming system means that those bright parts really can look very bright indeed compared with regular LCD panel designs, which have to compromise their light output much more heavily when trying to reproduce scenes containing a mix of light and dark content.
Sony’s new 4K set is also capable of upscaling HD sources to its native 4K resolution superbly – arguably uniquely – well. So long as you’re careful with how you set up the TV’s Reality Creation upscaling engine (more on this in a moment) the XBR-75X940C’s upscaled pictures enjoy markedly more detail and pixel depth than they do on normal HD TVs, as well as colours that look much more natural and enjoy much more subtlety than is normally the case with HD pictures upscaled to 4K.
Sony’s upscaling engine even holds its own when asked to deal with the relatively tough demands of a 3D Blu-ray, making the 3D world feel more dense, textured and immersive. In fact, the XBR-75X940C delivers one of the most engaging 3D performances I’ve seen, as the impressive detail levels combine with the screen’s exceptional colour subtlety, stellar contrast and huge screen size to spectacular effect.
Sony has even managed to mostly conquer its previous problems with crosstalk – the double ghosting noise that can appear with active 3D sources. There are still occasional traces of it over background or very sharply contrasted objects, but it’s seldom a serious distraction.
While the XBR-75X940C’s pictures represent a genuinely stunning achievement by Sony, they are – of course – not quite perfect. As noted earlier, you need to be a touch cautious with the set’s backlight and local dimming settings to avoid light blooming problems, which means you have to accept a slightly reduced level of brightness. This may reduce the set’s impact with HDR content, and it’s certainly true that running Sony’s TV alongside Samsung’s SUHD HDR-capable TVs reveals the Samsung models to deliver both more brightness and purer, ‘whiter’ whites. But at the same time the Sony’s colours look slightly richer than those of the Samsung.
I’ll try and update this review with an assessment of the XBR-75X940C’s HDR capabilities if possible, though you can appreciate the difficulties involved with getting a 75-inch TV back into my test room when the HDR update goes live!
Regarding the XBR-75X940C’s upscaling processing, while it’s capable of fantastic results, its default settings tend to make upscaled pictures look a bit noisy and artificial – especially if the source material is quite grainy. This is a surprising moment of processing over-enthusiasm from Sony given that the brand can generally be relied on to deliver some of the best out-of-the-box picture settings in the TV world. Fortunately you can fix the issue without the upscaled pictures starting to look soft by reducing the Reality Creation’s sharpness setting down from its default 65 level to around its 35 setting.
Another issue is that occasionally while watching ultra widescreen material I felt aware of slightly distracting shifts in the XBR-75X940C’s luminance levels appearing in the black bars above and below the picture. Finally I should point out that for all their brilliance by LCD standards, the black levels on Sony’s LCD TV are still outgunned by those of LG’s new EG9600 OLED TVs (the LG 55EG9600 is reviewed here). But you certainly can’t get an OLED TV as large as this Sony for anything like the same price.
Remarkably the XBR-75X940C’s sound proves to be every bit as spectacular as its pictures. That array of forward-firing speakers delivers a soundstage that’s huge in every way, spreading audio far and wide beyond the TV’s physical dimensions (there’s even a credible sense of rear-channel information appearing from behind you from time to time). The set also delivers a massive dynamic range packed with immaculately clean treble detailing at one end and underpinned at the other by the richest, most convincing bass performance I’ve heard from any TV’s integrated speaker system.
The mid-range, meanwhile, is large and open enough to easily handle such tricky audio issues as sudden expansions as action scenes kick into gear and the need to keep vocals clear and well rounded even when there’s a riot of sound behind them.
So good are the XBR-75X940C’s speakers, in fact, that the TV could even replace your hi-fi. Especially if that hi-fi isn’t compatible with the high resolution audio file formats supported by the TV.
To say that 2015 is spoiling TV fans so far would be an understatement. With the XBR-75X940C Sony has joined Samsung and LG in delivering truly next generation picture quality, and thrown in some next-gen sound quality for good measure.
I’m not entirely convinced by Sony’s shift to Android for its Smart features and there are questions over the XBR-75X940C’s HDR credentials – as I guess there are, actually, over any 2015 TVs’ HDR credentials. But unless you’re prepared to wait for the whole HDR situation to settle down over the next 12 months, the XBR-75X940C is yet another TV that any serious – and, I guess, pretty wealthy – AV fan simply has to add to their already long consideration list.