Sony ZF9 (KD-65ZF9) Review
A new LCD master?
What is the Sony KD-65ZF9?The ZF9 is Sony’s replacement for the very well received ZD9 from 2016, which has been a forum favourite with some members thanks to its performance with HDR content. Indeed, the KD-65ZD9 was the HDR TV of the year in our 2017 Editor’s Choice Awards. So the ZF9 has some pretty big boots to fill to match or better the performance of the previous model. The TV is also known as the Z9F in other territories such as North America.
This review sample was provided by Crampton and Moore and is a brand new, sealed retail model from their stock. This review wouldn't have been possible without the loan of this TV. If you would like to support our reviews, you can give Richard a call on 01302 365760 or email him on [email protected] - and mention AVForums.
The KD-65ZF9 is part of the Sony MASTER SERIES TV line-up that includes the recently reviewed Sony KD-55AF9 OLED TV. The idea is that TVs in this series will attempt to produce image quality, in the correct picture mode, that gets close to looking like a professional monitor such as the Sony BVM-X300, which is used in many grading and mastering suites in Hollywood and industry-wide. This should mean that watching content in the best 'out of the box' modes gets close to how that TV show or movie was mastered and how it should be seen. This accuracy will obviously appeal to AVForums members and readers who strive for image accuracy and fidelity.
The ZF9 also uses the same X1 Ultimate processor also found in the AF9 OLED TV, with its advanced picture processing capabilities and image manipulation features such as Object-based HDR Remaster, Backlight Master Drive, X-tended Dynamic Range Pro, X-Motion Clarity, Object-based Super Resolution and 4K HDR and Dual Database Processing, to name just a few. Plus the Z9F has what Sony call X-Wide Angle, which increases the viewing angle of this LCD TV so colour and contrast do not shift as much as they do on traditional VA panel LCD TVs. This does raise the question of what type of panel is being used with the ZF9 and on first viewing impressions, it appears very much like an IPS panel in terms of viewing angles and contrast performance. However, it is indeed a VA unit, which has a filter to improve the viewing angles but obviously comes with contrast issues, we will discuss this in more detail in the review.
The Sony KD-65ZF9 really does have a lot to live up to given how well the ZD9 was accepted in AV circles, so can it provide an upgraded and better performance than its predecessor? Let’s find out…
Design, Connections and ControlAfter reviewing and living with mainly OLED TVs for the last few months, getting an LED LCD back in for testing was a bit of a chunky surprise. That’s not to say that the ZF9 isn’t a good looking TV, but it does have a noticeable bezel and is rather deep compared to the ultra slim, bezel-free OLED designs of late.
The bezel around the screen is 10mm wide on the sides and top with 15mm to the bottom of the panel and a further 1mm strip under this as a design touch. There is a silver Sony logo bang in the centre of the bottom bezel and on the top left we have a BRAVIA logo in small lettering. There is nothing else to the front of the panel which looks minimalist and clean with a metal finish that is similar to the kind of grainy texture you would find on a DSLR camera body.
The panel edge is 25mm deep and then widens out further behind the screen to accommodate the electronics, speakers and Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) backlight. The panel edge has a two-piece design where the recess is not quite in the centre, unlike like other Sony designs. Around the back, there is the usual Sony detail to keeping things neat and tidy with the connections covered over by plastic inserts and decent cable management.
The rear panel is a mix of hard and light plastics with a smooth strip that has another BRAVIA logo and a textured VESA area adding to the 360-degree design of the ZF9. Finally, you have two sturdy angled feet, which are fixed roughly 30 inches apart on the 65-inch panel. The feet point outwards and need a surface at least 44 to 45 inches wide to sit properly. My TV unit is only 42 inches wide, so I had to reverse the feet so they are pointing inwards to fit. This works fine but does take away from the original design. You can further hide cables by routing them through the stands.
Looking at the ZF9 from the front, the connections are positioned on the left rear panel. They are sideways and downwards positioned and can be hidden by a plastic pop-on cover. There are four HDMI full bandwidth ports with eARC on HDMI 3 and all four are compatible with HDCP 2.3 copy protection. HDMI 1 is sideways facing with the other three downwards positioned. Also on the side is a CI interface, AV in, Headphone and IR Blaster inputs along with two USB ports. Downwards facing we have a further USB port for HDD use, the three HDMI along with Optical digital out, LAN, two Satellite tuners and RF terrestrial socket. The power input is positioned to the rear right of the panel and is fixed.
