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.