Is this Sony XF90 the best midrange TV you can buy in terms of picture quality this year? Let’s find out. Hello everyone, Vincent Teoh from HDTVTest here, I’m a TV reviewer and professional calibrator, and this.
.. is the Sony XF90 or XF9005, also marketed as the Bravia X900F in the USA. It uses full-array local dimming (or FALD) direct-lit LED backlight technology which is widely acknowledged to be better than edge-lit LED LCDs.
The specific model we’re reviewing today is the 55-inch version, model number KD-55XF9005 in the United Kingdom. It features a native UHD resolution, the company’s currently most advanced X1 Extreme processor, Android Smart TV platform, and, new for 2018 and exclusively on the Sony XF90 at this time I filmed the video in March 2018, X-Motion Clarity light-boosted backlight scanning system.
.. we’ll explain this in more detail later on in the video when we discuss its motion performance. The 55-inch XF90 or X900F retails for £1700, and sits in the middle of Sony’s 2018 TV lineup. Above this XF90 there’s the Bravia A1 and AF8 OLEDs, and also the Sony ZD9 or Z9D.
.. the company’s flagship LED LCD for the third year in a row… there’s rumour that the Japanese brand will launch a ZF9 or Z9F successor with X1 Ultimate chipset at IFA later this year, but as always Sony can neither confirm or deny such speculations.
For a direct-lit LED LCD TV, the bezel is impressively thin, although you’ll see the bulk once you look behind the television. There’s a small “Bravia” inscription on the top left corner, and a Sony logo along the bottom of the screen.
But perhaps the most controversial design element on the Sony XF90 or X900F is its feet which open outwards. They’re designed to accommodate Sony’s XF9000 soundbar, but require a wider base as a result.
If you own a narrower AV rack, you can also point the feet inwards to reduce the footprint, although this way of mounting the feet isn’t mentioned in the user manual at all. There are grooves behind each feet to route your cables for a cleaner look, and unlike last year’s XE90 and XE93, the XF90 doesn’t use an external power brick.
The connections are found on the left rear of the display, and face either downwards or sidewards. There are four HDMI sockets, but just like what we’ve seen from Sony X1 Extreme TVs over the past couple of years, only HDMI inputs 2 and 3 are the full-fat HDMI ports that can do 4K HDR at higher bit depth, frame rate or chroma once you go into the user menu and switch on HDMI signal “Enhanced format”.
The supplied remote control has received a minor facelift from last year, with discrete buttons and slightly weightier feel. The Sony XF90 uses a VA-type LCD panel with true RGB subpixel structure, as you can see from our macro shot here.
This means deep blacks by LED LCD standards, but narrower viewing angle compared with IPS LCD or OLED, so you’re advised to watch the TV straight on for the best picture. For SDR, once peak white was aligned to our normal dark-room target of 120 cd/m2, black level from the centremost black patch on a 4×4 ANSI chequerboard pattern measured 0.
05 cd/m2 with [Auto local dimming] switched off. Engaging [Auto local dimming] can potentially lower black level to 0.04 cd/m2… the correct setting is the one that strikes a good balance between achieving a higher contrast and keeping blooming or haloing artefacts to a minimum.
Which brings us to the number of local dimming zones on the Sony XF90, one of the key data we want to know about any full-array local dimming or FALD backlighting system. Using our own custom-authored test pattern consisting a small white box crawling horizontally and then vertically against the edges of a black background, we counted six vertical columns and eight horizontal rows, giving us a total of 48 independently dimmable zones, which is not too different from its predecessor the XE90.
Using a reference JETI 1511 spectroradiometer, we captured the XF90’s spectral power of distribution, and confirmed that it is using PFS LED to achieve a wider colour gamut. Like Sony TVs since 2016, there are two-point and 10-point white balance controls on board, but no advanced colour management system or CMS.
Fortunately, after calibrating the greyscale and adjusting the [Colour] control to fix some initial undersaturation out of the box, all the colours clicked into place very nicely, with none of the 140 measured colour patches in this fairly challenging Colour Checker SG chart exhibiting visible errors, so SDR movies will look supremely accurate and realistic especially in terms of skin tones.
Uniformity is very good. On full-field grey slides, the corners looked slightly darker, as had been observed on recent Sony LED LCD TVs, but there’s no significant banding or dirty screen effect. When I spoke to Sony engineers at CES earlier this year, they said that they have been making efforts to improve factory calibration at the manufacturing phase, and judging from this TV here, the result is clear to see.
Remember that this is not a cherry-picked sample sent by Sony, this is a retail unit, totally new and boxed, randomly plucked from stock. And on that note, I would like to thank Richer Sounds Manchester again for loaning this TV to us for review.
Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to get to test this TV this early, so if you’re considering purchasing a TV, even if it is not going to be the Sony XF90, please consider buying it from them. Call them on 0333 900 0086.
say that you watched the HDTVTest video, and they’ll sort you out with excellent service and prices. Now, even if there’s no physical DSE present, some full-array local dimming LED LCD TVs can have the FALD grids visible especially in slow panning shots across a uniform background, but we haven’t really noticed that on this Sony XF90, after watching this torture test from Arrival, as well as several football matches on the TV.
The Sony XF9005 is equipped with the company’s currently most advanced X1 Extreme video processor, an upgrade over last year’s XE90. The scaling done by the X1 Extreme chipset is the best we’ve seen from a consumer television, extracting crisp detail without excessive ringing from less-than-pristine sources, as you can see from this SMPTE RP-133 test pattern in 576i.
We’re also big fans of the [Smooth Gradation] feature which is very effective in reducing in-source posterisation which is present even on discs, such as animation movies or the Ultra HD Blu-ray of Planet Earth II.
