Ultra HD Alliance Premium in everything but name
What is the Sony KD-55XD9305?The KD-55XD9305 is Sony’s top-end 55-inch TV for 2016, priced at £1,999 (April 2016), and features Ultra HD 4K resolution as well as High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability. There is also the 65-inch 65XD9305 (£2,799) in the range which, other than screen size, boasts the same specs which include Sony’s Slim Backlight Drive, the 4K Processor X1 and the Android TV platform with YouView integrated. Unlike all the other major manufacturers of UHD HDR TVs, Sony decided not to get this TV certified as Ultra HD Premium as they were worried the UHD Premium logo would cause (added) customer confusion. We’re not sure we agree with them on that stance but this is Sony and they tend to do things their own way. What is more important to us, however, is if it hits the performance criterion that would make it UHD Premium, in everything but name. Let’s see how the Sony 55XD93 stands up to some AVForums testing and if it’s worthy our ‘certification’ at least.
DesignIt’s difficult to convey in words, and indeed photographs, but in the flesh, the Sony 55XD93 is one lovely piece of engineering with an excellent build quality and, trademark, understated design. The XD93 is ultra-slim too, at least at the top of the chassis which measures just 12mm, in depth, but it expands toward the bottom, to 36mm, to house the speakers and connection panels; the bezel also features a gold, inlaid trim which looks classier than it sounds. Speaking of the inputs and outputs, these can all be hidden by detachable panels and wires can be kept in check by a simple cable management system. The base-stand is also one of the more attractive of the breed with a silver, sloped design although, thankfully, the screen is set dead straight upon it and not tilted backwards like some Sony’s of the past or Panasonic’s of the present. It’s also worth mentioning that the XD93 comes with a dedicated wall-mounting bracket and all the necessary fixings to carry out the procedure.
Connections & ControlThe various inputs and outputs on board the XD93 are scattered all over the place but they are a very comprehensive and up-to-date set. Down the right hand side, looking from the rear, are three USB ports, one of which is v3.0 and that’s the one to hook up with a USB hard drive if you want to take advantage of the built-in personal video recorder (PVR) functionality. Also on the right, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, a S/PDiF (Toslink) digital audio output and a wired LAN port. Naturally the XD93 features built-in AC WiFi but if you want to stream 4K/HDR video we would advise using a cable. To the left of those are some legacy audio/video connections including Scart, component and corresponding stereo inputs. Towards the centre are three further HDMI inputs as well as the satellite and digital TV aerial terminals. We tested all of the HDMI ports with our Murideo Six-G and can confirm they are all HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 compliant.
Sony seems to have ditched their smart, ‘One Flick’ remote this year and we’re not surprised as it was, quite frankly, rubbish. Instead we have a new, but fairly standard, remote control that is only remarkable because of its tactile, rubberised finish and low-profile buttons which depress with a satisfying soft click. There are dedicated buttons to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store, too, and all in all it’s a well thought out handset and a definite improvement on what Sony has been churning out these last few years.
Features & SpecsThe KD-55XD9305 uses Sony’s X-tended Dynamic Range PRO technology, with the promise of better-than-ever contrast performance to lift both HDR and SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) content by boosting and dimming the backlight levels for each zone of the screen. The dimming system also incorporates Sony’s new edge-lit-based, Slim Backlight Drive technology. The Slim Backlight drive uses a grid array local dimming backlighting structure to distribute the backlight source evenly to each specific zone of the screen. There’s also a wider colour gamut, with Sony’s quantum dot based TRILUMINOS Display which has been further enhanced for colour accuracy this year. The 4K X-Reality PRO chip uses algorithms from a reality creation database for TV broadcasting, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, Internet video and digital still photos to improve scaling and interpolation.
