Backlight Mastering and Extreme Processing
What is the Sony ZD9?The ZD9 is Sony's new flagship BRAVIA Ultra HD 4K TV that incorporates the recently developed Backlight Master Drive and the X1 Extreme 4K HDR Processor. The KD-65ZD9 is the 65-inch model which can be picked up for a not unreasonable price of £3,999 as at the time of writing (September 2016). The new Z Series also includes a 75-inch model, the KD-75ZD9 which retails for £6,999 and the 100-inch KD-100ZD9 which cost a whopping £59,999. Along with the Backlight Master Drive and X1 Extreme Processor, the ZD9 also includes High Dynamic Range (HDR 10) support, X-tended Dynamic Range PRO and a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) thanks to the Triluminos Display. There’s also support for active 3D, Android 6, Sony’s new content bar user interface and the latest version of their remote control. When Sony demonstrated the Backlight Master Drive at CES they claimed it had 1,000 dimming zones and a peak brightness of 4,000 nits, so let’s see if the ZD9 delivers on that promise and justifies its position at the top of Sony’s TV range.
DesignThe ZD9 has a similar appearance to Sony’s XD93 and XD94, using an approach that combines a black and brushed metal design. Therein a 2cm wide black bezel around the screen and a champagne gold finish around the outer edge with a black inlaid trim. The 65ZD9 also uses the same angled metallic stand seen on the XD93 and XD94, although the black brushed finish also has a matching gold trim, which adds to the sense of elegance. The stand 44 x 27cm and there is 10cm clearance beneath the screen.
The overall design is very attractive with the emphasis on minimalist but contemporary styling. The combination of black, gold and metallic elements create an overall aesthetic that is both elegant and modern. The build quality is excellent and the general feeling is of a well-engineered and carefully designed TV, where every detail has been thoughtfully considered. The ZD9 measures 146 x 85 x 8cm and weighs in at 32kg without the stand and measures 146 x 92 x 27cm and weighs 36kg with the stand.
At the rear of the ZD9 there is a grid design that goes beyond mere aesthetics and also effectively hides a series of removable panels. There are four panels in total, which cover the rear of the stand and the connections, allowing for an attractive 360 degree approach to the design and tidier cable management.
The ZD9 combines an attractive design with a functional set of removable panels for tidier cable management
Connections & ControlThe ZD9 uses the same three section layout for the connections that we've seen on other Sony TVs this year but now the removable panels blend into the grid design on the rear of the chassis. As a result you can't really see the panels when they are in place. The left panel covers a series of inward facing connections (three HDMI inputs and the various tuners), the central panel covers some legacy connections and a CI (Custom Interface slot) and the right panel covers some outward facing connections (including another HDMI input and three USB ports). These outward facing inputs are 20cm from the edge of the screen.
The ZD9 boasts a full set of connections which includes four HDMI inputs although only inputs 2 and 3 are HDMI 2.0a, which means they can accept 4K/60p, HDR and HDCP 2.2. The other two HDMI inputs are listed to 4K/30p, so bear that in mind when connecting up 4K/50p sources like Sky Q. In addition there are three USB ports, twin terrestrial and satellite tuners and various legacy connections, including a SCART socket which is something of a rarity these days. The ZD9 also includes both wired and wireless connections for accessing all your favourite Smart TV content.
In terms of controlling the ZD9 there is Sony’s latest remote control, which is well designed and comfortable to hold. It has a brushed metal finish on the back and a tactile, rubberised finish on the front, with low-profile buttons which include dedicated keys to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store. The controller is intuitively laid out, comfortable to hold and easy to use with one hand. Although if you would rather use your smartphone or tablet as a controller, there is also Sony’s TV SideView remote app, which is available free for both iOS and Android.
Features & SpecsThe ZD9 uses the new Backlight Master Drive, which is designed to deliver deeper blacks and brighter highlights with a previously unattainable level of precision. 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. The ZD9 also includes 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. The X1 Extreme Processor also includes Object-based HDR Remaster which is designed to take an SDR source and upscale it to near HDR quality. This works by 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. Although the ZD9 doesn't have Ultra HD Premium Certification, Sony confirmed that the ZD9 it could easily hit the minimum requirements used by the Ultra HD Alliance.
