Is 55-inches enough for 4K? Just.
What is the Sony KD-55X9005A?
Since we last had an Ultra HD TV in for review, all the manufacturers have announced brand new 4K TVs at the International CES 2014.Sony, themselves, had three new models which, confusingly, bear near identical model numbers to the 2013-14 range. They may look quite different but we have to question Sony’s policy here, which is going to confuse poor TV reviewers and probably the public at large too.The KDL-55X9005A currently under scrutiny is the junior version of the 65X9005 Steve had the pleasure of reviewing late in 2013 and has undergone quite a dramatic price-drop, since launch. It can now be yours for as ‘little’ as £2500 online which, all things considered, isn’t a staggeringly huge sum. Let’s see if the X9 can match the superb performance of its larger stable-mate.
Design & ConnectionsOne thing – well two things – that immediately strikes you about the 55X900 is the size of the side mounted speakers. They are huge by 2014 standards and give the TV a rather ungainly jug-eared appearance that some might not appreciate. OK, by flat-panel TV standards they do sound bloody good but anyone that really cares about sound will have an external solution anyhow. They can also be quite off-putting in the sense that you can easily conclude the picture isn’t fitting the entirety of the screen, when it actually is, so we’re filing this under, ‘admirable intent but lacking in the application.’
Sony seem to agree with us and have subsequently redesigned the new range in a wedge shape which we think looks a whole lot better, having seen them in Las Vegas. We do like the silver ‘halo’ base stand but the cosmetic appeal is somewhat lessened by the fact it doesn’t swivel. The rest of the design is pure Sony with a one-sheet-of-glass screen and bezel and understated black trim surrounding.
As is the current fashion, the KDL-55X9005A ships with two remotes. One is a fairly unremarkable standard handset, akin to the type Sony has been producing for donkey's years, and the other is a pared-down version that doesn't even have an Exit button, only basic controls. But the real reason for its existence is that supports the One-touch NFC (Near Field Communication) feature that allows instant wireless screen mirroring of your compatible phone or tablet using Miracast. In truth, it’s not much good for anything else and we quickly dispensed of its services.
There are 4 HDMI inputs scattered around the back chassis of the X9. Two point downwards on the back with another out-facing nearby, whilst the other sits in the recess on the side connection plate and supports MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) for sending picture and video from your suitably equipped phone or tablet. Since we had the 65X9 in for review, Sony released new software, effectively updating one of the HDMI ports to the new 2.0 standard, which is certainly a good thing, but since they didn’t send us a HDMI 2.0 player, we can’t verify that it works. We do believe them, of course. There are also 3 USB ports, a digital audio out, legacy video connections and terminals for Freeview and Freesat HD. Obviously, with it being a Smart TV, n’all, the X900 has a LAN port plus built-in WiFi.
HDMI 2.0 upgrade is a definite plus
MenusI’ll get it out there from the start, I don’t really like the Sony TV Menus, even if they are better than they used to be. They are attractive and pictorially blessed but they are also sprawling and unintuitive, at the same time. Fortunately all of the key picture controls are more easily accessible from the Options Key on the remote but the fact they don’t wraparound in use – i.e. you’re forced to scroll all the way down – or indeed up – the myriad options, is frustrating
To add to that, the Exit button doesn’t do what it says on the tin and the lack of a Colour Management System on a TV of this status is (almost) unforgivable. You’ll see why we can overlook it in this instance later in the review and also why 2 point white balance controls can be enough. As we’d expect from Sony, there are also lots of fancy processing controls – some of which we’ll discuss later on.
Menus aren't really a lot of fun to navigate
FeaturesSony is right on the tails of the Smart TV leaders – LG and Samsung – with its current offering. There an enormous number of video streaming services, including Netflix, LOVEFiLM, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Demand 5 and also plenty of social media apps, with the likes of Facebook and Twitter support. Naturally Sony’s own Music and Video Unlimited Services are well highlighted from the SEN home page.
There’s also an excellent DLNA media player aboard the X9005A boasting file support including terms of file support the coverage is excellent and includes MPEG, MPEG2, AVCHD, AVI, MOV, WMV, MKV, MP3, WMA, LPCM, JPEG and MPO. And finally, there is a very good companion app for both Android and iOS devices. The app can give you channel listings for just about every major UK provider, schedule recordings to an external USB hard drive and, naturally, act as a remote control replacement.
For a more in-depth look at Sony’s Smart TV platform, please see our dedicated Review.
To get the best out of box images from your X9005, you’ll be best served by either Cinema picture mode, which are accessed from the Scene Select options. Once we’d done that and optimised Backlight, Contrast and Brightness settings for our environment we did our usual round of measurements to see how it stacked up against the Industry Standards.
In truth, we were expecting a little better than we got from this flagship TV but there was far too much red energy in the greyscale, especially near white, giving a noticeable pink hue to lots of content. Gamma tracking in the default Cinema -2 setting was also non-desirable for the average living room but at least colour performance was close to accurate with delta Errors hovering between 3 and 5.
