Sony KD-55XE8596 4K LED TV Review
It might not be extreme but it's a great all-rounder
What is the Sony XE85?The XE85 is one of the lower tier models in Sony's 2017 range and as such it doesn't have the X1 Extreme processor found on the XE93 and XE94, so there's no possibility of Dolby Vision support. The XE8596 also doesn't have any local dimming and nor does it boast a direct LED backlight like the XE90, instead they're positioned along the bottom of the screen. However in all other respects this is a well specified and attractive looking TV with a 4K LCD panel, X1 processing, support for High Dynamic Range and a Smart TV platform based on the Android operating system. The KD-55XE8596 that we're reviewing here uses a 55-inch screen size and has a retail price of £999 as at the time of writing (November 2017). So if it can deliver a decent performance to match the features and price tag, we'll be looking at a real bargain. Let's find out...
DesignInitially the design of the XE8596 appears very similar to the XE9005, XE9305 and XE9405, that is until you get a bit closer. Sony have obviously had to cut a few corners to get the XE85's price down to a competitive level. As a result the construction is largely plastic rather than metal but at least the XE8596 is lighter and easier to setup and move. The overall look retains Sony's minimalist approach to their 2017 range, with a simple black aluminium bezel around the screen and a silver metal trim around the outer edge. At the centre bottom of the screen you'll find the Sony logo and an indicator light, which you can turn off if you prefer. The panel is 14mm deep at the top and 57mm deep at the bottom where the electronics, amplification, speakers and connections are housed.The stand has the same sloped design used on Sony's other models but is open, rather than closed, and largely uses plastic with a silver brushed metal cover that picks out the silver along the outer edge of the panel. The stand measures 519 x 252mm with 80mm of clearance beneath the screen and, whilst it can't be swivelled, it does offer solid support. The connections are at the rear left as you face the screen and the power cable and some basic controls can be found at the rear right. If you'd rather wall mount the TV there are 200 x 200 VESA mounts for use with a suitable bracket. The 55XE8596 measures 1232 x 772 x 252mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 19.5kg with the stand attached and it measures 1232 x 717 x 57mm (WxHxD) and weighs 18.6kg without.
The design is similar to Sony's higher end models but the XE85 isn't quite as well made
Connections & ControlThe connections use a combination of rearwards- and sideways-facing inputs, with the latter 135mm from the edge of the screen. The rearwards-facing connections are housed in a small section and here you'll mostly find the legacy inputs such as composite and component video and analogue stereo, along with an optical digital output and an HDMI input. The sideways-facing inputs include three more HDMI inputs (all the HDMI inputs support HDCP 2.2 but only two support 4K/60p), along with three USB ports, a headphone jack, an ethernet port, an AV input using a 3.5mm jack, a connector for an IR blaster and twin satellite and terrestrial tuners. There is also a Common Interface (CI) slot behind a removable panel located above the connections.The remote control is made of smooth black plastic and has raised buttons, which we definitely prefer to the rubberised finish and low-profile buttons found on the controller included with Sony's more expensive models. The construction might be different between the two types of remote but the design is identical, with an intuitive layout and all the main controls in the centre, making them easy to use with one hand, along with dedicated keys to take you to Netflix and the Google Play Store. There's also a voice control feature and, if you would rather use your smartphone or tablet as a controller, there is also Sony’s TV SideView remote app, which is available free for both iOS and Android.
We prefer the XE85's remote to the controller included with Sony's more expensive models
Features & SpecsThe XE8596 supports High Dynamic Range – specifically HDR10 and, via a firmware update, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG). The 55XE85 uses the 4K HDR Processor X1, rather than the X1 Extreme processor used on the higher-end Sony models, which means it can't be upgraded to Dolby Vision, so bear that in mind if you feel it might be an important factor to you going forward. However the 4K HDR Processor X1 does include Object-based HDR Remaster and Super Bit Mapping which is designed to take an SDR source and upscale it to near HDR quality. There's no local dimming but the XE85 does use a TRILUMINOS display and 4K X-Reality PRO processing that can bring out all the detail in your sources up to and including Ultra HD. There's also Motionflow XR frame interpolation to help improve motion handling with fast-moving sports content but, as with all of Sony's 2017 TVs, the 55XE8596 doesn't support 3D.
