Sony XF90 (KD-55XF9005) Review
A full array backlight and X1 Extreme Processor on a smaller screen size
What is the Sony XF9005?It just happens that one of our first full in-depth LCD TV reviews of this year is one of the most anticipated midrange offerings for a while, from a company who have consistently managed to produce excellent value and picture quality in a single package. The XF90 could very well be the must have screen for sports fans, movie lovers and gamers, thanks to the technology on board and Sony's picture quality excellence.
Although the ZD9 will remain Sony's flagship LED LCD TV for the third year in a row, the BRAVIA XF9005 will be the top end LCD screen released in 2018. This new model is particularly interesting because, unlike last year's XE9005, it now includes the X1 Extreme processor, which means that it will also be upgraded to Dolby Vision later in the year... we hope.
The XF9005 also uses a full array backlight with local dimming and now includes X-Motion Clarity that combines black frame insertion with the backlight to deliver smoother motion without adversely affecting the overall brightness of the screen.
The XF9005 also includes the Android Smart TV platform and boasts Sony's usual minimalist styling and a stand comprised of two feet.
The XF90 is available now in screen sizes of 49-inches (KD-49XF9005), 55-inches (KD-55XF9005) for £1,699, 65-inches (KD-65XF9005) for £2,299 and 75-inches (KD-75XF9005) for £3,999. The KD-55XF9005 offers the promise of a direct LED backlight and the X1 Extreme processor on smaller screen sizes for the first time. The TV is also known as the XBR-X900F in North America. This review sample was provided by Sony, but will be representative of a retail purchased unit.
So can it live up to all this hype? Let's find out.
XF90 DesignThere is a nice minimalist approach to the XF90 this year with an extremely thin aluminium bezel and a two-legged stand. The Sony logo is silver, is located on the bottom bezel and centrally mounted. There is a BRAVIA logo in very small lettering to the top left side and the bezel is finished in a dark grey colour. The bezel is exactly 10mm wide at the edge of the screen surface, which means that the vast majority of the real estate is the screen itself.
Around the back things are not as slim, as the Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) needs some room to do it’s thing, which means that the back of the set does stick out by around 2-inches, so it doesn’t have that thin screen attraction that OLED TVs offer. However the slightly larger chassis is probably worth it to many users so they can have the FALD backlight and the advantages that brings. There are also 300 x 300 VESA mounting points so you can wall mount the TV easily.
The stand is made up of two separate legs that flare out towards the ends of the TV. You will need a TV stand or surface that is at least 39 inches wide to house this 55-inch screen, with the legs set up as they are supposed to be used.
You can however reverse the legs and have them pointing inwards which means the TV will sit neatly on most regular sized TV stands. A nice touch to the rear of these legs are movable plastic covers so you can route cables down the inside and keep cable management neat and tidy. The legs simply connect to the TV chassis using locating screws to position and provided screws to attach them to the TV safely.
The legs are a silver finish and have been specifically designed to accommodate Sony’s HT-XF9000 soundbar, which has angled edges that match the pitch angle of the legs when correctly mounted.
Overall there is nothing revolutionary about the TVs design, but we like the fact it doesn’t get in the way, yet feels contemporary. The build quality as expected from a Sony product is very good indeed.
The XF90 is a good looking TV with a minimalist design and finish
ConnectivityThe connections on the XF90 are to the rear left of the chassis (looking from the front) and are positioned sideways and downwards facing. The sideways facing connections are 6-inch from the edge of the screen, allowing plenty of room for good quality cables not to stick out of the side of the TV. Here we have HDMI 1 along with two USB ports, an IR blaster connection and audio in and out (including headphone) plus a CI slot.
The downwards-facing connections are further towards the centre of the rear panel and these include an RF in, twin satellite connectors, a LAN and optical digital output, HDMI 2, 3 and 4 and a USB designed to run HDD recording to an external drive. All the HDMI inputs are 4K HDCP 2.2 compliant but as with recent Sony displays we find that only HDMI 2 and 3 are full 4K/60P 4:4:4 capable and need to be switched on within the HDMI signal format menu under Enhanced format. This is important if you want to game on your Xbox One X or PS4 Pro in HDR or watch Sky, Media box or other content at higher bit depth 4K.