We need to talk about X-Motion Clarity, the most important feature on the Bravia XF90 series which sets it apart from other Sony TVs, or any other TVs on the market for that matter. First, some background.
TVs are broadly categorised as either hold-type or impulse-type displays. A hold-type TV displays every frame continuously until it is replaced by the next frame. Research have shown that it is the persistance of these frames in our brain that contributes significantly to what we perceive as motion blur.
.. otherwise known as the sample-and-hold effect. Impulse-type TVs, on the other hand, do not display each frame continuously. Examples of impulse-type TVs are CRTs and plasmas whose inherent decay of phosphor creates a natural fade-to-black interval between each frame, which.
.. amazingly… refreshes our brain, reduces the retinal persistence, and makes the motion look much clearer. Understanding the science behind it all, some TV manufacturers have implemented backlight scanning or black frame insertion on their TVs, which artificially inserts black frames inbetween the original frames to mimic impulse-type motion.
However, as you can imagine, there are a couple of well-established side effects when you’re injecting black intervals into the picture… one, the light output drops, so the picture appears darker; and two, more flicker is introduced.
What Sony’s innovative X-Motion Clarity technology is designed to do is to harness the full-array local dimming capability and peak brightness potential of the Sony XF90, then use the power of the video processor to locally boost the brightness of the LEDs where the black frames are inserted, resulting in a clearer picture that’s not significantly darker.
I’m going to call this technique black zonal insertion, which… come to think of it… could be euphemism for shagging *censor beep*. Not that I have any experience with that of course. Anyway, the results are extremely impressive.
.. the motion clarity, not the shagging… allowing the Sony XF90 to achieve 1080 lines of motion resolution according to this horizontally scrolling test pattern, and there’s only the slightest hint of luminance drop, between 50 and 100 nits depending on your initial backlight setting, and no noticeable flicker at all even in bright scenes.
Now when we were briefed by Sony at CES earlier this year, we were under the impression that X-Motion Clarity is only activated by specific [Motionflow] “Custom” settings, but after intensive testing, we found that X-Motion Clarity is active in [Motionflow] “Smooth”, “Standard” and “Custom” with [Clearness] set to 1, as you can see from the increase in flicker in these camera footage which I purposely shot at a different frame rate to amplify the flicker.
.. the flicker is ONLY visible on camera, not in real-life viewing. Bear in mind that to get the highest motion clarity with [Motionflow] “Custom”, the [Smoothness] slider needs to be set to a value where some soap opera effect or SOE is inevitable.
This is not normally a problem because Sony’s soap opera effect is less offensive to the eye than many other TV brands’, and because realistically you only need higher motion clarity for watching video-based content like fast-action sports, you can turn off [Motionflow] when watching movies.
The Sony XF90 delivers an impactful HDR experience. Once calibrated to D65 white point, peak brightness reached over 1000 nits on a 10% window, and a very impressive 680 nits full-field. And unlike Samsung UHD Premium-certified edge LED televisions, this level of peak brightness can be realised in real-world HDR content too on the Sony XF90.
Despite the relative low number of independently dimmable zones, Sony’s local dimming algorithm does well to minimise haloing or blooming artefacts particularly with some gentle ambient lighting, but in this challenging scene from The Revenant, you can see the zones lighting up with the appearance of the subtitles.
.. OLED is undoubtedly superior here, both in terms of black depth and lack of blooming. Like all Sony HDR TVs to date, the Bravia XF9005 ignores static metadata in HDR10 movies, as you can see in these charts depicting the same EOTF tracking regardless of whether the MaxCLL was 1000 nits or 4000 nits.
The TV uses its own analysis to process and display HDR videos, and the tone-mapping algorithm favours maintaining overall brightness or APL (this stands for Average Picture Level) over preserving specular highlights, so specular highlight detail over 2000 nits in HDR movies will be clipped, such as the sun in the movie PAN which was mastered to 4000 nits.
DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage measured 94%… although this exceeded the specification required for Ultra HD Premium certification, it’s slightly lower than what you would expect from high-end televisions, so saturated colours won’t look as rich and vibrant as OLEDs and Samsung QLEDs.
The onboard X1 Extreme chipset could be firmware-upgraded to support Dolby Vision in the future, but who knows when the Dolby Vision firmware will arrive… Sony customers who bought the ZD9 or Z9D have been waiting for more than a year, so if you’re thinking about buying the XF90 or X900F, it’s best to treat Dolby Vision as a bonus rather than a must.
That way you won’t get disappointed. The XF90’s input lag figures are consistent with what we’ve previously obtained from other Sony TVs with X1 Extreme chipset, measuring 25ms in 4K HDR mode, but increasing by one frame to 42ms for 1080p video signal due to the scaling involved.
So for gamers using PS4 Pro or Xbox One X consoles which send out 4K videos by default, the Sony XF90 feels very responsive, but for Nintendo Switch which is 1080p only, the TV might feel a bit more sluggish.
To sum up, the Sony XF90 is an upgrade in many ways to last year’s successful XE90, with higher peak brightness for more impactful HDR, more advanced X1 Extreme processor that can support Dolby Vision in the future, and most importantly, new X-Motion Clarity black “zonal” insertion technology that improves motion clarity without significant flicker or luminance drop.
The number of local dimming zones or DCI-P3 gamut coverage could be higher, but then again, this would increase the total cost. In the United States, you’ve got the TCLs and Vizios which can give the Sony X900F a run for its money, but here in the UK and Europe, we genuinely cannot think of another 2018 LED LCD that can beat the XF90 in terms of sheer value for money, and so it receives our “Highly Recommended – Best Value” award.
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