It's all strangely familiar
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13,697The Sony stand at CES 2016 appeared very similar to last year and the same could be said for their TVs.Although they initially appear to have gone through quite a few changes, these would seem to be largely cosmetic. For a start Sony have revised their naming convention, so the usual problem of trying to identify this year’s model purely from a suffix letter has been fixed - for 2016 at least. Now the identifying letter has been changed to a prefix, so for example this year’s flagship model is the 75-inch XD94. The other big change is that Sony have dropped the large side speakers that they used on their high-end models for the last two years. Although the older models certainly sounded very good, Sony recognised that the people who bought their high-end TVs probably already had sound solutions of their own. We’ve been feeding this back in our reviews of the last three generations of Sony TVs, so perhaps they’re finally listening. Whilst the loss of the big speakers will impact on the TV’s sound quality, it will mean that the models are smaller, lighter and hopefully cheaper.Aside from the absence of big side speakers, the 75-inch XD94 appears very similar to last year’s 75X94C. It has a slimmer design but still uses a full direct backlight and it supports High Dynamic Range (HDR); although Sony wouldn’t comment on the peak brightness other than to say it has three times the range of last year. However the XD94 does includes X-tended Dynamic Range Pro, as well as a wider colour gamut thanks to the Triluminos panel; although once again Sony wouldn’t comment on the size of the native colour space. The 75XD94 also includes 4K X-Reality Pro image processing and the pictures it was producing at the show looked excellent. That doesn’t come as a surprise because the 75X94C delivered a fantastic picture last year but we get the feeling the new model is essentially same TV. The new design is certainly attractive and the slimmer chassis and smaller speakers are definitely a welcome addition but the lack of Premium HDR certification from the Ultra HD Alliance is a surprise. Sony said that they didn’t want to confuse their own branding by adding the Premium UHD logo and whilst that might be true, the fact that they wouldn’t tell us the actual specifications of their 2016 TVs does make us suspicious.Further down the line Sony have their XD93 range, which comes in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes. This model has also dropped the big speakers and uses an ultra slim design similar to last year’s X90C, except that whilst the XD93 is a bit deeper at the top, it’s even slimmer at the bottom. However the edge lighting now includes a new local dimming feature for improved performance with a brighter image, along with better blacks and backlight uniformity. The XD93 certainly delivered a superior picture to last year’s X90C and the ultra slim design is also attractive - with a new metal stand, a bezel-less design and a champagne gold trim. However the positioning of the LEDs along the bottom still resulted in more haloing than we would have liked and it’s a shame that Sony don’t use a direct backlight on these smaller screen sizes. The XD93 does however include HDR support, along with X-tended Dynamic Range, a Triluminos panel for a wider colour gamut and 4K X-Reality Pro image processing.
As seems to be the case with most of the major manufacturers this year, Sony were only showing two models on their stand, with the emphasis very much on the technology rather than the entire 2016 range. However Sony also plan to release the XD85 and the curved SD85 Ultra HD 4K TVs in various screen sizes. All of Sony’s new models share a similar clean design aesthetic, with covers over the inputs and wires running through the stand for tidy cable management. There’s also the same picture hook wall mount that was used for the X90C last year, although Sony’s TVs are also compatible with VESA mounts. Sony continue to support the Android smart TV platform, which the company said should now be faster and more stable this year. After a fairly disastrous launch last year, the platform was already improving during the latter part of 2015 thanks to a number of updates. The platform will include Netflix, YouTube and Amazon, along with Sony's own service in order to deliver streamed 4K content. Sony have also reduced the number of remotes to just one, which has been redesigned to work better with Android.
On another part of their stand, Sony were demonstrating their new VPL-VW5000ES native 4K laser projector. In fact they had two of these beasts set up to deliver a huge 10,000 lumens image that lit up a 200-inch area of the wall. The VW5000 doesn't only use a native 4K panel and a laser light source to deliver its 5,000 lumens. it also support the full DCI-P3 colour space and HDR. Naturally it uses HDMI 2.0a/HDCP2.2 inputs and has enough bandwidth to accept 4K 60p signals up to YCbCr 4:4:4 at 8-bit or YCbCr 4:2:2 at 12-bit. Given the VW5000's size and cost it is primarily aimed at the custom install market but if you have the budget it will provide among the best projected images that money can buy. The footage being demonstrated at the show consisted of skateboarder Tony Hawks mucking about in 4K but even that showed the projector's potential, so we can only imagine how good it would look with 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Mind you, the VW5000 ought to look amazing with a price tag of £60,000!
Speaking of 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, one of the big disappointments of the show was the fact that Sony didn't have a player of their own. We saw UHD Blu-ray players announced by Panasonic and Samsung but nothing from Sony, who originally developed Blu-ray. Although Sony Pictures is releasing UHD Blu-ray discs, the consumer electronics division has taken the same approach as LG and decided to wait and see how popular the new format proves. Sony is a diversified conglomerate and often it takes time to dedicate resources to specific technology, so let's hope we see an Ultra HD Blu-ray player from them later in the year.Although their new models appear to be very similar to last year in terms of picture quality, Sony did have a trick up its sleeve at this year’s show. They were demonstrating a new technology that, whilst not available yet, certainly gives us a tantalising glimpse of the future. Their Back Light Master Drive uses a direct LED array with over 1,000 individual zones, that not only eliminates haloing but can also deliver 4,000 nits of peak brightness. A sample of the prototype with the LED panel removed to just show the backlight, revealed how much detail these individual zones can deliver; whilst another sample showed high dynamic range content next to a TV showing standard dynamic range content and the differences were startling. The blacks appeared completely dark with no haloing, whilst the specular highlights in the image had a brightness that reflected real life.
A sequence showing an aerial view of the Las Vegas strip had a marvellous level of detail in the darker parts of the image, whilst the neon signs really popped, just like they did when we looked at the strip with our own eyes. There was also a scene from the Sony Pictures remake of Annie, where sunlight was shining through the window of a helicopter, creating highly realistic bright patches on the seats behind the characters, whilst the reflections on the sea below were also beautifully rendered. Sony Pictures are supporting Dolby Vision's version of HDR, which is currently mastered using a 4,000 nits professional monitor, so these scenes gave us an idea of what this content could look like in a year or two. Of course that’s assuming this prototype makes it to market. Let’s not forget that Sony has previous form for showing a cool prototype in a year when their new line-up wasn’t particularly exciting. Does anyone remember Crystal LED?
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