Sony use the Android platform for their Smart TV system and they appear to have made a much better job of presenting all the available apps and content this year. The addition of a recommendation bar is a definite improvement and now allows for integration with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, among other video streaming apps, not to mention Google Play and YouTube. However the overall platform still feels like two different systems bolted together and it can be confusing at times. At least Sony appear to have increased the amount processing power and the system feels more responsive than last year. It could still suffer from the occasional glitch, causing us to have to reboot the entire TV, but overall the platform worked reasonably well and we found it quite effective in day-to-day use. The ZD9 supports 3D and comes with two pairs of 3D glasses included, which is something of a rarity these days.
The ZD9 is feature-packed, although we remained unconvinced by Sony's implementation of Android TV
Sony KD-65ZD9 Recommended Picture Settings
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-BoxThe ZD9 ships in the Standard Picture Mode but for an image that accurately replicates the industry standards, you should select either Cinema Home or Cinema Pro. We used the Cinema Pro mode for our night time setting and the Cinema Home mode to create a daytime setting. All our measurements were done with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software. You can find our recommended picture settings for day, night and HDR modes in the video above. Although if you would rather just set the TV up yourself then you can follow the steps in our PicturePerfect Guide.The out-of-the-box greyscale performance was reasonably good, aside from an excess of blue across the entire scale, which resulted in some DeltaE (errors) that were just above the visible threshold of three. However the gamma was tracking our target curve of 2.4 closely, so overall this wasn't a bad performance but the XD94 did deliver a more accurate out-of-the-box greyscale performance.The colour tracking was also reasonably good, aside from the fact that the majority of colours were being skewed by a slight blue pull in the greyscale. However the colours were all tracking their saturation points quite closely and the luminance (not shown on the graph above) was very accurate, so once the greyscale has been calibrated the primary and secondary colours should fall right into place. The XD94 was again slightly better in terms of its out-of-the-box colour performance but this was mainly due to the more accurate greyscale.
Picture Settings – CalibratedSony TVs tend to have less calibration controls than much of the competition but what is available is often quite effective. So you get a two-point white balance control to make some general adjustments before fine-tuning with a ten-point control. As usual with a Sony TV there is no Colour Management System (CMS) but we generally find that after calibration their displays can be extremely accurate despite the absence of a CMS.We were able to reduce the excess of blue energy, which immediately resulted in a far more accurate greyscale. We then ran through the ten-point fine-tuning the performance. The result was a reference greyscale performance with errors that were all below one, which is well beyond the visible threshold. The gamma was still tracking our 2.4 target very accurately and overall this was a superb greyscale and gamma performance.As we suspected, once we had calibrated the greyscale the colour tracking fell into line and the result was an excellent level of colour accuracy. There were some minor hue errors in green and magenta and an over-saturation of red at 50% and above but considering there is no CMS the general performance was excellent and the luminance measurements were spot-on. Overall the ZD9 was capable of an impressive level of accuracy when it came to its greyscale, gamma and colour gamut performance but the XD94 still had the edge overall.
The level of greyscale and colour accuracy was impressive, although not quite as good as the XD94
Picture Settings – High Dynamic RangeAlthough the ZD9 is not certified as Ultra HD Premium by the UHD Alliance, based on our testing there is no reason why it couldn't be if Sony so desired. The TV uses a 10-bit panel and can deliver a colour gamut of between 90% and 95% of DCI-P3 (depending on how you measure it) and the peak brightness on a 10% window was a massive 1,826 nits. Whilst it isn't the 4,000 nits that Sony were claiming the Backlight Master Drive could deliver at CES, it's still more than any other TV we've tested so far.The ZD9 delivered an excellent default greyscale performance and the EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function) tracked close to the SMPTE 2084 (PQ) target, with the luminance beginning to roll off at just under 80 IRE. However, using a 10,000nits test pattern we could see that the TV wasn’t correctly mapping the content to the panel’s native peak brightness capability and was clipping content. The same was true for 4,000 nits, as evidenced by watching the 'Arriving at Neverland' scene on the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Pan but as with every other manufacturer except Samsung, Sony have decided to sacrifice correctly tone-mapping content graded at over 1,000 nits in favour of rolling off much higher up the PQ curve.When it came to colour accuracy in HDR the ZD9 was a bit of a mixed bag, with it's performance against Rec. 2020 being a little disappointing. At 66% it covered slightly more of Rec. 2020 than the XD94 but it didn't track as accurately as Sony's other full array backlight TV.