The supplied remote control is identical to the one used with the AF8 and AF9 OLED TVs and is a real disappointment. It does everything you could want and it is logically laid out and fairly intuitive to use, but the plastic finish and rubberised buttons that only just stick up above the unit, make it feel extremely cheap and difficult to justify with such an expensive TV. The button presses are horrible and because they are only slightly raised and feel like soft rubber, you are never sure if the remote command was successful. It’s time for a new design and one that feels premium and matches the cost of the TV.
The remote control remains the weakest link with premium Sony TVs
FunctionalityThe new Android Oreo set up on the ZF9 is a joy to use given the issues we have experienced with Android TV in the past. We didn’t have any issues with crashing or the system hanging when put under pressure. Everything was slick and intuitive to use and button presses resulted in apps loading or switching instantaneously, as they should.
There is a good selection of apps available with all the terrestrial catch-up services including BBC iPlayer and, of course, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon all offer 4K playback. Only Netflix and Amazon have HDR capabilities, however. We also ran into an issue with BBC iPlayer and the Dynasties UHD option, which appeared for Episode 1 but then wasn’t available for any episodes when we next loaded the app and it has remained like this. It is clearly the BBC app at fault here and not the ZF9.
With Oreo, you also get Google assistant functionality so you can use direct voice commands via the mic in the remote control. I have never found voice control useful, probably due to my Scottish accent, but the system here works perfectly well and I used it for a number of commands and it performed as expected. There are also full tutorial videos available on how to use your Sony BRAVIA TV if you get stuck, which we think is a really nice feature.
So far, so good for the user interface and when it comes to using the ZF9 as a TV, for watching TV channels, it features the excellent YouView tuner and EPG controls. This makes channel surfing extremely easy with complete use of the directional keys on the remote and detailed enough ‘now and next’ right at your fingertips. You can also select your most viewed channels and access these through the home page on the TV. All the catch-up services are also available through the YouView interface.
Overall, we think Sony now has a user interface that is fit for purpose and competes well with the competition for ease of use, speed and reliability, but it has taken them some time to finally get here.
FeaturesThe Sony ZF9 is a 4K UHD LED LCD TV with a panel that has extra wide viewing angles. Sony will not say if it is an IPS or VA panel, but given the viewing angles and lack of contrast without full local dimming in use, we initially thought it may very well be an IPS variant of panel. However, on further inspection and use, (since our initial viewing tests and discussion on the podcast), the ZF9 is indeed using a VA panel with a filter within the structure to direct light to create a wider viewing angle. We have asked Sony directly about how this works and their intention in going this route but they have declined to give us any details on this, the panel type, and how many dimming zones there are. Viewing angles are improved and do look good with normal TV viewing, but this also highlights blooming and halos around objects within darker scenes, or with bright objects. Sony calls this X-Wide Angle and it appears to have been chosen to try and combat LCD's poor viewing angles when compared to OLED TVs.
The panel uses a Full Array Local Dimming (FALD) backlight, which appears to have 104 zones from our testing. This was measured using a small dot crossing the top edge of the screen horizontally and then vertically to count the columns and rows to come up with the separate zones. Again Sony will not officially divulge how many actual zones the ZF9 does have, but given our results and the amount of time we have tested and viewed material on the ZF9, we think 104 is correct. This is a significant difference when compared to the ZD9 that had close to six times the number of zones. Calling the technology Backlight Master Drive with X-Tended Dynamic Range Pro, it is claimed that the LEDs emit straight beams of light to combat haloing or blooming around objects and that the local dimming creates a precise difference between blacks and whites. This is similar to the technology employed by the ZD9 but, with the wider viewing angles, it has changed the result. We will cover more on this in the picture quality section.
Just like the AF9 MASTER SERIES OLED, the ZF9 also features the X1 Ultimate processing chip and the video processing technologies that go with that. X-Motion Clarity is a variation of Black Frame Insertion (BFI) where certain parts of the image are inserted with black areas while the backlight ‘blinks’. The duration of these ‘blinks’ is varied to give perceivable motion smoothing without losing as much image brightness as other BFI implementations do. There are various settings available, with MotionFlow Custom Clearness increasing the effect, though the brightness drops the higher you go, but not objectionably so. This works incredibly well with fast moving sports viewing like rugby or football to name two.
The ZF9 also features high dynamic range technology with HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision all supported. As you would expect with an LED LCD TV, the strong point here is a much higher peak brightness than an OLED TV, but the ZF9 also has to manage those deep blacks to get the entire dynamic range covered. The local dimming has to be able to manage this and there also has to be a natural contrast performance of the panel, especially in the mid-tones, to get the best out of HDR material. We will cover this in detail in the picture quality section below.