The XF90 is also equipped with WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth along with smartphone connectivity with Chromecast built-in, Miracast for screen mirroring and the TV slideshow app (iOS and Android).
Finally the power cord is sadly fixed to the chassis and is not that long. This may be an issue if you plan to wall mount the XF90.
ControlThe standard remote control provided with the X900F is very similar to last year's model, but has improved buttons and the feel is crisp with button pushes. It is black plastic and fits neatly in the hand and is easy to use with logical button placement. The main keys are centrally mounted around the directional pad and enter button, with Menu, Apps, Guide, Home, TV, and Back buttons placed around the edge of the directional pad.
While it is an easy remote control to use, it does still visually appear cluttered and busy and even at this price point, it lacks the build quality and feel you might expect. However it is functional and we had no issues at all with its use with the XF9005.
FeaturesThe XF90 uses a VA panel with a FALD backlight and has a native resolution of 3840 x 2160 and will accept full bandwidth 4K 4:4:4 signals through two 18Gbps HDMI inputs. Because it has the Sony X1 Extreme Processor it supports HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) out of the box and will also have Dolby Vision capability when it finally receives a firmware update. Sony has not indicated when this will happen and owners of 2017 models that were promised the update have only very recently been given those. So it might be a little while before it arrives. The advantages of the FALD backlight are the fact that the screen has ‘zones’ which can then be locally dimmed to suit the content being watched. If that is scope content for example, then the zones where the black bars should be are switched off completely to create full black.
The downside to this approach is exactly how many zones you have and how precise they can be around bright objects against a black background. Because you are not going down to the pixel level, like an OLED TV, you will get light spill and blooming around objects on screen, this is especially true if you are viewing slightly off-axis. Viewing dead on usually masks the most severe blooming. Sony will not tell anyone how many actual zones there are, but by using various tools and test footage we have taken an educated guess at 48 zones and compared our findings with other reviewers, testers and on forums and this appears to be the general consensus, without confirmation from Sony direct.
Of course being a Sony set, the XF90 boasts a number of image enhancement features including TRILUMINOS colour, providing accurate and wide gamut performance, along with X-tended Dynamic Range PRO that uses algorithms and object-based remastering to increase contrast performance. This appears to be on all image presets.
Smooth Gradation control is back (also called superbit mapping) to help improve source based posterisation issues and banding and the TVs upscaling is amongst the best on offer thanks to the X1 Extreme suite of processing power. Perhaps one of the most interesting technologies on this year’s XF90 is MotionFlow with X-Motion Clarity Pro. This system helps keep the backlight brightness consistent and less prone to flicker when using black frame insertion for motion, and it works very well indeed.
The level of customisation within the motion controls is also welcome and allows us to take advantage of the technology to improve motion without introducing Soap Opera Effect (SOE) to film-based content. We are also happy to report that the 50Hz issue that was a talking point in our forums is not present here, so motion is smooth without any frame repeat issues.
X-Motion Clarity Pro is a new addition to MotionFlow for 2018
FunctionalityThe Sony XF90 uses Android as its operating system and Smart TV user interface. I personally last reviewed a Sony Android TV when they first moved to this system and I forgave it some of the teething problems and slow response times due to it being new, hoping they would iron out the issues over time. Well almost three years later it is still a mess to be honest. Response time from button presses to anything happening can take an age and we kept getting error messages popping up on screen to say the live TV tuner wasn’t available, yet it was working perfectly fine behind the pop up messages.
We also made sure that the TV was running the latest version of the firmware with no updates available at the time of review (May 2018). If you are going to use other sources connected to the TV for smart TV, streaming services and 4K UHD video, then the issues we have with Android are not that important and the XF90 runs without issue as a monitor. However the vast majority of users will depend on the built-in functionality of the tuners, OS and smart platform and in such cases the lagging performance is frankly unacceptable on a mid range TV like this.