However when we moved on to DCI-P3 within a Rec. 2020 container, the ZD9 did an excellent job and all three primary colours and all three secondary colours tracked the saturation points of DCI-P3 within the larger colour gamut. As a result the wider colour gamuts on Ultra HD Blu-rays looked more saturated and natural and thus more realistic.
Black Levels and Contrast RatiosThanks to its VA panel the ZD9 delivered an excellent black level performance and measured 0.03nits on a 0IRE window, although that dropped to 0.000nits when the local dimming was engaged, even in the Low mode. Using our target nighttime viewing brightness of 120nits, that resulted in an on/off contrast ratio of 4,000:1 and an ANSI contrast ratio of 3,231:1. The contrast numbers for the XD94 were actually slightly better, which is surprising considering the increased number of local dimming zones on the ZD9.
Screen UniformityThe screen uniformity was excellent, with no obvious clouding, tinting or dirty screen effect. The ZD9 certainly performed better in this area than the XD94 and there were no darker edges on a full screen white pattern for example, although the screen is obviously a lot smaller in comparison. If there was one area where the ZD9 really impressed, it was in the lack of any apparent banding, which is something that has affected just about every other TV that uses a full array LED backlight to some degree or another. Clearly the increased number of zones, along with the discrete control and calibrated beam LED design were proving effective in this area.
Local Dimming and Viewing AnglesWe counted the number of individual dimming zones at 646 (34 x 19) which whilst not 1,000, is more than the Panasonic DX902 which has 512. The results were certainly impressive and the combination of excellent black levels and screen uniformity, along with Sony’s superb local dimming implementation resulted in a great contrast performance with both standard and high dynamic range content. The ZD9 delivered deep blacks that didn’t unduly crush shadow detail and bright whites that gave images a real depth and impact. The increased number of zones and new local dimming features were effective at minimising any haloing or brightness fluctuations in the image, even with challenging material such as a single bright source against a black background.
There are four settings for the Auto Local Dimming in the menu – Off, Low, Medium and High. Whilst the High setting could result in some haloing, the Low and Medium settings enhanced the dynamic range of the image without adversely affecting it. In general we found that the local dimming delivered excellent results and managed to remain free of unwanted halos even with HDR content. However this was only true if you were sat central to the screen, as with any VA panel, once you began to move off axis the haloing became more apparent. The ZD9 had one of the narrowest optimal viewing angles of any TV we have reviewed this year and it was its only real weakness because once you move out of a fairly narrow 30 degree viewing angle the performance drops off.
Motion HandlingThe motion handling on Sony TVs are generally very good for LCD panels and we measured the XD9’s motion resolution at around 400 lines, which is better than average for an LCD TV and obviously this increases to the full 1080 if you engage the Motionflow frame interpolation. This can introduce a certain degree of smoothing, although that won’t necessarily be an issue with sports content, but when it comes to film-based content we prefer using the True Cinema mode which increases the frame rate without introducing interpolation, thus retaining a film-like quality to motion. If motion is a big issue for you then there is always the option to experiment with the Clear and Custom controls to find a setting that you prefer but the Clear mode uses black frame insertion which will make the picture slightly darker, so you might need to increase the brightness of the image and some people may experience flicker.
Standard and High DefinitionThe ZD9 had quite a lot to live up to because the XD94 had already delivered an impressive performance when we reviewed it earlier in the year. Thankfully it didn’t disappoint with a wonderfully detailed picture that took full advantage of the increased number of zones, superior local dimming and excellent image accuracy. The ZD9 did a wonderful job of deinterlacing and scaling standard definition images, taking full advantage of the increased processing power and native 4K panel to get the most out of lower resolution content. There isn’t much even the most sophisticated processing can do with some of the highly compressed digital channels but with a good standard definition source like a DVD, the results can be very watchable.
Naturally as soon as we moved to high definition broadcasts the ZD9 had a chance to show what it was really capable of and the X1 Extreme Processor pulled every last pixel of detail from the 1080i images. The inherent dynamic range, the excellent local dimming and the image accuracy all came into play and produced some beautiful images, whilst the Reality Creation image processing engine could prove very effective as well. This ability to deliver high quality images was even more evident when it came to Blu-rays, with their superior 1080/24p pictures looking absolutely stunning on the Sony. We worked through a number of high quality new titles and the results could be breathtaking, with Captain America: Civil War and The Jungle Book both looking particularly impressive.