Netflix has become the de-facto streaming service for AV enthusiasts and the Sony ZF9 has full Dolby Vision support for content. Plus, there is the Netflix Calibrated Mode that appears in the menus when Netflix is being used. This sets the TV into settings similar to Custom mode for SDR and HDR content and Dolby Vision Dark. This is a welcome addition, as it will put normal consumers into the best picture modes on the ZF9 for film and TV viewing. The only downside is that when you switch Netflix Calibrated Mode off in the menu, it goes to Standard mode for SDR and HDR content and Dolby Vision Bright, which is less desirable as these modes are not accurate at all.
Other features include the new Android Oreo operating system that works really well and there is also Google assistant and Alexa integration which will allow you to control, not just the ZF9, but also other smart devices in your home, without using the remote control.
Finally, unlike the AF9, it looks like sound quality has not been a priority with the ZF9 as there is no fancy sound system or soundbar to enhance the audio quality of the panel. It could be argued that most users of such a large screen will already have an outboard audio solution, but it would have been nice if the audio were better than just functional.
Out of the Box MeasurementsAs we discovered with the AF9, the Sony picture presets have been changed for the Master Series models and gone is Cinema Pro to be replaced with Custom, and Cinema Home is now just Cinema. Custom should be the most accurate picture mode preset out of the box to the industry standards. We used our Klein K10-A meter, Murideo Fresco Six-G generator and CalMAN software to take measurements of the various options to arrive at the most accurate to the standards image quality.
It has to be said that, after so many reviews recently where the out of the box greyscale (top left) has been accurate, it is rather disappointing to see that the ZF9 is not very accurate here. Gamma tracks well at BT.1886 but the greyscale has a progressively cyan bias from around 30ire up in the scale with a real lack of red energy. This will also likely impact on the colour performance with a pull to cyan and for a TV that is marketed as a Master Series and close to being accurate, this is disappointing. We have the calibration controls onboard the ZF9 to correct this easily enough, but out of the box should be far better than this.
Moving to the Rec.709 colour gamut (top right) we can see that, indeed, there is a cyan pull to the saturation points in the tracking graph. This pull is not large enough to cause any significant issues that the majority of normal viewers will see, but had the greyscale been a tad more accurate out of the box we probably would have had excellent colour tracking as well. By fixing the greyscale in the next section of the review, we should also find the colour points all fall into place.
Calibrated MeasurementsThere are full calibration controls available on the Sony ZF9 including a new fully featured Colour Management System (CMS). This should mean that we can get accurate results for SDR content to the standards, with ease. There is also a full AutoCal system currently in beta for the ZF9 from CalMAN which professional calibrators will be able to offer customers for fine-tuning of the picture quality for SDR and HDR content. This is not an automatic calibration system and is also not something end users will be able to do on their own. It requires a high level of calibration equipment and software that would be cost prohibitive for the majority of end users. Plus, it requires a certain level of expertise and experience to use such features, so to get the best out of the system, make sure you hire a calibrator who knows what they are doing.
For this review, we stuck with a manual calibration using the accessible controls in the menu system. We are happy enough that we were able to get very accurate results in doing so.
Looking at the greyscale (top left) you can see that DeltaE errors are now all under one, which is well below the visual threshold of three, and there are no errors visible on screen within the greyscale. This is an excellent result and we just wish that the ZF9 could have been closer to this accuracy out of the box. Gamma tracks well at BT.1886 and, overall, we couldn't expect any better from the ZF9.
Moving to the colour gamut saturation tracking (top right), we can see that just correcting the greyscale was enough for everything to fall in to place. This gave us a DeltaE error average of 0.8 and luminance was also excellent (not shown) giving us reference levels of accuracy for SDR content. Again, it would have been nice on a Master Series to have seen this out of the box, but rest assured that a professional will be able to calibrate the ZF9 perfectly.
HDR ResultsJust like the AF9 you will need to select a different picture mode if you have calibrated Custom to SDR points and used the CMS in any way, as it will apply these to HDR content when the TV auto switches. It doesn’t write new settings in the same preset, which is a shame and something other manufacturers have managed to add to their TVs.
As we can see with 1000 and 4000 nit signals the Sony ZF9 is capable of excellent PQ EOTF tracking (top left). Given the brightness on offer, even in the more accurate picture modes and to D65 white, the EOTF tracks almost perfectly and luminance is also superb with a gentle tone map that is applied to whatever the content was mastered to. This gives an incredibly consistent HDR image that requires hardly any mapping to 1000 nits and a gentle roll-off for 4000 nits retaining peak highlight details as it does so, without dimming the image too much. There is no need for aggressive ABL on the ZF9 and we didn’t see any employed at all here.
