Remember way back in the ’80s and early ’90s when Sony TVs were synonymous with the best of the best? Sony was to televisions as Xerox to copy machines and Kleenex to facial tissue--in other words, pretty much the reference standard. I could never afford a Sony TV back then, mind you (not on my $4.15 an hour movie theater projectionist salary), but that didn’t stop me from wanting one. Then in the mid ’90s, something happened: Sony’s patent on their Trinitron technology expired, and overnight it was as if everyone else figured out how to make TVs too. Suddenly there wasn’t but one choice, there were many. And all of a sudden, we had a genuine AV arms race, bringing an end to Sony’s reign over the market and in many ways destroying their dominance, relegating them to also-ran status. But change is afoot once again, and while Sony may not be the OG of some of the technology it employs these days, its ability to elevate or enhance existing platforms while reminding consumers of its brand cache has given rise to a new Sony.
Looking for an overview of the best TVs on the market right now? Check out HomeTheaterReview’s 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer’s Guide.
It’s easy to extol the virtues of a brand’s flagship offering and claim victory through trickle down technology. But wars are won on the battlefield of consumer showrooms, and if any brand, even Sony, hopes to survive they must win where it counts: consumers’ wallets. And what speaks to consumers isn’t another overpriced display for the one percent; it’s a display that delivers the lion’s share of performance for 99 percent of the population. Enter Sony’s X900F Series reviewed here; not quite cheap enough to have to battle it out with the likes of TCL but not so expensive as to be considered elite. The X900F Series sits smack dab in the middle of the ever-shrinking sweet spot balancing performance and affordability.
Sony sent me the 65-inch version of the X900F lineup, the XBR-65X900F, for review, which at $1,999.99 MSRP isn’t too far outside the box of affordability for a 65-inch anything in today’s marketplace. The X900F Series comes in five sizes: 49, 55, 65, 75, and even 85 inches diagonal. The latter retails for $5,299.99, which is the cost of some other manufacturers’ flagship 65-inch offerings. Truth be told, the two sizes most customers are going to be focused on with respect to the X900F are probably 55 and 65 inches, with the 55-inch costing $1,299.99, which is extremely affordable for what I’ve come to realize is one hell of a display. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The 65-inch X900F measures 57 inches wide by a little over 35 inches tall and two and three-quarter inches deep (without its stand), which isn’t as thin as some displays nowadays, but it isn’t exactly obese, either. The display itself tips the scales at 54 pounds, which makes it substantial in its construction, but not ridiculous. At first glance, the X900F’s appearance isn’t going to make you do a doubletake. It’s not ugly. mind you, but rather just very restrained and classic in its appearance. Like a well-tailored suit or little black dress, the X900F is ready for any occasion. Around back things are even more spartan, as the X900F sports an almost seamless back panel with nary a sign of branding or government warning to infringe upon its appearance. There are tasteful cut-outs for the X900F’s I/O panel and power cord, but that really is it. So front-to-back, side-to-side, the X900F is an exercise in beauty through minimalism.
Speaking of I/O ports, the X900F has four HDMI inputs, all of which are HDCP 2.2 compliant. There is an RS-232 port for custom control systems, a composite video input (remember those?), and an RF antenna input. Audio outputs include one optical and one analog, albeit a hybrid one acting as the display’s headphone as well as stereo audio out. There are three USB ports and an Ethernet jack, as well. Under the hood, the X900F has Bluetooth version 4.1 support, as well as WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac). Chromecast and Google Assistant is built in, the TV is compatible with Amazon Alexa, and it’s all controlled via an Android TV operating system, so to speak--a lot more on this later.
The X900F’s panel itself has a native resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, also known as Ultra HD. The X900F features Sony’s own Triluminos technology (think Quantum Dots), HDR compatibility (HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma, and Dolby Vision), X-tended Dynamic Range PRO, and X-Motion Clarity, all powered by Sony’s latest Processor X1 Extreme.
In layman’s terms, this means you’re getting an Ultra HD display with the ability to faithfully render all of the colors of today’s expanded color gamuts, brightness and contrast capable of meeting today’s demanding HDR standards, and full-panel backlighting with local dimming, all at a refresh rate that (likely) only gamers will really appreciate. For more on all of the individual features and specs of the X900F, you can visit Sony’s website.
As for the remote, it’s eerily similar to that of another Sony display, their flagship OLED. While I knocked the remote in my review of Sony’s OLED display for not being “special” enough for such a beautiful display, it’s more than suitable when packaged with the X900F. While it still lacks backlighting or glow-in-the-dark buttons, it is very functional, not hugely directional, and is laid out in a sort of boring way that makes it easy to use and memorize after a short period of time. Yes, it’s plastic. No, it won’t win any design awards. But it also won’t frustrate you by trying to be something too fancy or tricky.