Sony use Android as the operating system for their Smart TV platforms and the XE85 now runs Android 7 (Nougat). The new version seems far more robust and it presents apps in an accessible manner using a series of tiled layers that you scroll down through and then across. There's a recommendation bar, along with Netflix, Amazon and BBC iPlayer, as well as all the other UK TV catch-up services, not to mention Google Play, YouTube and YouView. The response can be a little slow but there are ways to mitigate this by not installing the Samba feature, closing apps and using the app developer setting to speed things up but at least the XE85 certainly feels faster and more robust than in previous years. Recently added is a new app for controlling your TV using Amazon Alexa, which is a really handy addition – you can turn on the TV, change channels or volume by simply asking Alexa.
Sony KD-55XE8596 Recommended Picture Settings
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-BoxThe XE8596 ships in the Standard Picture Mode, which is the case for all Sony TVs, so those wishing for an accurate image that better approximates the industry standards should select either Cinema Home or Cinema Pro. We used the Cinema Pro mode for our night time setting and the Cinema Home mode to create a daytime setting. All our measurements were done with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software. For more information on how to correctly set up your Sony TV, you can watch the settings video above or take a look at our PicturePerfect Guide.All of the Sony TVs that we have measured this year appear to use the same starting point and the XE85 was no exception. The out-of-the-box greyscale was generally very good but, as you can see in the graph above, there was an excess of blue and a slight deficit of red in the higher part of the scale. As a result there was a push towards blue in whites and errors (deltaEs) that just passed the visible threshold of three at the top end. However the XE85 includes both a two- and a ten-point white balance control, so we should have no problems calibrating the greyscale, and the gamma curve tracked our target of 2.4 very closely.As a result of the greyscale the majority of colours were being skewed by the excess blue, as was the colour of white, when compared to the industry standard of Rec.709 (the triangle in the graph above). However, as you can see, the colours were tracking their saturation points reasonably closely, so once we’ve calibrated the greyscale and removed the excess blue and brought red back up, the primary and secondary colours should fall right into place. Overall this is a decent out-of-the-box performance but we would like to see Sony rein in the amount of blue in the out-of-the-box greyscale.
The out-of-the-box measurements were good and near-reference after calibration
Picture Settings – CalibratedAs is the case with all Sony TVs, the XE85 includes a two- and a ten-point white balance control but no colour management system (CMS). However we generally find that after calibrating the greyscale a Sony TV will deliver a very accurate colour performance despite the absence of a CMS.
It was an easy task to increase red and reduce blue using the two-point, which immediately resulted in a far more accurate greyscale. The errors were already below the visible threshold but we then used the ten-point to fine-tune the performance, resulting in a highly accurate greyscale with errors that were now all well below one and a gamma curve that was precisely tracking our target of 2.4, aside from a slight bump at 90IRE.As we mentioned at the start of this section, once we had calibrated the greyscale the colour tracking fell into line and the result was an excellent level of colour accuracy. The same was true for the colour temperature of white, which was now hitting the industry standard of D65 (the square in the middle of the triangle) precisely. As a result, overall the 55XE85 is capable of a near-reference level of accuracy when it comes to its greyscale, gamma and colour gamut.
The HDR performance was good but limited in terms of peak brightness
Picture Settings – High Dynamic RangeWhilst the XE8596 impressed in terms of standard dynamic range (SDR) content, it wasn't quite as impressive with high dynamic range (HDR) content. That isn't to say it was bad and, as you can see in the graph below, the EOTF (Electro Optical Transfer Function) tracked the SMPTE 2084 (PQ) target very closely until the TV's curve started to roll off. The greyscale was also very accurate and thus white was hitting its target of D65, whilst the XE85 did an excellent job of tone mapping HDR content.Where the XE85 struggled was in terms of its peak brightness, which only measured 400 nits. The TV could produce that on a 10% and almost as much on a 100% full field pattern but due to lack of any local dimming, it struggled to handle the small specular highlights that we associate with HDR.However the XE8596 could deliver a wider colour gamut than we have seen on other Sony TVs this year and we measured the XE85 at 92% of DCI-P3 using xy and 96% using uv coordinates, which equates to 69% of Rec.2020. The graph above shows how the 55XE85 tracked against Rec.2020 and, within the limitations of its native colour gamut, it was reasonably good.
