There's 4K, Android TV and YouView but don't mention UHD
Sony have launched their TV line-up for 2015 and the emphasis is on picture quality, design, sound and user experience.The Japanese giant was keen stress that they have been improving picture quality year-on-year since 2012 and that their latest range will take that to the next level. Three years ago Sony introduced the 4K X-Reality Pro chipset on their KD-84X9, bringing improved clarity. The following year they expanded the possible colour gamut by adding Triluminos to the KD-65X9A and last year they increased the contrast by adding X-tended Dynamic Range to the KD-85X95B.
This year Sony combine all of these elements with the new X1 chipset which acts as a gatekeeper, ensuring that all the new technology is effectively employed on all their 2015 4K TVs. The X1 uses signal detection to intelligently analyse any type of 4K, HD or lower resolution source. This analysed input signal information is then passed to the 4K X-Reality Pro chipset for processing, to the Triluminos display for a wider colour gamut and the X-tended Dynamic Range local dimming to improve contrast performance.
There is now considerably more 4K content available including streaming from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, as well as content that you can create yourself. In the future we will see 4K broadcasting and UHD Blu-ray; although strangely Sony directly never mentioned the latter once. What they did stress was that this 4K content is not all the same and yet most 4K TVs don't differentiate; so the picture quality is not properly optimised.
This is where the X1 chipset comes in, analysing the incoming content and optimising the processing. So all their 2015 4K TVs will be optimised for 4K streaming, 4K personal content, 4K broadcast and 4K movies - however they might be delivered - be it UHD Blu-ray or via HDD. This analysis and processing will be done in real time and applies to not only 4K content but also HD, standard definition and anything else.
Sony's new X1 chipset will analyse incoming content and ensure that all their 4K TVs perform optimally.Regardless of what the incoming content is, the X1 chipset breaks the process down into a series of five blocks - Detection, Real-Time Control, Clarity, Colour and Contrast. In terms of the first two blocks, the X1 is able to detect and then identify the quality of an incoming signal. The Real-Time Control Block then delivers the analysed input signal to the other blocks on a frame-by-frame basis. Thus each block is able to maximise the picture quality by utilising this input signal information.
The next block is picture clarity that uses the 4K X-Reality Pro processing in conjunction with newly designed databases - the 4K Super Resolution database for 4K content and Upscaling database for upscaling lower resolution content. Depending on the initial signal detection and analysis, the various algorithms will refine either the 4K or lower resolution content adaptively on a frame-by-frame and real-time basis. In terms of new features to improve picture clarity there is Flat Area Detection, which is a processing algorithm that differentiates between the flat and textured areas of an image.
The processing then deals with each independently, using different types of noise reduction, resolution and sharpness technology. In addition Sony have developed Self-Similarity Super Resolution; which is a rather long-winded way of describing a process that ensures fine lines in HD content remain so when upscaled to 4K. There is also Noise Crusher, which is designed to break up noise into smaller dots with lower intensity. This feature is meant to maintain natural-looking image textures as the noise is dispersed, becoming hardly visible.There's no denying that Sony's 2015 TVs are nicely designed, with the X90C looking incredibly thin.Finally, the Digital Noise Reduction has been updated and optimised for the main streaming codecs - AVC, HEVC and VP9. Sony gave us a demonstration of these new features using the same 4K content shown on one of last year's 4K TVs and also a very early pre-production model for 2015. The processing certainly appeared to work in terms of increasing the perceived level of detail and clarity but both TVs were in Vivid mode. This meant all the processing was maxed out, which tended to give content an artificial and over-processed look. These features certainly have potential but we'll have to wait until the final versions are actually released.
The fourth block in Sony's new X1-powered picture processing engine is the Triluminos display which increases the colour gamut. This means that Sony's TVs are capable of creating more colours and as the TV standards change, this will be important going forward. However with existing content, if you just expand the colour gamut you make everything look oversaturated. So Sony has introduced Precision Colour Mapping, which enhances and optimises the colours individually in real-time. This drives the maximum colour performance from the panel, whilst controlling the correct representation of each colour.
The final block relates to the contrast of the image and here Sony have their X-tended Dynamic Range and X-tended Dynamic Range Pro. This is another that will become more important as the TV standards are changed to accommodate higher dynamic range (HDR). Sony will be launching HDR models later this year but in the meantime they seek to improve the performance of their new line-up by combining local-dimming with an energy saving algorithm that can boost on-screen brightness. This will maximise the dynamic range by making blacks darker and light parts brighter but also improve shadow detail.