However, not everything was perfect and we did find some odd issues in testing the ZF9, which didn’t overly affect the viewing material in HDR but are worthy of note. First of all, if the screen was black or dark before setting off our PQ EOTF measurements, we had the strange result of the first 100% measurement being no more than around 600 nits and by the time the process came back around to 90%, it was well over 1000 nits. So, it appears the ZF9, from a black or dark scene, applies less brightness to begin with and then ramps this up over a short period of time.
To test this out we then used a 100% white field on screen before starting the measurement cycle and low and behold the first measurement at 100% was now 1250 nits, which is the peak brightness in the D65 accurate mode. We then tested the same thing with paused HDR content and a grey ramp in HDR with 4000 nits metadata. Sure enough, the highlights were visible to start with, including the higher end bars in the ramps when switching to them from a dark or black screen, before the ZF9 brightened up over a few seconds with the 4000 nit test footage then ending up clipping peak detail within a few seconds.
While this was intriguing to see it does make sense in that peak highlights normally follow after dimmer scenes and to protect peak details the initial idea is to show these. We didn’t see any objectionable behaviour when actually viewing HDR material so it isn’t something to be worried about performance wise, we just found it interesting enough to mention here.
Colour gamut coverage to DCI-P3 (top right) was also pretty good on the ZF9 with some slight issues of over saturation in the tracking graph and the odd hue error, but the majority of the gamut is reasonably tracked. Luminance is also good (not shown) and overall DeltaE errors were averaged at just under four, which is reasonable for out of the box HDR tracking. BT.2020 coverage was XY 67% and UV 73% with P3 coverage of XY 92% and UV 96%. Local dimming also has to be used in the highest settings for HDR and we cover that in more detail below.
Panel Uniformity and Viewing AnglesThe Sony ZF9 uses a VA LCD Panel with a filter to help with viewing angles, as well as a 104 zone FALD backlight system. There are compromises at play here when it comes to performance by using such a setup.
First of all, in general use, panel uniformity varies with the backlight and local dimming settings. In the off and low settings the panel is full of grey looking blacks and covered in clouding from the backlight, which is seen as large clumps of light grey in various places across the entire panel. In both settings, the ZF9 is unwatchable given the level of clouding seen. In the local dimming medium and high settings, this disappears and is not obvious with normal viewing materials. This is the case in bright room and dark room viewing.
However, with content such as football with camera pans across a green pitch, which takes up the entire screen, there are also issues with vertical banding caused by the backlight columns. This is faint and subtle so not all viewers will immediately see it, but it is noticeable with fast-moving sports and pans over areas of one colour or hue, such as pitches or blue skies. This is again visible in bright and dark room viewing conditions. We also noted subtle instances of Dirty Screen Effect (DSE) with such content, although it was rarer to see this than the issues with vertical bands.
Looking at the Sony ZF9 from a direct seating position to the screen we don’t see any major issues with haloing or blooming with the majority of content, but look closer and you can see some halo issues, even in bright scenes. We noted a newsreader standing in the studio holding a white piece of paper had a white halo around the piece of paper, again in SDR and bright room viewing. With HDR content the issues are a little more apparent with direct viewing and halos.
Viewing angles are certainly improved by the use of the new X-Wide Angle filter on the panel with decent colour reproduction up to at least 60 degrees. However, as with direct viewing, you are more likely, off-axis, to see halos around bright objects, even in bright scenes and especially around text like subtitles or scrolling end credits. And it is not just obvious with those items, again we saw issues with bright objects moving across the screen with a large halo around them, such as spaceships against space or even cars driving down the street in a brighter scene. Local dimming was checked in the medium and high settings and it was the same in each case (low and off are unwatchable in our opinion).
It should also be pointed out that these issues, while subtle in some cases, are likely to be noticed and seen by most viewers and, not just picky videophiles, so it seems that the X-Wide Angle filter and lack of dimming zones compared to the ZD9 have had some undesired effects on viewing quality with the ZF9.
Black Levels and Contrast PerformanceAnd the issues highlighted above continue within this section, and that is elevated black levels and contrast performance. In the wake of creating wide viewing angles, it looks like the unintended costs are grey blacks and poor ANSI contrast with a lack of pop. This is why we initially thought that Sony might have been using an IPS panel for the ZF9 given this obvious poorer contrast and lighter blacks, along with the wide viewing angles.