Sony have made a big deal about what they call Object-based HDR Remaster which is designed to take an SDR source and upscale it to near HDR quality. It would seem that almost all the manufacturers are developing their own version of this, with each of them trying to apply the increased capabilities of their new TVs to SDR sources. 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. Whilst we understand why they would want to do this and we have to admit that at times it really does work, we ultimately feel that the best approach is to set your TV up to watch standard and high definition content according to the industry standards and save the effect of high dynamic range for actual HDR content.
3DThe 3D performance was something of a mixed bag, which didn’t surprise us given Sony’s patchy performance in this area with recent reviews. In fact when we first tested the active shutter 3D, the image was inverted (i.e. distant objects appeared close and close objects appeared distant) making the picture completely unwatchable. We weren’t sure what was causing this because we checked all the settings on the TV, glasses and player and nothing appeared to be set incorrectly. However when came back to test the 3D again later the image had corrected itself and now we had a fairly decent 3D performance.
It wasn’t perfect and there was certainly more crosstalk than we could have liked to see, especially with objects in extreme negative or positive parallax. However overall the 3D was very watchable and favourites like Hugo, Avatar and more recently The Jungle Book looked good, with plenty of depth and natural colours. Since Sony actually included two pairs of 3D glasses with the ZD9 for a change, we could directly compare their performance with our trusty Samsung glasses but the 3D was identical, with the same amount of crosstalk regardless of which glasses we used. Whilst the 3D wasn't perfect we should probably be glad that Sony supports the format at all these days but, if you’re a big fan, then LG’s OLED TVs with their passive 3D remain the best performers.
High Dynamic RangeThe ZD9 delivered a superb performance when it came to Ultra HD Blu-ray and High Dynamic Range, with lovely detailed images that were bursting with colour and bright highlights. The native 4K panel was able to perfectly reveal every tiny pixel in the source content, which was especially true with UHD Blu-rays that use a 4K DI like Lucy where you could make out every tiny pore and blemish on Scarlett Johansson’s face - yes, she isn’t perfect. However the colour accuracy was also excellent, with saturated images that looked both natural and more realistic. The ZD9’s superior local dimming revealed deep blacks that still retained shadow detail, whilst the overall image had plenty of brightness and the highlights popped. The lack of halos was particularly impressive, as long as you were sat central to the screen although they became more of an issue as you moved off axis.
Overall this was certainly one of the best HDR performances we have seen from a TV this year, it was better than the XD94 and at least as good, if not better, than the Panasonic DX902. The ZD9 could even give the Samsung KS9500 a run for its money, although Samsung remain the only manufacturer able to correctly tone map content that was graded at more than 1,000 nits. This is a conscious choice on the part of Sony and the other manufacturers, who have chosen to roll off the curve at a higher point, which means that the image is more accurate with 1,000 nits content but causes clipping with content graded at 4,000 nits. It isn’t a huge issue and HDR still looked superb but you can spot it with some content if you know where to look. However watching reference Ultra HD Blu-rays like Sicario, The Revenant and Deadpool the ZD9 proved a stellar performer with detailed, saturated and bright images that are sure to please.
Sony KD-65ZD9 Video Review
Sound QualityAs we saw earlier in the year, Sony have removed the large forward-firing speakers used on previous generations. However despite this and the fact that speakers are now downward-firing, the deeper chassis resulted in a level of sound quality that was actually still quite good. The large scree size meant that the ZD9 could deliver a decent amount of stereo separation but at the same time the dialogue always remained clear and focused. The mid-range was well represented, the higher frequencies managed to avoid sounding shrill and there was a decent amount of bass presence. Although if it isn't enough, Sony do offer an optional wireless subwoofer that would be useful for enhancing the ZD9’s inherent low frequency performance.
The built-in speakers use two drivers with 10W of amplification for each one and they proved more than adequate for normal TV watching. Sony include a number of audio features such as Clear Audio+ and S-Force Front Surround, both of which are intended to provide a more immersive experience. We found that these features tended to make the audio sound rather echoey and preferred the Music sound mode for a more neutral experience. There’s also the DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) and Clear Phase which are designed to get more from your streaming music sources. Overall the ZD9 proved a competent audio performer but, as always, we would expect anyone investing in decent TV to use some form of outboard audio solution.