I actually took delivery of the X900F at the same time as Sony’s flagship OLED display--a bold move on the company’s part. Unboxing the X900F was pretty straightforward. I opted to place the X900F atop my media cabinet rather than wall mount it, so I installed the included table legs, which I have to say are quite stylish and unique among the flat panel table stands included with many of today’s TVs. They also feature cable channels that actually help to route all your cables (within reason), and keep clutter to a minimum.
I connected my Roku Ultra to the X900F via a one-meter HDMI cable from Monoprice. I went ahead and tested the Sony with my favorite, all-in-one soundbar, the LG SH6, which I connected optically using the cable that came with the soundbar itself. I know I could’ve used an HDMI cable between the LG and the X900F, but I honestly didn’t want to endure the hassle of any potential handshake issues, so I didn’t bother. That was it. Pretty simple.
Knowing that the X900F was an Android TV at heart, I braced myself for a nicely designed but sluggish menu/user experience and, well, the X900F didn’t disappoint. Once again, the saving grace for the X900F and current Sony displays in general is its adoption of Google Assistant. Having Google Assistant built in allowed me to control the X900F with my voice for a large portion of my day-to-day use. I don’t know why I’m okay with living with a certain sluggishness when it comes to voice commands, but if I encounter it via a remote it sends me around the bend. Anyway, the X900F’s Android TV interface is the same as what I experienced with Sony’s OLED, which is to say it is competently laid out, customizable to my liking, and renders third party devices like my Roku Ultra largely unnecessary. Too bad it’s just so slow.
The user menus, on the other hand, appeared snappier via the X900F compared to its OLED counterpart, something I appreciated, as sluggish menus during calibration can be a real nightmare. The menus themselves were identical to that of Sony’s flagship, and in truth, the user experience is 100 percent the same between the two displays, which I’m not sure how to feel about.
Out of the box, the Sony ships with its Standard picture profile engaged, which you’re not going to want to utilize. I switched to Sony’s Custom profile and measured its out-of-the-box performance using my C6 light meter and CalMAN software. Straight away, the Custom profile has some of the most accurate colors I’ve ever measured out of the box. In truth, they were bang on, and all under the acceptable margin of error (Delta E) calibrators strive for. The greyscale. on the other hand. wasn’t as shipshape, with a decidedly blue bias throughout. Thankfully, and with very little effort, the greyscale was able to be brought into near perfect alignment, making the X900F, like its OLED brethren, one of the more accurate displays I’ve had the pleasure of calibrating.
One thing I did note: the X900F in its Custom mode (which I know disables all of the display’s brightness enhancements) measured a respectable 435 Nits, though after my calibration, its light output was cut to 240 Nits in order for contrast and black levels to look right. For those who may prefer a brighter performance, the X900F’s other picture modes will allow you to enjoy a brighter image than what I measured its Custom profile to be, and thankfully because the X900F’s CMS and grey scale adjustments work properly, you can still dial the image in for a truly reference experience.
I’m a video streaming junkie having (largely) given up discs long, long ago. Given that the Sony X900F is an Android TV at its core, I cued up Netflix and began with the David Fincher-produced Mindhunter. I will admit, most all of my dark and moody reference material comes by way of Mr. Fincher’s work, and Mindhunter is a serial masterclass in suspense through restraint. The muted tones that make up the series’ overall pallet make for a perfect example of why calibration is so important. In the X900F’s Standard picture mode, the colors do pop; however, much of the drama is also lost, as the image takes on a more sitcom look. Switching back to my calibrated profile, Mindhunter’s “Fincherness” returns. While the colors--albeit far more desaturated now--looked natural within their surroundings, the finer details such as differences in texture were more readily apparent.
Overall contrast actually improved quite a bit, so while the whites may not have been as bright as they were pre-calibration, the black level performance improved post calibration by a magnitude of 10. Contrast is actually more about the darker tones being right than the whites, and if you can get the shadows right, everything that stems from that will feel more organic, dimensional, and just grounded in reality. Grounded in reality is exactly what the calibrated image of the X900F appeared to be. Skin tones were textural and lifelike in their appearance, and while some of you may decry my use of streaming demo material, the lower bit-rate HD image of Mindhunter wasn’t lacking for detail on several of the actor’s closeups. Would there have been more to revel in had I opted for an Ultra HD transfer of anything? Sure, but we don’t live in an all-4K world (yet), and so it’s important that your display make HD look great too. Truth be told, despite being able to A/B compare the X900F with its OLED counterpart right then and there, I didn’t feel as if the X900F was embarrassed by the OLED, nor was my enjoyment of Mindhunter at all diminished via the X900F.