Trying to get accurate black level readings with the local dimming in use proved difficult. First of all, we need the local dimming in the medium or high position because that is how the ZF9 has been designed to perform at its best. But, by doing that, the readings with a black measurement is 0 nits as you would expect because the local dimming switches off completely. In HDR, the low position measures 0.051 but the screen is cloudy and, switched to Off it measures 0.276 nits (again this is unwatchable due to clouding). So the only way around this is to use an ANSI pattern and dimming at high to get a workable figure of 0.153 nits for black. This begins to tell some of the story with the ZF9 and its raised blacks. With SDR and at Medium, it measures 0.034 nits.
With intra-scene contrast in SDR and most noticeably in HDR, we find grey blacks and flat shadow detailing where there is a green tinge to dark scenes. The lagoon scene in Pan on 4K Blu-ray is a perfect example of this with elevated black levels around the backgrounds, and faces and clothing being harder to distinguish from the murky grey blackness around them. A scene like this, with plenty of shadows and details in the blacks, looks milky when set against the Q9FN we used for some comparison testing. Where the Samsung had punch and pop to the scene with excellent blacks and shadow details, the Sony looked flat and milky grey in comparison.
With HDR material it was certainly very noticeable, whereas with SDR Blu-rays such as Gravity, it faired a little better due to the reduced brightness requirements, but it was also still there. The shots of star fields and the Milky Way did show up tremendous amounts of detail within them, but without any real dynamic range. Again, sitting next to the Q9FN, it was clear that blacks were just not inky or deep. But the local dimming did manage to cope with the white suits and star fields better than the Q9FN with its aggressive dimming adding vignetting and crushing.
One final thing that really disappointed me during testing was the way the Sony ZF9 handles cinemascope films and black bars. I initially thought our sample was faulty given how bad the issue was, but it seems that this is actually normal behaviour. When watching films with black bars top and bottom (in 2.40:1) the bars are not inky black all the time while watching. Indeed the bars light up on a regular basis as images change on screen and this is apparent in SDR and especially so with HDR content. Anything that is bright in colour or luminance and close to the bars causes them to light up next to that object, or along with a large item such as the sky in a shot. In such cases, we have seen the entire top black bar become brighter. Here is an example shot from Pan of the sun positioned to the right of the frame and look at what should be black bars top and bottom of the screen at that point. (You may need to click on the image to make it bigger and more obvious; it is very difficult to capture what the eye is seeing using a camera).
Compared to the Samsung Q9FN sat next to the ZF9 the difference was very apparent, with the Q9FN showing no issues at all with deep and inky black bars, while the Sony shone brightly! And this wasn’t just in dark viewing conditions either. With the lights on and the blinds open during the day, we could see the same things happening. With SDR content in calibrated settings, the ZF9 did fare slightly better, but the issue was still there and still visible, just not as bright as the HDR examples. And the image above and most of our testing was from viewing the ZF9 directly in front of the TV. If you start to move off-axis the issue is even more noticeable. To me, personally, as a film fan, I find this unacceptable from a TV which sports the MASTER SERIES banner and proclaims accuracy to the creator's intent. Brightening the black bars distracts me from watching my movies and takes me out of the experience.
Motion Handling and Video ProcessingAs we have the X1 Ultimate processing on board, when it comes to video processing, there are no major issues to report with the Sony ZF9 as it sailed through most of our tests with flying colours. We did note that, with some text on video test scenes and news tickers, there are a few issues with the processing failing to lock with some content and causing stuttering and tearing of text. With interlaced content, we have fewer selections available in film mode than we used to have, so it is either on or off. If you watch a lot of news channels you may find the off position works better for you. We are not sure why Sony changed this when it worked flawlessly on other X1 chips in the past.
Scaling is also superb on the ZF9 with clean and sharp images from HD channels and sources looking crisp and error-free. We didn’t notice any issues with ringing or edge enhancement artefacts and there was no backdoor noise reduction or other issues to report.
24fps material is also played back perfectly with no signs of induced judder or motion blur that is not present in the source already. We didn’t notice any issues with frame dropping or skipping and overall the motion with film content looked superb.
Just like the AF9, MotionFlow has seen some changes here on the Sony ZF9 with True Cinema, Standard, and Smooth being dropped in favour of Custom and Off. Within Custom you have Smoothness and Clearness adjustment sliders. Adjusting Smoothness adds interpolation and Soap Opera Effect (SOE) in various stages. With Clearness, there are Min, 1, 2 and Max settings to choose from, with each adding more Black Frame Insertion (BFI) and dimming the image. This is referred to as X-Motion Clarity by Sony and is a variation of BFI where certain parts of the image are inserted with black areas, while the backlight ‘blinks’ depending on content and settings. It can add perceived image smoothness, without obvious interpolation and SOE.
