The great thing about technology is that the march of progress never stops. Not all that fussed with 3D? Well here comes 4K to get you enthused about goggle boxes again. What's exciting about 4K is that it offers four times the resolution of Full HD, so it produces pictures that are supremely sharp and detailed. The Sony KD-65X9005 is the first 4K set I've had in for review and although Sony has recently cut the price to £4,999, that's still a lot of money if your name isn't Montgomery Burns.
If that headline price is too scary, think of it as costing you a little over 6p a pixel. 4K is very close to the resolution used for digital projection in cinemas, but do all those pixels really make much of a difference when they're squeezed down to a 65-inch screen for the home? Let's find out.
TV guideIn terms of its TV guide, the 65X9005 apes the other smart TVs in Sony's line-up. In place of the old XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface there's a new tile-like menu system that's reminiscent of Windows 8.
The homescreen is essentially a stylised text list with large icons, or tiles, that rotate into view beneath each option as you select it in the list. It's speedy to use and looks stylish, but it lacks some of the more advanced features of Samsung's new guide, including Samsung's TV recommendation engine, which works out what upcoming shows you might be interested in and offers them up as suggested viewing.
This Sony does give you a choice between two programming guides though. You can either use the standard Freeview guide or an Internet based alternative. It's best to stick with the former however, as the Internet guide is slow to start up and sluggish to use. The standard Freeview guide, on the other hand, works beautifully, as it's slickly presented and includes a video window so you can keep an eye on the programme you're tuned in to, while checking out what's coming up on other channels later in the evening.
Sony's smart TV platform offers a reasonably good selection of apps, including BBC iPlayer, Demand5, LoveFilm and Netflix. The user interface isn't very good though. All the apps are presented on a single screen, rather than being divided up into categories. Thankfully, you can add the apps you use most often to a favourites list that sits in the set's main menu.This list can become quite cluttered though if you add in more than just a few apps.
There's also no way to directly access the favourites list via the remote, as the dedicated apps button just takes you to the main apps menu. It's disappointing too that Sony's smart TV service still lacks apps for 4oD and ITV Player, both of which are now available on Samsung's smart TVs.
The media player built-in to Sony's TVs has traditionally been weak due to its limited format support. Thankfully, this year, Sony has addressed the issue as the 65X9005's media player supports a broader range of formats including MKV HD files, as well as MP4 and Xvid movies. Unlike the media player on Samsung's TVs, the fast forward and rewind controls work properly when you're streaming files over a network and not just when you're playing them back from USB drives.
Design and connections
As with some of Sony's other recent TVs, the design of the 65X9005 is likely to divide opinion. If you like 1990's style black leather sofas and think B&Q designs from that era are the pinnacle of design excellence then you'll probably love the 65X9005's monolithic, slab-like styling and its large, integrated speakers that sit boldly on either side of the screen.
Personally, I think the design is dated and the speakers are ugly and distracting. They sound great, but I wish Sony had made them detachable so they could be mounted away from the set -- although the way Sony has integrated them into the single sheet of glass design is clever. They also make the X9005 look bulky, even though it isn't very thick at around 58mm deep, especially given its huge screen size.
In terms of connectivity, this model has a few issues. It lacks the dual tuner support of high-end Samsung and Panasonic TVs, so you can't record one show while watching another, or stream a second channel to a phone or tablet over Wi-Fi. It has a satellite HD tuner sitting alongside its Freeview HD tuner, but the satellite tuner doesn't support Freesat, so it's not much use in the UK unless you want to watch foreign channels.
The other bigger issue is that the four HDMI ports currently only support HDMI V1.4. This means they can only cope with a 4K video signal at up to 30fps. That's good, but sadly not good enough, because the newer HDMI V2.0, which Panasonic's new 4K TV supports, can cope with 4K video at up to 60fps. This is important because sports broadcasters are looking at using this faster refresh rate to deliver coverage with smoother motion for stuff like footy and F1.
Sony announced at the IFA trade show, however, that the KD-65X9005 will receive a firmware upgrade by the end of the year that will make its ports HDMI V2.0 compliant. So HDMI V2.0 is coming for this set, but you'll have to wait for it.
As with Sony's other high-end models, the KD-65X9005 is supplied with two remotes. These look exactly the same as those included with the W905, which may be disappointing to those who were expecting something snazzier given this set's high price. The standard remote is light and plasticky, but it's comfortable to use and the button layout is pretty good. The transport controls used for controlling the digital media player and video apps (such as LoveFilm and Netflix) are too tightly packed together though.
The second remote is much narrower and only has the bare minimum of controls -- essentially just the keypad direction controls and volume and channel buttons. It communicates with the TV via Bluetooth so doesn't need line of sight, and has an integrated NFC tag. If you hold up an NFC enabled Sony smart phone that supports Miracast to it, such as the Z1, the phone will automatically set up a Miracast connection to mirror what's on its screen to the TV.
4K picture quality
At the moment 4K TVs are very much an answer in search of a question -- there's currently pretty much nothing to watch in 4K on the KD-65X9005. In fact, Sony had to ship out a special 4K hard drive player with this TV that's preloaded with some clips to demonstrate how it looks with 4K video.
Unfortunately they are just clips -- Sony hasn't included full movies. Along with the usual boring wildlife snippets and moody landscape shots, it does have one short scene from the Total Recall remake and a trailer for After Earth to give an idea of how 4K movies will look on the TV.
Up-close the detail and sharpness on the 4K footage is impressive. Everything from subtle film grain to blemishes on actors' faces are visible and the extra resolution certainly adds a fair degree of extra visual depth to the images.
Admittedly the non-movie clips tend to have both foreground and background in sharp focus to show off the clarity levels, whereas on normal film footage directors tend to intentionally blur the background to produce more of a natural depth of field. Still, the soccer clips show that 4K has the clarity to reproduce details in background crowd scenes that look slightly blurry on Full HD video.