The smart platform certainly has everything you would expect from such a TV with Netflix in 4K HDR and other major catch-up and streaming providers available, but the way the system is arranged it is not as intuitive to bring popular and often used services to the front or allow much in the way of customisation. Next to LG’s WebOS system the Android 7 approach here is dated, slow, clunky and crashes on an alarming basis. This always requires a full power out of the wall restart. During our review time it crashed on three occasions!
With everything else looking promising with the XF90 it is a shame that Android and the user interface experience is still not up to the levels of the competition, or what is expected from a brand like Sony at this price point.
The Android operating system and smart TV functionality seriously lags behind the competition
Out-of-the-Box MeasurementsIf there is one area where Sony do excel it is with the out of the box picture modes and how accurate they can get towards the industry standards for HD and 4K playback. This is important if you want to watch content as close as possible to the creator's intentions and see everything the way it should be seen. We measured each combination of picture mode, white balance, colour and gamma to find the set up closest to these objectives. We found the best settings to be Cinema Pro, Colour Temp Expert 1, and Gamma -2. We set brightness and contrast for the room environment with the usual test patterns.
As you can see in the greyscale tracking (top left) the XF9005 does a great job with red losing energy slightly (5%) by the 100% white point and green and blue tracking a few per cent high by the same point. DeltaE errors are for the most part under the visual threshold of 3 with just the 90 and 100% white points going over that, but with no visible onscreen effects seen with normal viewing material. So while the graph isn’t 100% flat as we would like, with actual viewing material you are going to be hard pushed to see any errors (without a reference image side by side). Gamma also tracks well at our desired 2.4 point. So out of the box the Sony once again does extremely well.
Moving to the Rec.709 gamut and saturation tracking (top right) our slightly cyan push in the white balance above can be seen to affect the tracking of our saturation points towards the Rec.709 standard (triangle in the graph). There are slight over saturation issues with all primary and secondary points above 75% but again this doesn’t impact in any visible way for nearly all viewers with onscreen material. If it’s nice looking graphs and a little more accuracy you are after, the Sony should allow us to calibrate a little.
Decent out of the box results means less need for a calibration if you're on a budget
Calibrated MeasurementsFor measurements and calibration we use CalMAN Ultimate software, a Klein K-10A meter and Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator that creates all patterns in HD and 4K HDR. The Sony has white balance controls for 2-point and 10-point correction, but it doesn’t have a Colour Management System (CMS). By correcting the slight issues in the greyscale tracking we should be able to correct the slight saturation and hue errors in the colour gamut above.
Looking at the greyscale once corrected (top left) we now have DeltaE errors under 1 across the board and this means there are no visible errors onscreen at all, so perfect. Gamma is tracking just a tad higher after correction, but again nothing that impacts at all on the viewing experience with images now having excellent accuracy to hues and tones and a nice pop.
Obviously there is no CMS system so colour saturation and hue (top right) is down to the correction of the greyscale and here we find it is almost correct, but saturation is a little high on red over all tracking points and 100% is still wide of the gamut, but again there is no visible issue for any normal viewer looking at onscreen images without a reference point.
XF9005 HDR ResultsThe Sony XF9005 supports HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma out of the box and will also support Dolby Vision following a firmware upgrade at some point in 2018. So be aware it is not DV capable out of the box on purchase, if you want it right now you need to look at the LG TVs.
With a FALD backlight and VA panel the Sony should be capable of high brightness HDR with the local dimming able to help keep blacks inky and highlights bright. Tone mapping on the XF90 is also very good making sure it can reproduce as close as possible the intent of the film makers and colour grader.
We were able to get 1000nits from the XF90 in the brightest picture modes with a 10% window, but that drops to 705nits in the accurate Cinema Pro mode we used for measuring here. Again that is with a 10% window and be aware the XF90 can go far brighter in much smaller areas of the screen, when required by the content and as seen below in our testing. With local dimming on medium we also managed to measure the black levels at 0.0015nits and in high it was 0.0012nits with low coming in at 0.0457nits.
Looking at the HDR tests and PQ EOTF results (top left) the greyscale tracks nicely with the XF90 following the EOTF really well and it rolls off high with tone mapping. DeltaE errors are also good for this out of the box best picture mode.
