Sony BRAVIA KD-55XE9305 HDR 4K TV Review
Still slim but so much brighter
What is the Sony XE93?The XE93 is Sony's latest flagship edge-lit LCD 4K TV, it uses their LED edge Slim Backlight Drive+ with local dimming and replaces last year's XD93. The XE93 uses a flat Ultra HD screen and supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG). Sony have included their X1 Extreme processor previously seen on the ZD9, so the XE93 not only supports HDR 10 but, after a firmware update later in the year, it will also support Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision. The XE93 looks similar to last year's model but the design has been upgraded and it also includes the Android Smart TV platform, although there is no 3D support this year. The XE93 is available in two screen sizes, the 55-inch KD-55XE9005 which is available for a price of £2,399 and the 65-inch KD-65XE9305 which costs £3,199 – both prices are correct at the time of writing (April 2017). The XD93 really impressed us last year with an excellent picture and HDR performance, so let's see if the 55XE93 can build on that solid foundation.
DesignThe XE93 uses a similar design to last year's XD93 but with a few cosmetic changes. The new TV has a similar minimalist look but with virtually no bezel and just a 1cm wide black border around the screen itself. Instead of the gold strip around the outer edge, there is now a two-tone finish to the aluminium frame with the front half black and the rear half silver. The rear of the panel itself uses earthier tones, instead of the black of the XD93, and there's a grid design that is similar to the ZD9 and helps hide the various removable panels. These panels cover the rear of the stand, along with the back of the panel where the mounts are for a VESA 300 x 300 wall bracket. There are also covers for the downwards and sideways facing connections as well as cable guides for better cable management. The overall build quality is excellent and despite its slim proportions the XE9305 is very heavy. It actually weighs considerably more than last year's model, in fact the 55XE93 is heavier than the 65XD93.The 55XE93 sits on a sloped stand with a brushed metal finish that's is very similar to last year but there are now columns at the rear with sliding covers over spaces through which you can run cables to help keep things even tidier. The stand measures 501 x 282mm, is stable and provides good support. It can't be swivelled but the panel is at least mounted upright and there's 95mm of clearance beneath the screen if you're thinking of using a soundbar. The overall dimensions are 1232 x 715 x 40mm (WxHxD) without the stand and 1232 x 790 x 282mm with the stand and the 55XE9305 weighs in at 28.6kg without the stand and 32.6kg with it attached. At the bottom middle of the screen, just below the Sony logo there is an indicator light that can be turned off if you prefer. Due to the panel’s slimline nature, the XE93 uses a power adapter the size of a brick, which you connect to a wall socket using a standard 3-pin power cable and then to the TV using a dedicated power cable that is 1.5m long.
The XE93 retains the slim and minimalist design of the previous model but is a lot heavier
Connections & ControlThankfully Sony have simplified the rear connections on the XE93, making them easier to access, so behind the removable panels you'll find a combination of downwards and sideways facing inputs. The downwards facing connections include three HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, a USB port and terrestrial and twin satellite connectors for the built-in tuners. All the HDMI inputs support HDR and HDCP2.2 and HDMI 3 supports ARC (Audio Return Channel), however only HDMI 2 and 3 support 4K @ 50/60p, the other two are limited to 4K @ 25/30p. Along with the LAN port, the XE9305 also has built-in WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac). The sideways facing connections, which are only 15cm from the edge, include two more USB ports, the fourth HDMI input, an optical digital output, a hybrid connector for composite and component video inputs and a hybrid output for analogue audio, a connected subwoofer and headphones.The control options are identical to last year, starting with some basic controls on the TV itself. These are situated at the rear left hand side of the screen as you face it and allow you to turn the TV on, change the channels, change the volume and access the inputs or internal tuners. The second option is Sony’s basic remote control, which is the same as last year. The controller is reasonably well designed, solidly made and comfortable to hold. It has the same tactile, rubberised finish and low-profile buttons which proved quite divisive last year, with some liking the remote and others finding it hard to use. In general we don't mind the remote but the buttons can be hard to find in the dark and we did hit the wrong one by accident on occasion.
However all the buttons you'll need are there, including dedicated keys to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store. There's also Voice Search on the remote, using a dedicated button and a built-in microphone. The Voice Search feature on Android TV gives you easy access to Google search, allowing you to find content across different services without the hassle of time-consuming text entry. You can also get recommendations, so simply asking for “action films” for example, will bring up a list of suitable options. The XE93 also comes with an infra-red (IR) blaster lets you control other devices from the TV remote, so you can use it to control your set-top box for example. The third control option is Sony’s TV SideView remote app, which is available free for iOS and Android.