The graph above shows how the XE85 actually tracked against the DCI-P3 saturation points within the Rec.2020 container, which is the more relevant metric. In this test the Sony performed rather well, with the primary and secondary colours tracking their targets very closely within the limitations of the panel's native colour gamut. So despite the colour gamut not being as big as some of the competition, the XE85 could deliver an accurate colour performance with HDR content.
We measured the Perceptual Colour Volume of the XE8596, which takes the PQ EOTF out to 10,000nits and the Rec. 2020 colour gamut and measures them against 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). In the case of the XE85 that number was 255, which reflects the lower peak brightness and slightly smaller colour gamut.
Despite the absence of direct LEDs or local dimming the picture quality was excellent
Black Levels & Contrast RatiosThe XE8596 uses a VA panel and delivered a native black level of 0.028nits on a 0IRE window, which is good for an LCD TV. The panel could also easily hit our standard dynamic range target of 120nits, which resulted in an on/off contrast ratio of 4286:1, whilst the ANSI contrast ratio was a reasonable 2740:1. The shadow detail was also quite good, although this isn't an area where LCD panels are strong and there could be a slight loss of detail in more challenging material.
Backlight UniformityIf there was one area where the XE85 impressed, it was in terms of backlight uniformity – whatever approach Sony are taking it clearly works. There was no clouding when watching SDR content, even during the night, although there was a tiny amount when watching HDR content where the backlight is at its maximum setting, especially on darker material at nighttime. Using a 100% white pattern the screen was free of DSE (dirty screen effect) and the panel didn't suffer from noticeable banding either, making it a good choice for football fans.
Viewing AnglesAs we mentioned earlier in the review, the 55XE85 uses a VA panel, which means the viewing angles are fairly limited. This is the normal trade-off for the superior black level performance of a VA panel but, as a result, if you sat more than 30 degrees off centre you would start to see a drop off in the contrast and colour performance. However when sat central to the screen, the Sony delivered an impressive image despite the absence of any local dimming.
Motion HandlingSony TVs usually deliver fairly good motion handling and we measured the motion resolution of the XE85 at around 300 lines, which is fairly standard for an LCD panel. This increased to the full 1080 if you engaged the Motionflow frame interpolation but it can introduce a certain degree of smoothing, although that won’t necessarily be an issue with sports content shot on video. However, we wouldn't recommend using it for film-based content like movies and TV dramas and instead we would use the True Cinema mode which increases the frame rate without introducing interpolation, thus retaining a film-like quality to motion. If motion is a big issue for you then there is always the option to experiment with the Clear and Custom controls to find a setting that you prefer but the Clear mode uses black frame insertion which will make the picture slightly darker, so you might need to increase the brightness of the image, and some people may experience flicker.
Standard Dynamic Range (SDR)We were impressed by the X90 when we reviewed it but, given the XE85's lack of a direct LED backlight and local dimming, our expectations weren't as high. However this mid-range model really surprised us, delivering an excellent image with natural colours, a good contrast performance, excellent video processing and decent motion handling. The X1 processor effectively upscaled lower resolution content to match the 4K panel and the Reality Creation feature can prove useful in this respect as well, although it does have a tendency to over-emphasise film grain. However whether we were watching standard or high definition broadcasts, the 55XE85 produced very watchable pictures and although we don't watch much standard definition content these days, it still looked good on the 55-inch screen. What really struck us was the colour fidelity of the Triluminos panel, with the TV delivering natural images that really popped. The new BBC series Blue Planet II looked exceptional at times, with lovely colours and detail and the processing also handled the banding caused by the broadcast compression very well. The picture quality was just as impressive with streaming content and both The Expanse and Narcos looked fantastic. The Sony handled Gravity on Blu-ray very well despite the lack of any local dimming, whilst Moana really popped with detail and colour. Overall the XE8596 was a very impressive mid-range TV with SDR content.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)The story with HDR wasn't quite as impressive, primarily due to the limited peak brightness. However that's not to say that the HDR performance was bad, it's just that the peak highlights didn't have quite the same impact as a TV with a brighter backlight. On the other hand the limited brightness meant that the XE85 didn't suffer from excessive clouding or bright edges or corners and black bars on films managed to still look black. The greyscale and colour temperature for white were good and the tone mapping was effective, ensuring that detail was retained up to 4000 nits. The slightly smaller native colour gamut also wasn't an issue because the actual tracking was very good, as a result the colours still looked both natural and saturated. When watching a disc like The Revenant the Sony handled the natural colours and snowy whites of the wilderness very well, whilst the level of detail was impressive. The XE85 also handled the arriving in Neverland scene in Pan without clipping the sun and a new purchase like Westworld looked very impressive with the landscape vistas appearing particularly striking. The X8596 also handled the HDR on Star Trek Discovery and Stranger Things 2 very well and overall we found that the Sony was capable of a very enjoyable HDR performance despite its inherent limitations.