Sony’s decision to go with Android as a base for their Smart TV platform was met with a fair amount of derision, from some quarters, in 2015. We think a lot of that criticism was justified although it was probably as much to do with Sony using under-powered components to power it as much as it was the operating system itself. Android TV has come on quite a lot since then, however, and our first impressions are that Sony has made a much better job of presenting all the available apps and content. The recommendation bar, in particular, is much better and now allows for integration with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, among others, as well as the de facto options of Google Play and YouTube. We’ll be covering the 2016 Sony Android TV system in a detailed review, coming shortly, so stay tuned for that.
Sony KD-55XD9305 Picture Settings
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-boxThe default, Standard picture mode the XD93 ships in is plain nasty, at least to our eyes; there’s far too much blue energy present and the motion processing is jacked up high, to mention a couple of its problems and there’s probably more but that’s all we spotted in the ten seconds we could bear to watch it. Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for such sub-standard images as there are two accurate modes available with either Cinema Home or Cinema Pro providing much more accurate pictures and a very good basis for calibration, should you want to take things further.
As we can see from the charts below, Cinema Pro is by no means perfect; the RGB Balance graph reveals there’s an excess of green energy in the greyscale, throughout, and that’s the least desirable of errors as it’s the easiest to spot with the naked eye. There’s also too much blue, near white and gamma I some way off our target for night time viewing.
Moving on to the out-of-the-box measurements, against the Rec.709 colour gamut, which is the one that is applicable to everything bar Ultra HD Blu-ray at this time, and the KD-55XD93 is in pretty good, if not stellar shape. Given the capabilities of the panel it is slightly surprising to see that the Sony has a general tendency to under-saturate the colours, except at maximum levels where it tends to do the opposite. The colours are generally of the right tone (hue), however and the errors aren’t all that easy to spot by eye but there’s no doubt it does look a tad muted at default settings.
Picture Settings CalibratedIn the not too distant past, all you got in terms of calibration controls on Sony TVs was an, often clunky, two-point white balance control but it was generally surprisingly effective. Sony has now blessed us with a ten point ‘gamma adjustment’ option. For it to work properly, however, the Contrast control needs to be set at maximum which might not always be desirable but in this instance that worked out just fine.
As you can see, the RGB Balance graph now has a near perfect mix of red, green and blue throughout and gamma is tracking very close to targets – not quite ruler flat but certainly close enough and these tiny errors you will not see. The gamma is also much improved, now tracking our target of 2.4 correctly.
There is no dedicated colour management system available on the 55XD93, which is a shortcoming Sony really needs to address when you consider that all their main competitors provide one in their high-end TVs. Still, when you can get results like the below from merely tidying up the greyscale perhaps it’s a bit churlish to complain.
Picture Settings - High Dynamic RangeAs we’re sure you’re aware, the standards for home video are currently going through a major evolution with the advent of Ultra HD and HDR video. The new formats are using a higher video bit-depth, a wider colour gamut based on Rec.2020 and content currently mastered at 1,000 and 4,000 nits. To reflect these changes, we are now measuring the out-of-the-box performance of brands against these new standards, to see what kind of performance an owner can expect from their new TV.
The XD93 had a very good default greyscale performance with just a little bit too much green and blue apparent in the greyscale but the EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function) tracked almost exactly against the SMPTE 2084 (PQ) target; don’t worry if you have no idea what we’re talking about - it basically means you are seeing the content with the correct amount of light - the fact that the Sony is doing this is a good thing for your HDR viewing! The luminance starts rolling off at just under 80% stimulus but test patterns revealed the XD93 was mapping content mastered at 10,000nits to the panel's just over 1,000nits – as measured on a 10% window pattern - without clipping any detail.
In terms of achieving the Rec.2020 colour space, we are still some way off consumer TVs being able to do so and, sure enough, the Sony is some way off with coverage just over 64%. Despite the fact that the DCI colour space has nothing to do with home video standards – it’s the one used in cinemas – the manufacturers would rather you took notice of how their TVs perform against it than Rec.2020 so, for the record, the Sony 55XD9305 covered just over 90% of DCI P3, so would qualify for UHD Premium status, based only on that.