Sony have simplified the connections but are using the same remote control as last year
Features & SpecsThe XE93 uses a 10-bit VA Ultra HD 4K panel and includes the latest version of Sony's Slim Backlight Drive+ technology which works by using two rows of LEDs along the top and bottom of the panel and two light guide plates to create a grid. This not only results in an incredibly slim panel but also makes it easier for the TV to more accurately position the backlight where it needs to be and so deliver deeper blacks and brighter highlights. The XE93 also includes the X1 Extreme processor that was launched on the ZD9 last year. As such it will not only support High Dynamic Range in the form of HDR 10 but, thanks to a firmware update later in the year, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision.
The X1 Extreme processor includes dual databases, superbit mapping for 4K and object-based HDR remastering. There is also X-tended Dynamic Range PRO which is designed to lift both HDR and SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) content by increasing or reducing the backlight levels for each zone of the screen. Thanks to Sony’s Quantum Dot based TRILUMINOS Display technology the colour gamut is wider and has been enhanced for greater accuracy with HDR as well. There's also Motionflow XR for improved motion handling and a new HDR gaming mode. One feature that is missing from the XE93 compared to last year is 3D, Sony have dropped the format from all their 2017 models.
MORE: What is Dolby Vision?
Sony have been using Android as the base for their Smart TV platform for the last couple of years and it's fair to say that it hasn't been a total success. The use of Android has often delayed the release of new Sony TVs and the early implementation was slow and bug-ridden. Over the last year things have improved and Sony have made a much better job of presenting all the available apps and content with a series of tiled layers that you scroll down through and then across. The recommendation bar was a big improvement and allowed for integration with Netflix and BBC iPlayer, among other video streaming apps, not to mention Google Play, YouTube and YouView.
However we still find the entire platform to be slightly confusing, it often feels like multiple systems bolted together and it frequently feels underpowered in terms of processing. The XE93 at least felt more responsive in operation than last year but the platform is still flakey and during the review we had to reboot the TV twice due to various unexplained crashes. Our review sample was still running Android M (6.1) but Sony will be upgrading their TVs to Android N when the Dolby Vision update is released later in the year.
An impressive set of features will include the addition of Dolby Vision and HLG later in the year
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-BoxAs with all Sony TVs the XE93 ships in the Standard Picture Mode, so for an image that accurately replicates the industry standards, you'll need to 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, game and HDR modes here, 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 was generally good but, as you can see in the graph above, there was an excess of blue and a deficit of red in the higher part of the scale. As a result there was a visible push towards blue in whites and this is shown by the errors (deltaEs) going as high as six. Since the XE93 includes both a two and a ten point white balance control, we expect no issues when it comes to calibrating the greyscale. We were also pleased to see that gamma curve tracked our target of 2.4 very closely.The colour tracking was actually quite good, aside from the fact that the majority of colours were being skewed by the excess blue in the greyscale. However the colours were all tracking their saturation points quite closely, so once we’ve calibrated the greyscale and removed the excess of blue and brought red back up, the primary and secondary colours should fall right into place. Let's hope so because as with all Sony TVs, there is no colour management system.
The out-of-the-box accuracy could've been better but the XE93 was excellent after calibration
Picture Settings – CalibratedAs already mentioned, the XE93 includes a two-point white balance control, which you can use to make general adjustments to the greyscale before fine-tuning it with the ten-point control. Although there are no colour management (CMS) controls on Sony TVs, we generally find that after calibration their displays can be extremely accurate despite this and thus do benefit from the greyscale being calibrated.
We were able to increase red and reduce blue, which immediately resulted in a far more accurate greyscale, in fact all the errors were already below the visible threshold, so we could have just stopped there. However in the interests of producing the most accurate measurements for the review, we used the ten-point to fine-tune the performance, resulting in a highly accurate greyscale with errors that were now all below one. The gamma was still tracking at our target of 2.4.As we expected based on previous experience with Sony TVs, 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 errors in the saturation tracking of red and blue but the overall colour tracking was very impressive, which is just as well since, as we mentioned, there's no CMS. Overall the XE93 is capable of a near-reference level of accuracy when it comes to its greyscale, gamma and colour gamut.