In terms of motion and video processing, the Sony ZF9 is very good indeed and continues the performance standard we have come to expect from Sony in this area.
Input LagBeing a Sony TV you should expect that the ZF9 would be good for console video gamers and that is certainly the case in game mode. We measured input lag to be 22ms in both SDR and HDR. We found gaming a real treat on the ZF9 with excellent HDR consistency, good colour reproduction and the responsiveness felt as fast as the input lag would suggest, I certainly died quicker than normal.
As this is an LED LCD TV you don’t need to worry about image retention issues with static images being left on screen for hours on end or pausing what you are watching and then forgetting to come back to it. You also don’t need to worry about ABL issues and panel dimming over time either. For gaming, the Sony is a class act and just as quick as its peers for input lag.
Sound QualityPrevious Sony 4K HDR TVs have had massive speakers on the sides of the panels and the new OLEDs introduced the Acoustic Surface technology, which we think is brilliant, so what exactly does the ZF9 bring to the sound quality party? Well, sadly, nothing much to be honest.
The stereo speakers are best described as functional and distortion free at normal listening volumes with TV channels. For movies, things do sound rather underwhelming with no weight or dynamics to soundtracks and it can sound a little hollow and thin most of the time. However, we would imagine that the kind of consumer looking at this size of screen and price point will either have an existing standalone sound solution, or they should certainly consider one if movie watching is a priority.
Sony ZF9 Picture Quality
Out of the Box Performance – SDRAs always, we tested out the main picture modes that are likely to be chosen by consumers buying the Sony ZF9. We didn’t cover the graphics and photos modes as they are designed for specific uses that we are not covering in this review.
Vivid mode – If, for some reason, you feel compelled to choose this picture mode you will be met by incredibly blue images that are overcooked and make everyone appear tanned like Donald Trump. Colours are garish and oversaturated while motion is turned up to full, with plenty of Soap Opera Effect to smooth everything out, while adding the odd artefact. Avoid.
Standard mode – You could assume (wrongly) that this would be a happy medium between Vivid and Cinema where you could happily watch bright content and assume it was still accurate. Sadly, you couldn’t be further from the truth with a slightly less garish image than Vivid along with blue whites, colours that are only half-baked and people look slightly less tanned, but there is nothing natural or accurate here. Once again, motion is sickly smooth and full of SOE.
Cinema mode – This replaces the previous Cinema Home mode that was featured in early 2018 models and Sony sets from the last few years. It tries to be accurate to the industry standards but with a higher brightness for use in the daytime when lighting in the room may be bright. This mode succeeds in doing this and colours are more natural and accurate, with nice looking skin tones. You will still have to switch off MotionFlow if you want images without any interpolation, but overall, for a bright room, this is a good preset.
Game mode – This is pretty self-explanatory and the best preset for use with a games console. It is fairly accurate and you can select the best white balance settings within the menus. Input lag is very good and colours are bold but not overly saturated. HDR gaming is also good with superb brightness; excellent shadow detailing and no dimming or ABL issues to worry about. You can game for hours on end and not cause any possible damage to the panel.
Custom mode – This is the most accurate picture mode out of the box for movie and TV viewing. It tries to get as close as possible to the industry standards of Rec.709 for HD colour and D65 for the white point. As we saw in the measurements earlier in the review the ZF9 is not quite as accurate as we would like it to be out of the box with a definite push towards cyan in the greyscale and colour gamut results. This is visible with onscreen content for those with good eyes for accuracy, but there is nothing glaringly obvious that ruins the feel or mood of the content you are watching. Colours still look authentic and natural with excellent skin tones and primary and secondary colours look accurate enough to the eye. We doubt many viewers would be able to see any errors without a reference point next to the ZF9.
Making sure to switch off the processing you don’t want active for SDR viewing, we found the image quality and accuracy from the Sony ZF9 to be great. Watching directly on to the TV and with a host of different material from movies to TV shows, we were impressed with skin tones and colour reproduction was also good. This created a really nice cinematic image and if you can look past the black bar issues (which are more subtle with SDR content) then the ZF9 is capable of some very compelling picture quality. Using some well-known test discs we were impressed with the motion and scaling for Blu-ray to 4K playback and we didn’t see any major issues that took us out of the moment we were watching on screen. We were also impressed with the local dimming, which rarely made itself visible while watching. It is far less aggressive than the Q9FN and as such offers up a far more consistent image with no noticeable shifts in brightness or lag. It also doesn't crush blacks or detail making the ZF9 excellent with shadow details within the starfields of Gravity, where the Q9FN does crush and cause vignetting effects.