Black Levels and Contrast RatiosEven without its (auto) local dimming feature switched on, the Sony KD-55XD93 produces very good black levels for an LED LCD TV, although we see very little reason not to use it as Sony has clearly made great strides with the processing in its 2016 edge-lit sets. For the record, without dimming on with an SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) signal being sent to the TV we measured the black level at 0.029 nits but with auto dimming switched on to the ‘Mid’ position, this dropped to 0.0019 nits, which is more or less totally black. Inevitably, when there was a mixture of bright and dark on-screen, the black floor lifted to around 0.032 nits but this still produced a calibrated (SDR) ANSI contrast ratio of 4,400:1 while the HDR contrast ratio was a stunning 19,000:1, or thereabouts – you don’t get an option to switch off the dimming with HDR signals.
Screen UniformitySony has made a stunning job of producing an edge-lit TV with outstanding screen uniformity on both dark and brightly lit content. I am undoubtedly AVForums’ biggest sports addict and it is with great pleasure, and no small amount of surprise, that I can report the XD93 showed not even a suggestion of a dirty screen effect or any panel banding on panning shots, making the footy – or whatever your sporting poison is – an absolute pleasure to watch. After viewing LCD TVs for more than 10 years and reviewing them for nearly half of that, I wasn’t sure whether those words would ever make it to print via my fingertips. We can’t guarantee this will be the case for all the XD9305’s in circulation but we can tell you that this was a sample provided by a retailer and not a cherry picked unit directly sent from Sony. Similarly, on dark scenes, there was no undue backlight bleed, clouding, flash-lighting or any other video nasties to spoil the immersion and this is also highly unusual. Whatever Sony has done with their Slim Backlight Drive, with regards to screen uniformity, appears to be working.
Local Dimming and Viewing AnglesAs we alluded to above, the Auto backlight dimming feature of the Sony KD-55XD9305 is effective; it’s not perfect but definitely worth using. We would sometimes see it caught out when large bright objects were set against a very dark background but that’s not something that happens all that often in video content. You could 100% trip it up with film credits or device menus, including ironically the submenus in the TV, but that didn’t overly bother us. There were, however, instances when the dimming system just couldn’t cope; topically, at the time of writing, the sixth season of Game of Thrones had just hit the screens and the opening few scenes where lighting is provided by torches and fire, the XD93 could be seen to pulse its backlight in a frequent, distracting manner in areas of the screen it shouldn’t have been doing so. The only solution was to disable the dimming entirely but, for most of the time, we would recommend having it engaged.
In terms of viewing angles, these are much more generous on the horizontal plane than they are on the vertical. While the colour saturation and contrast performance would degrade from anything over 20 degrees off-centre, it wasn’t ever to the point where the picture would look genuinely washed out. If we stood up and watched the TV – and why would you – then there was more apparent loss of contrast but we can’t really hold this as a negative against the XD93 as only a giant would be affected when sat down.
Motion HandlingWe have long regarded Sony’s MotionFlow processing as the best of, admittedly, not a great bunch and the XD93 shows no sign of relinquishing that superiority. This area more than any other is a highly subjective call, however, so we’ll leave it down to the user on whether they should use it and then to what degree. What we will say is that we are all highly anti the soap opera effect – i.e. overly smooth looking motion – and the XD93 exhibited none of this in the default ‘Clear’ mode – or matching ‘Custom’ settings so if you do start seeing heavy blur with fast panning shots, you should be able to engage MotionFlow with confidence. Impressively, the Clear setting revealed the full 1080 (there’s no 4K pattern, yet) lines of resolution on the Spears & Munsil test but owing to the fact it uses a black frame insertion technique it does dim the picture meaning you’ll need to up the Brightness (backlight) setting if you’re going to use it. In short, like much of the rest of the tested performance criteria, the Sony XD93 is a cut above the rest of the LED LCD TV pack.
