Is the Z Series an OLED killer?
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18,172In what was probably one of the worst kept secrets in years, Sony finally announced their new flagship Z Series of premium 4K HDR TVs.The Japanese giant first showed a prototype of the Backlight Master Drive at CES, back in January, and told dealers about the new Z Series in April. Word quickly spread, so we knew the ZD9 was coming and we had a pretty good idea how much it was going to cost. However, it’s always best to get official confirmation on these things and in the main screening room at Sony Pictures in Central London, the company literally took the wraps of the new series.
Along with the Backlight Master Drive, the Z Series includes the new X1 Extreme 4K HDR Processor and comes in three different screen sizes – the 65” KD65ZD9, the 75” KD75ZD9 and the 100” KD100ZD9, all of which will be available this year. The 65” model will retail for a very tempting £4,000, the 75” model a rather more expensive £7,000 and the 100” model will set you back an eye-watering £60,000.
Naturally, the new TVs will support High Dynamic Range, more specifically HDR 10, but Sony confirmed that the ZD9 won’t support Dolby Vision. There’s also X-tended Dynamic Range PRO and a wider colour gamut thanks to the Triluminos Display. The TVs use a similar design to Sony’s XD93 and XD94, with a champagne gold edge with a black inlaid trim. The 65- and 75-inch versions use the same angled metallic stand seen this year, whereas the 100-inch model uses two large feet that is reminiscent of Sony’s large screen TVs from a few years ago. At the rear of the ZD9 there is a grid design that effectively hides a series of removable panels for tidier cable management. There’s also support for active 3D, Android 6, Sony’s new content bar user interface and the latest version of their remote control.
So what’s makes the ZD9 so special? Well first of all it uses the new Backlight Master Drive, which can deliver deeper blacks and brighter highlights with a previously unattainable level of precision. Annoyingly, Sony wouldn’t actually confirm how many LEDs or zones there were in the ZD9 backlight, other than to say that each LED equated to a zone. Sony also wouldn’t confirm the actual peak brightness of the ZD9 and when pushed on the subject they simply said that whilst numbers can be useful, they could also be misleading.
Sony did confirm that although they wouldn’t be seeking Ultra HD Premium certification for the ZD9 it could easily hit the minimum requirements used by the Ultra HD Alliance. At CES back in January Sony were happily telling everyone that the prototype Backlight Master Drive on show had 1,000 LED zones and a peak brightness of 4,000nits, so that would seem like a sensible guide. Sony did show us a sample of the Backlight Master Drive with all the LEDs behind a filter and although we weren’t allowed to take any photographs, based on some quick mental arithmetic 1,000 LEDs would be about right, which suggests a peak brightness of 4,000nits might also be attainable.
Sony said that one of the biggest challenges that they faced was fitting so many LEDs into the backlight and delivering increased peak brightness without generating excessive heat. They said they had succeeded and therefore no active cooling like fans were required. Naturally the TV will still use a fair bit of energy, especially with HDR content, and the 65- and 75-inch models have an energy rating of B, while the 100-incher is yet to be classified.
The big advantage of the Backlight Master Drive is its combination of Discrete Control and a Calibrated Beam LED Design. The Discrete Control means that the TV controls each LED individually for more precise dimming, whilst the Calibrated Beam LED focuses the LED light on a limited area that again allows for far greater control and precision.
Sony had a number of demos on hand to show the full potential of the ZD9 including one that we saw at CES, where the image is just composed of the backlight itself. Whilst this didn’t reveal the exact number of LEDs, it certainly showed there were a lot of them and it admirably demonstrated the level of precision and control of which the ZD9 is capable. Sony were certainly confident of the new TV’s capabilities and had a 65” ZD9 up against a 65” XD93 and one of their €30,000 professional OLED monitors. The ZD9 was clearly superior to the XD93 and was very similar to the OLED monitor, which considering the difference in screen size and price was very impressive.
The second major innovation on the ZD9 is the X1 Extreme 4K HDR Processor, which has 40% more processing power than the current X1 processor. This additional power allows for more accurate noise reduction and detail enhancement, along with better contrast and colour up-scaling and smoother gradations.
The improved noise reduction and detail enhancement is achieved thanks to dual database processing, so the X1 Extreme not only has the existing Detail Database but a new Noise Reduction Database. The result is more precise processing of all resolution content, regardless of the quality of the source.
Another new feature in the X1 Extreme Processor is Object-based HDR Remaster which is designed to take an SDR source and upscale it to near HDR quality. There are a number of faux-HDR modes available from other manufacturers but Sony’s works on an object-based approach, analysing the image for wood, fabrics, stone etc. and then upscaling the image based on this analysis. Finally the X1 Extreme Processor also adds Super Bit Mapping to 4K HDR content for the first time.
Sony highlighted the capabilities of the X1 Extreme 4K HDR processor in the 65ZD9 using two separate demos, the first was against their own 65XD93 and the second was against an LG 65E6 and a Samsung 65KS9000. Sony said that they were using the Standard modes on all the TVs for these demos and in the case of the edge-lit KS9000, it would have been a fairer comparison to use the FALD KS9500 but apparently they are in short supply.
Of course, these demos are always designed to put the manufacturer’s new display in the best possible light and it uses content created by them, however they did reveal the ability of the X1 Extreme Processor to draw every last bit of information out of an SDR source in order to create an HDR-like image. We were certainly impressed, even if the image had a slightly ‘processed’ look, and the results were definitely superior to all the other TVs in the demos.
The Object-based HDR Remaster feature is built into most of the picture modes, including Cinema Home, but not the Cinema Pro mode, which is good news for anyone who wishes to leave their images unprocessed. This is good news because as impressive as the HDR Remaster feature is, we would rather just watch SDR content according to the correct industry standards and allow the TV to deliver genuine HDR content to the best of its ability.
Sony used a scene from the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Angry Birds Movie to demonstrate the superior performance of the ZD9 against both the E6 and KS9000 when it came to actual HDR content and there was no doubt that overall the Sony was the superior performer in that particular demo.
As always the real test will come once we get the ZD9 in for review but there is no denying that in terms of performance, design and price, the 65ZD9 in particular looks to be a very tempting prospect. In fact, with the improved backlight performance and increased peak brightness, Sony have really thrown down the gauntlet with the ZD9. The question now is how will Samsung respond and can LG’s OLED technology remain relevant in a rapidly changing TV landscape?
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