With just the combination of the 2 point White Balance controls and adjustments to Contrast and Gamma we were able to get greyscale tracking close to perfect and the highest delta E measured at only just over two. That’s an excellent result and testament to the fact that two-point controls can be enough – done right.
We said above that the 55X9005 really ought to have a proper CMS but since the colours were so incredibly accurate following the greyscale calibration, it is arguably unnecessary in this case. As we can see from the graph top-left, colours are near perfect at full saturation, save for small hue error in green, but as demonstrated by the CIE chart below, colour tracking at lower stimulus was equally, if not more impressive.Contrast, Black Levels & Screen Uniformity
As we found with the 65-inch X9005, the native black levels of this panel are very, very good, albeit they have a bit of a blue tinge to them. From a checkerboard pattern we measured average black levels at 0.035 cd/m2 against an averaged peak white of 92.03 cd/m2. That white level is some way off what we got from a full-screen white pattern so intra-scene contrast isn’t quite as good as the comparable Samsung F9000 but an ANSI contrast ratio of about 2640:1 is good for LED/LCD technology – 4K or not. We could improve the ANSI using the Advanced Contrast Enhancer control but that distorted the gamma response unduly but the LED Dynamic Control was some what more effective, albeit at the expense of a little crushing of shadow detail.
General screen uniformity was very good, with just a faint corner bleed at the bottom left and some very minor, small patches of light pooling evident on an all black background but in all honesty we could rarely see either when watching ‘normal’ content. Those sitting at acute viewing angles are more likely to see these kinds of issues and the X9005 also had an unusual pink tinge when viewed from slightly above the height of the top of the screen. This is not a viewing position we’d recommend, anyhow, but anyone out there with a very low AV stand should be warned. Probably the most frequent screen uniformity issue was a slight dirty screen effect on panning shots with pale coloured backgrounds which, whilst fairly frequent, didn’t trouble us often. All in all the 55X9 had excellent screen uniformity, for the tech, but then we’d expect nothing less from a range-topping TV.
Clearly scaling of sub 4K resolutions is a key skill an Ultra HD TV needs in its locker and the 55X9005 does a superb job with 1080 content, both progressive and interlaced, when viewing real-world material although test patterns suggest it blurs the resolution a little. In fact, this UHD TV handled 1080i50 (broadcast HD) better than any of the other 4KTVs we’ve had in for testing which is particularly evident when watching sports and other fast-paced action. Standard Definition content obviously offers greater challenges still and since there’s 20 times the number of pixels as there is information in the signal, it’s a near miracle that DVDs are watchable at all, but they are. We would have to steer you clear from the vast majority of broadcast SD, however, as the that generally looks appalling, even on a lowly 1080p panel. If you’re buying a TV like this, it deserves to be fed on steak, not scraps.
The Sony W8 gave us our lowest input latency measure in the last three years but it’s to be expected that the extra overhead of scaling the 1080 signal would mean the X9005 wouldn’t be able to match it. The X9 is by no means a sluggish gaming display, however, and we took a reading of 42.5 milliseconds lag to controller input so it should certainly satisfy all but the most demanding gamers. Those with high-powered gaming rigs capable of outputting 4K signals will likely be thrilled!
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 88W
Calibrated – Calibrated Cinema Mode: 77 W
Calibrated – Calibrated Cinema 3D Mode: 140W
Scaling is better with real world material than test patterns suggest
Sony KD-55X9005A Picture Quality – 2DThe 55X9005 has pretty much all the ingredients one would want to create beautiful pictures and generally lived up to the high expectations we had of it. As we said earlier, Sony is famed for their clever processing tricks and many of them are effective, when used in moderation. Reality Creation, for instance, certainly seemed to help with the scaling when watching broadcast HD, although we didn’t really find it necessary for a good Blu-ray transfer which could actually look like they were near 4K in some instances. The Smooth Gradation feature is also quite effective in ironing out some of the posterisation (colour banding) issues inherent with some 8 bit video, although its overuse can cause the reverse of what one might expect and creates a slightly unnatural grain over images.
We’re not generally big advocates of motion interpolation processing but Sony is the master of the art and some of the Motion Flow options are genuinely good. In fact we’d say the True Cinema option is a must for 1080p24 Blu-ray as it uses a 4:4 pulldown technique – rather than interpolation - to ensure the smoothest possible display of film content. The Impulse option is interesting rather than useful and attempts to mimic the projection technique of inserting black frames in to content to make it smoother but unless you’re a big fan of strobe lighting, it’s one to avoid. Clear Plus might be of use to sports fans as it uses a similar method but with less flicker and can be effective, although it does come at the expense of making the picture a little dimmer.