Only moving to SDR sports did we feel that DSE and some very slight vertical banding dampen the enthusiasm we had for the ZF9’s SDR performance. If you don’t watch sports content you may still see this with slow pans over consistent colours or backgrounds like skies, but it is very slight and some viewers may never notice it. We are reviewing a retail sample so we imagine this will be consistent for other 65-inch ZF9 samples.
Finally, black performance was also decent, with just the lack of intra-scene contrast being noticeable in darker scenes where there wasn’t enough dynamic range and pop to give the image and blacks the type of depth we would expect. It really is a mixed performance that for the most part can be very good but, also at times, a little disappointing.
Out of the box HDR 4KAnd this mixed bag is certainly true with the HDR performance of the ZF9, where the elevated black levels and more noticeable black bar issues just dampen what could have been a superb LCD TV, rather than just a good one. Obviously, we are looking at a display technology that has inherent flaws which are adapted by manufacturers to find ways around the weak points of LCD and to try hard to get close to the self-emissive strong points, while delivering high brightness. As such, some techniques work well and others have undesired side effects, which can impact on your viewing experience.
The issue we have with blooming and the black bars lighting up are not exclusive to this Sony LED LCD. Indeed, the top model Samsung TVs I also have here at the moment for review and testing, do exhibit similar black bar issues, but nowhere near as badly as the ZF9. It just feels like a little too much of a compromise for me to accept during HDR movie watching with this Sony, in comparison to the odd example of something similar with other LED LCD models that only appears every now and again. It happens so often with the ZF9 that it is an issue with this set's design, rather than just a drawback of the technology, so we would like Sony to look at how they might mitigate or remove the issue with future models using this technology.
With that out of the way, when fed the right HDR scene that doesn’t involve distractions, the ZF9 is capable of some stunningly bright and impactful picture quality. Colours can look incredibly bright with excellent peak highlights and an image that certainly has more pop than the Q9FN sitting next to it in comparison with the exact same scene.
We also tested Dolby Vision via the inbuilt app and from our Apple TV 4K and are happy to report that issues we had previously noted on the AF9 with posterisation and raised and noisy blacks were not seen on the ZF9. Indeed, the Dolby Vision clips I watched looked extremely clean with excellent detail and superb dynamic range. The smaller aspect ratio black bars were also less of an issue with series such as Lost in Space, where my attention wasn’t drawn to them as often as I was with 2.40:1 content.
This, once again, highlights the mixed performance and again it feels like if Sony hadn’t bothered with the X-Wide Angle approach, we might have been looking at yet another superb HDR performer with all types of content. We are sadly left wondering ‘what if’ and that really shouldn’t be the case with what is a flagship LCD TV.
Calibrated PerformanceWith SDR content, the reference level of calibration possible with the ZF9 can be seen on screen with some stunningly accurate colours and excellent sharpness and detail. Sat straight on with the panel, and in the right conditions with a little bit of bias lighting, we were only really distracted now and again when watching scope movies. With everything else, including the SDR version of the BBC Dynasties series, as well as our favourite Netflix series, the ZF9 can turn in a staggering performance that at times has you saying wow, but then with others you are hit by the lack of ultimate dynamics and contrast. HDR can also be superb, with the first episode of Dynasties (the only one I could get in HLG, for some reason) looking stunning. Nothing comes close to what the BBC natural history cinematographers can capture with the time and devotion they spend in the field and it looks jaw-dropping at times on the ZF9.
The ZF9 offers a mixed performance that ultimately feels disappointing for HDR movie viewing
- Superb accuracy after calibration
- Excellent video processing and motion
- Bright HDR performance
- Good design and cable management
- Good calibration controls
- Decent out of the box performance
- Good input lag for gaming and dedicated game mode
- UI is now fast and reliable
- Android TV now works as it should
- Decent viewing angles
- Lack of contrast and elevated blacks, especially with HDR content
- Black bars light up with SDR and especially with HDR content - all the time!
- Could be more accurate out of the box
- Some slight DSE and vertical banding from the backlight
- Haloing and blooming with HDR content especially noticeable off-axis
Sony ZF9 (KD-65ZF9) ReviewThere are a lot of positives with the Sony ZF9 when it comes to the UI, build quality and picture performance. There are also quite a number of weaknesses we have identified during our testing and time spent viewing the TV and, ultimately, what we have is a mixed bag.