Sony KD-55XE8596 Video Review
Sound QualityThe XE85 sounded about as good as you would expect from a modern slimline TV, with the smaller screen size and largely plastic construction limiting its performance slightly. However we remain impressed by the quality of sound that Sony are able to squeeze out of such small speakers. Dialogue remained clear and focused on the screen, whilst the mid-range was fairly good and the higher frequencies avoided sounding brittle. The XE85 has two bass-reflex speakers that each have 10W of amplification and, whilst they could go reasonably loud, there was understandably little in the way of bass.
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 XE85 was fine for general TV watching but for those who love movies and TV dramas, you would be better off with a soundbar.
The sound was reasonable, the energy consumption low and the input lag a pleasing 28ms
Input Lag & Energy UsageAs usual we measured the input lag using our Leo Bodnar tester and the XE8596 delivered a decent performance with a lag of 28ms in the Game mode. The Sony delivered this measurement regardless of whether the signal was SDR or HDR and produced a similar lag for a 4K signal, again regardless of whether it was SDR or HDR.
In terms of the XE85’s energy consumption it proved to be extremely efficient and using a full window 50% white pattern we measured the Standard picture mode at 65W and our calibrated Cinema Pro mode at 66W. Of course once we moved on to HDR the level of energy consumption increased and the 55XE85 was drawing 118W with our optimal settings.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of Rec.2020 - 100% best) 69% 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?
- Accurate calibrated greyscale & colours
- Excellent performance with SDR
- Good motion handling
- Low input lag
- Decent set of features
- Great price
- HDR performance could be better
- Narrow optimal viewing angles
Sony KD-55XE8596 4K LED TV Review
Should I buy one?The XE85 really impressed in our testing, delivering a great all-round performance that, when combined with its low price, makes it a cracking buy. Whilst the Sony might not have a direct LED backlight or local dimming, the even nature of the edge LED backlight and the VA LCD panel deliver a very watchable picture that has decent blacks and a good contrast performance. The only downside to these decent blacks was the narrow viewing angle but the out-of-the-box accuracy was reasonable and the calibrated image was near-reference, resulting in natural looking pictures. The motion handling and video processing were also impressive, despite not using Sony's X1 Extreme processor, and the XE8596 produced some lovely looking SDR images. The TV also supports HDR but was limited by its brightness and native colour gamut, although the excellent tone mapping, greyscale and colour tracking did result in a pleasing HDR image overall. The design is minimalist but attractive, the build quality decent and we like the remote control, whilst the Android Smart TV platform is improving every year. At 28ms the input lag should please gamers, whilst the sound quality and energy consumption are good, making this TV a hard act to beat. As such we're happy to award the Sony KD-55XE8596 an AVForums Best Buy badge.
What are my alternatives?There are a couple of obvious alternatives, starting with Sony's own KD-55XE9005. This TV includes a direct LED backlight (something of a rarity these days) and local dimming, along with all the features found on the XE85, and can be picked up for £1,299. The XE90 is certainly the superior performer when it comes to HDR, so if you have an extra £300, it's probably the best option at this price range. If you're looking for a superior HDR performance at the same price as the XE85, then the Samsung UE55MU7000 is definitely worth a look, with a superior HDR performance and has just had a hefty price drop to £949. If you're budget is even tighter than the price of the XE85 or MU7000, you could consider the Hisense H55N6800, which at just £679 is a bit of a bargain. The N6800 is well made and delivers a great SDR image but, like the XE85, it's HDR performance could be better. However considering the price, it's hard to fault the Hisense in terms of value.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
SDR Picture Quality9
HDR Picture Quality7
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money10
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