Sony first introduced its flagship Z Series of UHD TVs with much fanfare at a special event in July of last year. The Z Series represents the pinnacle of what Sony can deliver in UHD TV performance, and the company still considers it to be the flagship TV line, even as the new Sony OLED TVs arrive.
That last line might surprise some people. OLED has definitely taken over the seat vacated by plasma as the videophile's choice in TV technology, winning multiple Best of Awards over the past couple years. Even though Sony is now courting OLED lovers with the A1E Series, the company still has tremendous confidence in the Z Series. And indeed, I've heard a lot of good things about these TVs, from owners and industry colleagues alike. But I couldn't answer any comparison questions myself because I hadn't seen the Z Series in action. So, when Sony recently offered me a sample of the 65-inch XBR-65Z9D, I was excited to see for myself if the hype is merited.
When the Z Series was first announced, its pricing was quite high--even higher than many OLED options and on par with VIZIO's Reference Series Dolby Vision TV. The 65-incher was originally listed at $6,999 (in comparison, the new 65-inch XBR-65A1E OLED has a starting MSRP of $6,499). Now, the XBR-65Z9D sells for about $5,500, which is still a premium for a 65-inch UHD TV.
So, what does the Z Series deliver? Well, the XBR-65Z9D supports High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut technologies. It currently only supports HDR10, but Sony intends to add Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma HDR support via firmware update later this year. This is a 120-Hz TV that uses Sony's X1 Extreme processor and 4K X-Reality Pro technology. Its Master Backlight Drive panel is a full-array panel with local dimming, with the company's X-tended Dynamic Range Pro and Triluminos technologies for contrast and color, respectively.
The XBR-65Z9D is an Android smart TV, loaded with a variety of streaming services and Chrome Cast to easily transmit content from mobile devices. It's also an active 3D TV, with two pairs of glasses included in the package. (For the record, Sony's new 2017 OLED and LED/LCD TVs will not support 3D playback.)
We've scratched the surface with talk of features and pricing, but there's so much more to cover with the Z Series.
From an aesthetic standpoint, there's nothing particularly striking about the XBR-65Z9D. There's a half inch of matte-black bezel around the screen, with a brushed gold trim around the outer edge. Sony has moved away from the dual V-shaped feet used with previous TVs, which were spaced far apart and required a long base upon which to sit. The company has returned to a brushed-black pedestal stand, in which the TV feels stable and secure. With a full-array LED backlight, the XBR-65Z9D is thicker and heavier than other LCD and OLED options--measuring 3.13 inches deep and weighing 70.5 pounds without the stand.
The connection panel is recessed into the TV's backside, and it includes four HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection. However, only inputs 2 and 3 support the full 18-Gbps transmission rate to ensure passage of 4K/60p 4:4:4 at higher bit depths. The other two inputs support the 10.2-Gbps rate and can pass 4K/24p without issue. A small but nice design element is that three of the HDMI inputs face in toward the center of the TV, making it easier to route cables toward the center.
Other inputs include an RF input, one shared component/composite input with stereo audio, one standard composite video in, one optical digital audio output, and one headphone/mini-jack/subwoofer output. Three USB ports are available for media playback and connection of peripheral devices like a keyboard; built-in Bluetooth 4.1 also allows for the wireless connection of headphones, speakers, keyboards, and gaming controllers. A LAN port is available for a wired Internet connection, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi is also built-in. Finally, there's RS-232 for integration into an advanced control system, and IP control is also an option.
The supplied remote is a basic IR handheld model that lacks backlighting. I'm not crazy about the button layout--in the middle is a circle of buttons labeled Action Menu, Guide, TV, Back, Discover, and Home (I'll tell you what they do in a second), with directional/navigation arrows and an enter/ok button inside the circle. You can differentiate the small arrow buttons by feel, but they are just too close to the circle buttons. I was constantly hitting "Discover" when I meant to hit the down arrow, and vice versa. The remote includes direct buttons to launch Google Play and Netflix.