Picture Settings – High Dynamic RangeThe measurements shown below are for an out-of-the-box performance using the HDR Cinema Pro mode and based upon a basic setup. As you can see the EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function) tracked very closely to the SMPTE 2084 (PQ) target, with the luminance beginning to roll off at 80 IRE. The greyscale is tracking very well and overall the errors were mostly below two, except where the curve rolls off at 80IRE, where there is a slight increase to four. The Sony did an excellent job of tone mapping a 10,000 nit signal to its native peak brightness without unwanted clipping of content.One of the big selling points of the XE93 is the new Slim Backlight Drive+ and clearly positioning the LEDs at the top and bottom has made a huge difference to the peak brightness of the panel. Depending on whether we set the local dimming to low, medium or high, we got peak brightness measurements of 1044, 1422 and 1496 nits respectively using a 10% window. This is a huge increase compared to last year's XD93, which only managed a maximum of 1000 nits. This allowed the XE9305 to deliver an impressive HDR performance, whilst the effective local dimming delivered deep blacks and minimised haloing, as long as you remained central to the screen.
The XE93 could deliver a wider colour gamut and although it wasn't quite as wide as some other HDR TVs that we have tested, it was consistent with the XD93 from last year. We measured the XE93 at 89% of DCI-P3 using xy and 95% using uv coordinates, which equates to 66% of Rec.2020. The graph above shows how the XE9305 tracked against Rec.2020 and, within the limitations of its native colour gamut, it was reasonably good.
The graph above shows how the XE93 tracked against the DCI-P3 saturation points within the Rec.2020 container and in this test the Sony did a better job, with the primary and secondary colours tracking their targets closer than they did in the Rec. 2020 test. There was some under-saturation of red but in general the colours were near their targets which resulted in natural-looking colours with actual HDR content.
One of the big marketing buzz words this year will be colour volume, which is essentially a display's colour gamut and its peak brightness combined to create a three dimensional space or volume. We are now using the latest beta version of Calman 2017 which includes the ability to measure the colour volume of a display in a number of different ways. This is still a work in progress and when the final version is available we should be able to represent the colour volume in a nice graphical form but at the moment we can talk about the basic measurements.
For the purposes of this review we started by measuring the Relative Colour Volume, this takes the display's own peak brightness and measures the colour volume relative to that peak brightness based on the CIE L*a*b* colour graph and 140 data points. For the XE93 we got measurements of 123% against Rec. 709, 83% against DCI-P3 and 56% against Rec. 2020 but these measurements aren't taking into account the peak brightness of the content. It would thus make more sense to measure the relative colour volume against at least 4,000nits, which is currently the maximum peak brightness at which content is graded.
For this reason Dolby have been recommending testing a display's capabilities against the Perceptual Colour Volume which uses the PQ EOTF out to 10,000nits and the Rec. 2020 colour gamut measured using the ICtCp colour graph which takes into account human visual perception. This measurement uses 393 data points and delivers a number expressed in Millions of Distinguishable Colours (MDC). So a theoretical display that could deliver 10,000nits of peak brightness and 100% of Rec. 2020 would be able to deliver 997 million distinguishable colours or an MDC number of 997 and by comparison the XE93 produced an MDC number of 441. As the year progresses and we accumulate more data, we will be able to compare the MDC numbers of various TVs that we review.
The XE93 delivered a marvellous HDR performance and a peak brightness of 1500 nits
Black Levels and Contrast RatiosThe XE93 uses a VA panel and as a result the black levels were excellent, with the Sony measuring 0.026 nits on a 0IRE window with the local dimming turned off. Obviously if you set the local dimming to the Low setting the black level drops to 0.005 nits and in the mid and max settings you get a measurement of 0.0003 nits. The XE9305 also had no problems hitting our target of 120 nits for standard dynamic range content and, as previously mentioned, could reach 1500 nits on a 10% window with high dynamic range content. As a result of these measurements we calculated the native on/off contrast ratio at 4615:1 and the ANSI contrast ratio at 3520:1, which means that once you engage the local dimming you get an even more impressive contrast performance in both a very dark and a very bright environment. The VA panel not only delivered excellent blacks but also did a great job of retaining shadow detail in darker scenes, even when the local dimming was engaged.
Screen UniformityThe screen uniformity appeared to be generally very good and using a 5% full screen grey pattern we were able to confirm this. There was some slight darkening at the very edges of the screen but this was never apparent with actual viewing content. We also checked for dirty screen effect (DSE) and again the XE9305 was impressive, producing a bright image that was largely free of this annoying artefact. The black screen uniformity was also excellent and in a blacked out room with the local dimming off there was only a small patch that was slightly lighter but just turning the local dimming on to Low immediately eliminated it. There was occasionally some very slight banding on camera pans across a uniform patch of colour like a football pitch but, for the most part, when watching football the screen and image were free of any unwanted distractions. Overall it was an impressive performance for an edge-lit TV.