Colour wise it is more than capable of 70% coverage of Rec.2020 coordinates and with DCI-P3 within Rec.2020 it tracks saturation really well and covers 94% XY and 97% UV of the DCI colour space. This points to very good HDR performance with excellent wide colour performance and EOTF tracking along with good tone mapping.
Sony XF90 General Performance
Panel Uniformity and Viewing AnglesThe XF90 has a Full Array Local Dimming backlight with 48 zones that are arranged from vertical and horizontal columns of LEDs. When watching sports or content with the same colour over a large area of the screen, such as football or rugby games, you can sometimes see banding when the camera moves across the surface. The XF90 is one of the better FALD TVs we have tested with minimal banding and we had to go looking for it. We don’t think it will impact negatively with the majority of viewers, but you should be aware that it is there if it bothers you.
There is also some slight DSE (dirty screen effect) but we again haven’t seen an LCD TV that doesn’t have this to some degree or other. Here the XF90 is one of the better examples of the technology. In terms of uniformity with the backlight, on a 100% field we did note that the corners of the screen were slightly darker than the rest, but we didn’t notice any colour tints or shifts to either side of the panel and the FALD system generally gave a consistent performance across the whole screen surface.
Another slight negative of LCD technology and in particular VA panels like the Sony, are viewing angles. The VA panel gives excellent black performance when viewed directly and this is the strength of the technology, but start to move off axis by just 25 degrees and the contrast starts to shift and most notably on the XF9005, blooming becomes a lot more noticeable. This is also true if you plan to wall mount the TV above eye level, so be aware. Scenes with bright whites against a black background are the most obvious scenes to notice blooming, but we did see it in mixed content footage when viewed off-axis, especially with HDR. Viewed directly the blooming is much less noticeable with such material.
Black Levels and Contrast PerformanceAs mentioned above the XF90 makes good use of it’s local dimming system with the VA panel to produce some of the best blacks we have seen for a while at this level of the LCD market. We measured black performance to be just 0.0015nits with local dimming at medium and 0.0012nit at high. It easily hit our 120nits SDR target that equates to an on/off performance of 80,000:1, which is excellent for an LCD TV.
HDR performance is also very good with excellent shadow detail retrieval and minimal clipping ensuring that the XF9005 gives an excellent dynamic picture performance with 4K HDR materials. There is a little brightening in the midtones compared to some other TVs and how they tone map, but nothing that washes the image out or loses detail. Off axis blooming is more noticeable in HDR modes, so make sure you are sitting directly on to the screen. We also didn’t have any issues with gaming in HDR as the tone mapping adjusted perfectly to the content and didn’t create instances where we had an image that was too dark. Some of the gaming footage can look stunning at times.
Finally the screen coating on the XF90 does a good job at combatting reflections and reflected light. It doesn’t appear to add any tint to the screen surface and once switched on you shouldn’t have any issues seeing an image clearly unless you position it opposite a window.
Motion Handling and Video processingThis section is really the bread and butter of the Sony TV brand and they have been doing it well for a long time. The XF90 is a perfect example of good quality motion handling and video processing. The MotionFlow suite of options include True Cinema, Smooth, Standard, Clear, Custom and Off. To use the X-Motion Clarity technology you need to use Custom, Standard or Smooth settings and our advice would be to use Custom to limit the Soap Opera Effect (SEO) with film material. X-Motion Clarity helps keep the brightness of the backlight consistent without flicker when using black frame insertion.
As always with motion controls it will come down to personal preference how you set these up and with video based content, like sports broadcasts, you may find that introducing some MotionFlow works well for you.
For film based 24p material we still recommend True Cinema or Off as the best options, but you may find that Custom works for you personally, without adding in SEO.
Video processing on the XF9005 was excellent with all our tests passed with flying colours and the scaling of SD and HD to the panels native resolution was also superbly handled with no issues. We also didn’t find any issues with 50Hz material reported in the forums, which affected last year's TV.