Standard and High DefinitionSony’s video processing know-how is again evident in the scaling of sub UHD resolutions to match the 3840x2160 panel with even a good quality DVD looking more than watchable on the XD93. We’re not really in the habit of watching standard definition, any more, but provided the source material is of a decent bitrate the Sony will make a great job of displaying it; as ever, animated DVDs from the likes of Disney and Pixar are amongst the best you’ll get with a UHD panel. There is very little that can be done with some of the utter SD tosh our TV providers squeeze down the pipes but that’s true for just about any TV, not only Ultra HD ones.
As you would naturally expect, the higher the resolution (and bitrate) you feed the XD93, the better it looks and anything high quality from 720p, and up, is going to look great. The Sony is also blessed with excellent deinterlacing capability so broadcast HD also looks great and the KDL-55XD93 has no issues in locking on to film cadences and displaying them without judder so Blu-rays looked utterly splendid on it, despite the fact they’re ‘only’ 1080p. We’ll say this very quietly, as we’re not usually ones for extraneous processing trickery but if you did want to have a play around with the Live Colour and X-tended Dynamic Range settings, we wouldn’t blame you as they can look extremely good and provide a surprisingly effective faux HDR effect without looking unnatural; proceed with caution and use in moderation, of course.
High Dynamic RangeThere’s a scene towards the beginning of Kingsman: The Secret Service where one of the Eastern European henchmen hands his kidnap victim a glass of very fine whisky and utters the words, “You will sit,” or something sounding very like that, in relation to how good it tastes. Well, when you see HDR video presented with 1000+ nits for the first time, you may very well feel the same. Our Ultra HD Blu-ray collection has grown a little since the Panasonic 58DX700 review, so we now have Wild and Mad Max: Fury Road to salivate over as well, and whilst the former isn’t an in-yer-face visual extravaganza it does show the benefits of HDR in terms of providing incredibly natural looking light. Mad Max, on the other hand, is a sheer visceral showcase for the format with the wider colour gamut and bright highlights easily distinguishing it from the original, standard Blu-ray release and, whatever you feel about the film – I’m not the biggest fan – it is undoubtedly spectacular in HDR. We were also able to check out the Netflix Original, Marco Polo, in HDR and while it wasn’t quite such a visual leap over the SDR version, which already looks incredible, the enhanced specular highlights especially noticeable in the lavish clothing of some of the protagonists, were a joy to behold. This format has legs and the Sony KD-55XD93 certainly has the weapons necessary to show it off beautifully.
Sony KD-55XD9305 Video Review
Sound QualityWhile we were never big fans of the jug-eared look of the Sony’s of previous years that featured the large, side mounted speakers, they did sound superior in comparison to just about every other TV available. There’s a definite audio downgrade with the XD9305 but you can’t have it both ways, we guess, and the four driver speaker set inside still provides a good sound that will fill most rooms. Instances of dialogue are always clear and there’s enough bottom end to stop the XD93 sounding undernourished; you can add one of Sony’s optional wireless subwoofers to the mix if you feel you’re missing the bass effect. For the most part, however, we used an AVR with speakers connected through the ARC HDMI input of the Sony and while there were no lip-sync issues, it did take a while for the volume commands to reach the receiver – just long enough so that you thought the commands weren’t getting there at all, in fact, which led to numerous instances where the sound would either be far too loud, or quiet, before we realised it was happening – quite frustrating.
Input Lag & Energy ConsumptionAnybody even remotely serious about their gaming will need to select the Game mode from the Picture Menu of the Sony KD-55XD9305. Without it, you’re looking of input latency of around 90 milliseconds, which even a middle aged ‘casual’ like me finds intolerable. In Game mode, as measured by our Leo Bodnar tester, we got a 55 millisecond lag which, while fine for me and my single player only ways, might be a little high for those that take it more seriously. You can use the white balance settings from the Cinema modes when gaming, however, so the picture quality was great.