Local Dimming and Viewing AnglesThe XE93 has Sony's Slim backlight Drive+ which uses two layers of LEDs at the top and bottom, along with two light guide plates to deliver a superior local dimming performance from an edge-lit LED LCD TV. The results were impressive and we would say that the local dimming on the XE93 was even better than on last year's XD93. In fact despite the XE90 using a direct LED backlight, we found the local dimming on the XE93 to be slightly more precise and refined in terms of its effectiveness. There were no signs of blooming or haloing with standard dynamic range content using either the low or medium local dimming settings and even with high dynamic range content, the incidences of blooming or haloing were rare.
At least that was the case as long as you were sat central to the screen, unfortunately as soon as you moved off axis the contrast performance suffered, colours were washed out and the haloing became more obvious. It doesn't really surprise us and is a common limitation of a VA panel, where the trade-off for the great blacks and good shadow detail is a poor off-axis performance. We measured a 30% drop-off in contrast at a 30 degree angle and a 50% drop-off at a 45 degree angle, so to get the best from the XE9305 make sure you're sat in the middle of the screen. The Sony has an anti-reflection layer that is fairly effective and should help minimise reflections in a bright room but where possible also try and avoid light hitting the screen to ensure you get the best results.
Motion HandlingWe generally find that the motion handling on Sony TVs is rather good for LCD and so it proved with the XE93. We measured the 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. You can certainly 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. 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.
Standard Dynamic Range ContentFor our standard dynamic range testing we used a combination of standard and high definition content and we kicked off with Agents of SHIELD which is the only standard definition broadcast programme we regularly watch. Thanks to the superb X1 Extreme processor, XE93 did an excellent job of scaling and deinterlacing the content to match its 4K panel and any compression artefacts were the fault of the broadcaster rather than the TV itself. As a result, superior standard definition sources like DVDs would naturally look better than broadcast TV and the Sony handled our DVD test discs extremely well, correctly displaying the various patterns. However the reality is that very little of our viewing content is standard definition these days and so we were much more interested in finding out how the XE93 handled high definition content.
Once we moved on to high definition content the 55XE9305 had a chance to really show what it was capable of and good quality broadcasts looked excellent, with the BBC's nature programmes being our usual gold standard in this area. Needless to say the images appeared detailed with deep blacks, good highlights and natural colours. When it came to football, as mentioned earlier, the 55XE93 was largely free of banding and the motion handling was also excellent, making this a great TV for sports fans. The XE9305 was especially impressive with Blu-rays and Moana looked simply stunning, with its incredibly detailed computer animated images bursting off the screen. The Blu-ray release of Rogue One was equally as impressive, with the XE93 rendering the detailed picture with remarkable precision and accuracy.
High Dynamic Range ContentAfter performing so well in our high dynamic range tests we were expecting great things from the XE93 and it didn't disappoint with a fantastic HDR performance. Thankfully despite the edge-lit nature of this LED TV, the design of the backlight and the effective local dimming delivered some lovely images, The overall picture was highly detailed, peak highlights popped, colours were accurate and images were free of any banding. The XE93 delivered the specular highlights with precision, retaining impressive black levels and good shadow detail whilst avoiding issues like bright edges or haloing, as long as you're sat central to the screen. The XE9305 tone mapped content graded at 4000 nits to its native 1500 nits capabilities very effectively and the Sony correctly displayed the 'Arriving at Neverland' scene on the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Pan.
In fact we were hugely impressed by the HDR performance as we made our way through our ever-growing UHD Blu-ray collection, with old favourites like The Revenant simply looking stunning. The XE93 delivered every tiny detail, whilst accurately reproducing the wider colour gamut and rendering all the tiny highlights in the image. The same was true of a more recent purchase like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which the 55XE93 displayed in all its nuanced glory. The details in the costumes, production design and effects were simply stunning, whilst a nighttime scene on a wet street looked incredibly realistic as the road surface reflected the headlights of the cars. However the disc that really impressed was Planet Earth II which was just one stunning shot after another, each of which the XE93 delivered with their intense colours and incredible highlights perfectly replicated – very impressive.