Input LagGiven that Sony has a video gaming arm to the company, you would expect their TV division to have some of the most responsive sets for console gaming, and the XF90 doesn’t disappoint. As well as HDR gaming the input lag for 4K HDR signals is low at 25.8ms and if your console has the ability to output at 4K you should choose this option without question. The only downside will be for legacy consoles that can only run at 1080p or lower resolutions as the TV will have to scale the input and this adds to the lag, resulting in an input lag of 42ms which is probably still just within the limits of what you would want for most games.
Sound QualityThere is a reason why the stand feet are designed to sit outwards. This is to accommodate the Sony HT-XF9000 soundbar, which is sold separately. We would recommend some kind of outboard sound system for the XF90 as the in-built speakers are not very good at all. Audio feels tiny with no weight to the sound and no warmth. Treble is shrill and turned up just a little too much it starts to distort quickly. Everything feels thin and there is no impact to watching movies or dramas that most of the competition can provide.
This is a shame as the thicker chassis could have meant a nicer sound through more room to move more air. So if you want this TV and it is being offered with the XF9000 then snap it up, or add an off board audio system of your choosing. The built-in sound system is functional at best.
There's no doubt that the picture quality on offer is excellent for an LCD TV
Sony KD-XF9005 Picture Quality
Out of the Box HD SDRWe tested all the out of the box settings under picture mode, white balance and gamma settings. Our conclusions are to use the Cinema Picture modes if you want to configure the XF90 to see content as it is intended to be seen. All other settings from Standard to Vivid have too much image brightness and push colours, white gets more blue as you move from Standard to Vivid. You also need to switch off many of the processing features that are on as default. Things like Light Sensor, Auto Picture Mode, Black Adjust, Advanced Contrast Enhancer and X-tended Dynamic range.
Set to Cinema Pro with the brightness and contrast set for our room, gamma set at -2, colour Temp at Expert 1 and local dimming at medium gave the best settings we found for film, TV drama and general viewing in ideal conditions. For daytime we set the second Cinema preset to be a little brighter but retaining greyscale and gamma accuracy.
Despite some very small issues with the greyscale tracking and some slight oversaturation of the primary and secondary colours around 100% the onscreen picture quality out of the box with these settings looks very good indeed. We doubt any viewers would notice the slight errors seen on the graphs with actual TV and film viewing in the real world. You would need to stick a reference monitor next to the XF90 to really nit pick any slight changes in colour accuracy. As such the Sony is an excellent option for those that want good out of the box images without the expense of calibration. Black levels are nice and deep with good shadow detail and only the occasional instance of blooming seen with white against black backgrounds.
There is very slight DSE in some high contrast scenes and slight banding with camera pans on football or rugby pitches, but we really are being picky here in our image assessment. Blu-ray looks superb with excellent scaling to the 4K panel and even some of the poorer SD channels look ‘acceptable’ if you really must watch them, but please don’t. Normal broadcast images from the built-in tuners with our best settings also look good for HD 1080i content with excellent de-interlacing and scaling performance. Motion is also a strong point and we saw absolutely no issues at all to report here. We did add some Smooth Gradation processing at the low setting for Broadcast images. You can obviously experiment with these and MotionFlow for video based fast moving content like sports. We found that True Cinema worked well with 24p content.
Out of the Box 4K HDRGiven the very good out of the box results above in our HDR measurement section, the performance with HDR10 content from 4K Blu-ray was very good on the XF90. The way that Sony implements their tone mapping does mean that images and mid-tones remain constant for picture luminance, with good APL but at the expense of highlight details and specular highlight precision, with more highlight clipping seen than on competing displays from LG for example.
However the Sony is capable of producing excellent dynamic range with good wide colour gamut saturation that gives an impactful final image out of the box. Obviously there are only some standards in place for HDR and the biggest difference is going to be how each manufacturer implements metadata, or ignores it, or adds in their own dynamic tone mapping and tone maps to their display's strengths. So we will continue to see some differences as the year moves on between manufacturers. Sony’s way of doing things now is good if not entirely accurate, for preserving as much image detail as possible. It is important to view directly as any off-axis viewing will reveal more blooming and patchy backlight dimming artefacts in HDR mode. Direct on viewing is excellent however with excellent blacks, shadow detail and colours. Images were also free from posterisation issues, such as the ‘Vegas’ scenes from Blade Runner 2049 where the orange mist holds up without any signs of issues.