Whilst picture quality is the most important aspect of Sony's 2015 TV line-up, there are other areas that the company has been working on extensively. One of these is design and this approach is best embodied by the new X90C which, at 4.9mm deep, is the slimmest LED LCD TV ever made. Although it is 4cm deep at the bottom where the speakers, electronics and connections can be found. The result is what Sony refer to as 'Floating Style' with an ultra-slim construction and near bezel-less appearance.
The X90C comes with a removable U-shaped bar already fitted that allows it to be mounted near-flush to the wall, with a maximum gap of 4cm. This is partly due to the thin nature of the TV but also because the ventilation has been re-designed, allowing the rear of the panel to be flush against the wall. The U-shaped bar makes fixing to the wall simple, you just hang it on the mount and it also means that the panel can be tilted, making it easier to access the connections. If you don't plan on wall-mounting your TV, you can remove the U-shaped bar to keep the clean lines of your new TV.Sony's decision to essentially outsource the smart aspects of their 2015 line-up could pay dividends.One area that Sony has been taking great strides in recently is the on-board sound of their TVs and they intend to continue with this in 2015. The X94C and X93C will support Hi Res audio, meaning they can play FLAC and WAV files over USB or via DLNA up to 96kHz/24-bit and there's also DSEE HX processing to upscale all audio to near hi-res quality. To meet these requirements the 2015 models are front-firing (tweeter, woofer and subwoofer) with the woofer and subwoofer using magnetic fluid speakers. This means that the TVs can deliver a similar performance to last year but with a slimmer design. In addition the woofer and subwoofer use mica-reinforced glass fibre cones and there's a separate amplifier for the tweeter.
The final area where Sony have made significant changes from last year is in terms of the smart features. They have now added Android powered smart features, which means that their TVs have a multi-layered user interface that can be navigated in four directions. There are layers for content recommendations, Sony content, inputs, apps, games and settings, all of which can be easily accessed using the One-Flick remote or their remote app (iOS or Android). There's also voice control and Chrome Cast embedded into the TV itself. There are also games that can be played using third-party controllers, along with Sony's On-Flick entertainment. Sony also announced that they will be adding YouView to their 2015 TVs in the summer which means that, like Samsung and Panasonic, they will be able to offer all the catch-up services, as well as a number of other features.
That brings us to the line-up itself and at the top of the range is the X94C which comes in a 75-inch screen size along with the 4K X1 processor, 4K X-Reality Pro, Triluminos display, X-tended Dynamic Range Pro, Motionflox XR 1200Hz, wedge design, 3D, Hi-Res support and Android TV. The X93C has essentially the same features, except it uses X-tended Dynamic Range, and comes in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes.
The X90C uses the new ultra-slim design and comes in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes. It also has the X1 processor, 4K X-Reality Pro, Triluminos display , Motionflox XR 800Hz, 3D and Android TV. The S85C includes all the same features as the X90C but uses a slim curved screen in 55- and 65-inch sizes. The X85C includes the same features as well but uses a slim design and offers 55-, 65- and 75-inch screen sizes; whilst the X83C loses the Triluminos display and 3D support and comes in 43- and 49-inch screen sizes.This is a strong line-up for 2015 and the addition of new features like YouView will help make them competitive.Sony will also offer a full line-up of Full HD TVs, including the W85C which comes in 65- and 75-inch screen sizes and includes X-Reality Pro, Motionflow XR 800Hz, 3D, Android TV and a slim design. There's also the W80C which comes in 43-, 50- and 55-inch screen sizes and includes all the same features as the W85C; whilst the W75C is essentially the same as the W80C but loses the 3D support. Finally there's the W70C which offers the same features as the W75C but uses Motionflow 200Hz and offers 32-, 40- and 48-inch screen sizes. Sony will also offer the entry-level R4C in 32- and 40-inch screen sizes and the R5C, which includes a basic smart platform and offers 32-, 40- and 48-inch screen sizes.
There's no doubt that Sony are offering a solid range of TVs in 2015, with plenty of 4K models but also some interesting Full HD TVs as well. It's too early for any indication on pricing but Sony will begin shipping their 2015 line-up in April, with many of the flagship models launching in June. We're certainly glad to see Sony placing so much emphasis on picture and sound quality, whilst their designs are as striking as always and the addition of Android TV and YouView makes sense. Just don't mention Ultra HD because despite the majority of the industry now using the term, at no point did Sony ever mention UHD!
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