As long as you didn't move too far off axis the picture performance was superb
Sony KD-55XE9305 Video Review
Sound QualityDespite the slim nature of the chassis and the limited amount of stereo separation allowed by the 55-inch screen size, the 55XE93 delivered a decent audio performance. Dialogue always remained clear and focused on the screen, whilst the mid-range was well represented, the higher frequencies avoided sounding shrill and there was a decent amount of bass presence. This performance is in part thanks to the two front-facing 3-way (tweeter, mid-range and woofer) speakers with 5W of amplification for each tweeter, and 10W a piece for each mid-range driver and woofer. That's 50W in total, which means the XE9305 can go quite loud without sounding brittle or running out of steam.
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 XE93 proved a very competent audio performer but we expect that many people choosing this TV will already have some form of outboard sound solution.
The XE93 had an input lag of 43ms with 1080p sources and 26ms for 4K, whether in SDR or HDR
Input Lag & Energy UsageAs always we measured the input lag on the XE93 with our Leo Bodnar tester, although we have also added an HD Fury Integral to inject HDR metadata and an HD Fury Linker to upscale the signal to 4K. That means we can now test the 1080p SDR and HDR lag times, as well as the 4K SDR and HDR input lags. The results were a bit of a mixed bag with the XE9305 delivering a 1080p lag time of just under 43ms, regardless of whether the signal was SDR or HDR. These results were the same irrespective of whether the local dimming was engaged or not but might be considered a bit high for hard core gamers, although most people would probably find these lag times more than acceptable.
What was particularly interesting was that the lag time dropped to just over 26ms for a 4K signal, again regardless of whether it was SDR or HDR and whether or not the local dimming was engaged. This is presumably because with a 4K signal the TV doesn't have to upscale the content to match the native Ultra HD resolution of the panel, so if you're lucky enough to be gaming in 4K the input lag is excellent. Regardless of whether you're gaming at 1080p or 4K, always keep the processing to a minimum, that's why it's important to use the Game mode, the other modes increase the lag to over 100ms. You should also avoid using the Motionflow frame interpolation feature because even in Game mode this will increase the input lag to over 100ms.
In terms of the XE93’s energy consumption it proved to be extremely efficient and using a full window 50% white pattern we measured the Standard picture mode at 77W and our calibrated Cinema Pro mode at just 51W. Of course once we moved on to HDR the level of energy consumption increased but even then, the 55XE9305 was only drawing 91W with our optimal settings.
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 2.0b 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 contrast performance
- Accurate greyscale & colour gamut
- Impressive HDR performance
- Great video processing
- Effective dimming system
- Good upgrade path
- Attractive design & great build quality
- Limited viewing angles
- Smart platform is still buggy
Sony BRAVIA KD-55XE9305 HDR 4K TV ReviewWe expected good things from the Sony XE93 but it still managed to surprise us in certain areas. Although the design has been tweaked, it didn't look vastly different from last year's XD93 and on paper at least the two TVs seemed very similar. In many respects that was true with both models having colour gamuts that were about the same size and delivering similar measurements before and after calibration. They also have the same remote control, feature set and use the same Android Smart TV platform, although an update is coming later in the year and the audio on the XE93 has been beefed up thanks to forward-firing drivers. Where things start to differ significantly is in terms of the processing, with the XE9305 using the same X1 Extreme processor that was first introduced on the ZD9. This not only means a superior image quality but also the addition of Hybrid Log-Gamma and Dolby Vision later this year via a firmware update. Sony's support for Dolby Vision was one of the big surprises at this year's CES and we wait with interest to see whether the roll out of this proprietary HDR format goes smoothly.
The other area where the 55XE93 surprised was in terms of its peak brightness, which has increased significantly over last year. The XD93 was delivering about 1000 nits of peak brightness in 2016 but the XE93 was hitting just under 1500 nits this year. Thats huge for an edge-lit TV and currently the only other model that has delivered more is Sony's own KD-65ZD9, which uses a direct LED backlight. As a result the 55XE9305 produced lovely images with SDR material thanks to its accurate greyscale, gamma and colours, along with its excellent video processing and motion handling. The backlight uniformity was impressive and the local dimming was highly effective. Thanks to the increased brightness and precise colour tracking, the performance with HDR10 content was equally as impressive, with a detailed and impactful HDR image. The only area where XE93 really struggled was in terms of its off-axis performance but with a VA panel, limited viewing angles are to be expected.
Overall the Sony KD-55XE9305 is an excellent 4K HDR TV that takes the impressive aspects of last year's XD93 and builds on them to deliver a superb all-round performance. It's still early days but it will take a really special edge-lit TV to top the XE93 this year.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,399.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money9
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