Moving on, I fired up Thor Ragnarok (Marvel) in Ultra HD via Vudu. Straight away, you couldn’t ask for a more different looking film in comparison to a) Mindhunter and b) well, anything. Ragnarok is just weird--and I love it. The colors, while hyper or otherworldly at times, never felt anything but natural and grounded in their cinematic reality. Saturation felt appropriate, with nary a sign of skew to any of the hues. Primary colors especially popped throughout the film, and only added to the carnival-like nature of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster character’s world.
Now, in comparison with my time spent with Samsung’s Q9FN Quantum Dot display, the X900F did seem muted in terms of its overall brightness, but you would never pick up on that without seeing the two side-by-side. Between Sony’s own OLED and Samsung’s Q9FN, the X900F fell somewhere in the middle, which is a good thing (in my opinion), since the Samsung can be too bright at times, whereas OLED isn’t known for being a torch. Stepping away from color and contrast, motion was smooth, natural, and largely artifact-free. I say “largely,” because all digital content in the modern world, even on disc, suffers from compression, and while it is more apparent when watching streaming content, the internal digital noise reduction of the X900F does clean things up a little, which helps to bridge the gap between physical and streaming formats. Also, there was very little, if any, light spill or bleed in the darker scenes, something that used to plague early LED backlit LCD displays. The X900F suffered zero halo effects in super-high-contrast scenes.
What else is there to say about the X900F than the fac that no matter what I threw at it, be it 4K YouTube clips or the nightly news, I never came away thinking anything other than, “this is a damn fine TV.” While I had an objectively superior display on hand throughout my evaluation of the X900F, I never looked at it (the X900F) as being less than--not ever. Which I suppose is the highest compliment I can pay the X900F, for what is better praise than this? Even in the face of costlier and more sophisticated competition, I never felt as if it was out of place. Now, if there was just a way to disable the Android TV OS.
No display is perfect, of course. Out of the box, the X900F is two things: bright and somewhat light on contrast. Yes, colors are brilliant, not to mention accurate, but they don’t quite come alive until you adjust the X900F’s backlighting quite a bit. This does make the image more accurate, but it comes at the cost of overall brightness. The X900F can be a reference-caliber display, but if you’re one that likes to be wowed by brightness, the X900F may seem a bit muted in comparison to some.
The Android TV OS that the entire display runs on is just sluggish. There’s no getting around it. It is the Achilles heel of the X900F, and likely all of Sony’s current crop of Smart TVs on the market. Can one learn to love it, and even live with it? Yes, but man, the initial shock takes some getting used to.
Comparison and Competition
There is no shortage of sub $2,000, 65-inch Smart TVs on the market today--even some near or as good as the Sony X900F. I believe the displays the X900F will most likely be compared most to are Samsung’s Q7 and Q6 Series Quantum Dot displays, both of which have 65 inch offerings at or around the X900F’s price point, or LG’s K9500 or K9000 models, which retail for $2,399 and $1,699, respectively. Both Samsung and LG seem to round out the Holy Trinity when it comes to established big-box brands, but the disruptor in the market continues to be Vizio, and its recently announced P Series Quantum looks to upend the entire mid- to high-end Smart TV market, what with its $2,000-ish price point for a 65-inch model.
I have an LG K9500 on its way to me for review as I type this, so I’ll save my outright recommendation(s) until I can actually put eyes on it, but I know the Samsung offerings to be quite good, and just as capable as the X900F, if not a little bit more so in terms of brightness. As for the Vizio, well, that too is en route, so I will again withhold any final judgments until I can get some hands-on experience.
The Sony X900F Ultra HD HDR LED Smart TV is, without question, a great and feature-packed display for today’s modern world. Its understated physical design isn’t likely going to win any awards, but it also means that none of your hard-earned money is going towards anything superfluous, but rather entirely to performance--save for maybe the slow Android OS. Picture quality is where the X900F shines brightest, even if that picture isn’t the brightest among its peers. Still, I’d rather err on the side of accuracy and black level performance than sit before a display I need to wear sunglasses in order to watch.
So, while the Sony X900F may exist among a market segment rife with competition, it is definitely a display worth taking an extra minute of your time to consider, even if it may be a few hundred dollars more than some of that same competition. In truth, the X900F is neither the most expensive nor the least. It’s the ultimate mid-range Goldilocks display--just right. I love it and I have to imagine anyone who decides to purchase it will too.
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•Sony XBR-65A8F Ultra HD OLED Smart TV Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.