The deeper chassis delivered improved sound quality but the input lag may be too high for serious gamers
Input Lag & Energy ConsumptionWe tested the ZD9 with our Leo Bodnar tester and in Game mode with the local dimming off we got a measurement of 42ms and with the local dimming on we got 47ms, which should be low enough for most people, although serious gamers may find it slightly high. It is also slightly higher than the measurements we got for the XD93 and XD94, so we suspect the increased lag may be the result of the extra processing in the ZD9. However, personally we found gaming on the Sony to be an enjoyable experience as we blasted through a few sessions of No Man's Sky on our PS4.
In terms of the 65ZD9’s energy consumption it proved to be surprisingly efficient for such a large and bright TV. Using a full window 50% white pattern we measured the Standard picture mode at 144W and our calibrated Cinema Pro mode at 72W. Of course once we moved on to HDR the level of energy consumption increased, with the ZD9 drawing 187W with our optimal settings. However, what really impressed us was that Sony have not only managed to deliver a higher level of peak brightness without significantly increasing the energy consumption but that they have also achieved this without having to resort to fans.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of Rec.2020 - 100% best) 66% 10-bit Panel HDMI 2.0a Inputs HDCP 2.2 Support HEVC Decoding 4K Streaming Services Smart TV Platform Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10) 9 What do these mean?
- Impressive local dimming
- Accurate greyscale and colour gamut
- Excellent performance with SDR and HDR
- Good motion handling
- Great set of features
- Surprisingly energy efficient
- Attractive design and good build quality
- Limited viewing angles
- Some crosstalk with 3D
- Input lag could be lower
- Expensive compared to competition
Sony BRAVIA ZD9 (KD-65ZD9) UHD 4K TV Review
Should I buy one?The Sony ZD9 is certainly a contender for one of the best TVs of the year, with more local dimming zones and a higher peak brightness than any other model. It has a minimalist but elegant design, with some nice stylish touches and a clever series of removable panels at the rear for tidier cable management. The build quality is excellent and the overall feeling is of a well engineered flagship model. The ZD9 comes with Sony's latest remote control and a pair of 3D glasses, whilst around the back there is a fairly comprehensive set of connections, although only two of the four HDMI inputs are the full HDMI 2.0a variety. There's Android TV of course and although it's an improvement over last year it remains prone to the occasional crash and the whole platform still feels fragmented. The ZD9 is surprisingly energy efficient when you consider its size and brightness and although the 42ms input lag isn't bad, it might be a bit high for serious gamers.
The big selling point of the ZD9 is the Backlight Master Drive with its 646 zones and over 1,800 nits of peak brightness. It might not be quite what Sony were demonstrating at CES but it's still impressive and the results speak for themselves. The local dimming is excellent and the ZD9 can deliver superb images with both standard and high dynamic range content. The out-of-the-box performance was reasonably good and the calibrated measurements were near-reference, whilst the HDR measurements were generally excellent. Like most HDR TVs the ZD9 doesn't tone map content graded over 1,000 nits without clipping but in all other respects it was a superb performer. The only real weaknesses were the limited viewing angles, which is to be expected with a VA panel and some crosstalk with 3D. However overall the Sony KD-65ZD9 delivers a marvellous all-round performance that certainly justifies its price and sets a new bar for peak brightness.
What are my alternatives?Well if you want very similar performance and a 75-inch screen size at the same price, then Sony's KD-75XD9405 has to be worth considering. It doesn't have anything like the peak brightness of the ZD9 but in many other respects it is as good, if not slightly better, than the newer model. If you're looking for a real bargain then Panasonic's TX-65DX902B is definitely worth considering at £2,899. It has almost as many dimming zones and is nearly as bright, whilst it also includes active shutter 3D and the Firefox Smart TV platform which we prefer to Android. The Sony has superior local dimming but the Panasonic has incredible colour accuracy and superb calibration controls. Finally the Samsung UE65KS9500 delivers superb HDR performance and whilst the curved screen and lack of 3D may not be for everyone, it's a fantastic all-round performer for £3,799. It doesn't have as many zones as the other two, nor is is quite as bright, but it does tone map content graded over 1,000 nits correctly.
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Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality8
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box9
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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