Calibrated HD and 4K HDRBecause the Sony performs so well out of the box we didn’t see any major upgrade in image quality that was night and day comparing with the calibrated image for SDR and HDR content. From Netflix to 4K UHD disc the X900F is an accomplished performer with excellent image quality for an LCD TV. Colours are a strong point with a lovely hue to images that looks natural and assured.
Skin tones are superb with plenty of pore detail visible and blacks look deep and inky against the lights of the car during the water based fight sequence in Blade Runner 2049. The consistent APL is also a plus point for the XF90 in lighter rooms where shadow detail is still visible, however the highlights remain clipped over a certain brightness threshold as determined by the Sony tone mapping. Motion remains excellent and overall it’s an impressive performer with all HD and 4K content we viewed on the TV. We also tested the HLG capabilities with the BBC iPlayer demo sequences that looked superb with excellent blacks and highlights and superb colour reproduction.
As a TV the XF90 excels with excellent motion and great image quality for an LCD at this price point, but Android spoils the party
- Good image accuracy out of the box for SDR
- Good accuracy out of the box for HDR
- Strong inky black levels with FALD backlight and VA panel
- Excellent video processing
- Excellent lag time for 4K gaming
- Supports HDR10 and HLG
- Android OS and Smart system is terrible
- Feels underpowered for the OS it is running
- Lag time more for 1080p gaming
- No Dolby Vision support yet
- Only two 18Gbps HDMI inputs
Sony XF90 (KD-55XF9005) Review
Final Verdict on the Sony XF90There is no doubt that when it comes to outright picture quality the Sony XF90 excels for an LCD LED TV. Used squarely as a monitor for your HD and 4K sources it performs to a very high level with excellent motion, colours and contrast performance. When viewed directly on as designed, there are no issues with obvious blooming and the FALD backlight with its many zones manages to excel with complex scenes and mixed contrast footage. HDR does highlight a little more instances in hard to control scenes of some blooming, but nothing that would concern us. If you do go off-axis then this does start to fall apart with light pooling and edge blooming being far more noticeable. Gaming is also first rate with excellent SDR and HDR performance, although 1080P gaming does have more lag. But HDR content from our Xbox One X did look stunning and as a non-gamer I’m finding myself dying less often than I was a few weeks ago when I first picked up a controller. For sports fans there is a little DSE visible in some scenes and some very light instances of banding with football viewing, but you do have to go looking for it.
If the Sony XF9005 were sold as a monitor only it would easily be getting high marks, but it isn’t and as a TV there are some chinks in the armour when it comes to performance. For a start the Android operating system is obviously resource heavy and the Sony can’t seem to cope at times, with frequent crashes while we were reviewing the set and numerous instances of error messages popping up and extremely slow responses to commands. It really does make you wonder why, when you have systems from LG and Samsung that feel light years ahead of this. We know AVForums members and readers are more likely to use the set as a monitor and ignore the Android OS system, but that is not true for the rest of the market and as such we can’t ignore this issue. Sony please fix the OS issues and you’ll be on to a winner.
Overall in terms of picture quality the XF90 is one of the best LCD TVs out there at the moment for this price point, but the clunky and crash ridden OS and smart TV system really holds it back from being the best all rounder out there.
What are the alternatives?There is no question that if you don’t need the bright room capabilities of the Sony, the obvious TV to go for at this price point and size is the LG C7/B7 OLED TV. It has a superb operating system that is smooth and slick to use, fantastic image quality that also has superb viewing angles, industry leading black levels and excellent gaming lag and performance. Plus it has all the major HDR formats on-board including Dolby Vision right out of the box. It was our TV of the year last year and still gets the nod before the XF90 if you don’t need bright images during the day.
In terms of a competing LCD TV at this price point we are struggling to really suggest a current 2018 model and the obvious suggestion then would be last years Sony XE90 FALD or XE93 edge-lit which you can read the reviews for via the links.
MORE: Read All TV Reviews
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,699.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
SDR Picture Quality9
HDR Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money8
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