As you'd expect from a flagship TV, the XBR-65Z9D has most of the advanced picture adjustments needed to fine-tune/calibrate the image--with one notable exception. You get two-point and 10-point white balance adjustment, plus R/G/B gamma color adjustment and a seven-step gamma adjustment. There are noise reduction and smooth gradation tools, multiple Motionflow options to deal with motion blur and film judder, and Sony's Reality Creation tool to enhance the sense of detail. You can adjust the aggressiveness of the local dimming function and the X-tended Dynamic Range function (which brightens the image when you enable it).
The one thing you don't get is a color management system to fine-tune the hue, saturation, and brightness of the six color points. Sony used to omit this feature from its projectors (although it doesn't anymore), and the reason was always, "Our color points are accurate enough that we don't need to include it." Oftentimes that proved to be true; we'll see down in the Performance section if it's true here or not.
All of the HDR/Wide Color Gamut functions are set to Auto by default, so the TV will automatically switch into HDR mode, enable the full HDMI dynamic range, and engage the wider color gamut when it detects a UHD/HDR signal. The one thing you do need to do, if you want to pass a full 4K/60p 4:2:0 10-bit signal (or higher), is properly configure HDMI inputs 2 and 3. In the Settings menu, you have to go to External Inputs, then to HDMI Signal Format, then switch it from Standard to Enhanced.
The TV has two down-firing 10-watt speakers that provide decent but not spectacular sound quality. There are lots of sound adjustment options: three sound modes, a ClearAudio+ tool, simulated surround, voice zoom, and more.
Throughout the review process, I mated the XBR-65Z9D with several different UHD Blu-ray players: the Samsung UBD-K8500, the Oppo UDP-203, and Sony's new UBP-X800 (review to come). For TV watching, I used my Dish Hopper 3 UHD DVR.
User Interface and Android TV
With the XBR-65Z9D, there are multiple ways to view/navigate menus and perform desired tasks. For instance, the remote's Action Menu brings up a toolbar along the top of the screen through which you can quickly access the menus for picture adjustments, sound adjustments, external speaker connection, headphone adjustments, etc. And, if you set up the TV to control your cable/satellite box, the Action Menu is where you'll find onscreen controls for DVR and other set-top-box functions. The remote's Guide button will bring up content from your provider, and the TV button will always take you back to that input. Unfortunately, if you want the XBR-65Z9D to control your set-top box (or AV receiver), you have to connect the supplied IR blaster cable. Samsung and LG have long since moved past the need for IR cables in their set-top-box control platforms.
The remote's Home button brings up a full-screen interface that contains a little bit of everything. The first row is filled with suggested content and setup tutorials. Below that is a list of Featured Apps, and Sony's Android TV platform sports most of the marquee apps--including Netflix, Amazon Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu, VUDU, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, Fandango NOW, HBO Go/Now, Showtime Anytime, and many more. On the music side, you get Google Play Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Vevo, and Spotify.
UHD content is available through Netflix, Amazon Video, Google Play, YouTube, and Sony's own Ultra 4K Movies & TV service--where you can buy and rent UHD/HDR movies produced by Sony Pictures. The VUDU and Fandango NOW apps are not currently the UHD versions. Interestingly, when I searched the term "UHD" in Fandango NOW, I saw a list of the many movies offered in UHD; I just couldn't play any of them.
Below the apps is a Games area, with the option to browse Sony's Games Shop to add content. Then there's a list of inputs, and finally the Settings area, where you can access all of the picture, sound, and other adjustments I discussed above.
Another navigation option on the remote is the Discover button, which brings up a different toolbar along the bottom of the screen. You can configure this toolbar to contain all sorts of quick links to Netflix, YouTube, other apps, favorite channels, etc.
Last but not least, there's voice search. Just hit the remote's microphone button and name a show, movie, actor, director, etc., to get a list of content options and related YouTube videos. Of course, since this is a Sony Android TV, the search results skew heavily toward Google Play and Playstation Video. However, when I searched for Netflix titles like House of Cards, Stranger Things, and Arrested Development, the results did include Netflix. On the other hand, when I searched for Amazon original programming like Transparent or Mozart in the Jungle, I did not get Amazon Video in my search results.
As an Android TV, the XBR-65Z9D also supports Chrome Cast, and I had no issue sending video and music content from my iPhone 6, through Cast-compatible apps like YouTube, Google Play, and Pandora.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...