Sony has some very clever processing tricks up its sleeve
We found that applying the LED Dynamic Control in its Low setting gave an effective boost to real world contrast performance too but, again, it comes at a slight cost to detailing in the darker portions of the picture. Whether you elect to use it or not, the 55X9 has very good black levels in any case and married with the exceptionally accurate colour palette is able to deliver some gorgeous pictures, whether at Ultra HD or Full HD resolutions. It’s a shame Sony didn’t provide us with any 4K content with this sample but since we’ve managed to stockpile quite a lot of clips in a 3840 x 2160 resolution, it didn’t really matter, and it looked as crisp and gorgeous as one might expect.
“Is 4K worth it on a 55-inch screen?” We sense you thinking. The answer to that is it depends largely on how close you sit and how acute your eyesight is. We’d say that for someone with 20/20 vision, you’d need to be 5 feet, or less, to resolve the full picture but even sitting further back there’s a certain sheen and textural quality to 4K that will make it ‘worth it’ for hardcore enthusiasts. The fact of the matter is that before very long Ultra HD will be the norm, not just an option, so the point is kind of moot anyhow and if the standards are set out as they should be, there’ll be a whole lot more benefit to UHD than simply increased resolution pixel count. It’s all coming but in the meantime, if you can’t wait to dive in, the Sony X9005A is right up there as one of the premier choices for the early adopter. Of the numerous 4K TVs we’ve covered, we place this and the Samsung F9000 at the top of the tree, with the Koreans’ effort taking it by a nose.
Sony KD-55X9005A Picture Quality - 3DOne of the most immediate benefits of the wave of 4K panels, so far, has been the chance to watch Passive 3D in full 1920 x 1080 resolution to each eye. That unfortunately is not the case with the 55-inch version of the X9 and we could only speculate that there is an issue with fitting the appropriate FPR (Film-type Patterned Retarder) technology in/on to the smaller panel. Whatever the reasons, the resolution drop is quite apparent having got used to the full monty. It’s not a bad 3D TV, by any means, and has all the brightness you would want but those extra pixels can make it look really quite soft and sometimes even out of focus. Motion handling is reasonable but, again, having to illuminate all those extra pixels with half-res content puts a bit of a burden on the X9 which means we did see some smearing, particularly with material we’ve collected from the BBC, both at 720p and 1080i. The ‘good news’ is that broadcast 3D is pretty much on its last legs and, to give an indication of in what esteem Sony holds 3D – they didn’t even send me any specs!
3D performance is a litte disappointing
Sony KD-55X9005A Video Review
- Supremely accurate colours
- Very good black levels
- Impressive dynamic range
- Mostly clean scaling of 720p and above
- Tons of VoD services
- Top Mobile App
- Some dirty screen effect
- Too small for most to appreciate resolution improvement
- 3D is half res
- Menus are tiresome
Sony KD-55X9005A 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV ReviewThe outward appearance of the Sony KD-55X9005 will divide opinion. Some will applaud the sight of the full range speakers at either side of the screen whilst others will bemoan the implementation for being outdated and elephant-eared. We sit somewhere in the middle (literally) but they sure do sound great.
Connectivity options are excellent, and include 4 HDMI – one of which has been upgraded to 2.0 compatibility – 3 USB, Wired and Wireless LAN, plus various legacy video and audio inputs and outputs. The ‘secondary’ remote controller that comes with the X9 even has NFC tech built-in, allowing it to pair with your capable phone or tablet and then mirror its screen using Miracast. That feature aside, it’s not great to use and we ditched it in favour of the conventional handset, with its familiar layout. The companion app for iOS and Android is also an excellent choice and brings the added benefit of TV listings from just about every major UK provider.
We’re not fans of Sony’s UI for the Menus but they do work in the presentation of all the Smart TV features. The X9 is blessed with the full suite of goodies, too, with an absolute wealth of video on demand and streaming services, including almost all the big names such as iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and 4OD but, naturally, Sony places its own Video and Music Unlimited services prominently – and we can’t blame them for that.
Those tiresome menus still don’t feature a colour management system, which is almost inexcusable at this level of the market, but fortunately the 55X9005 is blessed with a stunningly accurate panel that required only a greyscale calibration to get colours (mostly) where they should be. What errors there were should be visually imperceivable, in any case, giving the Sony a beautifully believable palette. This crucial aspect of picture quality was joined by rewarding deep blacks so not only were images looking as intended, they were able to deliver real punch and pop too. Even some of the exotic picture controls were effective, when used conservatively, so the calibrated picture was a joy to behold with an added dash of Reality Creation and a soupcon of LED Dynamic Control.
We guess the real question this review poses is in the viability of a 55-inch 4K TV viewed from typical seating positions. The answer to that is two- or even three-fold. The Sony 55X90005 is an excellent TV with anything 720p, and up, so is a viable choice for many already. It does cost more than some 1080p TVs with the same quality but then it is more future-proofed. So we guess the real question is, how strong is your desire to join the ‘Resolution Revolution’ right now? And if your answer to that – on a scale of ‘not interested’ to ‘bursting to get on board’ – is anything above ‘very keen’, the Sony X9 really is one of the premier 4K TVs currently in existence.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality8
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.