The energy consumption of the XD93 was impressively low, on a full window 50% white pattern we measured 72W in its default Standard picture mode and just 62W in our calibrated Cinema Pro mode. This increased significantly in HDR mode, of course, with the XD93 consuming 185W at the default settings.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of Rec.2020 - 100% best) 64.5% 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) 8 What do these mean?
- Excellent colour accuracy
- Superb video processing
- Almost faultless screen uniformity
- Gorgeous design and superior build quality
- Cutting edge connectivity
- All the video services you could want
- HDR performance is spectacular
- Dimming system is mostly good
- Dimming system can be caught out sometimes
- Menu system is fragmented
Sony XD93 (KD-55XD9305) Ultra HD 4K TV Review
Should I buy one?The Sony KD-55XD9305 is a great piece of engineering with superior build quality and a few design flourishes that make it a very desirable television based on looks alone. The chassis is incredibly slender at the top, measuring just 12mm, with this increasing to 36mm lower done with the need to accommodate the speaker system and connections. Speaking of which, the XD93 is blessed with all the latest connectivity, including 4 HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 compatibility and 3 USB ports, one of which is v3.0. Sony has redesigned their remote control for 2016 and the result is a handset which looks good, with a tactile, soft finish and it’s also well designed with easy to find buttons, the most used of which are placed near the centre where your thumb naturally comes to rest.
The menu system is still somewhat fragmented – there are two Settings entries, for instance, but the Android TV platform seems far more stable this year. The Smart TV interface has been rejigged a little, to good effect, and the Recommendations Bar now carries content you might genuinely be interested in with integration from video streaming apps including Netflix, BBC iPlayer and YouTube. There are also now more available Android apps that play nice with a TV remote and the XD93 has just about every video service you’ll want; there’s also integration with YouView meaning all the major UK catch-up services are covered.
When it comes to delivering where it counts, the Sony XD93 produced the goods with mostly stunning pictures hitting the screen. We must make special mention of the screen uniformity which, very unusually for LED LCD tech, was near flawless on both dark screens and bright. This has a major positive impact for sports lovers who won’t be plagued with panel banding or dirty screen effect issues on fast panning shots. The 55XD9305 also looked great in dark scenes with the impressive native black levels and contrast usually complemented by a surprisingly effective edge-lit dimming system. There were times when it was caught out – occasionally in spectacular fashion – but for the most part it’s well worth using and a big improvement on Sony’s efforts in 2015.
The KD-55XD9305 was nice and accurate right out of the box in the Cinema modes and the calibration controls onboard allowed it to shine even more. In terms of hitting its straps as an HDR TV, the Sony would make the grade as an Ultra HD Premium certified TV with 1000+ nits of peak brightness, 0.03 nit black level and 90% plus of the DCI colour space; Sony has decided not to submit the XD93 to the UHD Premium Alliance for certification, however, but it’s good to know it would have made the grade. Resultantly, the Sony 55XD93 looked utterly spectacular with HDR content, both streamed and from Ultra HD Blu-ray.
While the marketing focus is undoubtedly on 4K and HDR, for the time being it’s far more important how a TV handles Full HD, 1080p content and, again, the Sony delivers in spades. The video processing is of the highest quality, with great scaling, deinterlacing and cadence detection producing pictures straight from the top drawer. This is one seriously impressive TV and well deserving of an AVForums Highly Recommended Award.
What else is there?At this early stage of HDR proceedings where the high-end TVs are only just emerging, choices are a little limited but we have reviewed one other that can go toe-to-toe with the XD9305. The Panasonic DX902 is also a TV with incredible picture quality and the scores on the doors are so even that we couldn’t easily chose between the two. Looking later in to 2016, the Samsung KS9500 is sure to be another contender as are the family of HDR OLEDs incoming from LG.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
2D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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