The build quality and design are very good and what we have come to expect from Sony and it is very similar to the XF90 we reviewed earlier in the year. The feet are designed to sit outwards, but make sure you have a wide enough TV unit to fit the ZF9. You can, like us, point the feet inwards and this works fine, but it does take away from the design slightly. Cable management is also excellent with plastic covers to hide the connections and cables, with channels in the feet to further route your cabling for that 360-degree designer look.
The UI has been improved from previous Android TVs with the Sony ZF9 using Oreo, which is fast, stable and intuitive to use, making it one of the first Android TVs I could personally live with. We also get the YouView TV system with all the terrestrial catch-up apps, along with Netflix and Amazon offering HDR10 and Dolby Vision content, though YouTube is 4K only. The only slight disappointment is the rubberised buttons on that plastic and cheap feeling remote.
We were slightly disappointed with the out of the box measurements as they were a little further away from the standards as we would expect for a MASTER SERIES promoted TV, but that doesn’t mean the picture quality suffers too much. Indeed, we found SDR playback in the Custom mode was very good indeed with a very compelling image with excellent skin tones and balanced, neutral looking colours. The majority of content we viewed looked balanced and accurate in isolation and the viewing angles were very good. The backlight and local dimming was also, for the most part, decent with just the odd scene looking a little flat due to a lack of contrast. Black levels were also mostly good but again there was the odd occasion where we noted elevated blacks, but shadow details were excellent, just with a lack of contrast and dynamics.
Those watching lots of sports, such as football, may also notice some light DSE and vertical banding from the backlight and this was also noticeable with scenes within other content with panning over large areas of the same colour. Motion and video processing, on the other hand, was first class as we have come to expect from Sony.
Moving to HDR, we started to find the weaker points of the ZF9 with more obvious elevated blacks and a lack of contrast within scenes. Our main issue was the haloing and blooming when watching at any angle and the lightening of the black bars on scope films. It is something that can be seen in difficult scenes with a strong bright object close to the bars on most FALD TVs from time to time, but with the ZF9 it is a common occurrence. I found it distracting and incredibly annoying in the time I spent with the ZF9 and being balanced in my assessment, I think the vast majority of those who watch movies would struggle not to be distracted. Obviously, being balanced, there will be those who will not find this an issue at all, so it really will depend on what you watch and if you will personally find black bars lighting up every time you watch something, distracting or not.
We did find that with some HDR content the ZF9 could be breathtaking with its brightness and excellent colour performance. Some scenes in Pan, for example, with the bright colours of the guns hitting their victims and turning them into colourful powders really popped with the bright sun visible amongst the clouds, where some other displays struggle to resolve the details and hit the brightness required. The ZF9 nails this type of content, along with the superb cinematography in the BBC Dynasties in HLG, that it really does feel disappointing when the weaknesses then pop up to spoil things, like the same scenes in Pan also lighting up the black bars with the same brightness as the scene. So, a mixed bag and as such a missed opportunity to move the LED LCD TV game on from the excellent ZD9, which some will find disappointing.
What are your alternatives?If it has to be an LED LCD and you want accuracy and brightness, the Samsung Q9FN is probably still the LED LCD TV to beat for all round performance. That doesn’t mean it is perfect, there is no such thing as a perfect TV and the Q9FN does have a few issues with its aggressive local dimming, which can crush blacks and cause vignetting. However, when compared to the ZF9, it is certainly more dynamic and has better contrast creating more pop with both SDR and HDR content. It also doesn’t have the same kind of issues with the black bars on film content, with only the odd scene now and again appearing to lightly raise the blacks in the bar. Gaming is also a strong point with the Samsung Q9FN with vivid colours and excellent motion and input lag. Plus, you can pick up the 65-inch version for the same money as the ZF9, if you shop around.
If you are looking for a TV that can offer deep blacks, stunning contrast, dynamic range and good motion, you could look at the 65AF9 from Sony, which offers a superb design, acoustic surface sound and excellent image quality. However, the AF9 is quite a bit more expensive for the same screen real estate and is not nearly as bright as an LED LCD for HDR.
But, if you want a 65-inch OLED, you can pick up an LG C8 for the same money as the ZF9. You’ll get lovely black bars for your films along with excellent dynamic range, contrast and HDR, but not quite as bright as the Sony ZF9. However, colours are accurate, even out of the box and it has probably the best UI of any TV on the market at the moment. It also offers every flavour of HDR except HDR10+ and excellent audio.
These are just three of the alternatives open to you. You should consider your environment, viewing habits and what your priorities are for your next TV and make sure you read all our TV reviews at AVForums for guidance.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,799.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level7
SDR Picture Quality8
HDR Picture Quality8
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box7
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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